Blog: Field Production

The Boys . . .

I’m in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city. Today, I’m spending time with four boys that have benefited from being part of Catholic Relief Service’s programs here. At first, they are reticent, eyes quiet and downturned. “Bonding” is penciled into the shooting schedule, so the boys start to feel comfortable before I start shadowing them with a camera. So that means . . . soccer! My old skills come in handy as we play a spirited game and I earn a little street cred with these little guys.

Nkosilathi is the oldest, the weight of his responsibility heavily apparent on his face. He’s 19, but has been raising his three brothers by himself since both of his parents died and an older sibling fled to South Africa — stressed by the chore.

Handsome is 14. His smile belies his status: orphan, absolutely poor. John is 12. He is second in his class. Nqobizitha is 9. He is short and slight as a 6 year old. Even saying his name requires a unique tongue clucking like from that movie The Gods Must be Crazy.

Their house is a concrete shack measuring about 10 feet by 8 feet. Without a bed, they sleep on the floor covered in blankets. Without a table, they eat with their hands from bowls resting on the floor. Without electricity, they’ve pirated a neighbor’s line via a wildcat cable.

But they have each other, newfound support from a local group, and things are looking up. Their spirit strengthens my resolve to do better in everything I do.

Zimbabwe shoot for Catholic Relief Services

 


Shooting in Zimbabwe means a lot of firsts for me. First time shooting in southern Africa, first time in Zimbabwe. We have a benign, but frequent police presence and were strictly limited to pre-approved locations. I’ve never had film subjects so keenly aware of the authorities. Undoubtedly, it’s the fresh memory of the 2008 post-election violence. Our home base was a Catholic school where I assume we could film nothing more provocative than noisy children — which skewered audio conditions for our interviews, but made us some friends.

LED Litepanels Deliver in Tight Interview Space


Despite the fact that I’m a one-man band here in Azerbaijan, I didn’t want to sacrifice quality. I have a local producer/interviewer and a translator, but I’m running camera (EX-1 @ 1080p30), audio, and lighting the whole kitten-kaboodle.

Given airline weight restrictions, I thought long and hard about what equipment to bring. I pared down my typical kit, and ended up with one small pelican (for the camera and fragile gear, including my 7” Sony HD field monitor); a shotgun case for the Sachtler tripod, 3 c-stands, and a well-wrapped Arri 1000k light; and a backpack for various grip/gaffer gear (the backpack went inside my checked-in suitcase).

Lighting was key. I didn’t know the locations in advance, so I needed to be flexible. For the Arri, I brought a chimera to soften it and an egg crate to reduce spill and focus the light.
I picked up a local dimmer with a 2k max, which would allow me to ramp the luminosity up and back. I also brought the lightweight LED Litepanel MicroPro, which doesn’t get hot, and is dimmable without changing the color temperature. I figured I’d use it for doc-style shooting in dark interiors or at night, or for interview fill.

This afternoon, my crew and I went to Deveci Broyler, an Azerbaijani poultry processing company. It was recently listed on the Azerbaijan stock exchange and accessed significant new capital, primarily because of its corporate governance reforms (Azerbaijani corporate governance is the topic of the film, and the client is the IFC, an arm of the World Bank Group). Well-dressed manager Elchin Abdullayev led us through a small, bustling office to his corner room. For the interview, I hoped to evoke a modern, corporate feel. Initially, I loved the glass office walls (“for transparency,” he quipped). The depth would help me throw the background out of focus! The only problem was that all the glass was reflecting everything around it—me, the producer, the lights. What to do?

I tried something new. I put the MicroPro on an arm extended from a c-stand, then literally suspended it 18 inches from my subject’s face, just out of frame. I never could have done this with a light that gave off heat. I removed the CTO filter, and really tweaked up the color temp toward a corporate blue. Since it’s powered with six batteries, voila, no cables. And the fact that colleagues were running in and out of offices in the background kept it real, showing the Manager in his element. The lighting on his face is more modeled than I would’ve preferred, but I gladly exchanged excessive facial contouring for the depth and interesting plays of light I was able to produce in the background.

Ultimately—and I never would’ve believed it—I lit this interview with a single tiny MicroPro LED light.

 

Azerbaijan Interview: Without a DIMMER ? !


Coming to Baku to film a short documentary meant checking to make sure that anything I plug in doesn’t blow up like a firecracker. I brought an Arri 1000k light for interviews, which runs on both the USA’s 120 volt and the 220 in Azerbaijan. All I had to do was buy a 220 lamp from B&H, which I did. I got 4 plug adapters so I could charge my various batteries, phone, computer, etc, and I was good to go . . or so I thought! Hours before my departure, I realized my dimmer only ran on 120 volt. . . . So began a hunt, as I was taxied around town by my implacable driver, Jarulla. We soon strike gold at Santral Electrik, a halogen dimmer rated up to 2k watts. Fortunately, the guy behind the counter, my new hero Ceyhun, was not only an able salesman, but a quick electrician, who rewired the thing, transforming it from a home wall dimmer to a mobile video-production dimmer . . . There I was, good to go for interview set-ups. Thanks to Ceyhun!

In Baku: Russian, the Persistent Lingua Franca


So, here I am with (left) Ilaha Mammadli, a finance journalist from “Trend,” an international news services with offices in Baku. On the right is Rasmina Gurbatova, the film’s director. . . Most people speak Azeri to each other on the streets, but this interview was conducted in Russian. And although the vast majority of people in Baku speak Azeri, many people communicate in Russian. One expat told me it is elitism. Is it possible that despite 70 years of Soviet totalitarianism in Azerbaijan, Russian is still the urbane lingua franca here? Haven’t most cities that were colonized by the USSR (Budapest, Vilnius, Dresden) dispensed with its Lenin statues, Politburo leaders, and vestiges of Russian culture (language, etc) long ago? Baku, however, is an exception: is this because Baku has been a multi-ethnic crossroads for as long as it’s been a city? Only recently has it become majority Azeri. . . . For me, it’s a surprise that card-carrying Azeris still speak so much Russian without it messing with their Azeri nationalism . . .

Nilles: Coal and Energy Choice

So, today Dan Evans and I interviewed Bruce Nilles for our film on climate change, Shattered Sky. Nilles is the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign Director. He’s pretty focused on ending coal consumption as we know it, and he’s not alone. I asked Nilles if there’s such a thing as clean coal. And, in no uncertain terms, he said the exact same thing that Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy said (who I interviewed a few weeks ago): NO. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is in the study phase, and is at least 10-15 years away as a commercial enterprise. Of course, Nilles emphasized that CCS coal would cost twice as much, and be more expensive as solar and wind. Rogers thoughts that CCS is a good investment. Nilles railed against the production of coal — which includes mountaintop removal, ash ponds, and a certain amount of deaths per year. Rogers didn’t talk much about that.

But we’re in a democracy, right? If we don’t want this anymore, we can change it? “We don’t have choice,” said Nilles. He’s right. Try calling up your monopoly utility company and requesting a second or third option for your electricity. For the approximately 25 states that derive 50% or more of their electricity from coal burning, citizens don’t have much of a choice. Ultimately, is today’s energy debate about providing us with more of a choice? When we find out more, what do we demand? I vote clean. And I suspect, with the right incentives, Rogers’ Duke Energy might invest to help us get there. Possible?

Harlem for Earth Institute

“We the rich are literally dumping on the poor,” said Lisa Sharper today while I was interviewing her for a short film that documents eco-hazards and eco-opportunities in Harlem. Sharper’s NY Faith and Justice group has collaborated with WeACT and Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Science and Religion to engage Harlem’s communities around the issue of environmental justice. This is a hot topic in a place where public health indicators suggest something very fishy: some communities in Harlem and the Bronx have the nation’s highest asthma rates, for example. Why? Well, as Sharper explained, there are no public dumps in Manhattan, but 40+ in the Bronx. And of the seven bus depots in Manhattan, six are in Harlem. So, every hour of every day, buses go though Harlem, creating these corridors of pollution that settles in clouds on schools, homes, children. Lots of it. WeACT is into its 12th year on an MTA Accountability Campaign, that’s trying to get the city to think more about the health of Harlem’s people. Having not seen or heard much about this story, I didn’t care much. But now that I’ve seen it with my own eyes, I have two reactions: first, I’m ashamed to live in a country that lets this happen; and I’m hopeful that progress can happen fast.

Lovins: No Regrets Action!

Interviewed Hunter Lovins today for our climate change documentary Shattered Sky. Who is not jazzed and encouraged after talking with Lovins?! She advocates action toward clean energy and reducing CO2 emissions, not because it is the right thing to do per se, but because there’s a compelling business case. She cited case after case where companies saved wads of cash by instituting various energy-efficiency practices. Energy efficiency could “reduce energy demand and carbon emissions by 50 %” she said. Inspirational.

Becker: From Climate Weirding to Executive Solutions

So, with co-producer Dan Evans, I interviewed Bill Becker today for our documentary Shattered Sky. So, should we be calling this crisis “climate change” or “global warming” I asked Becker. I don’t much care what we call it anymore, let’s just do something about it, he responded, before deciding on “climate weirding.” This, because there won’t be uniform warming, but unpredictable extremes – droughts, extra rain, possible feedback, etc. On his blog at Yale, John Waldman says Hunter Lovins coined the term; but when I interviewed Lovins, she said she got the term from “a friend.” So who invented it? Or more importantly, is it useful?

Becker is low-key, avuncular, and comprehensive in approach. During the last few years, he talked with hundreds of policy people, scientists, and other experts on what to do on three interrelated challenges: climate, energy, and national security. The conclusions of his Presidential Climate Action Project are in large part being integrated into early-stage Obama Administration initiatives, a credit to Becker and the work of his collaborators.

Bob Watson and the IPCC

Interviewed Bob Watson today for Shattered Sky. In my opinion, if you have to pick one person in the world today who contributed most to science informing international policy, it’s Watson. Start with the nascent international science assessments around the ozone crisis in the mid-1980s. Those were organized by Watson and Dan Albritton, from NOAA. Until then, country-level science assessments competed with each other, and often contradicted each other, undermining the authority of science and essentially making it less of an input into policy. Watson wrangled together the best scientists in the world, who coalesced into a convincing, unified voice preceding the 1988 Montreal Protocol, the landmark international treaty that phased out the chemicals that were destroying the ozone layer.

Soon thereafter, in 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its first assessment on global warming. So, 20 years later, we’re up to the 4th IPCC report, which included more than 2,500 scientific expert reviewers, more than 800 contributing authors, and more than 450 lead authors — from more than 130 countries.

So, for the first time in history, we have a truly global consensus in scientific opinion. Some complain that because there are so many participants and it takes so many years to reach consensus, that the IPCC may actually be too conservative. But, I say, better to err on this side than overstate climate change.