A film industry pro who makes TV with his Nikon can make you a filmmaker
Eric Fletcher has been using Nikon cameras to film some of the world’s most watched TV programmes since 2012. “Back then, on Dexter, we needed a smaller camera in situations where our prime camera couldn’t go,” he says. “We tested the D800, the first Nikon with a 1080p solution [suitable for broadcast TV] and it blew us away. It matched anything we did on set with the prime. Since then, on several shows, I’ve used the D810, the D850 and we just started with a Z 6 on Grey’s Anatomy.”
Fletcher has operated the camera on films and TV for over 30 years. He’s technical chairperson of the Society of Camera Operators and teaches camera-operating workshops. “When I instruct my students,” he says, “I tell them to always try solve a problem with a shot that hasn’t been seen. I know that can be done, because it’s what we do on set using Nikon.”
Fletcher says that shooting stills and motion have the same starting point. “It’s about building a story. You watch or observe something, identify the important parts, then focus your attention on those parts to get the shot. When you’re making a film, you’re adding camera movement to build your story.
“A filmmaker has to tell a story, and the choices we make as filmmakers are how we tell that story. Those choices are: focal lengths, ISO, filtration, camera movement, focus options. Having those options available to us allow us greater flexibility of how the story is told.”
To train your brain to think more about moving pictures than still, Fletcher recommends breaking down a sequence from film or TV that speaks to you and perhaps to the kind of film you have in mind. “Take a look at how the filmmaker made the scene, and all of the choices. Was it shot with long lenses? Wide angles? Shot static, shot active?
MUST-HAVE MOVIE GEAR
Eric Fletcher has tested the new Nikon Z 6 Essential Movie Kit (see Product pages). “It’s a terrific solution for video,” he says. “There are no limits to what you can do with it.” Pep Bonet, a NOOR agency photojournalist, is making a documentary with his Z 6. “It’s brilliant. So lightweight. The VR reduction is so good that you always get steady shots, even shooting handheld.” Fashion photographer Marie Bärsch has been using a Z 6 Essential Movie Kit on her shoots. “I’m creating high-quality clips with loads of post-production possibilities. I can easily switch between still and video and share to my social media audience or my clients. All that without much more weight or having to get used to another camera.” The verdict is unanimous: this is blockbuster filmmaking kit.
“With lens choice, you’re guiding the audience into what you want them to see and what point of view you want them to engage in. It’s like learning to shoot stills: ‘I want to shoot this, so I’ll need a certain lens.’ Portraiture is not done with a wide-angle lens, it’s done with mediums and longs. Why? Because that does the compression, it makes the faces look better. These are the kind of things to think about when shooting video.”
Also under consideration on a film shoot is when and how (or even if) to move the camera. “Let’s say you want to enhance the sense of confusion in a scene. Use a longer lens and move the camera laterally so that the background swirls around the character, who stays in the same place in the frame. A really tight close-up takes us inside a character’s head.”
However, Fletcher says, “there is nothing that says you have to move the camera. You can think of a 10-second shot as a sequence of 240 frames. Just don’t do that all the time.” Another thing to avoid is shooting too wide. “Starting filmmakers do it a lot. The entire scene plays out and the audience goes to sleep. Or, they shoot everything too tight and they don’t give the audience enough context.”
When shooting film with people, getting coverage – multiple takes of a scene that include master shots (wide, to give context), medium close-ups of subjects cut at their thighs and close-ups from the top of a subject’s head to the middle of the chest – will give you a lot of options in the edit. Fletcher also recommends storyboarding – visualising then sketching out each shot on paper. Storyboards show you all the elements you need to shoot, then in the edit, they act as a roadmap to final scenes and sequences.
He understands that some people think that making film is beyond them, but they shouldn’t. “The reality is none of this should be intimidating to anybody,” he says. “Especially if you are a stills photographer. You already know what to do.” ￼
Pep Bonet (white jacket) on location in Botswana, shot on a Nikon Z 6 and due for release in 2020
Camera operator Eric Fletcher, who has pioneered the use of Nikon cameras to film broadcast television shows
Pep Bonet shooting in Botswana. ‘The Z 6 gives me freedom as a filmmaker,’ he says