I responded to a callout from the charity, Tzedek who have a strong relationship with the film school I attended.
Tzedek have a number of programmes around the world and, in this case, were looking for a film highlighting their activities in northern Ghana. Specifically, they have an educational programme that focuses on improving teaching methodology. Traditionally in Ghana teaching is very teacher-centred (‘chalk and talk’) and they wanted a film that highlighted how their new child-centred teaching methodology was resulting in improved levels of literacy and numeracy. They also wanted a film that emphasised the fact that they work closely with local stakeholders, responding to their needs and views, rather than just imposing their programmes on them
So what cameras do you already have? Can you achieve the look you want with what you have? I have always loved two ideas of wedding videography, the film look (don’t we all!) and the long lens. After filming a dozen or so wedding I realised this because with the inbuilt zoom facility on these camcorders I was almost always shooting at the far end of the zoom range. So I must have thought this was my more natural range. So I when I could afford new cameras I made sure that I got lenses that fitted my style. So, cameras came and went and, for a while, I even went down the route of the semi-broadcast range of cameras, as that was the only real option available to me at the time. These were expensive, bulky cameras that were technically good but had tiny sensors, like my previous camcorders. So, looking back, this turned out to be an expensive side step and then, everything changed with the advent of DSLRs.
Three to five-minute film for online promotional use.
Experience level of main team members
Mid-Level (3-5 years)
Low (up to £3,000)
Length of shoot
Three days shooting, plus two travel days
Number of crew
One (plus local fixers and driver)
Key bits of kit
Myself as a shooter, plus a driver and 1-2 fixers (employees of the charity).
The timetable for the shoot was as follows: fly from London to Accra on the Sunday, stay overnight in Accra. Flight from Accra to Tamale (about an hour) early on Monday. Spend the Monday acclimatising, meeting local fixers and charity workers, finalising details for the shoot. Shoot: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday morning. Fly out Thursday afternoon. Back in the UK Friday morning.
For the shooting days, we would meet early in the morning, jump in a car (4wd) and drive off to a particular school or government office that was expecting us. It was then a question of picking up some b-roll and interviewing certain teachers/ kids/ administrators. For the third (half-day) shoot, we went back and shot further B-roll of Adam Samira – walking to school, in class – who had been our stand-out interviewee back on the Wednesday.
Challenges/ what I would do differently
The shoot went pretty smoothly. The client gave us a great deal of leeway in terms of who they wanted to see on camera and, working within a broad framework, they were happy for me to take a ‘documentary’ approach and trust that I would find characters when I arrived on the ground. This is indeed what happened, when I came across Adam Samira, who just seemed to light up the frame when she was on camera. In fact, this relates to one of the largest challenges I had on this shoot. With one exception, all the children that I interviewed were very shy – Ghanaian children are extremely deferential to authority and especially to some odd-looking European bloke wielding a camera.
For reasons of weight, I just had one light with me, but this often wasn’t enough. The classrooms were extremely dark, with very dark walls. This meant that I was usually shooting with the aperture wide open and this, combined with a lot of movement in class, meant a lot of shots were unusable due to being out of focus. So, extra lighting would have been nice, but difficult with just me travelling.
Doing interviews was sometimes a bit of a challenge with children running around everywhere in very noisy schools, but broadly speaking, it worked out ok. I messed up the interview with Zacaria (at 1.35) a bit, with the mic not turned up high enough (and when I looked at the footage, I was surprised to see that I had placed the mic lower than I usually would do.
Visa/ Vaccine requirements
One thing that none of us had considered were the potential delays due to vaccine/ visa requirements. The flight out was delayed by a week because of these considerations. Had we thought more carefully, we would have sorted these out before anything else.
Matching GoPro and 5D footage
I’m not the world’s greatest editor and hadn’t matched 5D footage and GoPro footage on a timeline for some quite a while. I needed help from contacts in getting the frame rate settings right for the timeline so that it matched both sets of footage. I’m still not quite sure I got there in the end, with the GoPro footage still seeming a bit choppy to me.
What would have been nice to have?
It would have been great to have the budget/ resources to shoot some drone footage. The landscape is stunning and some drone footage would have helped tell the story that these are very poor communities are very remote and struggling with limited resources. It would have been nice to have a top-quality camera to have for the high frame-rate stuff instead of the go-pro, but I think it more or less sufficed.
What I enjoyed most
I love any bit of adventure and so being in the middle of rural Ghana was great fun. The children, teachers and administrators I met were lovely. The thing I probably enjoyed most was filming some slow-mo with the gopro on the back of a motorbike (although I think this footage was never used in the end). Also fun was after the filming days when, on the Friday before flying out, I took an hour with my fixer to do some stills in Tamale market. Most weird was a black magic supply stall that I came across, selling wares for local witch doctors…
The oddest moment
One evening when in a Pizzaria in Tamale I bumped into an Italian filmmaker and friend of Tom Swindell’s, plus another film crew shooting for a charity, one of whom was Andrew Berekdar who knows Shadows & Light and Ben Bruton Cox’s ‘Our Week in Video’ very well.
One major hitch
When I got back was that I was struck down by some sort of stomach bug that I contracted in Ghana and which put me out of action for a month, slowing down the edit quite considerably.