Guest post by David Shadrack Smith, excutive producer of Culture Shock:
We at part2pictures were early adopters of the DSLRs on our series, Our America with Lisa Ling for OWN , and for this new pilot, Culture Shock , we delved into the promise and limits of the technology even further. For this show, we explored color, stylized lenses, and techniques that helped create what we hope is a fresh look, even as DSLR becomes the standard for documentaries.
Traveling around the world – in this case China, India, Russia and Brazil – forced some special preparation. The locations were tough on the cameras – from extreme heat and humidity to Russian winters. We made sure to bring extra bodies, traveling with a total of four cameras (3 Canon 5D mkII and one Canon 7D) and about eight lenses varying from 70-200mm with 2x extenders to a 15mm fisheye and a tilt/shift lens. The small bodies were excellent fits for shooting in some tight situations, including Carnival in Brazil, where we jostled in crowds of three million writhing party-goers to a festival of atonement in India. We could be inconspicuous in China (always a plus) and walk onto Red Square in Moscow as if we were tourists taking photos (and thereby avoiding the $1000/hour fees usually charged to film there).
Playing off the dual photo/video purposes of DSLRs, we wanted to shoot this show in a distinctive, controlled, and composed way – inspired by the idea of portraiture. We focused on details in each place, highlighting similarities and differences: the writing on a tube of Indian toothpaste, the slippers under the bed of a Chinese mistress and so on. Each detail gives part of a picture and like a cubist painting, the whole only clicks into place when you see the entire portrait. To do this, we worked with macro lenses and fisheye’s, zooms and extenders. We relied most on a 35mm f1.4 trying to keep the lens as open as possible. And we filmed timelapses in each location on a 24mm. In an unusual approach, we chose to keep the camera on tripods almost the entire time, creating still frames that allow the viewer to think about postcards from far away places.
We also wanted to be able to cut to the same frame in each location as an establishing shot, so we created a plastic template to go on the back of each camera that lined up the horizon and the focal lengths, shooting each time on the same lens. The effect allowed us to make split-frame transitions between different countries as a way of getting from one place to another. It also was the template for our title open, in which three hosts – all filmmakers – walk toward the camera as the backgrounds change. These were time consuming but fruitful.
Each location also got its own color scheme – a cooler tone in China (4.3K), a warmer one in India (6.3K), and so on, which we achieved simply by adjusting color temperatures and sticking to them throughout the stay in each location. Even at night, we shot with daylight color temperatures to give a lurid, shining feel. The colors, sounds, and details of each location were what we were after. And the DSLRs helped bring them into sharp focus, well worth the trouble (two-system sound, 12 minute shot maximum, etc.).
I hope people will tune in and check out the show. It’s a visually rich portrait of the world and one we’re especially proud of. Check it out: Culture Shock, airs this Sunday, July 22 at 10pm on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.
To see more of our work go to www.part2pictures.com
Tune in for the premiere of Culture Shock Sunday, July 22nd at 10/9c.