The story of a longshot.

I am making my first documentary and am way into the post production stage of it. Editing the thing and grabbing footage from all over my library of over 50 hours of footage and glueing it into a story. I am not an experienced film maker and not a experienced camera operator so with the editing in Final Cut Pro X (thank you Apple for this amazing piece of software) on my Macbook Pro and a second 21″ screen I just have to find ways and tricks to cover up the imperfection that I see that is all around.
Of course the whole film is made with financial restrictions and therefore even the label ‘low budget’ would be insufficient. We’re working on a ‘no budget’ basis. Still, the film is going to be finished in a couple of weeks and it is going to be awesome. As things are now it seems that I can keep the viewer away from knowing with how litle means this film is made.

In my film are a couple of medium to long shots. Filmed with my Sony HVR-HD1000E (with some added support of a Canon 60D DLSR HD cam for some Dutch footage) mainly from my shoulder or in dogs view carrying the thing I’ve been trying to use a tripod as less as possible. Because for a documentary style film I simply prefer the images with the additional physical inbalance of the camgirl working with the camera. It kind of adds some quality to the work in stead of taking it away. Often I find tripod shots looking a bit ‘dead’.

As a camgirl I have my heroes. One of them is Peter Robertson, the steadycam operator that made the epic 5’30” longshot in the film ‘Atonement‘. A long shot that is so amazing in composition and choreography and made with such skill that it is incomprehensible for most people how it was made. Here’s that long shot. Please watch it closely and understand that no cutting was done and only he traditional digital editing has been done to make it like it is. To my opinion an Oscar winning performance of Peter. After you’ve watched it, please read his description of how he made it that I found on, a website dedicated to the work of Steadycam operators. But first enjoy a drama in just over 5 minutes unfolding at the beach of Dunkirk. After that read what Peter Robertson says about how it was created.

In the meanwhile I’ll be back at my editing table.

Alice © 2012

“Beach at Dunkirk”, By Peter Robertson

An incredible example of production coordination at its finest. Perhaps only bested by the 90 minute shot of Russian Ark – in terms of choreography and coordination anyway. There are elements of gunshots, animal cues, pyrotechnics, vehicles, special effects, and more that all had to both work perfectly and be timed perfectly. …not to mention the majority of the footing was sand.

Operator’s Commentary
(Taken from an email from Peter Robertson to Luis Puli.)

The one-take Steadicam Dunkirk shot in Atonement may well prove to be the emblematic scene that the film will be remembered for. However, this was only one of a series of carefully crafted sequences that we, as a camera department with myself as the main camera operator, were asked to create in response to Joe Wright’s powerful and uncompromising vision.

Nevertheless, this was certainly the toughest shot to achieve, physically and logistically, coming in the last week of a long shoot and at the end of a day when we rehearsed many times with and without camera. The concentration levels needed to remember every beat, twist and turn of the shot, where to follow the actors movements, when to remember a step or obstacle whilst holding the shot composition compounded the physical demands of carrying a heavy camera.

When Joe (Wright) and Seamus (McGarvey) first approached me with the idea of shooting the Dunkirk scene as a one-take Steadicam move I knew that it would take every ounce of my technical and physical Steadicam nouse from the past twenty years of operating to achieve. There would be no plan B to fall back on, with no wiping off and on the backs of background actors or objects to create edit points should a take prove imperfect.

Born partially out of financial necessity–I believe there was only enough money in the budget for 1,300 extras for one or two days–it was, nevertheless, a daring piece of filmmaking that challenged the gods. It was conceived to place the audience physically and emotionally inside the nightmarish vision of Dunkirk.

The scene tells the story of Robbie Turner played by James McAvoy attempting to return to his love Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) from the doomed beaches of Dunkirk. He is dying and engulfed by the living hell of one of World War II’s most tragic episodes. It is essentially Robbie’s nightmare that the camera describes, restlessly moving around a scene, sometimes bizarre (soldiers skinny dipping), sometimes macabre (cavalry horses being shot) and sometimes painfully moving (a choir singing on a bandstand). The uninterrupted flow of images drift in front of our eyes like a hallucination from a Bosch painting or, in the case of the dying horses, like the contorted images from Picasso’s Guernica. The shot, unedited, has the power of a real nightmare with its bizarre associations. We sense that these events are all happening in the same physical space that we travel through as an engaged audience, not as a series of juxtaposed and montaged images that we view as outsiders. The camera not only shows the desperation and pain felt by the dying Robbie as he begins to realise that he may never see his love again but also the plight of a huge mass of stranded soldiers who desperately seek to return to their lives and loves. As such, the scene transcends the simple story of one individual’s tale of lost love and evokes the sentiments of a great anti-war statement.


We shot Atonement on the Panavision system in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, using the Panaflex XL on the Steadicam with Primo lenses. However, the Dunkirk sequence itself posed many extra problems for us in the camera department. Whichever way the shot was timed on recces it always came to just under five minutes, ruling out the use of a conventional 400ft magazine. Our excellent 1st AC, Carlos de Carvahlo, pointed out that we could use a Panavision 500ft magazine, which had originally been produced for hand holding the earlier Panavision GII camera. Whilst heavier than a modern lightweight 400ft magazine, it was still preferable to a 1,000ft magazine, which was inconceivable on a shot like this. The extra 100ft gave us the time length we needed for the shot.

Framing and composition posed a few problems too. The shot demanded a wider framing for the architecture of the set at certain times and a closer framing on faces that would loom into the lens at others. Again, we ignored convention and opted for the Panavision 17.5-34mm short zoom, which by remoting its function gave Seamus the option to zoom in shot. This lens gave us the optical range to see the set in all its glory without distorting the faces too much at close quarters. Seamus and I choreographed these zooms at moments in the shot when the natural movement of the Steadicam disguised them to the viewer’s eye.

These decisions all had a bearing on the final configuration and weight of the Steadicam. By remoting all of the lens and camera functions it meant that I was carrying three motors (focus, iris and zoom) as well as the extra weight of the magazine. Add to this two video transmitters, one to the director’s monitor and one to Seamus who needed a picture to gauge his zoom and iris pulls and you have an overall payload that weighed more than a standard airline baggage allowance.

The next problem was how to fly this around the beach with weightless elegance, covering close to quarter of a mile in the process and achieving the precision framing that the director demanded. It was not possible without a swift course of steroids and a metal spine implant to attempt the whole shot on foot. It was obvious that at certain times I would have to ride on a vehicle to cover the ground at speed and keep up with the action. I chose to ride a “mule” provided by Bickers Action Vehicles. This is a small open-backed vehicle with a rear-facing platform, much like a golf cart. A low step was rigged so that I could slide off the back when I needed to continue the shot on foot. I used this for the first part of the shot when the three main characters are striding along the beach past the horses being shot. The step off the “mule’ comes at the rear of the beached Thames barge, where a pause was built into the action to help disguise the step-off.

The shot continued, on foot, up the beach, onto the promenade and around the bandstand. After the bandstand I stepped down via a ramp, cunningly disguised by the art department as a pile of bomb debris and sat back onto a rickshaw rig, expertly gripped by Gary Hutchings and Dean Morris. This was then steered backwards through the chaotic scenes of soldiers riding a merry-go-round and disabling heavy artillery to the beginning of the pier. Here, with the help of a line of carefully placed soldiers filing past camera to once again disguise my step-off, I travelled, on foot, for the final part of the shot up some steps and past a line of soldiers to look back on the mayhem of Dunkirk.

I hope this demonstrates how the whole shot was planned and executed like a military operation in itself and stands, as often these endeavours do, as a testament to the great teamwork it took to achieve. Forget Dunkirk, if I hadn’t had the support of such a brilliant crew the sequence would have been the movie’s Waterloo.

Myth and Legend

The final take used in the movie was Take 3. We attempted a fourth but my timing was off and I missed my footing on the steps leading up to the bandstand. In a shot such as this, once the camera stops dead the shot is pretty much unusable. I realised, having given my all in the rehearsals (two of which were completed fully loaded with the camera) and three previous takes that I didn’t have enough juice in the tank to complete a fifth. It felt like I had just performed a ten-hour gym session and, in hindsight, I consider myself lucky to have even completed three takes. Much has been publicised in print about how the Steadicam operator “collapsed” or even “fell over” which was claimed in some reports. All slightly melodramatic representations of what actually happened but I suppose that every movie needs its myth and legend.

The beach Steadicam team were:
Joe Wright Director
Josh Robertson 1st AD
Seamus McGarvey, BSC Director of Photography
Peter Robertson, GBCT Steadicam / A Camera Operator
Carlos de Carvalho, GBCT A Camera 1st Assistant Camera
Jennie Paddon A Camera 2nd Assistant Camera
Rawdon Hayne B Camera 1st Assistant Camera
Iain Mackay B Camera 2nd Assistant Camera
Gary Hutchings, GBCT Key Grip
Dean Morris Grip
Chris Macaleese Camera Trainee
Simon Thorpe Grip Trainee
Nick Kenealy Video Assist
Clive Bickers “Mule”


Movies That Matter.

If you haven’t been there, go there!

Movies That Matter is on in The Hague until next Wednesday when the party hit’s the theatre. And you better don’t miss it if you care for great filming, documentaries and human rights. All in an amazing mix. And next year there will be another Dutch film there as far as I am concerned.

That is also where my only criticism is to this wonderful cinematographic event. Too few Dutch films and too many films focussing on the Arabian Spring, the Middle East, North Africa and Iran / Iraq. As if there isn’t really happening much concerning human rights elsewhere on this beautifully godforsaken planet. Sure, there are films from other areas like China and elsewhere but it seems that the programming this year is a little too much influenced by the usual suspects. It is how it works, when there’s a hot spot on the globe you only have to wait for a year or so and all the film festivals get filled with documentaries about these regions. It would have been nice to see just a little more diversity.

Still, it’s a great little festival. One cinema and one theatre, being next door neighbours, showing great films from great film makers on topics that are important. In this time of Voice of Whateverland, X-Factor and all that crap it’s good, no essential, that festivals like these are there. Quite simply to keep the minds of the people in focus concerning the state of the world. Now that even my country, formerly a decent and social country, has become xenophobic and selfish (who the heel do they think they are that they have the right to even talk about cutting development aid funding) it is so clear to me that we need to grab the attention on what really matters in life. And that is not ecnomical crisis but that’s life itself. And where that is made impossible I can assure you people will loose dignity and decency. And when that happens it not religion but the arts that are the last straw for human values and human rights. Actually, looking at many films in the programma it is ever so clear that it is most of the time religion that is the cause of the problems.

So, do yourself a favor and go there. Watch some movies, talk to people. Get involved and when you’re at the flyer stand near the entry of the Filmhuis cinema, get yourself a Headwind flyer! If not this year, I hope to see you next year. In a seat watching my film.

Alice © 2012

The Artist… what a movie!

Rightfully the Oscars this year went to a film about the magic of movie, the amazing personal lives of actors from a past movie-era. In black and white and without speech. A black and white silent movie in 2012. What a great thing! I totally love it ‘The Artist‘.

This is the very definition of what ‘Less is More’ really can be artistically.

Go watch it when it’s where it belongs: in the cinema. Not on a tv screen or a computer, but on the big screen!

Het wonder film.

Ik maak een film. Bewegende beelden, een verhaal, muziek, stemmen, stemmingen, emoties. Het is de eerste keer in mijn leven dat ik serieus werk maak van het filmen en ik heb er alles voor over om het te laten slagen. Mijn laatste geld, de erfenis van mijn moeder, mijn tijd, energie en passie. Dat het werken aan deze film me emotioneel flink aanpakt neem ik voor lief, het kan immers niet anders.

Ik ben nog niet toe aan de montage van de beelden die ik gefilmd heb. Daarvoor moet ik nog vertrouwd worden met die beelden want ondanks dat ik ze zelf gefilmd heb merk ik dat ik naarmate ik telkens opnieuw door mijn bestanden met video ga er nieuwe gedachten en emoties ontstaan. Nieuwe ideeën over hoe een en andere te combineren in een kloppend verhaal dat boeit, dat de kijker uitdaagt om een standpunt in te nemen, om een mening te vormen. Het maakt me duidelijk dat er verwerkingstijd nodig is om te begrijpen wat ik gevangen heb. Ongeveer dertig uur video materiaal is er uit Nepal gekomen. Schokkend soms als het over de slachtoffers van een massale brand in een vluchtelingenkamp gaat. Emotioneel als de wanhoop in de ogen gevangen is of de trilling in de stem of het beven van de oude handen van de man die stenen breekt in de rivierbank.

Het zijn de kleuren die ik nog moet leren begrijpen en die een geheel eigen verhaal vertellen vooral omdat ze in mijn herinnering gekoppeld worden aan geluiden en geuren en soms aan gebeurtenissen. Er moet nog gefilmd worden in Nederland, hoe en wat weet ik al, dus dat stuk werk is afhankelijk van afspraken en momenten. Het komt wel goed.

Vandaag luister ik naar de titelsong die geschreven is door Allard Gunnink met muziek van Jef de Roode. Het is een sterke emotioneel geladen metaforische song geworden die me diep raakt en waarvan ik overtuigd ben dat deze perfect bij mijn film past. Er ontstaat een beeld van de muziek die ik in de film wil horen, over hoe er ook muzikaal een brug geslagen kan worden tussen het oosten en het westen. Zoals ik die bruggen sla door middel van metaforische beelden. Langzaam maar zeker ontstaat in mijn hoofd een film, gevuld met de beelden die ik gemaakt heb en die ik constant voor mijn ogen zie.

De creatie van deze film is voor mijzelf niet alleen mijn debuut als film maakster maar tegelijkertijd mijn meesterstuk. Naarmate tijd verstrijkt en beelden herhaald voor mijn netvlies afgespeeld worden, muziek zich herhaald en aanvult, naarmate ik zelf mijn eigen film beter ga begrijpen voel ik me zekerder worden over het uiteindelijke resultaat. Er komt overtuiging in mijn denken en handelen, zekerheid over de mogelijkheden om een werk te maken dat mensen emotioneel raakt. En hopelijk zodanig dat er meer begrip ontstaat voor de vluchteling, of die nu afkomstig is uit Bhutan of van elders op deze zieke wereld.

Ik heb nooit een roeping gevoeld in mijn leven, daarvoor waren mijn eigen moeilijkheden te groot. Dat is nu veranderd in een bereidheid om mijn bestaan in dienst te stellen van wat ik maak. Eindelijk kan ik mezelf zoiets moeilijks als het maken van een film over het leven van vluchtelingen toevertrouwen in de zekerheid dat het me gaat lukken. In de zekerheid dat er een publiek is die mijn werk zal willen zien. En misschien zelfs met het vertrouwen dat ze het wellicht een mooie film zullen gaan vinden. Ineens besef ik dat ik niet alleen schrijfster ben maar mijn schrijven verlengd heb naar verbeelden.

Alice © 2011