By Anne Telford
In our digital device controlled lives you only have seconds to grab eyeballs and it’s all about how many hits, hearts, likes, or friends you receive. So how do you tell a compelling human-interest story, a filmic portrait if you will, in two minutes or less?
It’s become almost mandatory to shoot video alongside still photography assignments.
“It used to be that if an art buyer was interested in a photographer for a project that included video, he or she would call and to ask about experience level, even if the photographer didn’t have videos on their website,” explains Heather Elder of Heather Elder Represents. “Not any more. Now, if there are no videos on your site, you aren’t even considered. They move on to someone who does have them. That is because there are so many more jobs that require video and so many photographers that have become proficient in motion.”
Chris Crisman knew that Sadie Samuels had a compelling story. He’d learned of her through a newspaper article and was intrigued by her personality and career choice. Accompanying the 23-year-old Maine lobster fisher, Crisman, his assistant and a director of photography set out for a day on the water.
Of his most recent shoot in the Women’s Work series, he relates, “We were making a little more of a commitment with this one as I had a friend who is a DP fly in from California. I think there’s a little more to everything with the production. On our shoot day we had a really great long day of it. I think we actually had 13 to 14 hours on the day. With video it’s similar but you’re just diving in and developing the story as the day goes on.
“The drone shot was a nice bonus. Ezra Migel, the DP who partnered with us, is a talented drone operator. We lost the drone in the fog for a few minutes; it lost contact with the remote control. You can’t see it or find it and hope that you can find it by circling,” he says. “There are still other shots I love but we wanted to keep it to a manageable time. The edit was real tight. It was a beautiful vignette.”
You never know what will occur on a shoot, but this one could have gone way wrong. “There was a funny thing that happened,” Chris remembers. “We met Sadie the day before the shoot. She said she hadn’t been feeling well but she was game to go ahead. The day of the shoot she was kind of unwell. We shot all day into the evening. We came home and four days later, I was checking my Instagram feed. I found out that the night after our shoot she went into the hospital where her appendix was removed.” Resolute to the end, Sadie had been working with the early signs of appendicitis!
Location scouting is taken out of the production equation on shoots like the one onboard Sadie’s boat, the Must Be Nice. They were going to be on the water off the coast of Maine, with a varying degree of swell and once they were on site, the weather was going to do what the weather was going to do. No amount of advance planning can always accommodate the whims of Mother Nature.
Of the weather that day, Ezra Migel says, “The drone footage in the fog ended up being some of the more beautiful stuff we shot.” Having spent six weeks shooting a documentary on a 37-foot fishing boat he was familiar with the physical constraints of working in a small, moving space. Not to mention having to work around having three extra people onboard. “It’s hard making shots happen with not seeing the other people on the boat. I had to hide in a corner,” he relates.
For Migel, an avid surfer, who grew up fishing with his grandfather, the shoot was a lot of fun. “We wanted to take a documentary eye to everything and just follow her through her day. We all kind of worked as a team on the boat to make everything happen, not only shooting but pulling pots.” He and Chris had previously done commercial work together. Of working on Sadie’s shoot, he says, “Chris and I share a similar art form; we have a great understanding and respect for each other’s craft and enjoy collaborating to bring images to life.”
Crisman agrees, “From the get-go we wanted to tell a comprehensive story about her background, how she came to lobster fishing; a day in the life story tied in with that. [When] we got off the boat from shooting that 14-hour day, her dad and her sister came to meet us and hang out. It made sense when we met him how that relationship played out.
“Speaking to the day itself you’ve got the sense of this story and what you want to tell in the over-all coverage. We hoped we’d have a nice clear morning, but when we got to the docks it was socked in and the visibility was bad. It was moody and you can see it open up into a brighter sunny light day,” he remembers. “That was quite an experience. When you think about video the whole time you’re thinking about how you can edit, and how different footage fits together. Once you have the footage you have options as to exactly what story you tell.
“You’re really trying to hinge off what are the key frames. It helped we were doing voice over to marry the images and the audio. It’s quite a puzzle. She had a wonderful personality. It’s funny to get to that two minutes of audio, we had over an hour. You edit from this big piece down to this little piece. If you hear a gem you try and get it repeated a couple times to get the best take of that. She was under the weather when we were shooting. You could tell that she was a little nasal.”
Despite a rocky start with morning fog and Sadie not feeling 100%, the day’s shoot was a success. “We were able to capture stills and video on about 100-square-feet of real estate. That was pretty crazy. All in all it was great. She shared a good story,” Crisman says.