DEVELOPING A PERSONAL VISUAL DICTIONARY

EFA Master Class 2005

EFA Master Class 2005 (Picture: Andreas Böhmig)
EFA Master Class 2005 (Picture: Andreas Böhmig)

Stadtbad Oderberger Strasse in Berlin is an old swimming pool. But there is no water splashing up the sides and gurgling down the drainage, no children giggling, no wet feet running. Dry and empty, the tiled pool sits in the centre of a columned hall, paint is peeling off the walls and ceiling. And a group of fully dressed people is standing down in the pool, their entire attention devoted to a single man on his knees, scrubbing the floor tiles - with a tooth brush! Above their heads, a fog machine is blowing greyish smoke into the air.

The former swimming pool is the setting for the latest EFA Master Class DEVELOPING A PERSONAL VISUAL DICTIONARY. And when the Master Anthony Dod Mantle (European Cinematographer 2003 for DOGVILLE and 28 DAYS LATER) agreed to hold this training initiative for cinematographers, he was looking for an inspiring shooting location where the architecture itself suggests a certain atmosphere. And here, in this massive architecture, with a man scrubbing away on the floor, on a hopeless mission of cleaning the place, and a figure of authority watching from above, it is immidiately evident why he chose this place.

“I couldn’t prepare the story,” he explains, “only a rough idea depending on the place, then book two to three people and have little stories transporting us from one situation to the other.” Because the focus isn’t the story, the story just allows the participants to experiment with different formats. While one cinematographer sitting behind the 35 mm camera on a dolly films the woman of authority who watches the cleaning scene from an upper balcony, another one does a few takes with a lipstick or finger camera, practically lying on the floor. Later, an HD camera is used to film movements in the fog, a Mini DV camera follows the man who runs down the columned corridors with two buckets of water . The idea, Anthony Dod Mantle says, ” was to shoot on as many different formats as possible, just a few beautiful shots, the less shots, the more time for grading.” And so after two days of shooting, the group moves into the editing suite and spends two more days in post-production, again experimenting with the different formats and techniques.

Apart from the actual shooting and post-production, the ambitious schedule for this EFA Master Class also includes a series of screenings and discussions. “This idea of developing a personal visual dictionary with 18 culturally different people,” says Anthony Dod Mantle, ” was not so focused on the technical aspects but rather on what happens before you push the button.” By experimenting with different formats, watching the other participants and discussing the results, the participants find out what format best to use for what kind of effect. “There are certain conventions about lenght, cut, texture, about how pictures should look and how they shouldn’t look,” explains Anthony Dod Mantle, “and I wanted to make the participants more aware of these pressures… because we are defining the sensitivities of the audience.”

At the end of this EFA Master Class, the participants have completed a full short film which is presented, analysed and discussed in the framework of a screening at the ‘Kino in der Kulturbrauerei Berlin’.

Participant’s report

I am 55 years old and have been a DOP since the late 70s. I have shot about 70 features (including TV) and a lot of commercials.
I think the aim of this Master Class was to bring together people of different cultural origins so they would find out what they have in common, namely the international language of film, and what differences there are due to their cultural origins.
Anthony was a great tutor who helped us a lot with his personal and very open-minded explanations. We soon found out that we are all confronted with almost the same professional and artistic problems, although we were at very different stages in our careers. The shooting experiences were very useful because we cameramen are always very practical and this shooting helped us a lot to give the theoretical teachings a practical basis.
I learned a lot, every day and every hour - sometimes technical things, most of the time something about our visual vocabulary and always
about being a member of the international film community. DOPs have a lot of responsibility towards their crew and the product - it is important to be aware of that. And Anthony and the other participants demonstrated in a great manner how important this issue is for our daily professional life.

A Master Class for only cinematographers is very unusual - and fantastic! It was the first time in my life that I had the feeling of being in a group where everybody understands the professional situation of the others. Because nobody knows the needs and problems of a cinematographer better than another cinematographer.
When I talked to fellow Austrian cinematographers about this everybody said that this kind of event would be their dream, too. That brought me to build up more contacts and exchange between cinematographers in Austria because it seems that the one great lack in our daily work is that we are always working alone. It is important to get into contact with colleagues to share and solve problems.

Helmut Pirnat, Austria

The EFA Master Class with Anthony Dod Mantle was supported by:
dffb * cine plus * ARRI * KOPPFILM * Studio Babelsberg * KODAK * Geyer

MEDIA Plus Programme of the EU * Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg