A Gliding Documentary | The Glider Pilot | My RØDE Reel 2017
A Gliding Documentary
It’s that time of year again, the time for My RØDE Reel, a film competition which challenges filmmakers of all levels and abilities to put together a three minute short film on a theme of their choosing. Last year I entered the competition with a short about my husband Ed’s running. We filmed it together in an afternoon up at the Lickey Hills in Worcestershire. We both enjoyed the process so much that I wanted to make a film again this year, too.
This year’s film is a gliding documentary, and stars my father-in-law Roger, who is a glider pilot. It’s set in the Cotswolds at Cotswold Gliding Club near Stroud in Gloucestershire. For the uninitiated, gliding is a competitive air sport. Pilots fly unpowered aircraft, and stay airborne by finding and using thermals, ridge and wave patterns. Some gliders also have small engines for the purpose of sustaining flight in sub-optimal conditions, but the aim of the game is to stay in the air and traverse long distances by following thermals, ridge and wave patterns across the landscape.
So, to the film. I wanted to make a documentary, as it’s my favourite form of filmmaking. I love making really natural films and keeping things simple and real. As such, I knew that I wanted to follow Roger as he arrived at the airfield, set up his glider and prepared for launch, just as he normally would when going for a flight. My plan was then to cut the footage together with a voiceover of him speaking about gliding, explaining how he got into the sport and the reasons why he loves it so much. I also hoped that we would have a chance to get up for a short flight for some aerial footage, but gliding is so weather dependent that I was unsure if a flight would come to pass.
Back in May we set two dates in the diary for filming, to increase our chance of good weather. On the first date, it was overcast and rain was forecast for the afternoon and evening. We went up to the airfield anyway at around midday, and I captured lots of footage of Roger going through his safety checks and setting up the glider. I also captured plenty of b-roll around the airfield, for example signs, the wind sock, long grass blowing etc. All of the little shots that I like to think of as the glue that holds the story together. Ed helped out with filming, too, capturing footage of me filming Roger which I knew I would need for the Behind the Scenes video. In the end, we didn’t get up that day as the wind was too strong and we were the only people at the airfield.
The following weekend we returned to the airfield, and the conditions were dramatically different. Instead of being 15C and cloudy with strong wind, it was 25C at 10am, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and there was no wind. It soon became apparent that it would be too difficult to match the footage from the weekend before with footage filmed on the second afternoon, and so I just started over. As I’d watched Roger putting the glider together the week before I knew which shots to look out for, what worked well and what didn’t, and I managed to get through my shot list nice and quickly. Again, Ed helped out with setting the glider up whilst I filmed, and then when I was putting my parachute on he took over the tripod and main camera and filmed our winch launch, flight and landing.
We filmed on two cameras, a Panasonic GH4R and a Canon 5D2. The GH4R (I have the R model because it has no time limit on recordings which is useful for weddings and documentaries) was set up in Cine-D and the 5D2 was set up in Prolost Flat. On the Panasonic I used old Olympus lenses adapted to digital; a 50mm F1.8 silvernose and a 28mm F2.8. On the Canon I used a Takumar 50mm F1.4 and a Canon 35mm F2 IS. I also had a variable ND filter, essential for the GH4R outdoors on a sunny day as the ISO doesn’t go lower than 200. For ease, on the second day of filming I stuck to using just a monopod with a video foot and a video head, and a tripod. On the first day I also used my GlideGear DNA5050, but I decided to keep things simple on the second day as time was of the essence (it was just too hot on the airfield to be messing around switching rigs).
For sound, I used the RØDE VideoMicro on the GH4R for natural, ambient sound. With the dead cat on, wind wasn’t a problem on the second day of filming, though it would have been if I’d bothered with the VideoMicro on the first day as it was just too windy on the airfield.
For the voiceover, I interviewed Roger at home sat at his kitchen table. This was a relaxed environment, which helped ease any tension because sitting down with a microphone and camera pointed at you is a strange experience, even for those familiar with film work as my father-in-law is. I filmed the interview on the GH4R set up at an angle of 45 degrees to Roger, and then sat opposite him to chat about gliding. Again, I used the VideoMicro on camera, but I also set him up with the RØDE smartLav+, SC3 cable and a Tascam DR-05 to record in WAV for a very clean master file.
After filming, I culled the clips on my computer and then pulled everything into Davinci Resolve for colour grading. I have been using FilmConvert for about a year now, as it streamlines my workflow for weddings. I graded the clips using the KD 5207 Vis3 profile, matching the Panasonic to the Canon quite easily. The only tweak I had to make was to the yellow hue in custom curves. In ‘hue vs hue’ I pulled down the yellow channel by -20 as the grass was coming out too yellow for my liking. I like my greens to stay green, or to tend towards the blue channel rather than yellow. It’s just personal preference, and I find that the Panasonic footage needs a bit more work than Canon. That said, I do love how crisp and sharp Panasonic footage is and how easy the camera is to use compared to Canon DSLRs. I just prefer Canon’s native colours. However, after some time in FilmConvert everything looked how I wanted it to look. I then exported all of the clips in 1080p and imported them into Lightworks, which is my preferred NLE for cutting films.
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I really enjoyed making The Glider Pilot. It turned out even better than I’d hoped, and I’ve still got lots of footage to go through. When wedding season is over I plan to go through the interview and make a longer film for our family, as Roger gave such a brilliant interview. I just need to think about what I’m going to make for my entry to 2018’s competition now!