Hi, I’m James Holman, and I’m a shooting director / editor based between Queenstown, New Zealand and Yangon, Myanmar. My latest project, Pushing Myanmar, is the third in a series of films from Yangon. It’s out now and I am happy to have this opportunity to share it with the filming community.
Name and age: James Holman, 35 years old.
Currently based in: Queenstown, New Zealand.
Language(s) spoken: English and limited Burmese!
Occupation: Shooting Director / Camera-Op / Editor
How did you get started in our industry? I got started in the industry through skateboarding in 2005. I filmed friends and sponsored riders after starting a small skateboard company in the UK. I had always wanted to work in production and had been accepted into film school years earlier, but being a person that likes to do things their own way, I decided to forge ahead on my own and this turned out to be the perfect way to do it. By chance, in 2007, I got approached to produce a weekly skateboard show with good friends Alex Pasquini and Ben Hay. We spent 2 years producing these shows for a couple of different channels, but after a slow few months in 2010 I decided to move to New Zealand for a new adventure and have been based here since. Through travelling to Myanmar several times over the past year I met American-Burmese director Lynn Padetha, and for the past 9 months have been freelancing for his production company Artisa Film in Yangon.
Current assignments: At the moment I’m back in Queenstown, New Zealand working for Diaries Downunder, a production company owned and operated by producer and professional snowboarder Nick Hyne and Syrp’s Ben Ryan. Through the winter we shoot a snowboard web-series for Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand in-flight, and as a result of this have a lot of other non-snowboard work coming in as well. I also have a number of my own clients here in New Zealand that I will shoot and edit for over the next couple of months. In October I head back to Yangon to work on projects for Artisa Film and I’m hoping to spend some time producing a time-lapse film through the country with equipment from Syrp.
What types of productions do you mostly shoot? In New Zealand, I shoot largely tourism-based products and branded content for companies and organisations such as Ngāi Tahu Tourism, Ultimate Hikes, Skyline Queenstown and Diaries Downunder. In Yangon, it’s commercial-based work operating an ARRI Alexa – we recently shot commercials for Samsung and Dutch Lady, and have projects coming up for clients including Coca-Cola.
What is your dream assignment / job in our industry, and what are you really passionate about? Dream assignments? That is a tough question to answer! I’m very passionate about travel and working in foreign environments. I really enjoyed making Pushing Myanmar, Youth of Yangon and Altered Focus: Burma, and working with a small team to make them happen. All three films were passion projects, we never got paid or sponsored to make them. I like to do one or two passion projects every couple of years, as I find it liberating and allows you to be more creative as there are no rules or deadlines. I still have a lot to learn, but operating or DPing on a feature film would be the dream.
In the work that you are presenting us, now that it is done, what would you have done differently throughout the production? There isn’t much I would have done differently on Pushing Myanmar, to be honest. We planned well in advance how we wanted to present it and tell the story. With a history of having produced two other projects there and the producer, Ali Drummond, living in Yangon we were really well placed to be able to accomplish everything we wanted to. It was filmed over nine days in March 2016, three in September whilst on holiday and throughout December, January and March on a further three trips there. It was a lot of air miles! In retrospect, I would have probably preferred to have locked off two months and gone into the edit and got it out sooner. We were never satisfied though: Ali and myself were always tweaking it and, with no real deadline, we were able to keep working on it every time I was there. There are pros and cons to either approach. I did like shooting, coming back for a month and editing and then figuring out what we needed to do to make it better, even though that resulted in it taking just over a year from the first shot to releasing it online.
What current camera, lenses and sound equipment do you use? At the moment I’m rolling with the Sony a7S II, Canon 5D Mark III and Canon lenses. The Sony is my A-Cam and I use the Canon 5D Mark III for time-lapsing. I have all the usual bits and pieces, tripods, jibs, sliders and so on, and I try and pack a light and mobile kit as much as possible depending on the job. I moved over to the Rode Video Mic Wireless system from my Sennheisers a couple of years ago and have been really impressed with them. I’ve also got their Smart Lav+ as a back-up and an NTG-3 for bigger productions. If I’m directing or second shooting a project, then it’s normally with a DoP on a Sony FS7. I shot Pushing Myanmar on the Sony a7S II, with the exception of the follow-cam shots which were done on a GoPro 4 and Feiyu Tech Gimbal. I could have gone with the Ronin, but since I was travelling overseas, I wanted to keep my kit light, mobile and manageable. I really rate the a7S II, it’s a great little camera and I’m pleased with the image out of it, especially when using a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II – it’s super sharp. I would have loved to have shot this on a Sony FS7 and delivered the whole project in 4K but that wasn’t really feasible for this – plus my favourite shots are all at 100fps which ruled out using the Sony FS7. I had a MacBook Pro and two hard drives on location to easily back-up and create selects or small sequences as we went. I’m a FCP X user, and I can’t rate it enough. NO, it was not great when it came out. Now, however, is a different story and I think it’s incredibly efficient, fast and powerful. I produced the whole project in it including the grade and audio mix using a wide range of plug-ins such as Colour Finale.
How much of your work do you shoot in Log and what is your preferred way of colour correcting? When shooting commercials in Myanmar we shoot Log, and anytime we use the Sony FS7 it’s also Log using Color Finale to apply LUTs. On the Sony a7S II I shoot Cine 4 with S.Gamut as I don’t rate S-Log on this as an 8-bit system. I find the Cine 4 setting grades well and has very low noise in low light / high ISO. I’m using Lawn Road Colour Correction and Looks for colouring.
Do you use drones or gimbals in your productions? If so, what is the most effective way you’ve found to deploy them? I really love the unique perspectives you can achieve with drones. Here in Queenstown we are surrounded by incredible scenery and using drones can really immerse you in that, so we use them on a range of projects I shoot here. They’ve changed the game entirely, adding a new level of production and making your project more dynamic. I directed a jet boat commercial last year and previously they used a helicopter with Cineflex to fly through the canyons and get the shots. That obviously was very, very expensive. A drone operator with an Inspire or similar is a fraction of the price. Like any new bit of kit, though, the key is to use it for a reason, don’t go blindly shooting everything on it. I remember I did that the first time I got a slider…
How frequently do you travel, and do you have any tips when it comes to packing your gear? I’m very fortunate in that I get to travel frequently. These days it’s mostly to Myanmar to work with the team there, but I’ve also had the opportunity to work in the Caribbean, Antarctica, China, the US and beyond. I tend to pack a carry-on camera bag with a bare bones kit, camera, mics and a couple of lenses in the unlikely event baggage gets lost or worse. Everything else goes in the hold. I pack everything super well and have no issue checking it in – if you’ve packed it well it will be fine. Also, don’t forget to lock – I always lock my check-in bag. Oh, and as airlines are getting more gnarly with their carry-on, I normally pack a slightly over-weight bag and while at the airport have everything from mics to batteries and lenses in my jacket pockets if I don’t feel comfortable checking it in. Once I go through, everything goes back in the bag! I’ve actually had check-in staff watch me take things out of a bag to get it to weight, weigh it, tag it and then put all the gear back in and I go on my way! I also travel with a Certificate of Export, so when I leave New Zealand I have a list of every piece of gear I’m travelling with, and then have Customs sign it out and back in again. This is free and is a good alternative to a Carnet – unless you’re travelling with an awful lot of gear in which case you’ll need one of those anyway.