Director: Anrick Bregman
Director of Photography: Adam Brown
Production Company: Unit 9 Films
Agency: Matter Unlimited
Client: Child Fund
Photo: Annapoorna wearing VR headset
I was asked by Unit9 Films to be director of photography on this Virtual Reality documentary film that highlighted the work of charity ChildFund, an international organisation providing assistance to deprived, excluded and vulnerable children in 30 countries around the world.
Directed by Anrick Bregman, the plan was to fly out out to India to capture a day-in-the-life of Annapoorna, one of ChildFund’s brightest sponsored children, who has since returned to her village to teach others.
Photo: Annapoorna draws a traditional ‘rangoli’, a ritual intended to invite harmony and prosperity into the home
When Annapoorna was a young child, ChildFund supported her education. Without this gift she would have entered the poverty trap of poorly paid agricultural labour and then been married off young.
Instead, Annapoorna grew up and became a school teacher herself, focusing on helping children with learning disabilities. The help ChildFund gave her was amplified many times over by how Annapoorna now helps others.
Photo: 8K stitched frame grab of a classroom scene
There were a number of challenges with this project; VR camera systems were still very much in their infancy and a GoPro mounted cluster was state of the art for providing the wrap around 8K image that virtual reality requires. Using systems like this requires the maintaining and activation of not just one camera but 4-6 cameras and crucially, the management and synchronisation of this vast amount of data.
This is hard enough under normal circumstances but for budget reasons we had to go with a completely local crew I had never worked with before. Luckily there are plenty of skilled film and TV techs in India and so the main thing was to establish a shared workflow and methodology that we could all follow and ensure that we never missed a shot or lost any data.
Photo: Satish and Savio setting up the spare VR rig
What added to the complications were the environmental factors – the high heat, humidity and rain meant that the cameras had to be kept cool and dry between takes or they could misfire or corrupt the file. There was also a time limit on the take length which meant that once the cameras reached 2Gb or around 8 minutes of data at 2K, they would chapter, cut and re-start filming. All good except that they would do this at slightly different times, making it much harder in post to re-stitch all the synced frames together.
Working in the field (literally sometimes) also meant we were often far from power sources and office space so the constant data ingest had to be undertaken where possible – often in the crew minibus.
Photo: Rodolfo managing the data in the crew bus
Photo: Yours truly laying down in a field hidden from the VR camera
Aside from technical issues, there are a number of ethical issues around filming children and also people living in impoverished circumstances. A great deal of sensitivity and awareness is required, not something usually associated with a large film crew!
Director Anrick Bregman wanted to make sure we had the perspective of the child’s eye as much as possible so we positioned the camera at child height to get their perspective.
The film used long takes on static cameras located in the centre of the action to allow the viewer to immerse themselves in the scene and to absorb the locations and the lives of the people being filmed.
A few moving shots were used including a motorbike ride with Annapoorna and her husband which added a further technical challenge but also a little magic to the final film.
Here are some behind the scenes short films used to promote the film: