Kodak INCAMERA Interview 2006
This interview of Jake and Daniel Astbury was conducted in 2006 by KODAK INCAMERA MAGAZINE. The interview was published on the KODAK MOTION PICTURE WEBSITE between 2006 and 2008.
INCAMERA: How did you become interested in filmmaking? Where were you born and raised?
JAKE: In the early Eighties I developed an obsession with the Twenties silent comedy star Harold Lloyd and this really developed my interest in filmmaking, though at first I wanted to become actor. After my first year at college I realized I wanted to be behind the camera and my Dad bought me a Super-8 camera. After seeing the results of my first roll of Kodachrome-40 I was hooked and wanted to consume every bit of information on filmmaking I could get my hands on. (Since then) London has been a great inspiration to our films.
DANIEL: I became interested in filmmaking from watching movies. The films that inspired me were martial arts movies. I have a great love for the Hong Kong movie industry. They have a great understanding of action combined with stunning cinematography.
It was after seeing films such as “Tiger Cage 2” and “Hard Boiled” that I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker.
I saw it as a medium that I could use to express my ideas. Moving image is a powerful form of expression and can provoke many emotions. Movies can teach us so much, not just about life around us, but also about ourselves.
These are the reasons I love filmmaking. I live for imagery, a powerful image can say more than words, which is why I love being behind the camera. I love the thrill of capturing a powerful image. Whenever I shoot film, every frame is important and must count. Every frame should be like a still photograph. Every frame must have a reason and be striking to the eye. Motion picture is purely about the “motion”, and with motion there should always be a good flow. From the shooting, to putting the raw footage into an edit is so exciting. Seeing your film come to life is truly a thrill.
INCAMERA: Have you had any formal cinematography training? How did your education prepare you for the workplace? Was there anyone there who inspired or mentored you?
JAKE: I studied film from reading and practice. I had one Super-8 camera and many books from the American Society of Cinematographers, including the A.S.C Manual which has been my film bible ever since. I read ’Painting with Light’ as well as every article I could find on Stanley Kubrick's films. Super-8 was the most ideal gauge for me to experiment lighting techniques. I saved up and bought a single red-head light and started shooting short films with my brother Daniel. We used Kodachrome 40 for everything, night & day, interior and exterior, and we got perfect results because we understood the basic principal of shooting film, a good image requires the control of light. Kodachrome 40 is reversal film and commands that you expose it correctly. It teaches you so much about exposure, so shooting a roll of negative film is a walk in the park.
Since the 90’s I’ve worked as a freelance camera operator and taught film work shops as well as giving seminars for Kodak and various Universities on shooting Super-8 professionally. Since becoming head of Motion picture at The WSC I advise production companies on a daily basis on all aspects of production. I have advised for feature films such as 8MM (199) with Nicholas Cage, One Day in September (1999) and Stoned (2005) as well as shooting Super-8 The Corrs tour, All The Way Home (2005), plus a snuff movie murder for The Last Detective, Dangerous Liaisons (2007) for Granada Television. I’d have to say my biggest single influence in Cinematography is Robert Richardson ASC, after seeing Natural Born Killers (1994) I really understood the creative aspect of cinematography.
DANIEL: Well I didn’t study film, but from working on short films with my brother I've learnt so much about filmmaking from these experiences. I also completed a photography course which helped me to understand composition.
I love creating images, powerful images, images that imprint on the mind and are memorable.
INCAMERA: You and your brother (Jake or Daniel – dependent on who’s answering) team up for quite a few projects including the WSC Film Department and Astbury Films. How do like working with your brother? Can you tell us about your experiences with these ventures?
JAKE: Daniel and I are a complete autonomous unit when we work together. We cover every role on a production. I light, Daniel’s on camera. I do the sound, and the tripod holds the secondary camera. We are a Production unit in miniature. We shoot guerilla style getting shots in places before anyone realises. This is how we’re making our feature (Ground Under Girl 2020). We’re intuitive to each other. Daniel sees all the shots I would have taken, I’ve tried using other camera operators, but Daniel knows what I’m thinking, he understands the cinematic image, his frames are photographs. He’s always made our films look so beautiful. However Daniel leaves the lighting & editing to me. Working together at WSC gives us the ability to share with others what we learn as independent filmmakers. We’ve shot all the stocks in Super-8 and 16mm and are able to tell people exactly how something will look. I’ve even written out exposure guides for customers who don’t know how to manually expose. I draw symbols for different types of light and say “if it’s like this you want to expose at F/2 and make sure you measure your focus because your depth of field is shallow”.
DANIEL: Working with my brother is fantastic! Jake and I work very well together and have done so since we first started making short films together in the early 90’s. We both share a very similar view on films. I first started working with my brother at the WSC in October 2005. I’m employed as the telecine operator. It's a perfect job transferring film and seeing so many films that other filmmakers have shot.
INCAMERA: Your film Nunchaku was one of your first completed shorts. What is it about?
JAKE: NUNCHAKU (2005) tells the story of a young man working through his fears and insecurities in a big city. In the film we follow the life of our protangonist Deelo. It starts off by showing his everyday routine of going to work. Then Deelo’s world is shattered when he’s attacked by an intruder in his home. The experiences leaves him frightened and angry. His world is shaken. He becomes an enemy to himself. He fantasizes about revenge in day- dreams, but even then he loses and starts to become even more lost. He starts to train and focus on getting revenge on the intruder who attacked him. Towards the end of the film on the streets of London he catches sight of the intruder and decides to follow him. The film then goes into his minds eyes and once again he imagines fighting the intruder. The fight is very heroic and he beats his enemy down and with a final blow to the head. The conflict becomes dark and not heroic at all. He realizes that revenge is not the right path, and he overcomes his fears and walks away.
DANIEL: It is a very simple story, but has a very strong message and meaning. Which comes to the reason we titled the film NUNCHAKU. In the film the young man practices with the weapon Nunchaku in the fields. The Nunchaku is a lot like life, if you don’t use it properly it will hurt you. But if you control it right and understand it, to let it become one with your body, to bring natural response and control together as one, the Nunchaku will not hurt you, instead it will continue to flow around your body, becoming one with your mind and body. This is just like life, if you let fear control you it will turn to anger and hate, it will hurt you and stop you from growing and flowing. Fear can keep us alive, but it can also stop us from living. Once we understand fear, we then understand that it does not control us, we control it, thus we can use life to our advantage and just like the Nunchaku, flow with it instead of against it. And as we see at the end of the film the young man realizes that fighting the intruder will not change things, but only ruin his life, so he walks away and does not take revenge.
INCAMERA: What was the inspiration behind the project? Where did the idea come from?
DANIEL: The idea was inspired from Bruce Lee’s book Striking Thoughts, Wisdom for Daily living (2002), but most of all it was inspired by myself and Jake’s experiences of growing up as young men in the city, and from the fears we felt. Also we both have practiced the Nunchaku for many years.
INCAMERA: Why did you choose to shoot your project on Super 8 mm film? Which film stock or stocks did you use, and why?
JAKE: We used TRI-X 7266, PLUS-X 7265 and VISION 200T 7217. Originally we wanted to shoot the whole film in color and only film the weapons training sequences in black and white. On day one of shooting, we shot 200T 7217 on a highway with the lead character walking down the center of the highway with the traffic behind him. The results are stunning. The 200T handles bright exterior perfectly with an Wratten 85 filter. We shot some TRI-X 7266 for the second training sequence in the film, as the mood of the film gets darker. TRI-X is such as grainy high contrast stock, so it fitted perfect for the later half of the movie. For the first training sequence we opted for the fine grain PLUS-X.
We filmed all the Super-8 on a NALCOM with a custom mounted 2x anamorphic lens made by Isco-Optic.
We relied totally on natural light for all the exterior shoots and chose to shoot only between the hours of 6am to 8am. If the day was overcast then for us it was perfect filmmaking weather. All the shots would match and when we put some sky in the shot, using low angle camera positions and getting dramatic cloud shapes. The PLUS-X was ideal for this.
INCAMERA: What was the “look” or mood you wanted to achieve? Can you describe your method of photographing a particular scene that illustrates that “look”, including what lights, gels, camera movement, exposure, and lens that you used?
JAKE: We wanted to create a distance between the world around the character, an isolation. We used wide shots that showed full figure. This also adds production value, revealing more of the location, especially shooting in anamorphic, it adds so much production value. For interior scenes, we worked very up close and personal with the camera, because the film is always from the viewpoint of the character and how he sees the world around him. Super-8 is a very intimate format. We kept our lighting very simple, using a 800w and a 2K light, plus a reflector. We only gelled up the lights with 80A gels when we needed extra daylight in the color shots. For some scenes we used a single 2K angled directly at the subject and we stopped the lens right down for a real moody shot.
In the dream sequence we the 2K suspended 10ft above us and angled it to point directly down. We flagged the 2K on all sides as well as using the barn doors so that the two characters would disappear and reappear from the dark. It worked perfectly.
INCAMERA: Currently you are working on a feature called GIRL with your brother. Can you tell us what that is about?
GIRL (Ground Under Girl, 2020 is the middle film to a trilogy about a government experiment called Christina. The film follows the journey of Christina in search of her identity and her missing husband Kirk. It’s a science fiction road movie set in the last days of the human race, looking through the eyes of a young girl in a male dominated world, as she uncovers the true horror of her existence.
We are shooting on a budget of £10,000 on DV and Super-8 with two custom adapted cameras fitted with Isco-Optic 2x anamorphic lenses, which will give us a 2.40.1 aspect ratio. The final edit will then be transferred to 16mm and drop onto HD DVD for screening.
INCAMERA: What advice would you give to other filmmakers about the qualities of Super 8 filmmaking?
JAKE: I would say don’t rush to shoot larger formats until you’ve shot Super-8. It’s small limitations really get you to focus and push yourself creatively. One of the most profitable indie feature films in the Eighties was Necromantic (1987) which was entirely shot on Super-8. With today's technology, making a feature film on Super-8 is even more possible with the added benefit of originating on film on a low budget. Super-8 is a very versatile format, if you want it to look grungy it does that, if you want it to look totally gorgeous it does that. It’s down to the user and the camera. Indie filmmakers of the 21st Century have never had it so good. Super-8 will get you noticed if you do it right. The short films Daniel and I have made, have been screened all over the world and we get offers for work every month, and that’s for shooting a format which some people think is dead.
You can shoot hours of DV, but three minutes of 8mm magic beats it all hands down.
INCAMERA Have advancements in technology changed the way you shoot or finish a project?
JAKE: Since DV video came along we’ve been able to realize projects that only a couple of years ago would have been impossible. We are able to work across formats like DV, Super-8, 16mm and integrate them all into the same project. Digital Technology has revolutionized film for us. The technology to digitally scan film is much more widely available. At WSC we are now able to scan Super-8 as 10-bit uncompressed files. Apple have changed the way people play with media, the video iPod can hold an entire showreel, so now new generations approach things in a more hollistic way. You don’t need to exclude older formats, because you know that they offer a unique look. Film and Digital are a perfect team. We sell more Super-8 now than when I joined WSC in ‘97’ because customers have more choice as to how they play with the footage. Daniel and I have also experimented with putting DV back to film. In the film ‘We Billion Cheered’ (2004) I Directed, screened on Channel Four, I shot the entire film on DV and then transferred it back to 16mm 7218 500T before dropping it back to Digi-Beta for broadcast. We saved money on the shoot and the DV looked great transferred to film.
I suppose what I’m saying is, you can’t beat the look of film and Daniel and I recognize the power celluloid has, so we work within our budgets and still get the result we want. We’ve even transferred DV to Super-8 7218 500T and it looks like it originated on Super-8.
INCAMERA: How do you market yourself and your films? Internet, festivals, MySpace, etc.?
JAKE: For marketing there’s nothing better than networking with real people at film screenings and giving them a business card with your websites on. We run three separate websites that promote Astbury Films.
DANIEL: Jake writes articles for various publications and is a member of shootingpeople.org. We also hire screening spaces to show our work. London has a very big indie film community that operates within all areas of media, art and design.
For any trips abroad we always take a video iPod with our entire showreel on and hook it up to the nearest system for anyone who wants to watch.
INCAMERA: Thank you