BLUE is a short film from Dom West, that follows Joe Atkinson, a professional Inline Skater at the peak of his athletic abilities. In a sport that is all too often overlooked or misrepresented, through Joe’s movements, the film attempts to showcase both the artistic aesthetic and the meditative state that the act of inline skating offers.
I. of a colour intermediate between green and violet, as of the sky or sea on a sunny day.
“the clear blue sky”
II. (of a person or mood) melancholy, sad, or depressed.
“he’s feeling blue”
BLUE is an absolute master class is short filmmaking. From the visual compositions to the pacing of the edit, every little detail has been well thought out and executed.
I caught up with Dom West to give you an in depth insight into how a passion project like this goes from just an idea to a finished film.
Can you give us a bit of background information about who you are and what you do.
I’m a Sydney based documentary filmmaker originally from London, UK. I picked up my first video camera when I was about 10 years old to film me and my friends rollerblading in the ’90s and pretty much haven’t put the camera down since. For the past 5 years, I’ve been working as a Director & Cinematographer at Untitled Film Works, an Australian production company led by Abraham Joffe ACS. We specialize in long-form documentary and natural history programming, best known for our series ‘Tales by Light’ on Netflix and ‘Big Cat Tales’ on Animal Planet.
What is “Blue” about?
BLUE is the latest short film I created with professional inline skater and close friend, Joe Atkinson. The film follows Joe skating across different terrain through NSW, Australia at a pivotal point in his skating career, themed around the word ‘blue’, exploring its meaning both in terms of the color but also the emotive sense. Through Joe, the film attempts to showcase both the physical nature and artistic aesthetic of a sport that is often overlooked or misrepresented.
Did you have concept and style in mind about how you wanted to film Blue?
Like with most projects, the film itself changed quite a lot from what we had planned initially to the final product. However, I did have some stylistic ideas in mind from the outset that I carried throughout the filming and editing process.
As a filmmaker do you think it’s important to do passion projects based around a genre that you have a personal interest in?
100%. For me, I learned a lot of what I know from just having fun filming skating. Projects like this are very freeing as a filmmaker since there is no brief, no client and no pressure – just a blank canvas to create whatever you want. This allows you to experiment with different techniques and ideas and ultimately allows you to grow as a filmmaker. What you learn through passion projects like this can then be applied to your professional work for the better.
Did you do a lot of location scouting and planning before you started shooting?
You could say I did some scouting, but not in the typical sense. The locations in the mountains I had been to before on another shoot and so I knew certain areas that looked great. The scenes in and around Sydney are places I’ve been to and shot at countless times before. The planning for the shoot as a whole was fairly relaxed. We just set out with our camping gear with a few key places in mind and took it day by day.
For me personally, the reason this film stood out was the locations you chose to shoot in. Some of these locations are probably not places that most people would think of shooting skating in. How many locations and different places did you go to?
The project was essentially shot in 2 parts: a 5-day camping trip into The Snowy Mountains and 5 days of shooting in and around Sydney, so 10 days all up. I’m always looking to shoot skating in the most interesting locations possible but it can be hard sometimes to combine an amazing location with a ‘skateable’ object. Fortunately Joe was open to ideas, and although our trip into the mountains didn’t present many skate spots in the traditional sense, we experimented with shooting scenes that we wouldn’t normally put into a skate film, which in the end are probably some of my favorite and helped contribute to the overall feeling of the film.
What equipment did you use on the project?
For this project, I used the RED Gemini with Sigma Art series & Canon Cine primes as my main set up, which I shot mostly handheld with the odd tripod shot. Then for tracking shots, I used the GH5 into an ATOMOS on a Ronin M whilst on my skates. For aerials, I used the Mavic Pro II/Mavic Air.
The equipment is only as good as its operator. What techniques did you use to get the visual aesthetic you were after?
I knew I wanted to have a meditative feel to the piece and so I made some creative choices such as shooting in slow motion, shooting handheld and at wide apertures when possible and also lingering on shots longer than I normally would. For specific scenes, I used a gimbal whilst on skates to give a more clinical feel to the footage. I also made the choice to only shoot on fixed focal length lenses and to avoid shooting with a servo zoom lens and fisheye, which is generally the go-to when filming this kind of sport.
Skating films are normally very cliche with lots of fast cuts, but you have made a skating film that is completely different. How important for you was it to show skating in a different way?
Every skate film I make I’m drawing on all my past experiences, not only with respect to camera techniques but also understanding the skater, the obstacle/location and the kind of skating we want to present. Since it’s something I’ve been involved with for over 20 years now, there are so many layers to the process, which is what makes it still so enjoyable to this day. Ultimately, every skate film I make I’m trying to represent skating in the way that I want other people to see it. This has evolved over the years simultaneously with my progression as a filmmaker, and so with BLUE I really wanted to focus on the more subtle aspect
Young filmmakers have a tendency to over use a certain piece of equipment, such as a drone or a gimbal. What advice would you give in terms of creating a nice balance of shots in a project?
I think we all have a tendency to do this at times. For me, part of what’s so exciting about being in this industry today is the endless possibilities that new technology is giving us, and so it’s very easy to get caught up in the latest gear. But ultimately, with any film, the camera and techniques should be used that are the most appropriate at telling and enhancing the story you want to present to people. I think it’s something that just takes time for people to explore all the different tools available and see what works best for the film at hand.
How much time did you spend editing Blue?
Since this was a passion project, it’s very hard to say exactly how long I spent in post. The film was shot at the end of last year and the editing was fit in around several trips, namely 8 weeks of shooting in Africa and my wedding in Europe. I end up spending a lot of time editing these kinds of projects on long haul flights and layovers and then after work and on weekends. Since there is no deadline for projects like this, I try not to rush things and just enjoy the process as much as possible.
There is no dialogue in Blue, yet it still tells a story. How important is natural sound in driving a story with no dialogue?
Skate films traditionally have no dialogue, but often are still able to tell something of a story. This is how I learned to edit when I was younger, and so with BLUE, it was quite refreshing to go back to this style of storytelling. I often find when working on a sound mix where there is dialogue, music and natural sounds it can be quite a tricky balance, but in this instance, I was able to accentuate the natural sounds, which in turn added to the feel of the film, and ultimately the story.
If people would like to find out more about you and your work where should they go?
To check out more of my personal work like this you can go to www.dom-west.com, and for my work with Untitled Film Works, check out www.untitledfilmworks.com.au or ‘Tales by Light’ Netflix and ‘ Big Cat Tales’ on Animal Planet.