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A Class of Their Own

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by Mitch Kennedy - Qld branch ACS

Having been one of the camera crew helping out with last year's Kodak Cinematography Masterclass, I knew firsthand how valuable these courses can be for an emerging DP. So when I heard which cinematographers were lined up to attend this year's Sydney Masterclass, it goes without saying that I couldn't move quick enough to put my application in and book a plane ticket.

John Seale ACS ASC
Russell Boyd ACS ASC
Peter James ACS ASC

I had to adjust my eyes when I first read those three names in succession, making sure that I was in fact reading the list of lecturers for the Masterclass and not a list of the Academy Award Nominees for Cinematography. With this amount of knowledge and experience in one place, I knew it was bound to be a rewarding three days.

Arriving on the first day I noticed a few familiar faces who also made the trip down from Queensland. After being welcomed by Leigh Christensen from Kodak, and Ron Johanson ACS, we headed into the first sessions where my group was to have a Portrait Lighting workshop with Russell.

Russell explained to the group that he loves to work almost entirely with soft light, so would be showing different ways in which he achieves this, using simple cinematography principles. Along with Gaffer, Adam Williams, Russell showed us different arrangements of direct and bounce lighting, swapping between multiple sources to show the difference in appearance. His key message was to always start out with more light than you think you'll need, and then knock it back with wires, diffusion & cutters; crafting the light. Talking to Russell he seemed to have a very laid back personality, something that has probably aided him while working in the Hollywood system.

In the afternoon we moved into a lecture session with John, who was going to discuss everything from operating to continuity, and his career experiences. Immediately I got a sense that John was a very honest and proactive sort of guy. His grounding as an operator has probably sparked this 'hands on' approach towards his work.

John showed a great deal of passion towards the entire filmmaking process, discussing the importance of pre-production for the cinematographer, as well as the responsibility to help out the editor by knowing how to shoot correct continuity. John himself is a natural storyteller, giving us humourous stories from his movies such as "A Perfect Storm" and working within the American structure. One of John's main points was to be an efficient DOP, both with time and money. He told us about his love for zoom lenses and their ability to let you be adaptive on set, as well as the strengths of multi-camera shooting.

Day two kicked off with Russell again, this time giving a lecture on lighting for steadicam, as well as a discussion on "Master and Commander"; for which he won an Academy Award. Russell took us through his ad for the NAB, and talked about the difficult task of making sure there were no front lights on any of his characters, since this would have caused steadicam shadow - all while keeping his lights clear from the 360˚, one shot scene. In Russell's screening and chat about M&C, he showed us the frequent use of single Kino Flo tubes. He liked the mobility of this style of lighting, and enabled him to tape tubes into different parts of the set without being seen.

John took to the afternoon with a workshop on how to successfully implement the use of multiple cameras in a scene. He showed how a key light for Person A, can be slightly adapted so that it also works as a backlight for Person B in cross shooting. John discussed the use of sliders and why they become so important in this style of shooting when an operator needs to adjust for the actors and equipment.

Peter took control of the third and final day, in what can only be described as an information smorgasbord. His lecture covered everything from the use of filtration on Driving Miss Daisy, to the modern implementation of the DI (Digital Intermediate) suite. Peter's intelligence and technical knowledge are only preceded by his passion for storytelling and the aim to make his cinematography represent the emotion of the film.

After a long three days we ended up at the new ACS National Headquarters for a few well earned beers. The knowledge that was passed on during this Masterclass was well beyond my expectations. All three men were incredibly generous, and showed not only a love for their work, but an eagerness to teach and interact with young cinematographers. Special thanks has to go out to Kodak for putting these courses together, and especially Leigh Christensen for being an on going supporter of youth develop in our industry.


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