One of my more interesting jobs lately has been to shoot some Behind the Scenes pictures for a TV commercial in Dunedin. I won’t say who for, you’ll just have to wait until it hits your screens, but you may see a clue or two in the pictures.
It was a kind of Back-To-The-Future experience because I got to work with my old TV colleagues George Dawes and Stephen Downes. Stephen and I studied Zoology together here in Dunedin in the 1980s. Stephen was the first serious photographer I knew when the best you could call me was a camera owner. He was a dedicated Nikonista with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Ansel Adams. We’ve toiled away on a fair number of science and nature shows together at Natural History NZ – along with George – so it was nice to be working together again, like pulling on an old sweater. In fact, there were times we had to cut the laughs and stories and just get on with the shoot.
Since varsity, Stephen has gone on to some pretty cool cinematographer jobs as well as creating a fantastic wildlife-based piece of pulp fiction TV called “Dark Days in Monkey City”. You’ve probably never heard of it because – well – let’s not go down that rabbit hole. I’ll just say that in our little corner of the TV industry, talking shop became known as a “Sip-and-bitch”.
Nowadays I’m a lot happier telling stories via stills than scripts, and he’s a lot more agnostic about gear. Back in the day, I remember Stephen saying digital would never approach film for quality (yeah, that’s how old we are) For the TVC he was shooting video on a little Panasonic DSLR. Panasonic is pretty much the brand of choice if you’re into small payload/high quality video. We both remember when HDTV first came in. Big jump from 720 vertical lines of resolution to 1080. TV presenters were worried it was going to show up imperfections in their skin. Cameras and recorders were hefty, cost many tens of thousands of dollars, and the maths around film conversion, frame rates and converting between PAL and NTSC had to be left to the IT department. 4K? 8K? Slo-mo? Forget it! Now a few grand will get you a great little kit that fits in a small camera bag.
Things sure have changed. In fact, you could just say the difference between then and now is like the difference between well, Night and Day.