A short about axe man Steve Sunk – shot of 5D mkII by Rob Norton

Guest post by Rob Norton:

steve sunk – axe man from rob norton on Vimeo.

Steve Sunk, an Australian of the Year Awards finalist, is a master chef who teaches indigenous Australians western cooking techniques so they can get a job and cook nutritious meals for their families. He’s well-known as “the Walkabout Chef” but when I was on a mate’s property I read an article in OUTBACK magazine about Steve as a weapons maker, not a chef. In the article I saw stills of Steve in his shed – red hot steel on the end of a long metal rod, a big flame shooting from an oven, an anvil like in the cartoons, and a magnificent display of various hunting knives with bone handles.

I contacted Steve in January this year, told him about my idea for the video profile and he said “let’s do it”. He lives outside Darwin in the Northern Territory. I thought Queensland summers were miserable; he told me I couldn’t come any time soon because it was still summer i.e. wet season and I’d die. He’d be back from the bush for a week or two in July – the window was set.

The gear for the shoot

I packed a carry-on and a bag to check for my flight. My carry-on was a 1450 Pelican case with:
Canon 5D mkII
Canon 550D (Rebel T2i)
Zoom H4n audio recorder
Sony UWP-V1 wireless mic kit
Rode Videomic Pro
Canon 24-105mm f4L IS
Canon 70-200 2.8mm f2.8L IS II
2x extender
100mm macro 2.8 (non L version)
Tram TR-50 wired lavalier
CF cards

In my checked bag I had a Fancier FT-717 tripod, friction arm, suction mount and gorillapod, along with clothes, books, toothbrush etc.

The Fancier tripod with home made recorder and wireless mount

I landed in Darwin, picked up the van which doubled as my week’s accommodation and hired two 1×1 LED panels. I met Steve and we got to work. I had a vague idea of what the shed looked like from the magazine photos. The plan was for Steve to make a battle axe from an old English hammer, then a knife from Damascus forged steel.

I had a shot list but no strict storyboard. Steve had no idea what I was doing. Sometimes he’d explain what he was doing; otherwise he worked as if I wasn’t there. I had to be quick because I wasn’t familiar enough with the process to know whether a certain action would be repeated. I tried to anticipate his movement to let him enter and leave the frame as much as possible. I didn’t really get any cutaways so this saved me during the edit. There are a couple jump cuts, but hopefully none too jarring.

For sound at the beginning of the shoot I taped the wireless lavalier to the inside of his shirt. I let the zoom run for long clips. For a shoot like this the wireless is your best friend. Even with the belt grinder going you can hear what he says. It was so hot in the shed with the oven/general temperature Steve’s shirt got soaked and the taped lavalier fell off. Listening through headphones I thought something was wrong with the microphone until I realised it was dragging in the dirt at his feet. After lunch he changed shirts and I could re-tape the microphone.

You have to be alert when the subject starts talking. I treated any speech as a live shot. If you decide what they’re saying won’t be included then you can make a more efficient adjustment to the shot. I think these live moments add to the video versus having his interview voiceover alone. I decided to do an audio only interview, which got the voiceover.

I didn’t need to use my backup Canon 550D. I swapped between the 24-105mm and 70-200mm, sometimes with the 2x extender. Some transitions between steps of the blade-making process weren’t flexible – he couldn’t wait for me to set up – so the two zoom lenses made the most sense. I attached the audio recorder to a metal bracket and a screw, and the wireless receiver clipped onto a metal plate I screwed into the pan handle. At the end of the day I used the macro lens for the final three shots. In the last shot you can see a tiny spider crawling on the blade.

For the grade I used the Cinestyle profile and pushed the shadows towards a blue liked, while trying to stay true to his skin tone.

The shoot was one full day. Steve ended up giving me the axe  – a huge honour.

You can see more of Rob’s work on his Vimeo channel.

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