One of the most common bookings I get for shooting timelapse is when a project is almost finished. The production company has shot all the material (or most) and is now sitting in a windowless, probably underground bunker-type room with a handful of drives, an editor or two and an edit producer or someone similar.
It's not that they've been unprepared or have suffered a complete lack of planning whilst initial shooting has taken place, it's very much common practice to require pick-up shots or additional footage after principal photography has taken place. Things change in the edit for varying reasons be it a last minute change of staff, a company big wig throwing his or her weight around or generally, too many cooks in the kitchen. Either way, this is where I receive that phonecall:
"Hello, is this Chadchud Timelapse?"
"Yes, Chad here - how can I help?"
"We need some timelapse shots, asap."
"No problem. Just one thing, it's raining tomorrow / it's midnight, are you crazy? / there's a meteor due to strike and I'd like to spend my remaining hours with my family."
Obviously this isn't how it went down with this particular production, and I'd like to clarify that working with ITV's Shiver on this is now in my top ten of well-organised and professionally approached shoots, but you get the idea!
The actual phonecall
After an initial explanation and breakdown of the documentary, I checked the weather and picked the best day out of what mostly looked like a rainy week. I can never be 100% on weather forecasts, but experience and background reading on how the weather works normally gives me a high success rate!
What they were looking for were the standard 'filler' shots / pick-ups / GVs / B-roll - basically, shots that help tell the story of location and also shots from within the location - establishing shots. They also wanted shots that showed the passage of time - always useful when you want to help portray the link between one day and the next. The standard go-to timelapse for this is a sunrise or sunset either preceded or followed by some shots at night.
For shoots in big cities or where it may be dangerous to go out on my own (cliff climbing etc) I'll always take an assistant with me. This not only helps with the carrying of kit (there's not a great deal, but it's quite awkward moving around with a 6ft slider and two cameras, tripods and everything else!) but it also gives me the opportunity to look at the next shot or location to save time. Using an assistant is also a priority as it's the best way to hand down my knowledge and help 'build' the next generation of timelapse photographers!
The weather wasn't great to start with, but my inner barometer was telling me this was going to change. Our mission was to capture the Shard from many angles with either static shots or motion control. With a two-camera set up, I was shooting two shots simultaneously and we moved around the area walking a total of seven miles. Once we'd shot everything, it was time to focus on filming from within the Hotel itself.
The difficulty of the dubious double glazing
If you've ever tried to film through glass before, you'll know that you can mostly get away with it by using a polarising filter that will cut out any reflections. The Shard however, is an entirely different beast when it comes to filming from inside out. The problem is, unlike traditional double glazing, the distance between the inner glass and the outer glass at the Shard is about eight inches. This results in something called Total Internal Reflection - it's how a mirror works or if you've ever been in the back seat of a car during sunrise or sunset and you can see two faces of the driver in the rear view mirror.
On top of this, the many angled surfaces of the outer glass means that at night, you can see into other people's rooms if they haven't got their 'privacy' blinds closed and their lights on. Much amusement provided here, but a nightmare for timelapsing the London skyline at night!
Luckily, it was a request that instead of just shooting the skyline traditionally, I kept the glass and it's framework in shot to give each shot some context and relation to the story. If this wasn't the case, I'd have had to black out with drapes every single window in the room and possibly, the adjoining rooms!
Watch the Documentary
If you're in the UK (it may be possible to watch this outside of the UK, but I'm not sure how to do that!) you can see the full one hour documentary via the following link, up until the 10th December 2014 or thereabouts:
Once again, many thanks to all the kind, organised and beautiful people at Shiver for a great day spent above and below the clouds!
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