Filming at 11,000 Feet in Switzerland with Director Graham Sheldon

Wed, Oct 03, 2018

Cornerstone: Switzerland was one of the most challenging projects we’ve ever done. The goal was to take everything we knew about shooting feature films and apply it to a travel documentary show, but doing it at extremely high elevations, on the sides of mountains, and shooting everything cinematically.” - Graham Sheldon, Director of Photography.

Travel series are traditionally known for their handheld, down-to-earth video aesthetic that’s a natural culmination of low budgets, skeleton crews, and the nature of having to shoot with complete mobility and on the fly. In fact, even the late Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown (probably the most famous TV travel series of our time) was filmed in a way that was raw and undoctored. The cinematography focused on getting the shot at any moment’s notice rather than on the overall visual taste of the video.

DP Graham Sheldon wanted to take a different approach toward travel documentaries. An Emmy-winning feature film director and contributing writer for cinema publications, Graham created Cornerstone: Switzerland to tell a refreshing new narrative, using a cinematic style reminiscent of Chef’s Table and the wanderlust of the Travel Channel.

Concept

“The traditional travel series you see on TV and streaming all have the same episodic concept where every episode is something different. A different country, different culture, different foods. Those shows definitely have their charms, but we wanted to go more in-depth than that. We wanted to spend more time with the locals, explore the daily lives of professionals, and immerse our viewers into life in Switzerland.”

“We decided to make it a 6-episode series that follows one continuous format. It follows 5-6 characters per episode with occupations from a paper cutter to a world-class chef to a helicopter rescue pilot, with each character living in a different region of Switzerland acting as a tour guide for their area. The characters are all related to one another in some way, so the narrative transitions as if it’s all one storyline. As you move through the episodes, you learn more and more about the country and these everyday people who call Switzerland their home”

“We wanted to deviate from how travel shows typically work. Having locals be the hosts portrays Switzerland in a much more authentic way than if a foreigner hosted the show. So it’s both a glimpse into the daily lives of people as it is a series of wonderfully shot cityscapes and landscapes.”

Gear

“The challenging elements of the shoot, which included many lens swaps, the Ronin 2, the altitude, temperature changes and the need to move quickly in rapidly changing doc environments meant we needed to make the right decisions up front with gear, taking no more than what was essential, and ensuring the essential would prove reliable. Plus we needed a fool-proof wireless plan to prevent the show (filming over four weeks in Switzerland) from coming to a dramatic halt at the worst possible moment.

A Cam:

  • RED Monstro + Sigma T1.5/T2.0 Primes
  • Teradek Bolt 500 LT
  • SmallHD 703 Bolt
  • Wooden Camera Zip Focus
  • SHAPE Shoulder Rig

“REDs were critical to achieving the style we wanted. A cam was a RED Monstro on my SHAPE shoulder rig with Sigma Primes and a Wooden Camera Zip Focus. I had the Teradek Bolt 500 LT sending video to our SmallHD 703 Bolt monitor, which was the absolute perfect piece of equipment. It was bright enough to give us a crystal-clear view no matter where we went, and the fact that it was all-in-one meant I didn’t have to worry about mounting, cables, or things falling apart during transport.”

B Cam

  • RED Helium + Sigma T1.5/T2.0 Primes
  • Teradek Bolt 500 LT
  • Ronin 2
  • Teradek RT wireless follow focus w/ RT Sidekick

“B cam was a RED Helium that also had Sigma Primes, all mounted to our Ronin 2 gimbal. We also had a Bolt 500 LT on this sending video to the same 703 Bolt, which gave our 1st AC a dual-view to monitor both cameras simultaneously. B cam needed to be focused wirelessly throughout the project, so the 1st AC used a Teradek RT wireless follow focus kit to achieve that. Aerial shots were done with our DJI Inspire 2”

Everything Wireless

“One thing that makes this similar to other travel shows is how fast paced everything is. Things can happen very quickly and there aren’t retakes if you miss the shot. We’re also running a 3-person camera crew with tons of equipment through mountainous terrain at freezing temperatures. We were going through towns and cities too, where we needed to stay mobile to get every shot.”

“We were up in the mountains of Zermatt filming with a guide who worked for Air Zermatt, a helicopter alpine rescue company based in that city. They were running training scenarios for us to film like retrieving an injured person, long line rescue, and landing the aircraft in tricky locations.”

“They ran through each scenario multiple times for us to get a couple of retakes. I would have my A Cam shoulder rig getting shots, removing it and picking up the drone to capture the same scenario in the air. My wife and Co-Producer Rin Ehlers on B cam had the Ronin 2 shooting the entire time and our 1st AC pulling focus from behind. This was high up in the mountains where we were hiking and moving the entire day. Running on full wireless for this project was the best choice we made.”

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