Philip Rostron: Toronto Photographer
This is an awarding winning film for Greenwood College Schools film annual film contest for 'Best Documentary'.
In order to graduate the grade 11 Intro to Film Studies course at my school, our task was to create a documentary on anything or anyone within a 5-minute timeline. I chose to focus mine on Toronto photographer Philip Rostron.
Philip is my neighbor and close friend, who has recently closed down his highly successful commercial photography business, Instil Productions. Seeing as Philip is a brilliant man with a brilliant mind, impeccable style, and truly breathtaking talent, I figured the most appropriate way I could honor his excellent career would be to create a documentary on him as my big inspiration.
After consulting with him about the idea, he accepted and I proceeded planning. I shot Philip for three days getting B reel and A reel, each of those days was a pillar on how I wanted to capture him as a person. The pillars are Work, Home, and Wisdom.
The first day consisted of me being on site, shadowing him around his business. As I arrived, the first thing he did was shoot photos inside his studio for a client. There I was able to observe his lighting style, equipment used, communication with models, experimental looks, but most importantly how he made his vision in his mind come alive in reality. Later, he continued to shoot outside the studio on location for another client. Again, I was able to observe his overall style and mindset when on a job and also his adaptability to imperfections. The entire time, I tried to shoot fly on the wall footage that portrayed work ethic, focus, and dedication to his art.
Upon arrival the second day, I entered Philips house and saw what made it home. He took me around showing me his personal photos that hung on each wall, explaining them to me and what they meant. This was fantastic to hear him talk about his work in the first person. Afterward, I asked Philip to go about his normal morning activities. Whatever he did on a casual Saturday morning, I wanted to capture that. Naturally, Philip found it very hard to go about his day pretending as though I wasn't there. But in the end, he became comfortable and relaxed, and that's when the footage was golden. Seeing Philip in his natural home habitat versus his work habitat was surprising as there really wasn't much of a difference. Of course, he instills a lot more focus and professionalism when working, but he generally creates a safe and creative environment at his studio that allows him to be at his best in a comfortable space.
To complete my time with Philip, we needed to sit down and have a chat. To do this we agreed to film in his creative space, his studio. I set up a chair while we fiddled with the lighting and then I hit record. But before jumping into the questions, I learned that as an interviewer filmmaker your main focus has to be making the subject comfortable. Being interviewed whilst a live camera stares at you can be incredibly intimidating. So before I asked the questions, I told Philip there was no need to worry. He didn't have to answer any questions he didn't feel comfortable answering, we could always move on, he could take a break whenever he felt he needed one, and most importantly that it was just me and him having a conversation and the camera wasn't even there. From there I shared with him my prepared questions located on my iPad. And he answered them extraordinarily well, with truthful thoughtful answers. I felt that this was the most incredible experience of my entire film career. I sat there listening to this successful adult explain to me the ups and downs of his life and it was surreal. The space was dead quiet but just filled with his wise words answering my own questions as my camera was rolling. At that point, it really occurred to me that this was all in my hands, the questions I asked him could stem from anywhere and this was incredibly valuable. I really felt professional but also nervous, the best way I could describe my feeling is, being on stage with your scene partner, the audience carefully watching, your heart vigorously, and although you knew your lines the scene can still go anywhere. When the chat came to a close I was so pleased with the result and I thoroughly thanked Philip for his time and words from the heart. I certainly felt I knew my neighbor a lot better.
Right now creating a documentary is one my favorite film mediums. There is so much dedication that goes into a documentary, even though it may be completely about a single person and nothing to do with you, that film has so much of you in it. Everything that took place in the documentary is all through the vision and risks that you as a filmmaker have taken and of course all luck of the universe. Alfred Hitchcock once said, "In feature films the director is God; in documentary films, God is the director." I found this to be insightfully true. When you set out to create a documentary, sure you may have a little bit of a plan, but most of it is all luck and spontaneity. Which is trilling an utterly amazing, but of course incredibly scary. Once I finished the project I realized that you could have sat two totally different people down, gave them my footage then ask them to put together a documentary, and the results would be remarkably different. It's all about you as a filmmaker in vision the project. It would be like giving to painters the same set of paints and them creating beautiful but totally different pieces of work. Creating a documentary is so personal and rewarding. I loved this journey as the entire experience was brilliant.