Down but Not Out

After the razor-thin success of our first day, we’ve hit our first major roadblock. Last night Richard and Jesse both caught a serious bout of food poisoning. Richard is up and feeling better; Jesse is still down (as of half-six, he’s still resting in bed). Needless to say, we lost most of our shooting day today.

I was able to pick up a few shots on my own after the morning’s long rain abated, testing out the timelapse feature of the camera and nabbing a few golden-hour images. The RED continues to impress – with little effort it produces images of beauty. We’re still learning to work around the unique challenges that come with a big camera (with a large sensor, and thus shallow depth of field). In the documentary context, these issues reduce mobility and the speed at which you can pick up shots.

Despite the disappointment of getting sick, Jesse seems to be on the mend. We made up for some of the lost time meeting together and going over the story. Tomorrow we head to the East of Rwanda, to visit Elsie’s home town. Hopefully by then everyone will be back and feeling better.

In Rwanda

I only have a few moments: I’m on a cell data connection, routed through Windows onto my Mac… and it’s way past my bedtime.

We’ve made it to Rwanda, along with all of our gear. Day One started with a bang: rather than a planned easy shooting schedule to ease us into a new system and time-zone, a key interview with our main character, Nicholas, had to take place today because of scheduling issues. Though rain kept us from part of our day, we were able to get some great material with him at the Wellspring Academy and in the Village of Hope.

We’ve run into several issues with our hot-off-the-press RED camera. On-camera audio is giving us trouble, as is one of the cards that the footage is recorded to. Despite the hangups, I’m extremely proud of Lyn & Jesse and what we’ve accomplished together: hot off a plane, we’ve wrestled an unfamiliar, untested gaggle of gear into an elegant image system. And it shoots incredible images. Here’s a sample frame, shot up the hill from the compound where we’re staying. This is a compressed single-frame JPEG, but even then, take a look at the incredible detail and the beautifully smooth tones… and then imagine them in motion on a very large screen.

Rwanda 2008: First RED Shot

Everyone else has been out for a few hours already, so I need to sign off. We’re gathering in the AM to plan out our next two weeks. Tomorrow should be more relaxed… if all goes well I will post some pictures and more info on what we’re doing here.

The Eagle RED has Landed

RED One

After almost two years of anticipation, Jesse’s RED One camera (#184 off the production line) arrived via delivery truck a few minutes ago. They got the address wrong, let the ship dates slip, and bent a few promises, but we have a camera to shoot with. A last minute plea by Jesse to the RED Camera Company founder, Jim Jannard, saved the day. It couldn’t be any tighter – Jesse & Lyn leave in less than 24 hours for the long trek to Rwanda.

It’s a big risk, taking delivery of a new camera system hours before our most important trip. In the end I hope the stress and risk pay off. This camera provides us with astounding capability for our doc, the equivalent of an 11-megapixel Digital SLR, shooting in RAW mode at up to 60 frames per second. With it we’ll be able to capture the dynamic beauty of Rwanda like never before. It’s hard not to be hyperbolic – this camera has broken open a level of imagery only accessible in 35mm film stock to little films like ours. Beautiful images for a beautiful story…

We do have a backup camera in-country already. Hopefully it will sit on the shelf while the RED gets a workout. I can’t wait to see what it can do in person!

Two Green Lights

Last night the good news arrived that our grant has been approved allowing Lyn, Jesse and I to return to Rwanda in January.

The day before, I received confirmation of a photography assignment to Swaziland. I’ll be using photography to tell the story of Bulembu as part of a promotional campaign for the Teldon Group. I’ll be headed to Swaziland (via South Africa) immediately after wrapping in Rwanda.

Rwanda Whiteboard

Rwanda Whiteboard

This is an initial sketch of the Rwanda: Hope Rises storyline. Normally I would do this on a sketchpad, but this whiteboard came in handy (it’s in the conference room of Savvy Productions, home of the docs’ cinematographer.)

Admittedly this is just a sketch, and structurally it represents mostly how we move through the story. Expanding on this is where my sketchpad comes in – creating character sketches, adding sequence and tension, creating a beat chart, etc.

Click the image to get a closer view.

Incidentally, this is the first in what may be a series of “sketchpad posts”. My sketchpad has become my most important workspace – freeform thoughts limited by analog boundaries and permanence. I use it to bounce ideas back to myself and see how they work together. Sometimes they’re interesting or informative, so I’ll experiment with posting them here. For now these will remain off the main blog, but if you keep track of this feed you can see what comes of it.

Rwanda Resumes

The filming of Rwanda: Hope Rises will resume on or about January 13th. Lyn & Jesse and I met recently to review the rough cut and begin story construction towards our last shoot and, eventually, a final edit.

Rwanda Whiteboard

We are nervously anticipating the arrival of our RED One cameras for this shoot. Both Jesse and I initially expected to receive them around Nov. 1st. Now our delivery is sometime in December. Jesse’s nervously doing the rain-dance in the hope that they arrive sometime before Dec. 31st, our departure date.

If all goes well Jesse, Lyn and I will shoot for two weeks at the end of January, picking up b-roll, extra interviews, and shooting a promotional film for our hosts, The Wellspring Foundation. After Lyn & Jesse head home, I plan to stick around for an extra week shooting stills and additional footage.

Then it’s a race to the finish. With some fine planning and precision editing, I hope to have the film locked for a screening in Rwanda in early April.