Cassius Rayner gives the lie to the old adage “Those who can do; those who can’t teach.” Rayner is a prolific London-based filmmaker who is dedicated to sharing his skills with novices. In the following interview, he takes us behind the scenes of “Blockley Street Art,” a two-minute experimental mini-documentary. During the production, shot using an iPhone 5s, Rayner experimented with a variety of tools.
MMM: How did this project originate?
RAYNER: The project wasn’t planned at all. I was on my way to the office when I saw an artist at work painting a shop front. I pulled over and just talked to the artist. A group of them, once a year, are given permission by the local council to create their art in a given area of London.
MMM: Was it difficult to get their permission to let you shoot?
RAYNER: I talked to them about my experimenting with iPhone filming and asked if I could follow them. They were amazed that a film could be made on an iPhone and were happy to take part and be filmed. So for a few days while I was also finishing a commissioned film project, I drove around and met different artists and filmed them.
MMM: Are you always so spontaneous?
RAYNER: I’m always looking. I guess this is instilled in me because of my documentary background and being active in filmmaking for over 20 years. I learnt very early in my filmmaking that you should never pass by an opportunity to take the moment and talk to people.
MMM: The painters seem very natural and focused on their work. Did you ask them to ignore the camera?
RAYNER: With my documentary background I didn’t want to disturb the flow of their work. This is the magic of using an iPhone. It’s quick to set up and record without causing disruption to the subjects. You can get in close and people are used to it. Most of us on the planet spend most of the day sticking our phones in our faces and seeing others around us doing the same, taking pictures, filming buildings, streets and so on. This is a real bonus with using a mobile phone: it doesn’t draw attention. People are used to it.
MMM: Early in “Blockley Street Art” there’s a flashing effect that creates a light pattern on the subject’s face Could you explain why you decided to use this technique—and how you achieved the effect?
RAYNER: A good question but actually difficult to answer. I like to experiment with different techniques and this one just felt right with the style, and complimented the subject matter and the rhythm of music. The effect is part of the Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) tool kit. It allows you to build up the layers and movement.
MMM: Can you give us your thoughts on incorporating movement into this project?
RAYNER: While filming I had a strong sense of movement, the camera smoothly moving through the sequences in pace with the artists working on their vision. Technically there are some issues with the weight of the adapter which connected the Canon lens to the front of the iPhone. I set myself a difficult challenge in attempting smooth tracking and keeping the shots firm and steady.
MMM: Tell us about the sound track.
RAYNER: I didn’t have any music in mind during the shoot. My method is to spend time looking through the rushes (footage). I begin to see a style, a colour, a pace and a movement. I will then listen to a large list of music tracks. There is no specific technique to this. I just get a sense that the music feels right. The next thing I do is lay the track down in the edit time line and then I’ll work the visuals to it.
MMM: That brings up the bigger question: How important is the music to achieving your goals?
RAYNER: Music is really important to me. I drive a lot around the UK working on different film projects and most of my ideas come to me driving alone and listening to all styles of music. At the office if I’m writing a script I will listen to music. It’s really interesting a day or so later to read back the material I’ve written and see how the music motivated the emotion of the scenes that I wrote. I’m very visually driven and I stick to an old rule: if you write a script then take out the dialogue, and if it doesn’t make sense, then it’s a really shit script. For me dialogue should never drive the scene. I like the un-spoken. I like stories that take you on a visually driven story and I guess music and ordinary everyday sounds become really important in that process.
MMM: Could you say something about the visual effects in this doc?
RAYNER: I am experimenting a lot with slow motion. In the past, I shot with super 16mm cameras, broadcast cameras, and DSLR’s. Shooting slow motion in camera with those devices was very difficult and very limited. There was always a huge process involved in getting the desired effect and in many cases loss of quality and sharpness. Then comes a phone, a phone that can record in slow motion!
MMM: Did you find that exciting?
RAYNER: At first I thought it was ridiculous, and I had my doubts (but I also said that about computers in the mid-80’s). However, I tested it out and have been amazed at the resulting quality. Lighting is key to this working well. So now I love slow motion and I always do it “in camera” as we say, never in post production. So the footage you are seeing was how it was recorded on the phone: 120 frames per second.
MMM: Do you have any advice about editing?
RAYNER: When you’re starting out, its important to study your rushes. Make a list of the shots and label their size such as wide shot (W/S) and close-up (C/U). Ask yourself: does the shot fit with the beginning, the middle or the end of the film? Does it convey what you want to convey? I’ve been doing this for many years and so now the process doesn’t require paper. I’m still doing it, but it’s in my head now. The thing to remember is that editing can take you on a very long and sometimes a messy journey. Having a structure on paper or at least in your head can make a big difference.
MMM: Any other editing tips?
RAYNER: Try to be disciplined with your shooting. Before I record anything I will have a sense of the type of shot I want and where it should start and end.
MMM: What’s that have to do with editing?
RAYNER: I train many people and time and time again I see too many recordings of a 2 minute shot of which only 3 – 4 seconds will be used in an edit. It takes up memory, it wastes time having to look through it, and if you have too much of this, the edit time will take a long time and become an unpleasant and stressful experience.
MMM: You could say something your gear?
RAYNER: I use a variety of different accessories. I’m not a fan of branded film/video industry equipment as I don’t believe in the inflated costs. I research equipment heavily, and I’ve been fortunate to find equipment at the fraction of the brand price equipment.
MMM: For example?
RAYNER: The un-branded 120 cm glider for sideways camera movement attaches to two cheap light stands, and is heavily used. The un-branded mini jib that elevates the camera reaches 10 feet and even higher on top of a tripod. I use one sand bag for counter weight and that helps me get really smooth fluid movements. I built my own track wheeled dolly system using items from my local DIY store. It takes longer to set up, but the results are worth it. One branded item I have used a lot and very impressed with is the StableCam. This works like a steadicam and allows you to get good steady shots while moving through interior spaces, following people walking, and so on.
MMM: How did you connect the Canon 50mm lens to the iPhone?
RAYNER: I used the BeastGrip adapter. It’s great but has some issues. The amount of weight on the front of the phone causes a lot of shake in the recording and makes it very difficult to pull focus. It takes a lot of practise, and finding you own way to counter the balance issue. There are a few other issues with it, including low light and that you have to keep the lens fully opened on the F-stop. But this leads to other difficulties on bright days, like having to use ND filters. Because the image inside the adapter is projected through a piece of glass that is grainy, this has an affect on the image. You won’t get really sharp focus on it. But still it does take your rercording to another level, and with a bit of knowledge you can still get some great shots. In fact, I don’t mind that my images are a bit grainy. It takes me back to when I used to shoot on film stock. At the moment this equipment only fits specific types of filming, and so I’m looking forward to seeing what further developments take place in this area in using your own lenses. The BeastGrip adapter is very well built and solid.
* * *
Cassius Rayner has been working in film for 20 years creating documentaries around the world, drama, music videos and corporate videos. He won the “Best Independent Film” for JUNK starring Adam Ant. In 2012 he won an award for a documentary on the London riots at the Barbican Framed Film Festival. He’s received two nominations at OMACC Festival Cannes France, and at the Portobello Film Festival UK. In his words: “I’m just a working filmmaker. I’m grateful that I can pay the bills doing it. I’m proud that I also dedicate a lot of my time to supporting, mentoring and training disadvantaged and marginalised young people in film production offering them the same opportunities many of us take for granted.