From Gallery to Big Screen
The Wait – Filmmakers follow young photography talent on the trail of wild bison
In 2014, at just 22 years of age, the Belgian wildlife photographer Michel D’Oultremont made his name on the international scene by winning the ‘Rising Star’ award at the National History Museum’s annual ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year‘ exhibition.
London based film director David Hayes and producer Hannah Salvanes Mclean were part of the crowd admiring his work and subsequently decided to follow him on his next adventure.
Their new documentary ‘The Wait’, produced with London based video production company Contra Agency, is a beautiful and honest insight into the process, passion and patience of an incredible young talent.
Director David Hayes said: “I was immediately intrigued by Michel’s photos; they had such a unique quality. I wanted to document his creative process and also paint a picture of this very young guy out in the middle of nowhere creating such stunning images. We contacted Michel directly and he mentioned an upcoming project following wild bison in Transylvania; it didn’t take us long to accept that invite!
Before the shoot I spent a lot of time studying Michel’s photographs with our Director of Photography, John Ford. We really wanted the film’s aesthetic to reflect Michel’s creativity and boldness, to pay homage to his style with our own fresh approach. In a sense, we wanted to challenge ourselves to document Michel in the same way that he documents the animals.”
Director of Photography John Ford was tasked with capturing this vision:
“Having admired Michel’s photos for a while I was excited by the idea of telling his story with a similar aesthetic to his work. He would always have a respectful distance from his animal and use the natural surroundings to frame his subject, often using beautiful bokeh and light to help the animal stand out and create a stunning painterly image.
We wanted to echo this style in our work but ensure we let his photos stand out in the final documentary. Having researched a number of different lens and camera solutions, it quickly became apparent that we should use Canon lenses to ensure a consistency with Michel’s style, while filming on the Red Dragon to give us the most versatile form factor without compromising the image.
The Red Dragon was truly reliable in some very extreme conditions – wet, freezing and filming for long days. We worked at 6k raw, using an iso of between 800 to 1600 giving the picture a rich texture so that when we cut to the Michel’s pictures, there is a purity and stillness to his work, while our footage gave a more gritty, real sense of the wilderness. We then had plenty of control over the lens to ensure, where possible, we would emulate his shallow depth of field, beautiful bokeh and creative framing.
Using a combination of Canon C-NE primes (primarily the 85mm) as well as the 70 – 200 2.8 we were able to keep our distance from Michel while he respectfully kept his distance from his subjects. Finally, we always had our iPad with us, loaded with Michels images as a frame of reference so that we could ensure a consistency of look and echo his beautiful style.”
‘The Wait’ takes the viewer on a journey from Michel’s hometown in Belgium to the remote mountains of Romania. On the trail of wild bison, Michel tracks the movement of the animals and then waits for the perfect moment; a process that can take up to a week to capture one shot. Producer Hannah Salvanes Mclean describes the challenging 5 day shoot:
“The wild bison were situated on top of a mountain we could only access by walking up a steep track for a couple of hours. This meant that we had to carefully plan our days; once we were up there there was no going back down for missing bits of kit or food. We had to reduce the kit to the vital minimal to avoid unnecessary weight on our backs and the sub-zero temperatures were also a challenge. The camera batteries tend to use a lot of energy in the cold so we gaffer taped heat packs onto them (and put a few in our boots too!). David wanted to capture the gorgeous colours of dawn and dusk which meant long shooting days. The crew was incredibly resilient and eager to do Michel’s work justice which made for a fantastic shoot.”
John Ford: “It was vital that we could strip the camera package back to the absolute basics without compromising the image quality. The Red Dragon is so versatile that we could distribute the lenses and batteries among the crew. We were particularly helped by replacing our usual tripod with a very lightweight cinesaddle!
In addition, we knew that we wanted to capture the atmosphere of the location not just with beautiful imagery but with a very natural soundscape. For this, we brought the RODE Stereo Videomic X which we mounted on top of the Red Dragon and ran straight into the back of the red via an Action Products XLR Audio adapter.
The sound was beautiful and natural giving our sound designers plenty of material to play with for the finished 5.1 mix.”
David Hayes: “Being out in the field with Michel was so interesting. We watched him silently roam around these phenomenal landscapes and then carefully choose his spot. The thing that struck me most profoundly was his patience and that’s where the title of the film comes from. I think for most of us the pace of life is overwhelmingly fast. With Michel it’s different; he is fully prepared to stay in one spot for hours and hours until all the elements within his frame come together for a perfect moment.”
‘The Wait’ will premiere online on Thursday 25th August 2016. The film will then be featured at festivals across Europe starting with The Smalls Film Festival in London from 2nd-7th September 2016.