Behind the scenes with Mark Hobson, DOP
There is more to what we see and that holds especially true for the production industry. This month, Karishma Hingorani explores the headspace in which Director of Photography, Mark Hobz Hobson functions on set, as he shares moments from his life behind the viewfinder and delves technical details on filming in the region
HOW WAS THE EXPERIENCE WORKING ON ALAN WALKER AND IMANBEK’S MUSIC VIDEO WITH A.K.A MEDIA?
It was my first time working with a.k.a media and members of their team, no hassles or dramas along the way throughout the production. In prep, Yasser, Nadya and myself tackled the budget of the technical department together, trying to find resourceful solutions to manage costs and ensure the directors vision was not affected by financial management.
I did not have to worry about any logistic issues on set. Communication was always open and I found my entire team focused on the projects creative side. This truly meant that the backbone of the production and its management was maintaining order. The team that a.k.a put together was solid and apart from being professional I think the people within all the departments helped hold the production together.
I am definitely looking forward to working with a.k.a again and introducing more of my international network to their services. With such a big shoot like this, a.k.a has set a solid benchmark for production workflow.
WHAT GOES INTO YOUR PLANNING FOR A SHOOT?
When planning a shoot, I always focus on the script and directors needs at first. I take in the story as an outsider, then take it in a second time, but with a technical eye. I like to collaborate with the director on their Ideas and also share my input. This usually forms a lot of storyboards and several references from both our sides.
Being part of the Australian Cinematography Society, I have seen other DOPs take untraditional forms of approach. I create look books, which are more than just mood boards with colours and patterns of shooting, but also include technical analysis of reference frames given by the director or me. I usually take references, put them into false colour and breakdown the exposure of a reference, so on set we can aim for the same look and feel. This also communicates to the colourist in post why you might have exposed a stop-over or stop-under.
ACCORDING TO YOU, WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF CINEMATOGRAPHY?
The most important aspects of
cinematography for me are maintaining a good rhythm and sense of storytelling. We are responsible for the visual and that breaks down into many things. It really depends on the director’s workflow as well, I have found some directors are more camera orientated, some more lighting orientated and some neither, some are purely in the talent performance. Depending on the type of director you are working with you must fi nd that balance and adapt. Adaptation is probably the second most important thing, as it will reflect how you handle communication and issues that arise on set, as well as how you manage your team.
When it comes to technical, not every shot can be beautiful, but telling the story is always key. Wherever possible, I try to add something interesting to a shot, whether it is stylised, natural lighting, camera movement, interesting actor blocking, production design, or background/foreground movement.
PHOTOGRAPHY OR VIDEOGRAPHY, WHICH ONE EXCITES YOU?
Ah Videography! The dirty word for us cinematographers. , I always felt that videography was more about capturing a moment instead of creating a moment, which I feel is what cinematographers do. In all honesty though, photography and even painting/artworks excite me more. Those frames which place composition, colours, exposure levels and stylistic choices into a frozen still image for you to study, and make you think what frames would be there before or after, if it was a motion picture.
There is a lot that can be learned from photography, I love studying the environments in which photos have been taken. Taking into consideration all the different walls, flooring, tables, windows, whatever material it is, and seeing how light reacts with it. Does it bounce, does it absorb, does it block, does it add or subtract fall off ?
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE FILMMAKING IN THE REGION?
I have only been here in the UAE for 2.5 years, I left Australia in 2009 and lived in Scandinavia for 10 years while working all over the world. After being exposed to many formats of work and different work ethics from culture to culture and region to region globally, I can say that there are a lot of things here, that the world could teach the region and some things the region could teach the world.
WHO IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TECHNICIAN BEHIND THE SCENES?
On set I fi nd there are a few individuals I have high respect for and always try to play their ball game. Number one is the director, especially on commercials. The director becomes the therapist and stress ball dealing with agencies, as well as clients. Keeping their cool really reflects on the morale of the rest of the crew. Number two would have to be the producers for handling the logistics and mechanics of the shoot.
Next, are the assistant directors. I have worked with some amazing assistant directors around the world who just know how to maintain order on set, prioritise problems and solutions, even sometimes having to be the set monster, yet hold high respect among the entire crew.
Also for me, my gaffer and first AC are very important. These two roles for a cinematographer are your life support. I have always believed you are nothing without your crew. Being a DOP, having so many responsibilities and sometimes getting lost in many tasks on set, it is always good to have a gaffer and first AC who understand you and your workflow. They are already a step ahead and will always find small things you might have missed.
WHAT GOES INTO SETTING THE SCENE FOR A COMMERCIAL OR A MUSIC VIDEO AND HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM A FULLLENGTH FEATURE FILM?
One thing that the region has taught me is commercial shooting. Back in Europe I would be shooting two-three features/ TV shows a year with maybe four-five commercials a year. Here in the UAE,
I am shooting three-four commercials a week. I have found that only some workflow points I have been able to take over from narrative to commercial/music video work.
Planning is obviously scaled down and your fi nal creative decisions are sometimes not in the hands of the director.
It is usually the agency/client or label. So sometimes this affects the creative approach. On set duties like lighting and assisting with blocking actors takes the same place, as it would on a feature. Technical lighting might be more stylised on commercials/music videos and more focused on particular points if products are involved. I have found that directors here like to shoot things brighter and with shallower depth of field, while western directors love a darker/moodier look.
YOUR MOST MEMORABLE PRODUCTION?
I have been quite fortunate to have had my job take me worldwide. I think the most memorable production may have been either Project Eden Vol.1, or Layers of Lies, both features, but worlds apart. On Project Eden, I had the opportunity to work with all my favourite childhood actors from Stargate the movie and Stargate SG-1 the series. Shot in the USA and New Zealand, I feel it was the first time I got captured by actors performances. While looking through the view finder, I would nearly forget to operate the camera because level of acting would suck you into the story.
Layers of Lies took me into the country of Iran for a few months, an action movie from the West, shot in western sanctioned country. Oh, the challenges we had! That is another story for another time, but a journey I will always remember.
HOW HAVE REMOTE PRODUCTION FACILITIES INFLUENCED THE MENA FILM INDUSTRY?
Remote production surely has not been the most practical practice we have had to use during this pandemic, but it has brought a lot of commercial work to the region. With the UAE government handling the pandemic situation with calculated risks and management, they have made it possible for us to continue production unlike many other countries. Many of the rental houses in the region are well equipped with remote tools to stream to clients and directors.
The only race now, disabling the region is virtual production. I have been fortunate enough to have access to virtual production through my European network and have some hands on. It really is a logistics saver with the shots you can achieve and remote shooting, especially with all the post-production being done in pre-production. I have some inside gossip of its arrival here in UAE and the partners involved, and I hope with Dubai’s unique global location and fl ight connections, the region will hold a new top position in virtual production.
ANY LOW MOMENTS ON SET AFTER AN ERROR? HOW DID YOU DEAL WITH IT?
I think it is easy to say we all learn from mistakes. We have all made them especially when we were younger and even sometimes now. I have had a few mishaps in the past, but it has always been due to lack of communication and no clear guidance, as to who is making the final decisions. For example, I have been on commercials with crazy turnaround times, literally shoot, edit/grade on set and deliver in 12 hours. The digital imaging technician and editor asking to shoot pro-res codec for quick editing, only to find out later the director wanted raw. Even key items of equipment not coming to set has been an issue. Having a good team behind you is key. A team that communicates and solves the problems together, not as individuals.
YOUR ADVISE TO ASPIRING FILMMAKERS?
Be a team player, ADAPT! Stay calm, observe and lead by example. If you are trying to get out of the region and break internationally, you are only as strong as your network. This industry really is who you know and who knows you. It is such an old cliché, but it is so true. So never be shy to reach out and engage with people online or events (when they happen again).
Technical advice I could offer is, if you really want to make something look like Hollywood, stop shooting 25 fps. The motion blur at 180- degree shutter angle and 23.978fps is totally different, than at 25fps. It is a technical thing, but if you really want things to look like it was made on American Dollars, there are some small technical adjustments needed.
ONE LIFE LESSON YOUR PROFESSION HAS TAUGHT YOU?
My profession has exposed me to many different people, cultures, work ethics and workflows. After many years of soaking all this up, the one major thing I have learnt is, that no matter how talented someone is – nobody wants to work with someone disrespectful. You will get that one gig, then not have the phone ringing for the next. Your network is your net worth, and maintaining professional communication and relationships is a huge part of career progression outside of talent. Remember to adapt – that is very important.