When the show was green-lighted, we first started talking about the series and finding we had similar ideas of how we wanted to give people a chance to access political issues without the bile and mindless fighting that seems the norm in today’s world.
Bringing two seasoned politicians together to debate an issue for two days was an amazing idea, but I wanted the cameras to help support the intention as much as capture the action. My approach was to be a continuation of the two camera verite that I have been exploring and developing for years. We have two days to shoot 28 minutes of content, so every moment we capture counts. As the Director of Photography, I found that I was more interested that we see the experience of the two politicians being together rather than precise positioning of any lights, blocking or camera placement.
I wanted to shoot the show with absolute minimal disturbance from the camera operators (myself included) and make any of the “processes” of making a TV show as invisible as possible to the subjects. I know that these people are media savvy and can quite easily accommodate the shows photographic needs, but I can plainly see (and hear in their voices) every time they are stopped by the process of TV. They get kicked out of their experience. At times, it is subtle and other times quite profound. I don’t want the politicians to stop being in the head space the director is trying to create by constantly being reminded they are on a TV show.
So the dance of two camera operators and a sound recordist happens: all.. day.. long… We follow, walk backwards, jostle for unrehearsed positions and decide who has the best axis when we get stuck. An unrelenting grind of unrehearsed movements where we are following people having a genuine experience and meeting real people along the way. Some of those times, when things are really surprising or we get caught in some way, I have to decide whether it is bad enough to stop the spontaneity to fix it. What are the cost of flow vs. the benefit of production value. When story trumps my look, I think to myself, “this show will never win a cinematography award.”
Not because we are not using the craft to a level of excellence, but because following the unknown is messy. Though, I think that messy is worth it. Here is something that I caught when two of our politicians went outside after we filmed them playing basketball and they starting talking. It didn’t make the show, but I am happy to see that it made the internet extras. Things are not perfect and full of commercial grade slow motion, but we have REAL conversations and capture a real narrative. Not just one stitched together in the edit. It is the story that moves the camera and not the other way around.
For those reading this who are not in Canada you can view the episode 1 of season 1 here and the rest of season one on CPAC’s website. For those in Canada you can watch season 1 and now season 2 online or as they air on TVO.
Saying all that, it is great fun shooting this show and every episode I shoot makes me a better documentary cinematographer.