A lack of creative inspiration and a change in circumstances prompted Aram Atkinson to go on an adventure with his friend and photographer Matt Storer
Wex Photo Video: Can you tell us about yourself and the type of films you’ve been making?
Aram Atkinson: I’m a freelance filmmaker, based in London. I specialise in branded and commercial work, although narrative fiction is the dream. I love to work on sets when I can and have made a few short films that have gone on to do far better than I could have hoped! I learned much of my filmmaking craft during my time at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution [RNLI]. I joined as a videographer under the immense wisdom of Mike Lavis and worked as a senior videographer between 2015 and 2017.
The job was incredible. Getting to meet such amazing volunteers, and to be privileged enough to tell unbelievable stories of both courage and sacrifice was a humbling experience I treasure. I’ve always had a fascination with people and real-life stories. There is such emotion to be had in the dramas of real people and as much as I can, I like to work with companies that are striving for progress regarding social or environmental causes.
W: How did you find the story for your WexShorts entry, and what made you want to tell it?
AA: I met Matt Storer playing hockey about three years ago. He was an Australian travel photographer who had landed a job in the UK at a photography studio, and I was a full-time videographer at the RNLI. Both of us had been suffering from a lack of creative inspiration and felt stuck within the monotony of our jobs. So, I decided to quit my job and go freelance, and around the same time Matt decided to do the same, but travel Europe and create vlogs along the way.
Our creative identities had been buoyed by our new found feelings of clarity, and we were both keen to create some new content. We decided to travel to the Lake District together before Matt left – somewhere he had always wanted to go – to swap skills of filmmaking and photography. Matt’s ability to seek out adventure is inspirational and his passion for life is contagious, so I couldn’t help but say ‘Yes’ when he asked: “Fancy a road trip to the lake district with some cameras and tents?”
W: How did you plan the shoot?
AA: There wasn’t much planning involved in this shoot. In fact, I was actively trying to avoid it and the decision to go was an impulsive one! We only had two weeks before Matt would leave for Europe and realised the only time we both had free was the coming weekend. So, we packed our camping gear, charged our batteries and set off for the seven-hour drive through the night. Luckily, we were travelling with two of Matt’s friends, so we slept most of the way.
I was excited to be working in a more instinctive way than usual; no brief, no storyboard and no plan. I left it up to Matt to decide what he wanted to photograph and I would work around him. He ended up finding some of the most amazing caves and quarries. But, we underestimated how hard it would be to find a spot where we could wild camp, so both nights involved a lot of searching and some late-night tent assembly! We then spent the next two days exploring the Lake District, making it up as we went along.
W: What equipment did you use during the production and why?
AA: When I decided to go freelance, I realised the only kit I actually owned was a Canon 60D and a cheap ‘nifty fifty’. So, I did a lot of eBay hunting and found a great price on a Sony NEX-FS700, and this project was my first chance to use the camera. During my first year of freelancing, I worked entirely off this one camera and two lenses, an SLR Magic 50mm and a Canon 24-105mm. I also borrowed a Zhiyun crane and a Sony A7S, to see how a one-handed gimbal performed.
I immediately fell in love with the FS700, which is possibly one of the most underrated cameras on the market (with the Atomos Shogun Inferno you can record 4K RAW and 2K 240fps continuous). On this shoot – where mobility was a priority and a lot of hiking was involved – the ergonomics and weight quickly became an issue. I loved the speed at which I could set the exposure and choose between the fps. However, the screen is so poorly placed and the body is so long that trying to frame anything above shoulder height or in tight spaces was a nightmare, particularly when you consider the crop factor.
The A7S and Zhiyun crane worked ok, but as it was my first time using the gimbal, I only realised when I got home that the motor had been set to weak. As such, most of the footage had a lot of vibration and was unusable. Only three crane shots made the cut.
W: Can you explain your approach to the edit?
AA: I played around a lot in the edit before I decided on the final cut, moving the structure of the voiceover multiple times. I had set myself the target of making the film one minute in length, so it was Instagram friendly. While I don’t think all films should be cut to below 60 seconds for the sake of social media, there is something beautiful about achieving what you want to say within such a short time span. It really helps you with discipline by cutting overindulgence – there are so many shots I wish I could have fitted in.
I didn’t really know what I wanted the edit to look like. All I knew is that I wanted it to be true to who Matt is as a person, and to reflect our shared views on society’s expectations and what it means to be a photographer. I really wanted this film to breathe and not feel like a rushed, cut down version of a longer film, which meant holding frames far longer than I usually would and being clinical with voiceover selection.
This was also the first project where I had worked with a composer, which pushed me to pace the edit in a way that felt natural, without hitting beats. Simon Porter did an outstanding job of creating a score that encapsulated every emotion I wanted to portray, and Lawrence Kendrick from Strings and Tins crafted a sound design that elevated the film beyond anything I had hoped for. Film is all about collaboration and a shared love of the medium, and I couldn’t have made this without the help of these two incredible talents.
W: What challenges did you face?
AA: One of the more logistical challenges I faced was battery power. I had two Sony NEX-FS700 batteries to last me the two days, which meant being conservative with my shooting. While the FS700 batteries do hold out incredibly well, when you are climbing the Lake District from sunrise to sunset, it’s hard not to film everything. By nature, I am a messy shooter. I scrawl through hours of footage in the edit, whereas during this project, I was far more disciplined.
Another challenge was trying a new format – Matt and I attempted to vlog the weekend. Neither of us had done any vlogging before, it’s a completely different genre to any type of filmmaking I had done before. But, through numerous takes and a lot of backtracking, we managed to pull something together!
W: Do you have any advice for others wanting to create their own mini documentary?
AA: While The Path Less Travelled wasn’t really planned out, I would say defining your structure in pre-production is definitely the best way to go. I’ve shot a few documentaries and it’s always the structure I’ve wished was better. Documentaries should be treated like a fictional film, in the sense that they need a beginning, middle and end. Mini documentaries can be more ambiguous though. They’re a great way to explore your voice as a filmmaker, test your skills and open your eyes to people you might have otherwise never met. People are fascinating, and everyone has an amazing story to tell.
W: Do you have any interesting projects lined up in the near future?
AA: While documentaries interest me, my heart is in narrative work and I’m currently developing my next short film. I have shot a few fiction pieces before, all of which I am incredibly proud of, but this is far more ambitious and tackles themes that I feel passionate about. I’m currently applying for funding, but with or without it this film will get made. It needs to get made.
About the Author
Kristian Hampton is Wex Photo Video’s Technical Editor for Pro Video. A video specialist who has worked in corporate studios for companies such as Vodafone Group and PwC, as well as working as a freelance grip on various TV productions and features. He also runs Krade Media, providing enterprises with production services. Follow Kristian on twitter @KrissHampton