Typically I work with very small field crews for most factual based projects. Toronto director Mark Stevenson and I have collaborated on many long form documentaries over the past 20 years. I was in the USA when he reached out to about a fascinating series he was directing for Cream Productions. Like a scene out of Jerry Maguire, he had me at ‘I’d like you to DOP 6 x 1 hr episodes for National Geographic and PBS focused on Dictator’s of the twentieth century’. The same day Series Producer Matt Booi and I were sharing ideas about story and aesthetic. His vision was to treat each episode like a film. At the core of each episode were foundation interviews with the world’s foremost experts on 6 Dictator’s. Matt, Mark and I agreed we would make each of these interviews non traditional. Many documentary interviews are shot head and shoulders in locations that are convenient for the subject being interviewed. Ie subjects home, office etc. Our approach would be to painstakingly source hand selected locations and bring our subjects to our location. We looked for huge spaces like empty abandoned warehouses. The idea was to visually create a sense of tension when possible. In locations like Panama, the clip from the Noriega episode above, we settled on large empty interesting room in a hotel with windows I could include in the frame. In a different episode we looked at over 650 locations online before settling on two. Each interview was filmed wide & tight with two cameras. I took a page from a beautifully lensed series, ‘Facing’ shot by Ian Kerr csc using tilt shift lenses. I bought 17, 24, 45, 90mm tilt shift lenses used for most interviews and some visuals. I love how they direct the eye to specific parts of the frame. Mark directed approx 50 interviews as I operated two cameras, ran a boom mic and wireless lav for sound. That was our field crew other than a translator when necessary. We were nimble traveling the globe for 7 months.
Watch ‘The Dictator’s Rulebook’ on National Geographic & ’The Dictator’s Playbook’ on PBS