Tag Archives: National Geographic

Behind the Title: Harbor Picture Company’s DP Greg Wilson

NAME: Greg Wilson

COMPANY: Harbor Picture Company

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Harbor Picture Company is a post production and production company based in New York City. We help content creators — studios, networks, directors, brands and agencies — execute high-caliber content efficiently and at scale. The company offers a range of services, including sound mixing, color, ADR, picture editorial and VFX, housed across five facilities, including the largest ADR soundstage and largest theatrical mix stage in New York.

I’m part of Harbor’s DP Collective, a group of elite directors of photography who specialize in bringing a cinematic style and quality to any screen.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Photography

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My role is to create the look and feel of a film or commercial through lighting, camera direction, lensing and blocking to best fit the story the director is trying to tell. This revolves around communication with the department heads to build towards a unified goal and create the right tone for the story.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think people would be surprised by the amount of time and perseverance some projects can take from concept to final product, but anything that’s worth doing is going to take a lot of energy and effort. For example, the project I did for National Geographic Magazine, Cheetahs on the Edge, took more than nine months to produce and put together.

With the folks over at DoggiCam I designed a 410-foot dolly to use on a shot of a sprinting cheetah. The goal was to mimic the perspective that Eadweard Muybridge achieved in the late 1800s when photographing a running horse. He invented motion picture with those images, and I wanted to take a similar approach by using the most modern technology available at the time.

I wanted to move a camera alongside the fastest land animal in the world, giving a unique perspective on how they move. I believed in this project very much but it was a challenge to get it off the ground, I worked with National Geographic Magazine to raise the money and obtain all the proper permissions to build this dolly system and secure the access to the cheetahs at the Cincinnati Zoo. Once we were green lit, we spent four months acclimating the cheetahs to the sounds of the high-speed camera system, which was very loud. I played a pre-recorded sound for them while they ate to build positive reinforcement, so they wouldn’t be frightened by the noise or speed of the system when we actually started shooting.

From there, we had to design an arpeggiation device to trigger the three DSLR cameras that were on a sled with the high-speed Phantom camera. This arpeggiation device created a seamless looping of the shutters on each Canon D1x, each running at 14fps, giving us 42fps at 20.2MP for still photographs to put in the magazine. This is just one example, but I work on many challenging technical jobs that require a lot of prep time to design new techniques, overcome hurdles and, ultimately, ensure that we’ll get the best images we can.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Being around tenacious and engaged people working as a team to create something that didn’t exist beyond a script until you start to roll the cameras. Being able to work in so many different environments and in and out of unique stories constantly keeps things fresh and exciting.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The schedule can be a challenge. It can be tough being on the road so much, but there’s a give and take. For as much as I’m away, I try to have a balance of time off so I don’t get burnt out.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
A cold, misty morning is my favorite, but it’s so fleeting. Magic hour is the best to shoot in.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d still be working as a photojournalist and in the darkroom as a black and white printer.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
This is my third career, believe it or not. I turned pro as a snowboarder when I was 15 years old and went to the Olympics at 22. After a very bad injury, that left me in the hospital for many months and unable to walk or do much of anything for nearly a year, I found my way into still photography and worked for six years as a photojournalist for National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Wired, Spin, Fader, NYT and other newspapers and magazines.

I also worked as a traditional black and white printer in New York after working as a platinum printer for more than two years in Massachusetts. I found cinematography after seeing some films that really rattled me and made me see the world in a way that I understood, one of which was the Brazilian film Pixote.

I wanted to understand how to create the same emotions and tone I was after in my still photography and apply it to motion. Music was a huge part of this interest as well. The fact that you could use sound to influence the picture was a major eye opener early on. Even though I didn’t get into motion pictures until I was 30, I think my past experience in other fields has greatly influenced my life behind the camera and given me a perspective on the subjects that I photograph.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I recently finished a documentary that I’m really excited about called Zion. It’s about a young black wrestler who was born without legs into the foster care system in Ohio. It’s a powerful story and really resonated with me. The director Floyd Russ and I have a few more sports films coming down the line soon.

I also finished up a Netflix Original feature, Amateur, with Director Ryan Koo about a young basketball player dealing with the trials and tribulations of NCAA rules and corruption inside the sport. Lately, I’ve been working on a mix of documentaries, feature projects and commercials — with a lot of them coincidentally surrounding the sports world.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m not sure what I’m most proud of. I don’t like to think about it like that. But one project that I was very happy to have been involved with was another recent collaboration with Floyd Russ and NFL Films for the Ad Council’s campaign, “Love Has No Labels.” The spot used the iconic Kiss Cam to showcase love. Period. It was a real pleasure to be a part of that project and see the overwhelming response to the spot. It was great to work on a commercial project with such a great message behind it.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Wireless video, my light meter and, unfortunately, my cell phone.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m pretty active on Instagram, you can follow me at @greg_wilson_dp

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I am constantly listening to music. Lately, for writing, it’s been Stars of the Lid. Otherwise I’ve been listening to Billy Swan, Kendrick, The Bats and Mogwai.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I like to spend time in the darkroom printing. I like fishing, being outdoors, riding my bike and woodworking. I like old processes, things where I use my hands and take a step back from technology.

The A-List: Director Ron Howard discusses National Geo’s Genius

By Iain Blair

Ron Howard has done it all in Hollywood. The former child star of The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days not only successfully made the tricky transition to adult actor (at 22 he starred opposite John Wayne in The Shootist and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), but went on to establish himself as an Oscar-winning director and producer (A Beautiful Mind). He is also one of Hollywood’s most beloved and commercially successful and versatile helmers.

Since making his directorial debut in 1977 with Grand Theft Auto (when he was still on Happy Days), he’s made an eclectic group of films about boxers (Cinderella Man), astronauts (Apollo 13), mermaids (Splash), symbologists (The Da Vinci Code franchise), politicians (Frost/Nixon) firefighters (Backdraft), mathematicians (A Beautiful Mind), Formula One racing (Rush), whalers (In the Heart of the Sea) and the Fab Four (his first documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week).

Born in Oklahoma with showbiz in his DNA — his parents were both actors — Howard “always wanted to direct” and notes that “producing gives you control.” In 1986, he co-founded Imagine Entertainment with Brian Grazer, a powerhouse in film and TV (Empire, Arrested Development) production. His latest project is the new Genius series for National Geographic.

The 10-part global event series — the network’s first scripted series — is based on Walter Isaacson’s book “Einstein: His Life and Universe” and tracks Albert Einstein’s rise from humble origins as an imaginative and rebellious thinker through his struggles to be recognized by the establishment, to his global celebrity status as the man who unlocked the mysteries of the cosmos with his theory of relativity.

But if you’re expecting a dry, intellectual by-the-numbers look at his life and career, you’re in for a big surprise.

With an impressive cast that includes Geoffrey Rush as the celebrated scientist in his later years, Johnny Flynn as Einstein in the years before he rose to international acclaim and Emily Watson as his second wife — and first cousin — Elsa Einstein, the show is full of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

We’re mostly joking, but the series does balance the hard-to-grasp scientific theories with an entertaining exploration of a man with an often very messy private life as it follows Einstein’s alternately exhilarating emotions and heartlessness in dealing with his closest personal relationships, including his children, his two wives and the various women with whom he cheats on them.

Besides all the personal drama, there’s plenty of global drama as Genius is set against an era of international conflict over the course of two world wars. Faced with rising anti-Semitism in Europe, surveillance by spies and the potential for atomic annihilation, Einstein struggles as a husband and a father, not to mention as a man of principle, even as his own life is put in danger.

I talked recently with Ron Howard about directing the first episode and his love of production and post.

What was the appeal of doing this and making your scripted television directorial debut with the first episode?
I’ve become a big fan of all the great TV shows people are doing now, where you let a story unfold in a novelistic way, and I was envious of a lot of my peers getting into doing TV — and this was a great project that just really suits the TV format. Over the years, I had read various screenplays about Einstein but they just never worked as a movie, so when National Geographic wanted to reach out to their audience in a more ambitious way, suddenly there was this perfect platform to do this life justice and have the length it needed. It’s an ideal fit, and it was perfect to do it with National Geographic.

Given that you had considered making a film about him, how familiar were you with Einstein and his life? How do you find the drama in an academic’s life?
I thought I had some insight, but I was blown away by the book and Noah Pink’s screenplay, and everyone on the team brought their own research to the process, and it became more and more fascinating. There was this constant pressure on Einstein that I felt we could work with through the whole series, and that I never realized was there. And with that pressure, there’s drama. We came very close to not benefiting from his genius because of all the forces against him – sometimes from external forces, like governments and academic institutions, but often from his own foibles and flaws. He was even on a hit list. So I was really fascinated by his whole story.

What most surprised you about Einstein once you began delving deeper into his private life?
That he was such a Lothario! He had quite a complicated love life, but it was also that he had such a dogged commitment to his principles and logic and point-of-view. I was doing post on the Beatles documentary as we prepped, and it was the same thing with those young men. They often didn’t listen to outside influences and people telling them it couldn’t be done. They absolutely committed to their musical vision and principles with all their drive and focus, and it worked — and collectively I think you could say the band was genius.

Einstein also trusted his convictions, whether it was physics or math, and if the conventional answers didn’t satisfy his sense of logic, he’d just dig deeper. The same thing can be said for his personal life and relationships, and trying to find a balance between his career and life’s work, and family and friends. Look at his falling in love with his fellow physics student Mileva Maric, which causes all sorts of problems, especially when she unexpectedly gets pregnant. No one else thought she was particularly attractive, she was a bit of an outcast as the only female physics student, and yet his logic called him to her. The same thing with politics. He went his own way in everything. He was a true renaissance man, eternally curious about everything.

In terms of dealing with very complex ideas that aren’t necessarily very cinematic, it must have helped that you’d made A Beautiful Mind?
Yes, we saw a lot of similarities between the two. It really helped that both men were essentially visualists — Einstein even more so than John Nash. That gave us a big advantage and gave me the chance to show audiences some of his famous thought experiments in cinematic ways, and he described them very vividly and they’re a fantastic jumping-off point — it was his visualizations that helped him wrap his head around the physics. He began with something he could grasp physically and then went back to prove it with the math. Those principles gave him the amazing insights about the nature of the universe, and time and space, that we’ve all benefitted from.

I assume you began integrating post and all the VFX very early on?
Right away, in preproduction meetings in Prague, in the Czech Republic, where Einstein lived and taught early in his career. We had our whole team there on location, including our VFX supervisor Eric Durst and his team, DP Mathias Herndl, our production designers and art directors and so on. With all the VFX, we stayed pretty close to how Einstein described his thought experiments. The one that starts off this first episode is very vivid, whereas the first one he has as a 17-year-old boy is done in a more chalk-board kind of way, where he faints and can barely hang on mentally to the image. All the dailies and visual effects were done by UPP.

Where did you do the post?
We did all the editing and sound back in LA.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. I love the edit and slowly pulling it all together after the stress of the shoot.

It was edited by James Wilcox, who’s done CSI: Miami and Hawaii Five-O, along with Debby Germino and J. Kathleen Gibson. How early was James involved and was he on set?
Dan and Mike weren’t available. It’s the first time I’d worked with James and he’s very creative and did a great job. He wasn’t on the set, but we were constantly in communication and we’d send him material back to LA and then when I got back, we sat down together.

The show constantly cuts back and forth in time.
Yes, I was fascinated by all those transitions and I worked very closely with my team to make sure we had all that down, and that it all flowed smoothly in the edit. For instance, Johnny Flynn plays violin and he trained classically, so he actually plays in all those scenes. But Geoffrey doesn’t play violin, but he practiced for several months, and we had a teacher on set too. Geoffrey was so dedicated to creating this character.They both looked at tons of footage of Einstein as an older man, so Johnny could develop aspects of Einstein’s manner and behavior as the younger one, which Geoffrey could work with later, so we had a real continuity to the character. That’s a big reason why I wanted to be so hands-on with the first episode, as we were defining so many key aspects of the man and the aesthetics and the way we’d be telling the whole story.

Can you talk about working on the sound and music?
It’s always huge to me and adds so much to every scene. Lorne Balfe wrote a fantastic score and we had a great sound team: production sound mixer Peter Forejt, supervising sound editor Daniel Pagan, music editor Del Spiva and re-recording mixers Mark Hensley and Bob Bronow. For post production audio we used Smart Post Sound.

The DI must have been important?
It was very important since we were trying to do stuff with the concept of time in very subtle ways using the camera work, the palette and the lighting style. This all changed subtly depending on whether it was an Einstein memory, or a flashback to his younger, brasher self, or looking ahead to the iconic older man where it was all a little more formal. So we went for different looks to match the different energies and, of course, the editing style had to embody all of that as well. The colorist was Pankaj Bajpai, and he did a great job.

What’s next?
I plan to do more TV. Remember, I came out of TV and it’s so exciting now. I’m also developing several movie projects, including Seveneves, a sci-fi film, and Under the Banner of Heaven which is based on the Jon Krakauer bestseller. So whatever comes together first.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Nat Geo’s Bertie Gregory shares tips for managing video in the field

Bertie Gregory may be only 22 years old, but he’s already worked at National Geographic magazine, won the 2015 Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award and is filming Nat Geo WILD’s first online natural history series.

The show, called wild_life, launched on August 3. Each episode finds Gregory (@BertieGPhoto) seeking out wildlife — salmon, black bears, wolves, etc. — to capture with his cameras. We asked this very busy young Englishman about how he manages his workflow during his 18- to 20-hour days in the field.

Here are Gregory’s Top 5 tips:
1) Have a Backup Plan
Before you set foot in the field, find a data backup system that works for you and stick to it. You’re not always going to be at your best when you’re transferring data from one location to another, and you don’t want to make a mistake. Take time before filming to run through your backup procedures so that there are no surprises.

When downloading from my camera, I always make three copies — one to be stored in a separate geographic location and the other two on me. With file sizes being as large as they are now, having a good workflow in place is absolutely essential. I can aspire to be the best tracker or camera operator, but if we don’t have everything dialed in on the back end, then none of that matters.

2) Choose Reliable Equipment
There are many storage manufacturers competing in the market right now, which has been great for consumers, but be sure that you’re choosing equipment not only based on its price, but also its reliability and durability. There’s plenty of bargain-basement hardware out there that might cost a fraction of their higher-quality counterparts, but they’re likely to let you down exactly at the wrong time.

Between being stuffed in a backpack and overzealous airport baggage handlers, my equipment can really take a beating, so I tend to invest in equipment that might be a bit more expensive initially, but will easily save me significant amounts of time, money and effort over the long-term.

My equipment list:
Cameras:
– Red Dragon
– Canon C300
– Sony FS7
– Multiple GoPros
Computer:
– MacBook Pro

Storage:
– 20TB LaCie 5big Thunderbolt 2
– Multiple 4TB LaCie Rugged RAID drives

3) Choose Speed
I shoot a lot of footage — more than 500 GB on some days — and there’s nothing more soul-crushing than wrapping up 15 hours of filming and realizing that you still have hours of work ahead of you just to back up your data. When I get finished with a day’s shooting, all I want to do is get horizontal as fast as possible. That means I need fast transfer speeds. Look for backup storage devices that use Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 interfaces, and which also incorporate RAID technology to improve both speed and reliability.

4) Get Rid of Distractions
Making one mistake can ruin an entire day’s worth of time, money and effort when you’re backing up your footage. When I’m downloading, I do it in a quiet location without distractions. Just like with everything else in life, you’re going to do a better, quicker job if you have your full attention on the task at hand. Admittedly, this is easier to do in the wilds of Canada than in an office somewhere, but quiet places do exist, even in the modern office.

5) Keep With Your Plan
When you have the right equipment, people and plan in place, you’re ready to go — as long as you keep to that plan. But with the long days, the thankless nature of backing up your data and the strains that being in the field can put on you, it can be very easy at some point down the road to just not keep with the plan.

“Oh, I’ll just do it tomorrow” becomes, “Eh, I can do it this weekend,” which becomes, “Wait, when was the last time I backed up my data?” And while you may get lucky and not suffer a mishap while your data is vulnerable, you’re playing with fire every time you put off backing up your data. Keep to your plan, follow your backup schedule and you won’t ever have to worry.


Check out more on wild_life on Nat Geo Wild.