That First Take SyndromeTuesday, April 21, 2009
I remember watching the making of several CBC drama series, particularly on location on the Sunshine Coast. Since this was some years ago they used one camera and film. It was a surprise to see how they would focus on an actor or actors from one point of view and the actor would say all his lines. Then they would move the camera to a new position (the actor's side, as an example) and repeat it all over again. The film editor would then cut and splice the different takes into what would become the final edit. This to me was startling as my pervious observations in the CBC studios on 500 Hamilton had been for variety shows where they might have two main cameras (on heavy rolling stands), one on a boom, and a fourth would be a what was then considered a compact camera that was hand-held (it was bulky and heavy).
During these drama series they would sometimes make 10 or more takes of the same scene from the same vantage point. Often the director, frustrated after many takes, would look at that first take and he would ask his assistants, “What was wrong with this first take?” After some silence he would then holler, “That’s a keeper.”
I don’t shoot video of movies. In the parlance of film making (even when the film making is digital and no film is used) I am a stills photographer. A stills photographer shoots promotional stills that are then used in publications to advertise the production. Being called a stills photographer annoys me as I like to point out to film photographers (not quite the same thing as cinematographers) that we stills photographers were shooting still pictures at least 50 years before moving pictures were regularly taken. And furthermore I would now add that Eadweard Muybridge took the first moving pictures with banks of still cameras. This would mean that the first cinematographer was a stills photographer.
But there is one peculiar element that this stills photographer shares with those finicky directors who demand countless takes and then decide on that first one. I have observed this syndrome with Polaroids. I call it the First Polaroid Syndrome. What this means is that after that first good, interesting and sometimes remarkable first Polaroid, secondary Polaroids and the use of “real” film in a “real film” stills camera will not produce anything that matches that first picture.
Now that Polaroids are bankrupt history I use an instant film made my Fuji. I have determined that this film is far better than the Polaroid but that it lacks a bit of the nice granularity of Polaroid so that scans lack a bit of texture and the Fuji instant film scans more like a well printed classic b+w darkroom print. But you can judge here that First Fujiroid Syndrome.
The opening picture of Lauren is the Fuji one. The subsequent ones in b+w are taken with my very last Agfa ISO 400, 120 roll film. And the colour one is Ektachrome 100G. Both the Fuji and the Agfa pictures are with available window light. For the Ektachrome I used a softbox on the left.
I think the Fuji first take has a charm that is a bit lost in my other efforts. When I mentioned to Lauren that I liked how she crossed her legs she told me, "Papi its just like "Pancho el esqueleto". Pancho is a Mexican papier-mâché squeleton given to me last summer by Abraham Rogatnick. Rogatnick who is about to celebrate his 86th birthday is trying to get his life in order so he can die in peace. This means that he is getting rid of stuff. Pancho sits on a chair, with his leggs crossed, in our living room.