Gun Control in Japan – Al Jazeera report by Matt Allard shot on a Sony F3

By technical editor Matt Allard:

Gun Control from Matthew Allard on Vimeo.

I was on assignment in Japan covering the national elections when the tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut took place. The country has some of the toughest gun control regulations in the developed world, and my bosses asked me to do a story on how it deals with the issue.

In Japan, getting a permit takes a long time and is a very involved and thorough process.  There are written exams, training, psychological tests and very thorough background checks where police talk to family, friends and neighbors.  You also need to provide your financial information.  If there is even a hint of you being emotionally unstable or not responsible enough to have a gun, your permit is denied. You can apply for a licence to own shotguns and rifles, but there are no semi or automatic weapons, not even a hand gun: the weapons you can purchase are those that can be used for hunting or sports shooting.  

The hunter that we met told us that being a gun owner is a big personal and social responsibility.  Owning firearms isn’t a right, as it is in the United States, but more of a privilege.

Japan gave up its weapons following the Second World War.  A 1958 act also banned possession of firearms and swords, limiting their use to licence holders.  The regulations were made even more rigorous following a bank shoot-out in Osaka in the 1970s that outraged the Japanese public.  There are now only about 12 gun related deaths a year – one for every 10 million of its citizens.  Low gun ownership in Japan seems to be linked to the low number of incidents.   

It was good to see first-hand how another country has gone about gun control in a completely different way.  It is not up to me to say whether the United States should look at how other countries deal with the issue, but it is certainly food for thought.

This story had to be done with very little notice – we had only a day to set it up.  We met the hunter a three hour drive from Tokyo and we only had two hours with him because he had other appointments.  

These type of assignments are typical of news shoots: you rock up to a place that in most cases you have never been to before to see a person you have never met.  You don’t know what to expect or what you are going to be able to shoot.  There are no chances for a recce. Gun control, as everywhere in the world, is a sensitive issue and it is very difficult to find people who are willing to speak on camera. 

It is important to make the interviewee feel as comfortable as possible because you are putting a lot of trust in each other.  What you ultimately end up with is dependent on the connection you make with a stranger.  They could be easy to deal with or a royal pain in the backside.  Shooting people who have never been on TV before also offers challenges.  Many don’t realise that they may have to do something multiple times when you are trying to put together a sequence.  It requires a certain amount of patience, keeping your cool and always smiling.  

Luckily, our hunter was a patient and understanding man.  In the two hours I had with him, we had to meet him, have a chat, drive up to the forest to get the shots, and do an interview.  With time constraints, it is crucial to be able to make quick decisions on locations as well as sequences.  When you get to the location you need to take in what is around you, find out where the light is, what direction the sun is moving in, check the clouds, what the terrain is like, what natural sounds are available and what transition shots you can shoot. I get the shots I want most straightaway when the light is good. The light is always changing so use it when it is there.  I then get the shots I need where the light can be moving or is not so crucial.  I also listen and look for places where I can use good natural sound. I recorded the natural sounds of the forest, and also used a radio mic to collect the sounds of the hunter cleaning his gun.  That way I had all the nice sounds such as the clicking of the gun and the hunter blowing into the barrel. 

The forest area in winter is a very difficult place to shoot because there are very strong highlights and dark shadows.  You really need to compromise your exposure for one or the other.  I used the Sony F3 with S-log, recording externally at 10bit ProRes HQ.  S-log made a huge difference as I was able to protect my highlights and keep information in the shadows.  I only used a few different lenses for this shoot:  Cine-modified Zeiss ZF2’s 85mm f1.4, 100mm Macro f2, 35mm f1.4,  GL Optics 11-16mm T3 PL mount and a Nikon 80-200mm f2.8. 

The final pull focus shot in the story took a few goes to get right. The hunter’s gun was very heavy and he had to put it down time to time as I repeated the shot. I shot this on the 100mm f2 Zeiss macro and it required a massive focus throw.  I work as a one-man-band so I don’t have the luxury of having a focus puller.  I had to twist my hand around more than 180 degrees as the focus pull was from one extreme to to the other.  I had to ask for his patience, but the result turned out to be quite good. Ultimately I got it and made it work with very shallow depth of field. I was happy with the story both visually and editorially.

About Matthew Allard, Aljazeera Team Leader Cameras, Kuala Lumpur:
Matt has been a Camera/Editor in TV news for more 22 years, previously working for both Channel 9 and Channel 10 in Australia. Twice Network Ten Australia’s cameraman of the year as well as being a Walkley Finalist for outstanding camerawork in 2006 (for coverage of the Cronulla Race Riots) and a Logie Finalist for outstanding news coverage 2006 (Bali 9). He has won 14 ACS (Australian Cinematographers Society) awards. His Sword Maker story that was shot on a 7D won the prestigious Neil Davis International News Golden Tripod at the 2011 ACS Awards. He has covered news events in more than 35 countries, from major sporting events to terrorist bombings. Based out of the Kuala Lumpur broadcast centre in Malaysia he is an avid user and follower of new technology, shooting stories on HD broadcast cameras, the Sony FS700 and F3 as well as Canon DSLRs.

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