Video: Watch the new documentary on photographer Andrew Chapman
Documentary filmmaker Chris Franklin has released a new short film, Yellow, which profiles Australian documentary photographer and photojournalist Andrew Chapman, and in particular his experience documenting, and eventually suffering from, liver disease. We sat down for a Q&A with Chris to find out more about the powerful short feature.
Australian Photography: How did you get started with documentary film making?
Chris Franklin: I started out doing photography, something I still do today alongside shooting motion. Like many photographers, movie [features] became available in our cameras and that allowed us to dabble in it without needing gear - although once you dabble you start buying gear!
There was a show on TV years ago called Front Up with Andrew Urban. Basically it was a guy with a microphone and cameraman who would walk up to people in the streets of Australia and just start talking to them, fleshing out a story. The show’s premise was: there is no such thing as an ordinary person. Everybody has a story to tell. It was short and very non commercial and I loved it.
I have no interest in shooting drama or anything like that, but I love shooting people documentary, and, in a way, emulating that show and listening to a really good story. Much of my work up until now has been documentaries on musicians.
AP: How did you know Andrew Chapman's story was one worth telling?
CF: I had a leg-up with Andrew because he had such great images, and of course that carries the doco as well as the story. If he was an accountant it may have not been so compelling!
But it's his natural authentic presence and way of speaking, I think, that is really strong. His imagery as well, as I knew visually it would [allow me to] make the film a little bit longer. When you make short documentaries it's all about what you leave out - you're constantly trying to reduce what you have.
And finally the circle of the story. He's on the job photographing a transplant, and that amazing event where 16 years later he was being operated on by the same team.
AP: How did you approach the documentary-making process?
CF: There are some documentary-makers who feature themselves in their work, but I've never liked doing this. If you watch commercial TV a lot of the presenters put themselves in front of the camera, and I think sometimes the authenticity just floats away.
In reality I didn't need to be there, and although occasionally I might have had to prompt and guide him, it's Andrew's story and he's more than capable of telling it. I think it's so much stronger as a result of it.
AP: Yellow is shot in a distinct way, with tight framing – how did you decide on this style?
CF: I had bought a new lens, an 85mm f1.8, not long before we started filming. There's a wider shot and a close shot, and I really like when you're at a delicate, powerful moment [being able to] get in close. This draws the viewer in - you're sitting right there with the subject and you're not seeing anything else.
I use an A and a B camera. It acts as a redundancy if one doesn't work, but it also gives you something to switch between when editing. I don't shy away from jump cuts, I don't mind that. I think they add another layer of autheticity as it shows the viewer there's nothing being hidden.
AP: How did you shoot and edit the doco?
CF: The production was short, the interview was done in one day and the edit took about four days.
I'm a one man operation with zero budget, and [as such] it can be quite intense, juggling a lot of balls. When you're doing lighting, camera, audio, audio levels, all the technical parts you have to nail, and on top of that you're interviewing and you have to engage, and follow the thread of the conversation, it's a challenge!
I think gravitas is added to the power of the film by the music which was played by Shannon Bourne, a well known Melbourne musician. He doesn't supply all the music for the film, but definitely the lion's share.
AP: What's your hope for the documentary?
CF: I make these documentaries and put them out, and often that's about it. But I love the fact that people watch them and my interview subjects might gain some appreciation because of them.
With this particular film, the reaction has been incredibly strong for a little independent doco, with over 3000 views in 24 hours, and I think that is due in part to Andrew’s reputation as a genuine heartfelt humanitarian, but also the story reminds us of importance and meaning, and what really matters.
I hope in watching it, it might cause people to stop and think about being an organ donor, and wherever that might lead.
You can see more of Chris Franklin's work at franklinimage.com.au.