Conversation

with cinematographer

about a commercial for Visa

TIM SIDELL

Tim Sidell works again with director Nick Bartleet in this Visa commercial we shot during a couple frenetic days in South Spain. The schedule was tight since there were two stories to be told and the cast were Olympic athletes, so no time for playing around. Tim came up with a precise planning that involved a few time consuming setups that ended up working smoothly.

Tim showed us to be a methodical cinematographer during preproduction. The gear checking for the camera department was basically about figuring out how to split the cameras between a periscope, a Technocrane, a Dolly, Handheld mode, a Jib Arm, a Steadicam… without wasting time on the changeovers. By doing the technical homework beforehand he was able to get more creative during the shooting. If you have kept track of Tim´s works you will already now that he tends to an elaborated and artistry cinematography. He seems to lean towards a very special filmic and smooth look that give soul to his images.

For those who doesn´t know you. Could you please introduce yourself? How did you start in this business? Did you do the long career to become a DP through the camera or lighting department?

Hi! Tim Sidell, ex artist, now DoP. My background is in Fine Art (though I studied Illustration) and evolved a practice through drawing, painting, video installation and then experimental film… and then transitioning to cinematography by initially working with other artists. As such I did not have much opportunity to work with more experienced cinematographers but rather just went for it and figured it out ‘on the job’. I did assist Nic Knowland and Charlotte Bruus Christensen though and learnt plenty from them.

 

You are part of Wizzo & Co agency. How did you end up belonging to this collective? Did it change your way of getting jobs? What is meaning for your career working with them?

Lee Hickman from Wizzo approached me shortly after I’d shot Norfolk (my fourth feature) and also in response to a charity commercial for Age UK that I’d just shot with Nadav Kandar – an incredible photographer (I was lucky that he embraced an idea I had for that piece and we collaborated well). I’ve been with Wizzo & Co. since. It’s not easy to identify which jobs came directly to me and which via them as it’s all so integrated now, though and I have found them to be incredibly supportive, like we’re growing a career together.

Lamborghini commercial

VISA commercial

How did you get involved in this project? Is your first time working with this director? How is your creative relationship with him? Does he gets involve in the visual aspect of the project or he gives you more freedom? Do you feel comfortable shooting this kind of TVC? Have you found any challenge in this project?

I’ve worked with Nick Bartleet on quite a few jobs now. He’s very resourceful and capable of achieving lots with very little. As you know, we had to work incredibly fast on this and we spent hours upon hours assessing how to shoot the two stories, prioritising which kind of camera movement (and apparatus) would be optimal against what was affordable in terms of both budget and time. Endless planning! So those were the challenges, the extremely tight time with the athletes (especially in the pool) and the limited budget.

 

Did you use any references from other films or photographers to develop the visual style of the commercial? How was the preproduction? Do the clients get involved in the visuals?

Yes, the client is involved throughout. Nick gathered references beforehand and I added some. We then agreed with the client which was most appropriate and what our look / vibe should be, knowing there’d be no time for this during the shoot days. One reference was a previous thing we’d shot, another by Nike and one for Adidas.

Adidas commercial, one of the main references for the project

Getting more specific about the references we were using, in both ads, we wanted to build on something we’d made together several years ago for Polar.

 

Polar commercial about surfing they used as a reference for both stories

Nick’s treatment included several references and the result was quite a mix of them and what we normally do. One reference that was key for me for the skating piece was an Apple Watch 3 commercial. Though this was more about geography and screen direction. We had to be mindful of maintaining that direction or knowing exactly when it would change. This was so key with the geography of our locations and what the sun was doing.

 

This commercial gave the idea about how to configure the geography of the space

There was one other reference for the pool. It was an Under Armour commercial that we used primarily for lighting and lens choice, though both were a little more extreme than would have been appropriate for our VISA spot.

Under Armour commercial used as a lighting reference for the pool

It grabbed my attention that the shooting plan at the swimming pool was well timed according to the sun position. Was a big deal to impose the lighting requirements on the shooting plan?

It was the only way. And this was why I nearly exploded when the stills team were robbing our time slot for the wide shot while shooting a tiny close up! So yes I’d worked with the gaffer to figure what the sun would be doing and shaped our movement around the pool to make the best of it along with our limited lighting and the deep grid over the whole window of the pool!

 

Do you have any piece of equipment or something related with the workflow that you feel necessary to have in every project you work in? I saw that you bring with you the Odyssey monitor. Do you use it as a light meter?

I actually use a light meter and colour meter to get started, though I try to avoid the resulting “correct exposure”, so it’s really just a guide. From then on I’ll rely on the Odyssey as I know it well and believe it to be one of the best on-board monitors (at least until recently). I often introduce LUT’s (which can be downloaded to the Odyssey) to enhance the look though didn’t do so on this job.

Tim Sidell, portrayed by photographer Eva Vermandel

You own as well a K35 canon lens kit and some filters like black pearlescent and black dot texture. Is that a way of taking away some sharpness and digital feeling to your images or what is the reason behind these stylistic choices?

Yes, exactly that. I love the K35’s and my investment in them has paid off (I bought them nine years ago). However, they’re not always the right tool so the filters are there to ‘take the edge off’ more modern lenses. The Black Dot Texture Screen filters do wonderful things, though they do create a green cast which needs correcting.

 

I have seen in your web a handful of very interesting projects. Are you more interested in narrative or commercials? What would be your ideal project in a near future?

I think my big drive is to feature films, though my preferences are on the arty / left field end of things where budgets are tight. Basically I love variety and try to maintain currency in features, TV Drama, commercials, music videos and artist films, bringing something of ‘me’, where possible, in all cases. Sci-fi is my dream, one day…