Cracking The Code
How director Don Shades and cinematographer Alberto Balazs got back to folk basics with Ross Wilson and Blue Rose Code.
How many people do you need to shoot a project on film? The answer, according to Don Shades and Alberto Balazs, is two. When Shades approached Argentinian director of photography Alberto Balazs about documenting the recording of the latest album from Ross Wilson and Blue Rose Code, his reaction was immediate.
"Alberto decided that we should shoot on 16mm," says Shades. "My reaction was, 'Yikes - can we really pull this off? There'll just be the two of us in the team. I'll be director/sound man/camera assistant and you'll be behind the lens. This sounds like madness!' But Alberto's infectious enthusiasm for the versatility of 16mm persuaded me completely. Alberto assured me that by working tightly as a team, we could be as free with 16mm as we could be with a digital format, but the considered nature of working on film would be inherited. What other format could we use to make a film about craftsmanship and artistry in production?"
Shades hit on the idea when two art director/copywriter friends were doing some PR work for the band. "I just thought that it'd be nice to do a set of short documentaries looking at the artistry of crafting a good folk record," says Shades. "Ross was about to go into the studio to start recording his album, North Ten, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to capture his approach on film. We wanted to focus on the craft of the musician, rather than the buttons and knobs that seem to appear in a good number of behind-the-scenes shorts that I've seen recently."
Once everyone was onboard, Balazs chose to shoot on Eterna 250D and 250T, plus some cutoffs of Reala 500D and Eterna 400T. "We wanted a natural, soft look," says Balazs. "We were going to shoot mainly outdoors in winter with just natural light. We came up with the idea of using a Lomo Anamorphic lens adapter bolted onto the front of our Ultra Prime selection to get a wider frame and depth of field closer to 35mm."
"We had a lot of support form Fuji's Complete 16 Package, Take 2 Films and what was Deluxe Soho, which made the project a reality on our very modest budget," says Shades.
The bulk of the shoot was hand-held and very early on the duo decided to throw caution to the wind and be as free as they wanted. "We worked together closely, often with improvisation," explains Balazs, "and we were working always with just one take."
"We were able to stay nimble and quick with an ability to adapt to the situation around us, "says Shades. "It was the hardest I've ever worked in my life."
"We were lucky to have so many options that Fuji gave us to get the look we were after," says Balazs.
And what was that look?
"I had recently seen Adrian Maben's fantastic Pink Floyd: Live in Pompeii," says Shades. "The studio sequences were masterful and I wanted to paint our film as if it was from that era."
Shades and Balazs were resolute, however, that to achieve that nostalgic, almost bygone quality, they had to use film. "The retro trend at the moment is about trying to make your Digital SLR emulate the look of film," says Shades. "I'm not sure it's a healthy thing, creatively. To me it makes sense to choose the right format for the look you want to achieve; this is something that Alberto is passionate about. The stock delivered - even the 250D stood up when pushed in that 15 minutes of magic light just after sunset."
Shades believes that their close collaboration is the reason they could ever make a film like this on such a small budget. "From the moment Alberto came on board, he very much became a co-director of the film," says Shades. "I had a list of moments that I wanted to capture, and Alberto continually came up with suggestions of how we could make those moments come to life. He's a bit crazy too. When I said I wanted to get some of the down time, the band playing football, etc, it was Alberto who suggested that he could be part of the game, with the SR3 on a shoulder rig!
"For the four days of the shoot we were never more than four feet away from each other," Shades continues. "We've forged a bond and we'll definitely move on to other projects. We contrast in a good way - I'm always in a hurry to turn over; Alberto is forever waiting for 'That Moment'. I'd like to think that some beautiful moments have emerged from that tension."