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Filmmaker’s Spotlight

  • May 7, 2014
  • Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Filmmaker’s Spotlight

“Hello, my name is…” That’s what James Oldham would say at any given opportunity. He feels that networking and meeting people is crucial and that it also doesn’t hurt to talk to others like they are real people and not just a paycheck to get ahead in this industry.

From an extra, to an actor, to a runner, to a production assistant, then a camera assistant, and now as a cinematographer, James Oldham climbed the “film hierarchy” because he knew he needed to do everything and anything to get to where he wanted to be in the industry.

While James was busy trying to climb the ladder, with not much consistent success, he set off to create his own film and figured the experience could only improve his skills.

After meeting screenwriter Ian Bishop and James’ mother introducing him to one of her patients, Adrian Alexander, who by complete chance was a Hollywood Aircraft pilot, James knew what his next project would be.

The small team set off to start shooting. After the first few scenes, James realized he could not deliver this unique short film without the vision of an experienced Director. It was important to James to create a low budget film that would be noticed. He knew that without the vision of a talented Director, his odds would be slim of achieving that goal. After several happen-stance meetings and networking, Director Phil Hawkins agreed to work with this young man due to the insanely challenging nature of the project.

James and his team created The Flying Lesson, an ambitious film that caught our eye and should have your attention as well. Since its initial screening in Rochdale, UK, this film featured at the Cannes Short Film Corner and also in front of prestigious industry professionals at 20th Century Fox in Soho.

A short synopsis of the film:
After the recent death of her grandfather, Phoebe Sanderson takes a flying lesson in the exact plane her grandfather flew in WWII, a recently restored Tiger Moth. With a sense of trepidation, she takes flight with a promise to keep. Only a chauvinistic flying instructor with a secret stands in her way…

How did he do it?

The film was shot in just five days, but from inception to the final edits, the entire process took nearly one and a half years to complete. Because of their short production schedule, James and his team ended up borrowing, begging and nearly stealing any available camera they could get their hands on. This was a perfect example of making lemonade when life gives you lemons. James had to work with whatever he was given. While his dream camera was the ARRI Alexa because James’ experience had been that the Alexa could deliver stunning cinematic images, he had to accept that a cheaper alternative would be the way forward. At different stages of the 5-day production, James had access to the Canon C300, RED 1, Canon 5D Mark II, a Canon 7D and his backup camera, the Sony PMW-EX1. The C300 ended up being the A-camera, which James used for all shots on the ground.

The 5D Mark II and the 7D’s small form factor really helped James achieve the in-cockpit POV aerial shots, because it was such a tight fit inside the cockpit. While James knew he could run into the typical rolling shutter and artifacting issues that often occur when shooting with DSLRs, he decided to shoot with them anyway because he felt that these cameras would be the best suited in telling the story of the characters.

James Oldham Cinematography filmmaker film movies tv shooting DP lights

While James only had his hands on the RED for a single day, it proved to be just enough time to capture the aerial shots from the helicopter of the Tiger Moth. The higher resolution that the RED provided helped with image stabilization and re-framing during the aerial sequences.

James Oldham Cinematography filmmaker film movies tv shooting DP lights

Then there was the Sony PMW-EX1. James and his crew had this camera on hand to shoot backup coverage and the behind the scenes. However, when it came to the editing room, the dependable PMW-EX1 pulled through and delivered the right images for the aerial shots and made its way into the final edit courtesy of their talented editor Alex MacLeod.

As for glass, James used all Sigma and Canon lenses. Sigma, a sponsor, donated a 35mm 2.8, 50mm 2.8, and 70mm 2.8. James also had access to a few Canon L-series lenses, including the 24-105mm, 50mm 1.8, and 70-200 2.8. Having image stabilization built into the lenses was a life saver, especially in the scene where the plane is moving on the ground and James and his camera crew are driving alongside in a minivan.

Cinematography filmmaker film movies tv shooting DP lights

James Oldham Cinematography filmmaker film movies tv shooting DP lights

While James was dealing with the ever changing camera situation, he felt like the production was constantly fighting with time and not having enough hours in a day. Thanks to donations from a local rental house, PKE Lighting Limited, James had access to two daylight balanced lights, a 1.2KW and a 2.5 KW HMI, which really helped when they were forced to shoot daylight dialogue scenes in pitch darkness.

James Oldham Cinematography filmmaker film movies tv shooting DP lights

As if fighting for time wasn’t bad enough, for the first time in his life, James was also partially responsible for a crew of nearly 60 people, as well as having the camera and lighting departments under his management. The crew was dependent on the Producers and James to call the shots and even provide water and snacks. Each crew member had a job and worked day and night to help achieve James’ mission of raising the bar for low budget films. At just under 20K (Pounds), this low-budget film, was able to bring a story to life with a dedicated team.

James Oldham, a 21 year old from Manchester, UK, is definitely someone we will watch out for in the future. You can follow James on Twitter or Facebook or check out some of his other films created with his production company, Frantic Film. Congratulations again to James for being selected as for this month’s Filmmaker’s Spotlight!

You can find extensive photos, background, BTS footage and more, on the films Facebook page and website.

You can apply here to be featured on our Filmmaker’s Spotlight in the future.

Thanks to James Oldham!

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