Behind The Scenes of “Story of Becoming”
KU: Hi Klaus! How’s things in Denmark?
KLAUS: Things are good in Denmark. The winter is finally starting to loose its grip and we can get outside shooting again without risking frost bite on both ourself and the gear. :-) We have also gotten a really good feedback on our latest passion project "Story of Becoming", which tells the story of the three-time world champion in kickboxing Katalin Konya. We had the pleasure of showing it at both IBC and Photokina last year together with some of our great partners like Kessler Crane.
KU: You spend a lot of time working with corporate clients, helping them tell their stories to specific audiences. With filming “Story of Becoming”, a passion project, how is your approach different than filming something for a client? Why is it important to you that you take time to work on something that doesn’t have a paycheck at the end?
KLAUS: My approach to the work is not really that different if it is a corporate project or a passion project. There is a story to tell, and whether it's about what makes a company great, or how a little girl as the youngest of 10 brothers and sisters found the strength to become a world champion, it's not really that different. The biggest difference for me is more in how I can work with the project. Most of my corporate productions have a predefined budget, that sets a limit for how much time we can spend on the different elements of the film, and in my experience, no matter how big the budget, it is never big enough. Because with bigger budgets comes higher expectations to the final product. With passion projects I am my own master, I can release the film when I feel it is ready, not because there is a predefined deadline, and I have the flexibility to go back and redo, add or change parts of the film until I feel the story is told the way it deserves. That is of course true to some extent, because a passion project is not only funded by passion, some times you need help from external partners or renting gear or locations, so somewhere there is a budget, but since you are the budget master, you can decide to spend the extra money if the film really needs it. One of the pit falls you need to be aware of in passion projects though is that it can easily turn into a never ending project, because you work on in it between paid projects and it is a passion, so you are striving for perfection, which doesn't always mix with a fast turn around. :-)
I remember being told when I started my career, that passion projects were some of the best things you could do for yourself to not only boost your skills but also to market yourself, and I didn't get it back then. I was way to focussed on getting the next paying job and buying that extra piece of gear. I am a strong believer in that the things come to us when we need it, and I think that I maybe needed some of that time before I was ready to let go a bit. It's always easy for people to tell you that you shouldn't worry about money when they don't have ten invoices on their desk. ;-)
But things have changed, and I get it now! Passion projects for me are a place where I can play, try out new techniques and be allowed to fail without worrying about a client or agency, and that will lead to developing new skills and also help you define your own style. The stories on passion projects become very personal to me, and I think one of the best things are that I can try out ideas or redo things if needed to tell the story right.
KU: From watching your BTS of “Story of Becoming” it’s pretty evident that you didn’t stick to one style of shot for the short film. You had handheld elements, jib shots, motion control shots, etc. - what about this film in particular made it important to you to feature these different camera setups?
KLAUS: I know some people advocate that you should stick to one style, or limit yourself to be more creative, like some of my fellow danish filmmakers who invented the "Documentary" concept more than 20 years ago. I follow the idea, but for me it is more about choosing the right tool for the right job. How we as cinematographers choose to move the camera has a big influence on how we tell the story. The camera is the eyes of the viewer, and if you are looking at a boxing ring from outside the ropes, or you are within the ropes facing an opponent is for me two very different scenarios, so using the same camera movements wouldn't have the camera serve the story. When you are filming a scene as a cinematographer you feel immediately if it is right and some times the best camera movement is no movement at all. Only you can tell what is right. The thought behind the choices I made in filming "Story of Becoming" was, that I wanted the viewer to not just hear the story, I wanted them to feel it, to get a look into how it is to be Katalin Konya, the 3 time world champion in full contact kick boxing, surrounded by darkness outside the ring, in spotlight, and only focusing on your opponent's move one arm's reach away from you. That is what the handheld camera gave me in the fight scenes, where I chose a slider or crane when I wanted to show the emotional side of her, or have the perspective of an observer.
KU: You mentioned to us before that your rely on the Kwik Release System to move quickly from each piece of support gear – tell us what non-Kessler gear you put the Kwik Release receivers on regularly and why you’ve integrated them into your workflow so much.
KLAUS: My philosophy around support gear is that it needs to work for you and not the other way around. :-) So it needs to make your life as a filmmaker easier, faster and better.
I actually think that is an important thing to have in mind when choosing support gear, because sometimes it's easy to get caught up in that extra thing that is "absolutely" necessary to get the shot. But the Kwik Release system is actually an essential system in my setup. On most of my productions I use a mix of tripod, slider and jib-shots and I quickly learned, that each manufacturer has their own way of connecting things, so I did spend a lot of time fiddling with adapters and things not working together or taking too long time to switch from one system to another. So when Kessler brought out the Kwik Release system I adopted it to all my gear, so I have one system that works across multiple brands and is super strong and fast to use. I have mounted receivers on my Manfrotto and Sachtler tripods, on the jib tripod, on my sliders down to our skater. That means that I can quickly move a slider from being used on the ground to be mounted on a third party tripod to the heavy duty Kessler K-pod. I can quickly switch out a slider for a jib within seconds. Because the system is so versatile you have different plates for sliders, utility, short or long cameras that all fit in the Kwik Release receivers. So on all my cameras I have mounted a plate, so it can be mounted on any one of my gear in a couple of seconds, no matter if it goes on a photo or video head, slider or a skater. For my heavier cameras I use the K-plate plates as it is designed to be easily expanded with rods when working with a follow focus or focus motors, so within the plate you have your rods attached in a very compact setup that also helps keeping your camera sitting upright due to the tabletop feet.
KU: What’s next in 2017 for Gaffa Media?
KLAUS: 2017 is going to be a super exciting year for us with lots of change. You can say that this year is all about "Practice what you preach". As you probably have noticed I have become a strong believer in the power of personal projects, so from around summer and the next 6-12 month I'm taking Gaffa Media on tour throughout Europe, filming small documentaries in each country, showing how we as humans are different and also what unites us. The binding link between the countries is going to be a focus on how healthy food and healthy living is lived in the different countries. I am super excited to get on the road with my camera and gear and telling stories that can inspire and affect people in a positive way.
KU: We always end our blogs with a little bit of local flavor from the interviewee – so with full knowledge that you are a vegan, WHEN we come to visit you in Denmark, where are you taking us to eat?
KLAUS: I have been telling you guys to come and visit me for ages, so most of the places have opened and closed. Just kidding, there are some fantastic eating places in Denmark and especially in Aarhus where I live. Aarhus is the cultural capital of the European Union here in 2017, so a lot of very exciting things are happening, especially on food. Within this small city of 300,000 people we have 4 Michelin restaurants, but there are also very exciting things happening on the grass root level, and that is where I would take you guys. We have a fantastic food market that has just opened in an old bus garage. The funny thing is, that I used to use it as a location for some of my filming when it was a garage, but now it has been completely transformed into small food stands where you can get food from all parts of the world in amazing quality and then sit at long tables and benches eating it. The atmosphere is typical danish, nice and cosy or "hyggelig" as we call it. It's a place where good friends meet for good food and wine and great talks, so you guys will fit right in. Looking forward to it.