Q&A with Nicholas de Pencier

Masters Series Class - Thursday, June 25, 2015

Q&A with Nicholas de Pencier in advance of his Masters Series Class on June 25, 2015.
For tickets, click here.

1. You work as a shooter, producer and director. How do you balance working in these different roles? How does one impact the other?

One of the biggest tensions in my work is that I don’t think I balance them at all as they are each really full-time pursuits. I find I disappear into the silos of each role when I can, but the practical reality is they are often bleeding into each other. On the negative side, this can be distracting, but on the plus side, it does offer a more holistic understanding of whatever project I am collaborating with myself on. Certainly the Director/DOP relationship has a lot of interesting possibilities for listening to those voices in your head. The producing has only ever been a means to an end, albeit an invariably necessary one in my experience.

 2. On Watermark you used more than 20 different formats. What’s your approach to blending technical knowledge and artistic sensibility? 

After Watermark I threw up my hands and said, “That’s it. Next project: one camera, one story.” Of course it hasn’t happened. I’ve always tried to have all the production choices, including cameras, be the best possible match for what the material and the context demands. There is no point descending on a shy subject in a close and intimate setting with a crew of ten and all the gear. Your jib-arm shot may be perfectly timed and lit, but what’s going on in front of the camera will be utterly compromised. Better to go alone with a small kit, establish a personal relationship, and make the mechanics of production disappear as much as possible. That does not mean that there isn’t a place for big crews and gear, just that they shouldn’t be gratuitously applied. This is always a moving target and requires a high degree of mindfulness. Mostly I think we were able to achieve this on Watermark and toggle between scale and detail, epic and intimate by letting the production elements expand and collapse as appropriate.

3. You have a lot of experience shooting for factual entertainment. How does this influence your doc work?

I spend most of my doc shooting time working alone, or with just a director. This is a great way to achieve a monastic state of concentration and focus on the subject, but a lousy way to learn about how others work, or what gear or technology might be missing from my radar. When I jump on a factual show like Panic Button, Wipeout Canada, or Mighty Machines, it’s usually bigger, and often with multiple cameras so there is lots of opportunity to kibitz and talk shop with peers. There’s lots of gossip and commiserating about the industry, but also sharing of hard-won field knowledge that is very beneficial.

4. What Canon gear are you currently using or looking forward to trying out, and why? What gear will you be bringing to your Masters Series Class?

I currently use a number of EF lenses, and have all my cameras and lenses fitted with EF mounts so the glass can migrate from DSLR to C300 to Epic with ease. I am on the hunt for a “cinema” servo zoom in the medium/longer range. I was thinking I would bring all the cameras I own and set them up on stage as it could be cool to see them all together and maybe learn something about their relative merits seeing them all together like that.

Read more about the DOC Institute’s Masters Series