Getting close to the edge of action sports cinematography with Eyeforce
Insights and learnings from over a decade of action sports cinematography.
Based out of Amsterdam and Cape Town, production company Eyeforce.nl has been producing award-winning action sports films for over a decade. Co-Founders and directors, Bob van de Gronde and Arthur Neumeier share some insights, hints, tips and scars. From equipment and techniques to working with top athletes in some ‘iffy’ conditions, whether it’s underwater, on a mountain or in the air, we get into the eyes of the adventure shooters.
Letting it roll
If you are shooting fast-moving athletes it means you have to immerse yourself into their world. So you need to get up to speed, quite literally. One of the ways we do that is by using a six-wheel film quad. It provides the perfect platform to rig all kinds of setups onto, like the stabilized arm with Movi setup that we used to film Robbie Maddison riding his motorbike on water.
An electric skateboard is another way to get really close at a high speed. One hand is controlling the skateboard’s joystick that controls your speed, the other hand holds the camera. You need to be a good skater to do this so that you can focus on the filming and let your intuition do the skating.
‘Don’t be brave, be clever’
Shooting in unpredictable conditions often means getting yourself into ‘iffy’ situations. Having the right temperament and keeping calm is what gets the team safely to the other side.
“I’ll never forget walking up a mountain with snowboarder and mountaineer Jeremy Jones in Chile,” says director Arthur Neumeier. Arthur was there to capture Jones snowboarding for travel website Kayak. Just another day at the office for a professional snowboarding legend like Jones. But for Arthur, this meant snowboarding down the same route at the same time. He recalls, “It was getting dark, there was ice and exposed rock everywhere and I had 25kg of equipment on my back. Not your average snowboarding holiday, but we made it, phew.”
“If there is an option of taking a helicopter up the mountain instead of climbing, do it. Our first rule of shooting in extreme terrain: don’t be brave, be clever. We never want to take unnecessary risks, especially when the cast and crew are relying on our split-second decision making. We’ve learnt over the years to always have a backup plan, but a big part of the job is trusting the locals and their knowledge of the area. Putting our lives in someone else’s hands, who knows a lot more than we do, has saved us from some hair-raising situations,” says Bob van de Gronde.
Working with athletes
Arthur reflects, “My closest call when working with an athlete was when I was all set up to capture a super-slow-motion shot of ex-Formula One driver David Coulthard. He suddenly spun his car 180 degrees with such amazing speed. Before I knew it he was so close to me he almost hit me. If I had been half a meter closer, he would have knocked me out.”
When working with athletes who dedicate their lives to becoming the very best in their field, it can often come down to a single moment to capture this incredible strength of the human spirit, and you don’t want to miss your opportunity.
“When we’re preparing for a shoot it’s important for us to communicate with all the stakeholders involved in the shoot and make sure everyone’s expectations are the same. We spend time talking with our athletes first, so we know how many times they can repeat the action or for how long they can give 100%,” says Arthur. Knowing as much as possible about your athlete and their capabilities upfront allows you to plan how many takes you have to get the shot. The more knowledge you have of your athlete, the more you will be able to prepare your shot list correctly.
Getting into gear
High-end premium gear is becoming smaller and smaller. Smaller often means lighter which means easier to use in extreme conditions. Compact cameras nowadays have bigger resolutions, higher frame rates, stabilization techniques and built-in ND’s. Bob shares his favourite, “Although it's not the lightest camera available these days, our weapon of choice is still the ARRI Mini camera. It offers some of the nicest digital cinema-quality picture in terms of look, and its body has a reasonable weight for action cinematography.”
An improvement to the action sports cinematography kit is the live-streaming of client monitors. “We experimented with it during the pandemic,” says Bob, “and especially when you’re shooting fast objects for long distances (like cyclists), it works like a charm.” By live-streaming your capture to a private link, you can involve all stakeholders in the shoot, whether on set or in an office on the other side of the world. Especially if you also add a behind-the-scenes live-streaming, and put a dedicated crew member in charge of communications with all stakeholders. “Managing these different perspectives can be hard, but it saves us a lot of time on the shoot as well as in post-production, because you are getting real-time feedback,” adds Arthur.
Underwater cinematography: Water sports and underwater shoots
With most action sports, it’s about understanding the timing, rhythm and motion of a sport to get that shot. “It’s important to be one turn, jump and flip ahead of our athletes,” says Arthur.
Shooting from the water (especially when attempting to capture the skyscraper-sized surf) will be almost impossible if you don’t know the ocean as a surfer would know it. “When shooting underwater for sports, you need to have real knowledge of the currents, winds and waves. In extreme conditions, you only have a few seconds to make life-saving decisions.
You’re working with expensive equipment and you often only have a second to take a breath. You have to become part of the location, ‘be like water’, and be experienced enough to keep calm while submerged with 20 feet of ocean above you,” says Arthur, who still remembers when he was once rescued from the reef at Cloudbreak Fiji. “I was flushed out onto the reef by a 20ft wave. I honestly thought I was done for. Even with a lot of experience in the ocean, you can’t always predict nature. Luckily, I was rescued by professional kitesurfer Keahi D’Aboitiz, who dragged me back into the line-up.”
Aerial cinematography: Helicopter, drones and FPV shoots
In fast-moving sports, we often use longer lenses on our drones to capture subjects. FPV (first person view) drones are on the rise. These race drones provide incredibly fast-moving perspectives and are perfect if you want to circle around the athlete when moving at high speeds and get real close. Until now, these FPV drones were carrying Gopro’s, which are not ideal in terms of picture quality. But technology is developing at a rapid pace and even race drones are now able to carry high-end cameras, like the RED Komodo.
Bob weighs in, “Want to film a Dakar rally car? Then you need to be faster than the car. So rent a helicopter and bring out the Cineflex! What’s so great about the Cineflex, which is a gyro-stabilized military specs device, is that it lets us zoom in on our subject while moving at extremely high speeds. We use zoom lenses like the Canon 50 – 1000mm.”
Eyeforce produces award-winning branded video content, TV commercials, series, photography and feature documentaries, with a particular affinity for sports, adventure and human narratives. We are known for our distinctive signature style of shooting and emotion-driven edits. Something we’ve developed during a decade of filming action sports where we put the story first.
Our videos aim to create that feeling of freedom and inspire the viewer to get out there.
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