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© Ute Reckhorn

© Ute Reckhorn

FILM & VIDEO: Tomer Bahat, Commercial Director and Filmmaker

  • 6 min read
Tomer Bahat is an Israeli filmmaker, music video and commercial director who shoots with the Lensbaby Composer. An enthusiastic adopter of DSLRs for filmmaking - Tomer's work is characterized by technical innovation and dynamic visuals. His techniques include stop-motion animation, time-lapse photography, stereoscopic filming, and inventive use of still photography. We asked Tomer to share his top tips for creating beautiful time-lapse videos and for making any video shoot a success.

View a recent promotional video Tomer created for the New York City based company Boxee. The video uses the Lensbaby Composer to create dynamic time-lapse scenes.

More about the project:

"The shoot called for a unique perspective on NYC living, as a way to present the Boxee lifestyle experience. We made the choice to go with time-lapse sequences as transitions and mood setting for the video. To give it that extra "oomph", we chose to shoot the time-lapses using a lensbaby on our Canon 5D Mk II. We used the Lensbaby Composer, along with the wide and tele adapter, and changed aperture with the magnetic discs on the go. We were literally blown away by the visuals that can be achieved with such a compact system! The client was delighted, as were we..." - Tomer Bahat

Who are some influential directors for your work and why do they inspire you?

In my commercial and music video work, I'm greatly influenced by Jonathan Glazer and Michelle Gondry, as two very different poles of cinematic expression.

Gondry is the master of originality and deconstruction, and his inventiveness and wizardry are endless - merging lo-tech and hi-tech. Glazer is simply amazing...his cinematic expression is so rich, his vision is so powerful. What I love is the amazing diversity that can be found in filmmaking - there is no set pattern or rules, no right or wrong. As Albert Einstein aptly put it on a different context, but very relevant to cinema: "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Why do you gravitate towards stop-motion and time-lapse as storytelling techniques?

I'm a firm believer (and have been taught) that cinema is a formalistic art - it does not seek to replicate reality, but to represent it. It is not reality. Above all, it is a language - it has a vocabulary and grammar, words and sentences. As such, time-lapse, stop-motion, tilt-shift lenses, ultra slow motion, and all other techniques born of the digital age, are just more tools in the filmmaker's toolbox, an expansion of his world. Tilt-shift/time-lapse "miniature" cinematography can serve to set a scene as much as a panning long shot can - see David Fincher's "The Social Network" (the rowing match sequence). A Lensbaby can serve as a stricken person's point-of-view - check out the opening of "The Diving & The Butterfly" (a beautiful film!).

On a personal level, I have been experimenting in de-constructing and exploring cinematic language since film school - going back to still frames, still sequences, time shifting and manipulation. I think that analysis has followed me ever since.

View a music video made with a DSLR camera, stop-motion and time-lapse photography:

Three tips for setting up an awesome time-lapse video?

1) Try to comment, not just document.

Carefully choose your subject matter - don't be content in filming the same pieces people around you film all the time. Explore, study, and then set out to do something original, of your own. Research light throughout the day, movement of men and machinery, new lenses and perspectives. Try to present something new, which is also meaningful to you.

2) Don't set everything on auto!

Acquaint yourself with the technique - how to program your camera or intervalometer (not too many frames, not too little - some math is required), how to expose for the changing light, without getting flickering or extreme under or over exposition. An HDR sequence (with bracketing exposure) could facilitate that, and some post work could solve flickering, but it's best to get it right in camera. Remember that the camera is locked and the frames accumulate over time, so you really don't have the chance to evaluate your shot in real time, but only after the fact. The beauty of time-lapse is only seen later, not in immediate playback.

3) Use an ND filter.

A technical aspect which I feel strongly about is proper shutter speed in time-lapses (especially those combining fast movement). As sensors and lenses gather so much light nowadays, it's important to use an ND filter (a variable ND is a great solution) to get proper shutter speed. Remember that a motion picture is usually exposed at 1/48th of a second so try to aim for that, in order to get smooth, natural movement, and not choppy, strobing action.

View a short time-lapse film shot with the Lensbaby Composer:

In the rapidly evolving world of HD DSLR filmmaking there's a flood of new gadgets and gear - how do you stay up to date, stay focused on great storytelling and hone in on the essential tools for your projects?

I have a bit of "Equipment-itis." I'm catching up with new announcements all the time in my Google Reader feed, and delving into forums endlessly. It's very easy to be tempted by the lure of numbers and concrete stats. In my opinion, however, the problem today is how to know less, not more...as the main thing is creation, not technique and tools. They are only means to an end. People (myself included) get swept up in all the shiny new things, megapixels and bits, and neglect more important aspects of art. You can make an amazing film on an iPhone, for example, and not be apologetic about it.

I think the best equipment or technical innovation is the one which gives you a new tool, a different perspective, not just more of the same (megapixels, bits). Whenever I come across a new tool or an original application of an existing one, and have an idea as to how it can be used creatively in a future project, I immediately make a note of it in my ideas pad (actually, my iPad), and eventually I'll get around to implementing it, months or years ahead.

Behind-the-scenes - time-lapse with Lensbaby Composer in progress:

What are your top tips for making any video shoot a success?

Filmmaking is a very intricate profession. There are many technical and creative aspects to it, and I can't begin to cover everything. I've learned the value of proper preparation and a talented team to rely on, and the experience gained through putting your ideas to the test. Rather than going into details, here's a few principles which guide me:

1) Plan, research, prepare as best as you can - and then let go.

Be confident in your preparations and your vision. Stay focused on your initial creative impulse - try to remember what led you to make the piece in the first place, what's the essence of it, and that will help you with all your decisions. Consult with your chiefs and actors, but remember that you're at the helm.

2) Try to be kind, courteous and professional to everybody.

3) Use all tools at your disposal.

Storytelling and dialog, light and shadow, set design and decoration, styling and costumes, makeup, camera movement, lens choice - it's all a series of choices. Make sure you make them.

4) Have fun!

You've got the best job in the world, and all these people and technology to help you fulfill your creative fantasies. It's a privilege - enjoy it.

5) Play it by ear.

Filmmaking is a lot like music - there's magic in the moment, and you have to catch it. Practice hard while you're home, listen and educate yourself. But once you're in it, whether alone or in an ensemble - just let go and enjoy.

Nostalgia time - tell us about your first camera!

My first professional (stills) camera was a Canon D30 (not 30D, much older than that...), which I bought used for my first music video, which was made entirely of still images. I made it during my second year of film school, back in 2001, after having been inspired by the R.E.M video for "Daysleeper," many years beforehand.

It was a hefty camera, with a sloooooow autofocus (the action would be over by the time the camera got proper focus), and very poor high ISO performance. But still, it had a large sensor, great colors and cinema aesthetics, and I could take as many pictures as I wanted and get instant review and feedback on the screen. That was unheard of at the time! I think that camera really taught me the technical aspects of photography and cinematography - lenses, f-stops, depth-of-field, shutter, composition, white balance - you name it. There's just no substitute for hands-on experience. I've had 4 or 5 bodies since, but I'm glad to say I joined the DSLR revolution from its onset.