For the last seven years, Emmy-award winning Director of Photography Danny Schmidt has established himself as a dynamic presence in the environmental film space – pairing in-depth stories with stunning visuals. From elephant poaching in Myanmar to climate change and changing ice levels, the Montana native has worked with some of the biggest names in the space including the Smithsonian, NASA, Netflix, PBS, National Geographic and many more.
Manios Digital sat down with Danny to find out how he got started and the gear he uses in the field.
Q: You’ve worked on some great videos from the elephant poaching in Myanmar to climate change in the ‘trial of the century,’ how do you approach each of these shoots? Is this more run and gun or do you have shots in mind for the way you tell the story?
DS: I approach every shoot with one thing in mind: what do I need to do to help tell the best and most honest story possible. This informs the type and style of coverage we get, how we approach the characters, the locations, etc. That said, I love verité, hand-held shooting. There's something about the interplay between the subjects and the cinematographer that creates the raw feeling of intimacy and access that the audience feels on the screen. However, I also love the opportunity in slower, more controlled situations to take the time to set up shots, experiment more with composition and lens choice, and create a frame that is meant to be studied by the audience.
Q: Your film, Running Wild, is shot beautifully! Can you talk about your style. Did you plan on using the wide shots, opening timelapse to highlight the isolation and beauty of the mountains?
DS: Thanks! I had a talented team working with me on this, a stunning location, and a unique story. A lot of elements came together! We knew we wanted to merge the exciting cinematography commonly seen in adventure/sports films with the pressing narrative of finding a critically endangered species. We had great, natural subjects in Craig and Sarah who, aside from already being involved in the science project, were badass and passionate runners. Wide shots were the only way to capture a landscape as big as the Uinta Mountains and to show how small people really are in a place that remote and wild. The night time-lapse seemed like a no-brainer to add to our shot list because that is the time when wolverines are out doing their wolverine thing!
Q: Can you talk about this last trip you went on? What projects was it for and can you talk about the different things you did?
DS: I've had a busy fall working on various projects all of which have different styles and aesthetics. From a purely verité doc series on income inequality in America, to a glossy doc about saltwater fly fishing in New York, to a wildlife film exploring conservation on military lands. So, sometimes I am standing behind a tripod in the early morning hours waiting for an animal and other times I am fully loaded with my Easy Rig following people around town.
Q: What is in your kit?
DS: For most doc stuff I use an FS7, a variety of Sigma and Canon primes, EasyRig, MoVI, a couple sets of wireless lavs, Cartoni Focus 22, a bunch of Hawk-Woods Mini V-Lok batteries, a few LED panels, and lots of other grip gear, monitors, and supports. For long lens wildlife stuff, I’m generally shooting on the RED for over cranking and increased resolution. It's a lot of stuff to haul around the airport.
Q: You took the Hawk-Woods Mini V-Lok batteries with you on this last trip. What did you think?
DS: The Hawk-Woods are a game changer. Seriously. I am the envy of my friends and colleagues on set. They are tiny, they last forever, and charge fast. What else could you ask for in a battery? They are the future.
Q: What did you think of the size of the batteries?
DS: The size is deceptive. They are small, but super powerful. I am so glad HW is leading the charge (pun intended) on shrinking the tech into smaller packages. Traditional v-mounts were really big and bulky. With TSA now requiring all batteries to go in your carry-on bags, it is crucial that you take the smallest, most powerful batteries you can find. Your camera will run all day and your back will thank you later.
Manios Digital is the exclusive US distributor Hawk-Woods, Cartoni tripods and Kinotehnik lights.
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