(Or, That Was the Month That Was)

The month starts with an up/down one-day trip to Seattle
to visit wonder kid Adam and my new, re-built 3D 4K P2.

Adam with the new 3D 4K P2 - two cameras and extended prop arms with bigger motors

Five years ago, when he was a mere lad of 16, Adam added two cameras to my DJI Phantom 2. Five years is a long time in droneland. After seeing footage of the launch of the ship, I am blown away by the 4K shots from the guys with DJI Inspire 2s, which are so much better than from my old P2. These new drones come with their own built-in 4K cameras. Could I buy an Inspire and add a second camera for 3D?

I have a meeting with Inspire owner/pilot Mike Jetter and the answer is an emphatic no. He suggests rebuilding the old P2 with better cams.

Back to Adam, now 21 and living with his girlfriend in Seattle. Adam adds new bigger props on extenders, a whole new gimbal system, new longer legs and a couple of 4K Sony Action Cams.

The stereoscopic tests that he shared with me are impressive, so I fly up, rent a car, film a test flight and record how-to info for Paul, my new drone pilot.

We all go for a Hawaiian lunch on a Seattle dockside. Adam says he can pack the drone in a cardboard box with lots of bubble wrap and I can take it back with me. “Come on Adam, I’m 60 years older than you.”  “I’ll FedEx tomorrow,” says Adam.

Bye, bye Adam and GF. I drive like the wind back to car rental, take the shuttle bus to the awful Seattle airport, change my return flight to an earlier one (“That will be $25, please.”) and fly back to SFO. The Marin Airporter gets me home just in time to watch Marvel’s The Defenders. Phew! My kind of day.

In Australia in the ’60s, I’m always flying from Sydney to Melbourne, Brisbane or Canberra in a single day. Leave crack of dawn, back at sunset. In those carefree days long before plane hijackings and long security queues, I hand-carry my Éclair 16mm with my Nagra III over my shoulder, a rifle mic tucked into my belt. Wearing a slouch hat and dark glasses, I feel like a hit man.

Hey, I am a hit man.

Sam Lipski, Exec.  Producer of ABC-TV “This Day Tonight” books me for a one day up/down special. It’s a story about a group of American tourists visiting the outback. Frank Bennett, their reporter, my assistant Rosemary and I are flying from Sydney to a small town west of Sydney. The tourists have been told it is the dinky-di (authentic) Outback. Of course it isn’t. Way too close, way too green. It’s Gundagai, home of the Wiradjuri aboriginal people.

The first lady throws her boomerang so hard that it flies back straight toward me. I duck; it misses me by inches. We all play didgeridoos, pat baby kangaroos, find a koala. We watch an ungrateful sheep being sheared and finally make it to the local RSL Club to play the pokies and drink an Aussie schooner or two.

Early evening, the chartered Avro Anson circles Sydney’s Mascot airport, then flies out over Bondi Beach and way out to sea. The pilot tells us that the landing gear is “sort of stuck.” The plane banks as its fuel is jettisoned. “Take crash positions.” The plane is so small that there is no airline hostess to demonstrate. One of tourists knows all about crash positions and bravely shows us how. “First to die,” I say to Rosemary.

On the ground, the fire trucks are ready with flashing red lights. We are all hunched over, hands on heads, ready for the crash. We circle and land, thunk, thunk, thunk. Success, we’re all safe—scared, tired, but happy to be alive—and yes, it’s all in one day.

Skip forward to the 1970s. Phil Saben, working for hotel chain Trust House Forte, says, “How’d you like to go to Paris for a day, just the two of us?”

We are greeted by the prettiest, sweetest Parisian hostess you could imagine, and she takes us on a whirlwind tour. I find a wheelchair and take shoulder camera shots moving through the George Cinq’s sumptuous suites. Just call me Raoul Coutard.

Jean Luc Godard pushing or maybe pulling Raoul Coutard in wheelchair, shooting “Breathless”

We zigzag floor to floor. On street level, I take shots of the building. Inside there is a flower-filled open air courtyard. “Would you like coffee with wild strawberries and peaches?” asks our starlet hostess. “Oui, j’aime les fraises des bois.”

So this is what heaven looks like.

Strange how some days are so different from others. I’m at the ship. Alan says they have some metal for a blacksmith in Rohnert Park. Can I deliver it and maybe shoot some film?

I phone the blacksmith, Lowell Chaput. Yes, he’s OK for next Friday. Tricia contacts our wool lady to collect three bags full for Rough Linen coverlets.

On Friday we drive north from home. We’ll take the old Ford pickup truck. First stop Novato, for Costco for the week’s supply. Don’t forget the Fancy Feast for madam. Everything goes behind the back seats to leave room for the wool.

far left - my Sony 3D1 camera shoots white hot metal for ship's rigging

Next stop Rohnert Park. Lowell, the blacksmith, is ready for us with his furnace blazing. Does he do horseshoes? “Never. I specialize in creative works. I’m an artist in metal.”

I have my standard shooting kit: a Sony HXR-NX3D1 and a 3D GoPro on wobbly Joby legs. Lowell is making an iron fitting for the ship’s masts. He warns us to keep well back. The metal is not just red hot, it’s white hot.

“Oh yeah,” I think, until he brings the glowing piece out of the furnace. Whoa, so hot, my face is burning, my hair is going to catch fire. I quickly back away. The plastic 3D GoPro casing looks as though it’s going to melt. As the metal cools, I move in. Lowell is 83. He does this every day and takes enormous pride in his art.

Next stop is Valley Ford. We drive past sheep grazing in wavy fields. It’s hard to tie the wool down in the back of our truck.

filling our truck with pure white wool

Me, I’m shooting the sheep and the wool. Can’t let a Kodak moment go to waste.


foremast - see my 6 hour battery GoPro lower frame

The big day is Saturday when both masts go on. In naval terms, they are “stepped in.”

GoPro fixed to ship's side

And here’s the shot the GoPro took of Matt Butler catching the mast.

Matt Butler catches the 100ft 5,000 lbs main mast

I have my camera on a tripod. It’s so windy that it blows over—almost. I run and save it. Tricia is on the pier, operating handheld. She gets the money shot of the mast going in. George, my son-in-law, is on his boat, fighting the 35-knot wind.

the fore-mast is upright about to be moved to the ship. A Mavic shot before the wind blows it out to sea

Tyler is flying my Mavic, or trying to. Suddenly the wind starts blowing it out to sea. Tyler swaps to sports mode and flies to a nearby pier, tries to land but is blown back again.

Finally he flies just above the water, under the protection of the seawall, then pops over and lands.

And what of Adam’s rebuilt 3D 4K P2?

Sorry, Adam. It’s just too windy to risk flying. Even the guys with DJI Inspire 2s have packed up and gone home.

You can see a rough cut of the mast sequence

The rigging, the sails, the Coast Guard certification sea trials are next. My ship and my film won’t be finished until January 2018.

Nobody said filmmaking was meant to be quick and easy. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Posted in 2017, Production Diary | Comments Off on THE RUNNING, DUCKING AND PRAYING LIKE HELL FILM


A Room with a VU

This is my new “edit suite.” I really call it an edit room, as “suite” sounds pretentious. I’m just simple folk. “Room” will do.

I built it and I love it. And look—yes, it’s got a view. (Sorry, no VU!)

How did this gem happen? Read on …

Tricia and I have a little business that’s got nothing to do with video production. A few months ago she took on Ruby Press, a PR company. I wrote about it in my “Diary of a Madman” trilogy, was it mid-March? Remember, we ate crab on our deck and called it a business expense.

March 16
Ruby turns up at our house, my kingdom, my castle, with stylist Bianca, whose job is to make it look rustic and, well, “stylish.” As Tricia says in her web credo: I like things around me to be comfortable, hardwearing, trustworthy, understated, utterly fit for the purpose.

That’s the death knell for bottles of cheap wine; quick out-of-sight, into the fridge. My precious Sonos speakers, hide them under the sofa, along with copies WiredDigital Videoand Cinefex. The coffee table: replace it with a comfortable, hardwearing, trustworthy, understatedwicker basket.

Then there’s my bed with the driftwood headboard, a magnet for photographers.

A page from Naturally, Danny Seo magazine. The quote is a loose paraphrase of “I’m a crusty old English woman, I don’t like advertising or fashion.”

On Wednesday we have Alexandra working for Naturally, Danny Seomagazine. Apparently 350,000 people buy it, for $9.95. Yep, she’s in my bedroom shooting the headboard and our star puss, Shibui.

“Alexandra, don’t shoot my editing kit on the right!” “Don’t worry, I won’t—but can I move the bed a tad towards the window?” A 1930 Stenberg Brothers poster rolls out from under the bed and slowly unwinds. Alexandra gives me an old-fashioned look. She knows crazy when she sees it.

On Thursday it’s Mason, a freelancer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Mason makes a beeline for the bed. My bed. Is nothing sacred?

“Mason, don’t shoot my editing kit on the right!” “You sleep here?” He knows crazy when he sees it.

1930 Stenberg Brothers poster

I used to edit downstairs in a room with a 65-inch Sony 3D monitor and a sign outside saying Man Cave. It was unfriendly, dark, cold and plain miserable. In the end, I couldn’t take it anymore and moved all the edit stuff upstairs into my bedroom.

I have two 19-inch floor racks on wheels and nine hard drives with 136 TB. Yes, terabytes. Don’t believe me? Count ’em: 48 TB + 24 TB + 20 TB + 2×16 TB + 4×4 TB—ouch! Then three large video monitors, three speakers, plus all the computer toys: a big, black Mac Pro cylinder, a Blackmagic Design UltraStudio 4K deck, a Teranex standards converter. I could go on with my scanners, burners and printers—and a zillion wires—all right next to my bed.

Wake up at 3 a.m., go to the bathroom, and on the way back cut an entire 10-minute sequence. Back to bed. Wake up. Did I cut that?

My dining room table setup. Four of nine disk drives are on Shibui’s favorite chair.

The weekend is spent trying to restore our house. “Have you seen the TV remotes?” “Under the sofa with the Sonos speakers.” The toaster turns up a day later under the sink.

Out, Damned Kit. Out, I Say!
That’s it. I’ve cracked. No more editing in my bedroom. I move it all out, lock, stock and UltraStudio. There it is on the dining room table—a temporary ploy while I figure my next move.

I hated the two big standing racks. One small, 19-inch tabletop rack (far left in the photo above) replaces them

Pair of Yamaha NS-10Ss in Studio C at Ardent Studios in Memphis. Love the hourglass. In the distance, lost in bokeh, are giant studio speakers.

Audio is always a problem. In the bedroom I had Andrew Jones-designed Pioneer speakers for center, left and right. The center, for dialogue, was never really in the right spot. Here in the living room I can position all three 15 feet away and it sounds great.

There’s always a downside when the speakers are way over there. You also need them right there in front of you on the desk.

Let me explain: I designed Molinareaudio studios in London back in 1973. We had Rogers BBC speakers, and on the desk a pair of cheapo “granny’s trannies.” In 1980 I replaced them with Yamaha NS-10s. These were the industry-standard nearfield monitors for the next 30 years. Even now you can buy NS-10; a good pair will set you back $700+. The theory is that if it sounds good on an NS-10, it will be OK in the home.

Ikea table

BED (where it all started), BAY (the view) and BELOW (downstairs)
I like an edit room to have a simple table—mine is an old fire door on two Ikea trestles. You can buy these Ikea trestles for $40 each. Or you can get the whole enchilada—a grey desk table with two trestles—for $235 from Amazon, with free shipping and no need to drive to Ikea.

Then again, you might like an ImageMaster Edit Console from Forecast Consolesavailable from B&Hfor $2,445. (That’s just the table.) Expensive, but you can’t beat it.

Downstairs, it’s great but oh so bright. Tricia and I talked about blackout curtains the same as I had in my upstairs bedroom edit suite—damn, I typed “suite.”

ImageMaster Edit Console in Graphite Nebula from Forecast Consoles

Blackout curtains are not black but white plastic—they cut out everything. Zero light.

I have spent my life editing in darkness—now I want the view. The solution is to measure up and order a see-through blind. We settle on a Monterey 5 Percent Grey Mist N203 solar roller shade from Cost with promo discount is $107 and free shipping.

Size Matters
Last year, when I had my DCP made in Burbank, they showed it to me on a 46-inch JVC 3D LCD monitor. I was blown away. My own 3D monitor is the 24-inch JVC version—almost the same but smaller (duh). It sits on my desk and I can reach out and just touch it with my fingertips. That’s how close it is. Comparing the 24 to the 48 is like comparing a nearfield Yamaha NS-10 to a hefty but distant Bowers & Wilkins monster speaker.

It’s dark at VTR in Soho, London. I’m standing top right—above seated Tricia. Pas de vue.

On eBay there’s a used 46-inch JVC monitor. I spotted it a year ago. It is in L.A. and, as it’s tricky to wrap and pack, the seller wanted local pickup. Then I checked again. Now he will deliver and the price has dropped to “make an offer.” The original JVC 2009 price was $5,995. I offer $1,000 and he accepts.

And it is big and heavy. Amazon provides an installation service for $120 with the purchase of the $28 wall mounting bracket. “No, no, I can do it myself,” says Tricia. “Are you sure?” “No problem, I’ll ask Emile to help me. He’s young and strong.”

Sad to say, after a 40-minute struggle, both Emile and Tricia give up. Two days later, the $120 expert, Will, from Amazon arrives. “This is the wrong fitting.”

My bad, I bought it. But how’s a boy to know?

“I can’t use it. I have the right one in my truck. It’s $99.99—you’ll have to pay Amazon. I can take your credit card.” It’s a hot day at the end of June. Will sits on the floor and beavers away. Suddenly it’s up—right up high—touching our ceiling. “Can you plug the HDMI cable in?” Bingo, liftoff, we have a picture and it’s big, bright and beautiful!

Will rubs off finger and palm prints. I give him a $20 tip. He leaves happy. Me too, I’m delighted. I love this room. I roll the grey mist 5 percent blind up and down. Watch the ducks swimming as the tide goes from low to high. Up-down goes the 5 percent blind. Wheee, what fun.

“I’ve got ice cold Prosecco and orange juice,” says Tricia.

Eldene, next door, is feeding the noisy ducks. We sit in my new edit room admiring the view and drinking mimosas. A blue heron and some little egrets have joined the ducks. Bliss.

Go online to see a video of my room and laugh at me wearing my kangaroo skin hat:

Posted in 2017, Production Diary | Comments Off on STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS


Tra La, My Ship Is Being Launched

Two days before the launch and the Bigge crew has taken over. All the volunteers are told to get off the ship and keep well away while the Bigge boys move in metal plates and 48 huge rubber wheels.6/23/2017 3:30 PM Eastern

In the middle of this story, you’ll read about how Franz climbed a ladder and clamped my underwater GoPro to the top of the ship’s rudder, ready for the big moment when the ship was launched.

What a great shot that would have been, if only someone had turned the GoPro on. Yes, it was “on” but not running—that’s the other button, the one on the top. Well, on the bottom, as the camera was upside down. Disaster. I got nothing.

I am so pissed off that that I’m determined to shoot something underwater. “Where’s the wreck of the Galilee? I’ll shoot that!”The Galilee, an 1891 brigantine, is the ship that today’s Matthew Turner is modeled on. It’s sunk in the Sausalito mud in nearby Galilee Harbor.

Diver Dave volunteers to shoot it.

I make sure that this time the red lights are flashing. He dives, I watch, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” while the local Galilee harbormaster berates me.

“You have no right … private property … filming permit …”

“Please don’t spoil the moment, the camera is way over there, out of sight, underwater—and I’m sittin’ here doin’ an Otis.”

Now, let’s get back to part 3 of my diary.

Bigge bar under the ship

Two days before the launch and the Bigge crew has taken over. All the volunteers are told to get off the ship and keep well away while the Bigge boys move in metal plates and 48 huge rubber wheels.

This is the moment of truth. The ship will leave the tent on wheels. I have a GoPro attached to the rudder. The Bigge crew has been putting down flat metal plates to smooth out the bumpy soil outside the tent. I take a seat on the ground. We wait and wait. Hours pass. How long will the rudder’s GoPro run?

Brandon, my drone guy, is here. So are Peter and Mike, with their DJI Inspire 2s. They promise to share their footage with me. It’s such a long wait for the ship to move that they take turns going up and flying around. Peter has brought a small tent and drinks for all. All three drone crews bond and share stories. “Have you seen the new Mavic?”

What a Difference 84 Years Makes
The Galilee, sunk in the mud, left to rot in 1933. See my underwater opening: The Galilee reborn as the Matthew Turner. See it being launched:

My son-in-law George has one of my Sony HXR-NX3D1 cameras. He has found another veteran TV cameraman and is swapping war stories. “The CP-16 was a much better camera than the Auricon.”

Hours pass. Nothing. The police and the Bigge crew look worried.

Ship’s volunteers watch the Bigge crew work

“It’s coming out in five minutes,” the police tell us. Oh yeah. Another hour passes. My rudder-mounted GoPro has been running for three hours. Poor thing, it hasn’t got a chance to make it to the launch ramp before the battery dies.

Finally, with a cheer from the crowd, the ship moves slowly into the sunlight.

Drones take off. I’m shooting with my Sony NX3D1 in one hand and a GoPro 3D rig in the other. George is somewhere that he’s not meant to be—up a tree, maybe. Brandon has battery problems and lands his 3D drone after only one pass. Bad news, but I still have access to two hours of 2D aerial footage from Peter and Mike.

The day ends with the ship parked at the entrance to the launching ramp.

I go home and spend the night transferring rushes and recharging batteries.

Dan attaches my GoPro to the rudder

They say it will happen at 4 p.m., when the incoming tide lifts the boat and floats it away. I spend the morning at home, transferring shots from five cameras.

Franz, the shipwright, phones me. “Get your ass over here and put the camera up on the rudder.” I drop everything and drive to the ship’s launch ramp. Franz has a ladder and mounts the waterproof GoPro. “How do I start it?” “Franz, it’s 12:15 now, the launch isn’t till 4. The battery will die before then.” “OK, be back by 2 p.m. latest.” I go home for lunch and to pack all the other cameras and tripods into the car.

I’m back at 2:07, but the Bigge crew didn’t wait for me. The ship is halfway down the ramp in the water. Whaaa! “Don’t worry, Stefan. The guy doing the CCTV feed turned your GoPro on.” “Were the red lights flashing?” “I think so…” Think so is not reassuring. Too late for a ladder in the water. I spend the next two hours waiting for the tide to rise and launch the ship. My GoPro slowly goes underwater. In my mind, I can see the shot. It’s brilliant.

The ship moves out of the tent

I’m standing next to a five-year volunteer, Jitendra, taking a selfie. In one hand I have my 3D GoPro and in the other my regular Sony camera. Next to me is a priest, there to bless the ship. Rather than put my Sony on the ground, I turn, “Do you minding holding my camera?” “Of course not.”“Since you have it, can you take some shots?” “Show me how, but I’m hopeless with cameras.” I give him my 15-second crash course: “Just press this red button…” and he wanders off.

I take some more GoPro shots and then watch Brandon as he flies our 3D drone over the ship being towed to a nearby dock. After a while I remember that the priest has my precious camera. I walk through the crowd. “Anyone seen a priest with a camera? Anyone seen a priest with a camera?” “He’s way down there, near the fence.” I fight my way through scores of visitors. We meet up. “Oh, there you are. I really got some good shoots.” “Great, thanks.” Of course, I didn’t believe him; they will be wobbly, into the sun and probably out of focus.

The ship is safely moored at the pier. Now to get my underwater GoPro back. I call out to the photo boat with son-in-law George. Nope, they aren’t allowed to get close enough. At last, a guy in a kayak unclamps the camera and puts it in a bucket to be pulled up.

Jitendra takes a selfie

Our car has broken down. I get home late. There is a ton of footage to transfer. I’m dead tired. I’ll wait until tomorrow to see my underwater footage. I dream about the shot. Glug, glug, we go underwater.

Dawn. I can’t wait to look at the GoPro file. Quelle horreur! It is empty! Nothing!

The CCTV guy had put the camera on standby but had not pressed the top record button. I am distraught.

Divine Intervention
I’m transferring Tyler’s shots, my shots, George’s shots, Brandon’s drone shots—but what’s this? Wonderful footage of two ladies hugging each other, people cheering, even crying, happy faces of children. Alan, the ship’s builder, surrounded by well-wishers, shaking hands, being hugged.

OMG! (Dare I say “OMG?”) It’s the priest’s shots—and they are so much better than mine. I wipe a tear from my eye. Thank you, Lord. Who needs a silly underwater shot of a ship’s hull when you can have genuine emotion from real people?

Posted in 2017, Production Diary | Comments Off on DIARY OF A MADMAN Part 3


Tra La, My Ship Is Going to Be Launched
Here’s part two of my Matthew Turner story. Yes, I know it’s June, but aren’t you the lucky ones. Most of my Production Diary columns are old yarns from the last century; this diary is fresh and new.

The ship’s launch was on April 1. She is now comfortably moored at a nearby pier. Two giant, 100-foot masts, rigging and sails will be added soon.

In fact, the 35-foot bowsprit went on last week. We shot that bit of assembly with three 3D cameras and a tiny DJI Mavic drone, way up high.

Now, where was I? Oh, back to March 6.

March 6: POV Spray PaintTime for the stairs again, but I’m going down this time. At ground level, they are spray painting. I grab my helmet cam and start the 3D GoPros running.

I call out, “John, do you mind putting this on just for five minutes?” I give him the helmet with the cams running. No questions asked—he simply puts it on and continues spraying. POVs like this are magic.

At 12, all work stops for lunch. I’m off too.
I gather up all my stuff: two Sony HXR-NX3D1s, the paint-covered helmet cam, the DJI Osmo cams and the unwanted extension rod, and another 3D GoPro on a clamp. That’s eight cameras and just me; my business card says filmwright.

I don’t want to be home too soon as the L.A. photographer, stylist and whole photo shoot enchilada are still there. Lunch at Corte Madera’s Boudin is good for me.

Back home, I was right. They are still there. My home, my castle, invaded by the media. I lock myself away and start transferring footage from today’s shoot.

My Documentaries Have Sequences
I work in sequences—they are like scenes in a play or movie, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

My constant fear is of little, disconnected three-second shots, like a newsreel. I want four- to five-minute sequences that flow together as one; you meet the people and understand what they are doing. All the shots should join up naturally.

When you’re shooting alone with one camera, it’s tough but not impossible. Multicam makes it easier.

Tricia is inside the ship shooting Jessie—I’m looking down on Franz struggling with the same plank. When Jessie hits the plank, you see it moving in Franz’s shot. Multicam gives the viewer a sense of real time.

When the propeller shaft was slid in from outside the ship, I wanted to see it coming into the engine room. Dan found me Peter, a volunteer. “Just keep the camera about 2 feet away from the shaft as it pokes through. Press this red button well before you think it’s going to happen.” And guess what, Peter gave me a great shot. He even moved sideways so you could see the hybrid engine. I’d rather pick up shipyard helpers like Peter than have a full-time assistant hanging around. (Tricia excepted.)

From Camera Card to Computer
I always transfer my stuff straight after the shoot. I want to see if I shot what I thought I did. If it’s no good, and it sometimes isn’t, I might have a chance to reshoot, or at least I’ll know what isn’t working.

I had a GoPro die last week. Tried everything: replaced the battery, new SD card. Nope, really dead. Bought a secondhand one on eBay. Tonight is garbage night. One dead GoPro is in the recycle bin.

House Photo Shoot
When I emerge from my den, the New York-based photographer, Alexandra, is finishing her photo shoot. She has a big, full-frame Canon linked by wire to a Mac laptop. Checks every shot. So very different from shooting documentaries. Tricia is putting out a crab meal on our deck.

It’s for publicity, bought on a company credit card, a tax write-off. Traditionally when it’s all over, we eat the props. Crab and champagne, can’t complain.

March 18
This is my diary and I must report that Chuck Berry died today. I guess you all knew that. He was 90.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and he still made 90! There’s hope for us all.

A few days before, on March 14, Dr. Henry S. Lodge, author of Younger Next Year, A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond, died at 58.

He didn’t make it by 22 years. Grossly unfair.

Chuck and Me in ’72
I was up there on the stage with Chuck with my Éclair ACL, shooting with re-canned BBC 16mm film stock.

Read all about it ( and watch my video (

March 20
April 1, splash day, is getting closer. When I arrive at the shipyard, I discover the rear tent wall has gone, ready for the ship to move out and into the water. The guys who were painting blue are now on the scaffolding lifting boards. No point in shooting scaffolding or a missing wall. Richard says that the decking has stopped again; another fruitless trip.

On the way out, I bump into Alan. “Anything I should shoot today?” “No, only scaffolding.” Then it hits me. “What about the ship’s wheel?” “Oh yes, Dan is up there now. I think he’s putting it on. Do you want a shot of it?”

Do I ever! I get to the top deck in no time at all. Roy, Peter and Dan are moving the wheel into place. “Stop. Stop. Wait for me! Can you lean it down a bit? OK, action! Wheel up and on.” When the wheel is almost in position, I keep the camera running and race around for a complete reverse angle. “Hold it here. Great, now push it on.”

The wheel connects with the steering apparatus. “You know,” says Dan, “if I spin the wheel, the rudder will turn.”

I run down the stairs and shout, “Dan! Turn the rudder!” I confess, it’s not cinema vérité. Sometimes a filmmaker can’t be a fly on the wall.

I’m happy if I get one good shot. Today I got three.

Standing Straight in a Leaning World
It’s March 27, the Monday of the ship launch week. I started this article assuming I was nuts and everyone else was normal and sane. Wrong? Yes. It is the other way around.

Take this morning: for two hours at the shipyard I watch a volunteer install a CCTV security camera at the very top of the shipyard ( That’s great, but why install a new camera just four days before the ship is out of here?

The live feed link is way, way down the home page, just where you’d never see it. But hey, tomorrow morning I can check this out and see if it’s worthwhile driving to the location. Nothing happening? I’ll stay in bed.

There’s Roy and Chris gluing down the decking. But where’s the ship’s wheel? It’s gone. Dan, what have you done with it?

I hang around to meet the Bigge people (pronounced Big E). This is the team who will move the ship from the tent to the launching slip. I worked for BP in Alaska on the North Slope with huge Texan oil riggers. These Bigge guys are tougher, stronger and have names like Rocky and Mad Mel.

On Friday, Bigge will drag the ship out of its cozy tent and into bright daylight.

“Diary of a Madman” will continue next month.

(Read Diary of a Madman Part 1 here.)

What a Difference Three Years Makes
– Frame 19 going up in 2014:
– The bowsprit, shot only last week:

Posted in 2017, Production Diary | Comments Off on DIARY OF A MADMAN Part 2:


Tra La, My Ship Is Going to Be Launched The brigantine Matthew Turner.

I started filming the construction of the brigantine Matthew Turner way back in 2012. Now it’s finally going to be launched. Exciting! I have booked three guys with drones to shoot the launch on April 1. Three! Am I mad?

In addition, I have my son-in-law George, my wife Tricia and of course me shooting with conventional, ground-based cameras. I also plan to have one camera clamped to the ship’s rudder and another on the forklift for the bottle of champagne. That’s three drones and five other cameras, and everything in 3D.

Am I mad? Yep. You bet your sweet bippy.


DJI Osmo for two GoPro HERO4s. Yes, it really works in 3D. Walk and it looks like a smooth dolly.

I go to the shipyard expecting to film the decking. I was there last week and they’d made a good start. I climb up the wooden staircase up to the top of the ship. Three flights. Puff, puff.

Today, the decking has vanished. Gone. Nothing is happening. I see Richard; he says Franz has stopped the decking because the plastic spacers weren’t working. Huh? “Then why aren’t they painting? The ship is being launched in two and a half weeks.” Richard rolls his eyes. So, nothing to shoot today. Damn. Damn. Damn.

While I’m up there, I check out my new DJI Osmo gyro thing. It’s made to stabilize iPhones.
I want to use it for GoPros. Adam, my resident genius, has made a mold that fits two HERO4 Blacks and clamps onto the Osmo stabilizer.

I don’t know about you, but the Wi-Fi on GoPros has caused me a lot of grief. I can’t read the info on the GoPro—it’s way too small. Never fear, I have found the way to do this painlessly. I clip on the LCD Touch BacPac (that’s how they spell it) and set up Wi-Fi and the companion app. Once the camera is in blue flash mode, I take the back off. (Sorry, I take the bac off.)

Now I set the iPhone’s Wi-Fi to Osmo and bingo, I can see what I’m shooting. I have attached my iPhone to a winter glove with Velcro. The Osmo is locked in gyro mode, everything is working, it looks great—but today on the ship there’s naught to film. Whaaa!
Switch off, go home.

I thought I’d have a quiet day in my office/edit suite.

Then at 4 p.m. I receive an e-mail from Alan Olson, el supremo at the shipyard, saying that a top pro commercial pilot has offered to shoot the ship’s launch with a drone. Was I planning to do a drone shoot too? Was I? I have three drones all lined up! He’s worried that there could be a mid-air collision. OMG.

Well, that solves one problem: I’ll drop both Bryn and Tyler’s drones from the April 1 shoot. Brandon, I need, as he has the 3D drone.

I do good e-mail with the new guy, Mike Jetter. He has a DJI Inspire 2 and a FAA commercial pilot’s ticket. We do a ton of e-mails and finally agree on a plan: Brandon flies low, about the height of the ship, while Mike is high, looking down on the ship.

Good documentaries are planned. When they say to me, “Oh that’s a lucky shot,” I get mad.

DJI Osmo shooting the decking three days later. See March 16 diary entry.

Yesterday there was nobody working on the foremast; today, three old boys and a senior lady. What happened? I’ve been filming the building of this ship for five years and I’m constantly surprised.

I wander over to the mast with my 3D camera, a Sony HXR-NX3D1. I take a wide shot and then walk down the length of the 60-foot mast. I like chatting to

the volunteers while I’m filming—so casual that they don’t think I’m shooting, or maybe they do. No matter.

I get real dialogue—so much better than the fake sitting down on a chair interviews you see in conventional documentaries.

Here’s Newcomb, a volunteer for the last four years. We chat. I shoot.

He says that the masts won’t be ready until well after the ship is launched. “You should be up there filming the decking.”
Thanks, Newcomb, great link. I’ll use it.

As I am leaving the shipyard, I bump into Dan. “What’s happening with the propellers?” “Could be later today.” “Can’t wait. How about first thing tomorrow?” We agree: the propellers at 10 a.m. Thursday.

MARCH 15Unfinished mast on March 15

I’m up early today as a photographer is coming to shoot our house for the San Francisco Chronicle. At 7:30, Daiva and Rachel from our office arrive to help with the photo shoot.
Knock, knock; now it’s a freelance stylist. Everything in the kitchen must go. The toaster and kettle are hidden under the sink. The box of cheap red wine is hidden in the fridge. Four Sonos speakers and stands move from the living room into our spare room. My bed is remade with new pale blue linen. I’m outta here; Starbucks for breakfast.

At the shipyard before 9 a.m., an hour early, it’s a safe haven. The shiny new propellers are ready to go, and so is Dan. Our strongman, Jessie, rounds up some helpers. These props are heavy.

On the starboard shoot, I’m completely blocked. The only usable shot is through Jessie’s legs. I’m not too pure to say “Sorry guys, can you do it again?” but I didn’t bother as I know there’s a second propeller to go. The port prop is a success. Looks great and I keep the camera running after the action just in case there are nice bits of dialogue.

I am trying to figure out a shot for the launch. “Dan, I have an underwater 3D GoPro. Could I clamp it to one of the propeller shaft fittings?” “You’d be better off fixing it onto the top of the rudder, looking back at the propeller. I’ll make up a connector for you

Time to go up the ship’s stairs. Richard is coming down. “Richard, are they really doing the decking today?” I don’t want to waste my energy going up, only to discover that nothing is happening up there again. Richard gives me a thumbs up. I put my DJI Osmo kit together and power up the Wi-Fi and viewfinder glove. It’s all green lights and running as I go up the stairs.

The scene on the top is chaos. Well, to be fair, let’s say organized chaos. On a distant table, Chris and Bruce are sealing the decking strips. In front of them, three volunteers are spreading glue to the floor, while close to me, Franz and Neil are applying the strips to the deck.

I’m shooting for the first time with my Osmo stabilizer. I had bought an Osmo extension rod to go up high, but now, as I can see the shot on my glove iPhone, high is not the place to be. In fact, the GoPro on “W” is so wide that it is hard to keep my viewfinder glove out of the shot.

The tricky thing is that the floor I’m walking on has glue, but not everywhere. It’s like a minefield. One false step and the glue clamps you down. And you thought filmmaking was easy.

Eventually I get the perfect decking “money shot” on the GoPros and swap to my trusty NX3D1. I figure a low-angle might work and lie down flat on the new decking, hoping I won’t stick to it.

My doctor asks, “Are you getting enough exercise?” Ha! Now some high and low reverse angles. Doctor, yes I am!

What a Difference Three Years Makes
See the ship as a wooden skeleton in 2014:

The Matthew Turner was finally launched on April 1, 2017. Watch it  here:

Posted in 2017, Production Diary | Comments Off on DIARY OF A MADMAN


A Month Ago I Was Nowhere, But Now

My daughter Cissy with Sony a7S II camera, Sony 18-110mm lens, Sony XLR-K2M mic, Atomos Ninja Blade viewfinder and shade, Tilta ES-T17 cage, Axis level bubble. Weighs 6 lb., cost around $7K.My New 4K Rig

Only a month ago, 4K was a total mystery. What to buy? Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony? It’s scary when you’re all alone. No experts to turn to. No friends or relations on weekend vacations. Where to start?

But yes, I do have a friend: Chuck. I met him once, for five minutes, at an NAB Show. “Can it really be you? My wife Sarah and I read all your stuff. Love the one about the steel mill.” I like Chuck. He’s my kind of guy.

We do good e-mail. He sends me a YouTube video he shot with a 4K Sony FS7 II. (See it below.) It looks great. At last I have a 4K guru.

But do I really want to spend $10,000 on a camera that’s too heavy for ancient old me? No way.

I read up on Sony’s mirrorless digital camera, the Alpha a7S II. It seems to have the same specs as Chuck’s movie version, and hey, it’s “only” $2,698 without lenses at B&H.

Sarah and Chuck’s Sony PXW-FS7 II with Sony 18-110mm lens. Weighs 10 lb., cost around $13K.

One Good Return Deserves Another

Chuck gives me his blessing on the a7S II and I buy one. Now I need a lens. I’ll try a zoom first.

Google, Google, Google—ah, here it is, the Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS lens. I buy it and OMG, what a disaster. This is a zoom for still cameras, not video. The stupid thing changes exposure as you zoom. Bye, bye; going back home to B&H.

A couple of prime lenses might be the answer. I buy the Zeiss Batis 25mm and 85mm. They’re sharp, fast, full frame—but oh dear, not cine lenses. Sorry B&H, more coming back.

There’s a big difference between lenses for still cameras and movie cameras. OK, Stefan, bite the bullet and get Chuck’s 18-110mm zoom at a whopping $3,498. It will cover everything from wide angle to telephoto.

My “Full Frame” Zoom Arrives

I plug it into the a7S II body and connect up to a 4K LG monitor.

Hit button 4 and then the scroll wheel to zoom in a tad. If you don’t do this, the expensive lens is useless in 4K.

The lens doesn’t cover the full frame! There’s bad vignetting. I rush to Google—yep, everyone says it’s a full-frame/APS-C lens. I read all the “hands-on with the new 18-110 zoom” articles. Come on, why doesn’t anyone mention that it won’t fill the frame shooting 4K?

Yikes, It’s Really an APS-C Lens

Help please, Chuck. He replies, “I’m about to pick up a Sony FS5. It has an amazing feature called Clear Image Zoom or something like that. Its zoom is undetectable, unlike ‘digital zoom.’ BTW, I believe your a7S II has a Clear Image Zoom feature as well.”

In the camera UI, go to Heading 3 and down to Zoom Setting. Select the ClearImage Zoom option from the list. Then in menu 6, find Custom Buttons and assign Zoom to Button 4. Using the scroll wheel, zoom to 1.3 and bingo—it’s a full-frame lens.

Perfect. My rig is almost the same as Chuck’s, but at half the weight and half the price.

Yay Chuck! You are my 4K hero.

Posted in 2017, Production Diary | Leave a comment


A Big, Badass Bird

Every week for TCN9 I film the Caper Cops. It’s a direct steal of the American Keystone Kops, but this is Sydney, Australia, in the late 1960s and who cares.Rod Hull plays Constable Clot.

FROM RUSHTON WITH LOVEWill Rushton as the governor general interviewed by Rod Hull.
I’m asked to produce a 13-week comedy series with English actor Will Rushton.

Rod Hull begs me to cast him. “Please, Stefan, put me on the show. I’ll do anything.” As we are mates, he becomes a regular performer—every week for the whole season.

In 1969, Tricia and I move from Sydney to London. We’re there for a couple of years when Rod unexpectedly turns up. He is excited to unpack what he has in his suitcase. It’s an emu arm puppet—he’d stolen it from Channel 9 prop storage.

He puts it on and it becomes a living being. Emu is alive and attacking us, our plants, and finally Rod himself.

We collapse with laughter. Rod has just arrived in the UK. Can we help him find work?

“I know Ken Carter. He directs the Benny Hill show.”

“Great. I’d love to write for Benny Hill!”

“But you have a star act with Emu. Why don’t we make a pilot TV series together and split costs?”

I own an Éclair 16mm camera and rent a second one. We clear out our living room and build a little set. Rod writes four short sketches.

I buy rolls of Kodak 16mm color stock. Bob, a cameraman friend of mine, shoots second camera and Tricia records the sound.

We have a screening. I invite Rolf Harris, a BBC personality. Everyone is in fits of laughter. Rolf says, “You must show this to my agent, Phyllis Rounce.”

I phone and convince her to watch the film and give my friend Rod a chance.

A week later, to my surprise, I receive a very formal letter. Phyllis wants Rod to appear only on live television. I do not have permission to market the films.

I write back, listing my costs for producing the pilot. “Rod refuses to pay. There was no written contract.” I reply, saying, “We are long-term friends. There is trust involved.” I phone, write again. Nothing.

Skip forward 11 years to 1982. I am running Molinare, London’s largest video facility. Rod is downstairs in my studio. When the red light goes off, I wander in.

“Rod, you still owe me for the pilot film that got you off the ground.”

“Stefan, I want to pay you, I really do, but Emu won’t let me. I hate the bloody bird. He’s ruined my life.”

This story has no moral, this story has no end. Rod dies at 62, a bankrupt and broken man. Emu was his bird, but he done him wrong. I, too, hate that bloody bird.

When you’re an emu they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the genitals.

Posted in 2017, Production Diary | Comments Off on EMU KILLED THE VIDEO STAR



Brandon did it right: up close, handheld, audio from on-camera mic

Holidays are a drag. Where to go? Book the hotel. Book the flight. Rent the car. Then, oops, it all falls apart. Why? Because the one-day Seattle shoot has now been moved forward to the exact date of the flight.

“Brandon, I can’t do the shoot in Seattle. Can you do it for me?”

“Sure, I could visit my grandmother. Any helpful tips?”

“Tips? Here’s my big one, “Shoot wide-angle and go in close. Oh, BTW, you’re filming a cauldron of boiling lead.”

No tripods, no monopods, no Steadicam device. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for years. Instead of a tripod, try using a Mini Cardellini Clamp and Manfrotto 492 Micro Ball Head or Joby GorillaPod on the back of a chair.

Carry-on drone, just 1.62 lb., folds up small, take it everywhere

No lights, no light stands. Use auto exposure, auto white balance, auto focus and auto audio.

One small-wheeled suitcase with clothes and gear. Pack cameras in between clothes. Check this case for the flight.

Carry on your DJI Mavic Pro quadcopter in its shoulder bag. Never ever leave batteries in their cameras or drone.

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Take two video cameras—real video cameras, not DSLRs. Make it three with a GoPro, one that has a viewfinder.

Always take spare charged batteries and a charger. GoPros lose their charge quickly.

Handhold—shoot wide, get in close, walk and move the camera to follow action. Use a camera with a good stabilizer.

Shoot like you’ve never shot before—high angle, low angle, wide distant, CU of details—then record VO from the subject about what you’ve shot using a Tascam DR-60D or the on-camera mic.

Always take that 180° reverse angle shot. You might be surprised when you look behind you—it’s often better.

Get used to shooting blind without a viewfinder. If you’re wide, you’ll get the shot. A viewfinder isolates you from the outside world—you need to know where you are, both for the film and for your own personal safety.


No lights, no tripod, on-camera mic audio, one continuous moving (not a pan) handheld shot:

As an assistant cameraman at the BBC, I cleaned my lenses every few minutes. Use a moist puff from your mouth, wipe outwards with a white clean handkerchief. No lens cleaning fluid is necessary.

Frame up a talking head from top of skull to second shirt button down. Because you are close, the audio will be good.

For a formal, more distant interview, use a wireless mic or try a Sennheiser Clip-Mic Digital with your iPhone switched to airplane mode.

On location, make friends. Learn their names. I can do 10 names in one day.

Take release forms. Get them signed! Give out and collect business cards. Pay for lunch and drinks. Be nice. Make them want you back.

Rough Linen Winter Coverlet from Stefan Sargent on Vimeo.

Posted in 2017, Production Diary | Comments Off on UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL


Nahja, on the ladder, is stretching the sail she has just sewn. Wayne is dreaming of going back to sea.

Out of bed at 4 a.m.; 90 minutes later I arrive at SFO. I’m going to Seattle. SFO has just three domestic terminals. I’m off the Marin Airporter at terminal 3. Nope, Alaska Air is in the international terminal. Huh, Washington left the Union already? At international, I meet a fellow traveler. “Going to Seattle? Follow me. It’s A4, at the far end.”

“I think A4 is the gate. We need an aisle number.” I’m right; it’s aisle 17. U-turn, walk to the other end. My Fitbit is working overtime.
Seattle airport is a disaster. Nothing is close and easy. Where’s Alamo? One train, one bus and way over there and down three floors. Fitbit says 7,520 steps and it’s not even 11 a.m.

I drive my red Hyundai to the Seattle Ferry Terminal. Credit card payment and onto the ferry to Bainbridge Island.


R. Buckminster Fuller would be proud, but where’s the loo?

Driving from Bainbridge to Port Townsend is a long, beautiful jaunt through tall forests and pouring rain. I need to be at the rec center basketball court at 3:45. A miracle, I arrive at 3:40.

Right on cue the basketball players leave and the sail-making team arrives: Wayne, Nicole, and daughter Nahja, plus six helpers. Wayne is marking out imaginary sails on the basketball court floor with thumbtacks, string and chalk. Dacron rolls are unwound, cut and stapled down. Bit by bit, long canvas strips form a sail.

I run around shooting, climbing ladders, lying on my back, as only a one-man crew can do. We must be out by 11 p.m. Suits me; I’m whacked. Fitbit says 9,675 steps.

Now to drive to Marrowstone Island, just two islands away, where Wayne and family live. Yep, even more bridges. We arrive in the rain after midnight.


Nicole, Wayne and Stefan—a dome love-in

My very own geodesic dome. Wayne built it himself. Am I dreaming or what? There’s a spiral staircase to a mezzanine floor and my bed.

No toilet. Pee outside. In the middle of the night, down the spiral, in the rain? No way. There’s a metal bucket at the end of the bed. I test it out. Fall into bed, fully dressed.
I spend the next three days in my dome. The Marrowstone locals come over. We have a party on Sunday. Wayne tells seafaring stories better and wetter than mine: how he was the mate on Mel Gibson’s 1984 movie Bounty, adventures on various tall ships he has piloted, why he only works in winter. (“Because summer is for sailing.”)

“Wayne, have you ever written a book?” “Yes, but not about ships and the sea. It’s about a 500-mile walk across Spain, Camino de Santiago. I’ll give you a copy.”

And then it’s over. I arrive home refreshed as if from a good holiday. Tricia and I have dinner. “What news while I was away?” “Nothing much, but I was wondering, have you heard of Camino de Santiago? It’s a pilgrimage. I want to do it.” “Have I got the book for you.”

Posted in 2017, Production Diary, Uncategorized | Comments Off on NO SHOES IN DOME PLS


Where KISS Is an Acronym

We are both wearing dark suits because that’s what you do at weddings in 1962.

1. Bad Zipper – Fun Wedding
In the photo, a very young Stefan is pretending to monitor the sound. On my left is school friend Robert Parker. We record weddings on a Ferrograph tape recorder and burn two 12-inch LPs—one “sealed in plastic to last a lifetime.”

This particular wedding has ground to a halt. The bride entered the church and took a deep breath before going down the aisle. ZIP—ZAP—POW! Disaster. The zipper on her new wedding dress self-destructs.

She screams and reverses backwards out of the church. You can imagine what the groom at the altar is thinking.

Now she is running down the street hoping to find a friendly house where she can have her wide-open dress sewn up. The congregation is told, and we all settle down to listen to an endless organ recital. “By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea.”

The wedding photographer is wandering around. He discovers our recording hideout, we do a busy pose and he snaps us up. Finally, the bride returns in a borrowed red and yellow dress. We applaud her entrance, she cries, they live happily ever after.

2. Bad Host – No Wedding
We’re at Rosemary and Miles’ place. It’s Miles’ birthday and the table has about ten other guests. Much of the dinner talk is about their daughter’s wedding.

Stefan, you will film it, won’t you?” All the guests are waiting for my response. I had said no a week earlier. Here we go again.

“No, Rosemary, I won’t film the wedding. I’m not a wedding filmmaker.”

“But Stefan, please take some shots—just home movie stuff.”

The table is now dead quiet as Rosemary and I are locked in battle. “Rosemary, I make corporate videos. That’s my profession. I’ve made a strict policy not to do videos for friends. It’s as simple as that.”

A week later a letter arrives:

Dearest Stefan and Tricia,

We asked too many people to Rebecca’s wedding and have decided to cut back on the numbers. It is with regret that we have to withdraw our wedding invitation.


3. KISS Is an Acronym

My son William and his love Megan are getting married at our place. I can shoot it “professionally” with three cameras:

1. CENTER a wide shot

2. RIGHT a CU on Megan

3. LEFT a CU on Will

And maybe 4. REVERSE ANGLE?

Four cameras, four tripods, and what about some lights and three radio mics? Come on, that’s crazy, it’s a small family wedding.

My way is always the KISS way: Keep It Simple, Stupid. No lights, just one handheld camera, plus a fixed, reverse angle GoPro.

Reverse angle GoPro clamped to a table lamp with Gorilla legs. I’m too lazy to remove one camera from the dual 3D casing.

My Sony HXR-NX30’s stabilization is so good, I can move from left and right, get in close and pull back.

My son’s wedding is online:

Posted in 2016, Production Diary | Comments Off on THREE WEDDINGS AND A VIMEO