I’ve never been one for documentaries. Sure, I’ve seen a few in my time, but I’ve never really been drawn to them. That notion escaped me the day that I was asked to meet Eric Walter. I got a phone call from my friend Brandon Cater saying that his friend in LA was producing a documentary and that he was looking to shoot on the RED, and that I was the go-to guy for the job. I talked to Eric for a good bit last January about his project, not knowing what to expect. He told me he was producing a documentary about the Amityville Horror. That instantly got my attention. Like I said, I’ve never shot a documentary before; I’ve been approached before but nothing really caught my interest the way Eric’s pitch did. I was instantly hooked. Eric asked me to put together some ideas and numbers and we’d talk later on once he got some things in place.
A few months went by and Eric kept in touch with me, just letting me know things were going smoothly, the usual talk that I’ve been fed by producers over the years. What made this different for me was when I actually met Eric in March. Now most indie producers (mainly for films) are all talk and no show, Eric was no talk and ALL show, which impressed me. I met up with him after I had just finished shooting another movie in LA. Originally, I had this notion that I was not going to end up shooting this. Boy, was I wrong. When I met Eric, he promptly gave me the break down on everything he had been planning, from showing me script breakdowns, to story boards, to audio interviews he’d previously conducted with Danny Lutz, to articles clipped and organized. I was flabbergasted. I definitely didn’t think I was going to be walking away with this documentary, but again I was wrong. Eric had seen my reel, he had seen movies that I’d previously shot (he did his homework), and was dead set on making me the Director of Photography. What choice did I have but to dive into this?
I’m the type of person who surrounds himself with people of like minds, in that I also have a close group of friends whom I entrust to get the job done on movies. So when Eric told me that we’d have a minimal crew, I knew exactly whom I would be bringing along with me: Wes Carrier – Gaffer, Jamie Bender – 2nd Camera, Travis Groves – Sound, Paul Chresomales – Key Grip. These are guys whom I know I can count on to get the job done without me babying them every step of the way. Knowing that I would be diving into something that I’ve never done before, I definitely need to be surrounded by some of my closest friends.
As the weeks passed, Eric and I started talking more and more about the aesthetics of what he wants, which has ended up being exactly how I love to light: moody and dark, very dramaesque. All in all, it has ended up being right down my alley. We lit a lot of this very toppy, to give a cold yet intimate feel to everything, almost like an interrogation. When Eric and I first talked, we had originally discussed having a black void around the subjects but once we got to that garage on Long Island, we had to bump the background a bit because it has so much character. Some of my favorite shots were of that garage – in fact all of the close up shots of the garage turned out so well that I can’t wait to use them in my reel. Everything turned out great, especially since we really put the RED to work for us.
We ended up shooting on two RED ONE cameras provided by Crawford Multimedia in conjunction with two Cooke zoom lenses (which sub sequentially led to me purchasing one of those lenses because I just loved the way they looked on the doc). We also had a Canon 7D for some additional camera stuff, which Wes ended up shooting a lot of. We also had this teleprompter in which Eric had a camera set facing him to give a very interesting feel to the interviews.
I really want to point out what I just touched upon. I have shot a lot of interviews for Under Armour but I have never shot, nor have heard about, the method in which we utilized for this documentary. Eric had our prompter setup in such a way that a camera was facing him, and was pointed back towards Danny Lutz. We had one of our RED cameras setup behind the prompter so that Eric’s face appeared in front of the lens, making this seem more like a face-to-face interview rather than a talking head interview. When Eric had originally pitched the idea to me I was up in arms about it, not knowing how the audience would react to such a style because it’s very intimate when you see it, if not creepy but it really emphasizes the storytelling in this doc. I eventually let Eric have his way and went with it and I’m glad I did because it’s something that I can barely describe; you just have to watch it. This part to me was very intriguing, as we used it for all of the one on one interviews and it works really, really well.
There were a lot of things that were going against us for this production, but I didn’t let that get to me, especially since this has such great potential. I had great people around me and I think with everyone’s gusto and enthusiasm we captured some great moments, which really gives this piece life. I have to say, I’m spoiled to have worked with such great people and to be on a great project as part of my first documentary. I’m eagerly awaiting the next part of the shoot, in which I think we can really build off of our established look and just take it places that none of us are expecting to go.