South Africa 3: New mini doc “The sea water drinkers”

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As I said when I came here, my plan was to shoot a mini doc in each of the places I visit, instead of having a day off! Days off are lovely, but shooting is more fun and when I am teaching on longer trips like this 3 week one, not shooting would send me insane!
So with Jo’Burg done with “Ponte Tower” and Cape Town done with “Portrait of a projectionist,” I was in Durban and on the hunt for a story. You can see those other mini docs at the bottom of the page.
I had a couple of locals on the hunt for a story, but my brief to them was so vague. I wanted something that will surprise. I also wanted something that was more African than I had done so far. I didn’t want to do poverty for sure. People have become desensitised unfortunately to images of poverty. I would make a mini doc featuring that if I could an upbeat positive vibe to go with it.
A couple of things were suggested to me, but like in Cape Town nothing clicked. Was I concerned? Not really. Would I prefer something set up the night before? Of course! But we didn’t in Cape Town and we got lucky finding Redwaan.
So the morning was upon us. Grey as England. The beautiful light of the previous day was but a distant memory. This was the light of Blackpool, not Durban. A real shame, especially since this was my only day to shoot, so I had to go with it.
One of the potentials was down on the beach there are these guys who look after cars in car parks. They are often skilled and white collar people from other African countries who have fled to South Africa and are making ends meet by working for small tips. Interesting, but nothing that jumped out at me. Then on the beach I saw a huge amount of Indians fishing on the pier. Apparently Durban has the greatest concentration of Indian people in a metropolitan area of any place in the world. I found this interesting….the fisherman images looked nice…a possible story.
Oh, forgot to mention. Today was the turn of the FS700…Ponte was the Blackmagic, Projectionist was the 1DX…Sony time for this. Not for the super slow motion. Just because I really wanted to use it and shoot with it.
As I was shooting some super slow motion of the water, I saw this woman scooping up sea water in a plastic container. I asked the guys I was with what was going on there…”Oh lots of Africans drink sea water here.”
So with a story in place (and it’s funny how they just pop up, like in Cape Town) I set off to get what I needed.
Lots of shots of people scooping water, young and old. 
Atmospheric shots of the beach
Someone explaining on camera why they do this AND to film them drinking it. 
This was all I needed to make my short doc.
So with one of the attendees Stuart Whalley helping me out, we went to a few beaches to grab those shots. Unfortunately I was not prepared to film this story as I was wearing my nice Nike trainers and jeans…no matter…I had shots to get, screw the clothes! I needed to get RIGHT in the water with these people…without getting the camera wet! Just make sure you take your iPhone 5 out of your pocket…that was a close one!
For the vast majority of this piece I shot with the optically-excellent, but mechanically a pain in the arse, 17-55 F2.8 Canon with IS. A great handheld lens for APS-C and Super 35mm. I also used my “sniper lens” the Canon 100-400 for picking off long shots and lots of those super slow motion shots.
After getting the shots I needed (more than needed…always shoot more than you need. Obviously NEVER shoot less than you need! ), I needed a voice. Stuart came across this lovely chatty fella and he was happy to be interviewed and for us to film him drinking, AND he was staying in Durban. Most people who do this come for 5,6,7,8 hours away! Rather too far for me to follow!
So we went back with him to his depressing as hell TINY little room in this massive block. It was literally barely bigger than his bed. No space either side of the bed and just enough space to open the inwards swinging door!
This was the place for me to do the interview. I had done a few interview grabs whilst shooting earlier and got the sound on the RODE NTG-2, but hadn’t planned on it to and had no headphones in, so I needed to make sure I covered all those points again, just in case!
This really was a day of challenging lighting. Grey and rainy murkiness outside, and his room had NO natural light…the only light was a single bulb high up. Ugly. I stupidly left my mini LED light in Cape Town in the hotel, so I was down the only light I brought with me. I also stupidly forgot my get out of jail free card, my iPad, which I often use in situations where I need a teeny bit more light on faces. Here I needed a catchlight on Siphelele as his eyes were lost…I had no iPad. I had no bounce. I had nothing. I had a choice. Shoot it or not shoot it. I went with the obvious answer.
I shot the interview with three lenses. The 50mm F1.2  Canon. The Rokinon/ Samyang 24mm F1.4 and the Tokina 11-16 F2.8. I like the wide angle best here. I loved the lines, the shadow on the fan…stupidly forgot to ask him to take his coat down in the background. Once I had started, two questions in, I noticed it and went damn…too late to remove it as he needed to get back and we needed to be fast. Yeah the interview lighting is poor, but the key thing is that he was SO engaging, such a big smile and a great talker, that the lighting issue went away. Also the quality of the sound was top notch. My fav lav mic, the Sanken Cos 11, straight into the FS700.
After getting all I needed from him that was it…a wrap!
How was the camera to shoot with? Pretty good. I hate the screen and loop of this camera – like with the FS100 I normally always use a monitor. Not possible here so I had to deal with it. Not ideal. I didn’t use a rig either. With the excellent Metabones 2 Canon lens adaptor for the camera’s E mount, my IS worked fine and my iris worked through the camera. Much like my C300 would have done. Yes. I prefer the image of the C300 very much, I also think it is one of the most ergonomically friendly cams there BUT I didn’t have it with me. I chose this cam for the super slow motion leopards and tigers of Kruger park (my latest doc) and the C300 doesn’t really do any decent slow motion. Just 60 fps.
Back to the hotel, quick offload, edit native on CS6, coloured in Colorista II…trying so hard to make those grey shots look good and seeing what I could do with the interview lighting. Music the end I found a couple of nice tracks of Kevin MaCloud tracks which were African but not cliched African. The edit was done pretty fast, the upload was super slow as the internet here is really quite slow, and when it went up I noticed a flash frame….damn!
Tweaked and reuploaded and I was done, until I realised I had used the same shot twice. Whoops. So as I sit here in Kruger Park writing this when I really should be sleeping since I need to get up at 4:50AM, I am uploading the tweaked version again…it’s only 280mb but it says 9 hours…oh well!
Tomorrow is yet another mini doc…longer, maybe 10 minutes. I have a potentially great subject and amazing scenery. I can’t wait. It’s my last film of the trip before I go home!

The sea water drinkers from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.


Portrait of a projectionist from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Ponte Tower from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.


  1. Once again you have proved sleep is optional, the story is not. Shame about the light as it is hard to see the FS700 performing – hopefully the big cats will do this.

    So if you could only have carried one of the 3 cameras (1DX, Blackmagic and FS700) on this trip to make all 3 films – which one would you choose?

  2. Philip Bloom, your passion for what you do is a constant inspiration to me and I believe you have inspired a generation with your work. Thank you for sharing these latest films. I have one question, Did you drink any seawater?

  3. The footage looks great to me. I love the FS700. I know you say that the C300 has an picture advantage, but honestly, with a little grading you would be very hard pressed to tell them apart. But the FS700 with it’s super slow mo can do such amazing slow motion, something the C300 can’t even remotely touch, and it’s half the price. Have you tried to shorten the FS700 loupe like how James Miller does? It honestly makes a HUGE difference in the ergonomics of the camera. All of a sudden, it because a great handheld camera, kind of like the best Z-Finder of all time.

    Anyways, very nice piece, great looking footage and thanks for sharing. I’m glad you shot most of it in 24fps as well. Nice change for that camera.

  4. Another great portrait.
    I know what you mean about the jacket in the background, but it also intesifies the feeling that he doesn’t have much room where he lives. So definitely not a catastrophe.

  5. This was my favorite one yet, content wise and I didn’t really pay attention to the image quality the first time around because I was so engaged with the story. Great job though with crafting a documentary on the fly.

    lol, did you happen to try a glass?

  6. This is another nice short. You really know how to make the best out of less than ideal situations.

    Do you have to get talent releases for these docs? What about the people you are filming from far away?

    I guess the salt water acts as a saline cleanse which can be good for the body on occasion. I’ve tried a saline cleanse and it is true, your stomach won’t know what to do. But the body does feel better after purging toxins. Though if you are going to drink sea water or do a saline cleanse then don’t plan on going anywhere for a while or lease have access to a bathroom. 😛

  7. Dear Phillip,
    thank you for sharing your experience with us again.
    when i read the article i came across the 17- 55 lens. you probably have answered that before, but how does the lens work on the C300 in terms of vignetting and if it does can it be controlled by the peripheral illumination feature ?

    have a safe trip home.

  8. Dear Mr Bloom,

    You are an inspiration – you make it all look nigh-effortless, while we all know it takes a lot of work to plan, shoot and produce anything remotely as good as your work. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    best wishes,

  9. Great movie! How do you find that Rokinon 24mm lens; I heard there was a bit of ‘mustache’ distortion with it (just in time for Movember too)?

    Slow motion Leopards and Tigers (!?) of Kruger National Park? I cant wait to see those slow motion African tigers!

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