Greetings, Classroom Connectors! Today’s interview is with Michael Brown, a cinematographer sailing with us on this expedition to shoot footage for a documentary he is working on about exploring for life at the bottom of the ocean. This is the second cruise I’ve sailed on with Mike – or ‘Awesome Awesome’ as we like to call him – and it is a pleasure to introduce him to you all. If you have any questions for Mike about what it is like to shoot documentaries or to be a cinematographer, please get in touch. – Beth
Michael Brown is a self-made cinematographer currently living in Los Angeles, although he is from Nashville, Tennessee. When Mike was still in high school, he got involved with a small company in Nashville to work on video productions, and that sparked his interest in being a filmmaker. After spending some time working in Nashville, Mike went to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, Georgia, to learn more about film and filming. Since then, Mike has been working in Los Angeles, shooting footage for documentaries, reality TV shows, and other programs.
One of Mike’s current projects is as the main cinematographer for a feature-length documentary being made about the North Pond project we are involved with out here. In addition to sailing with us on this current expedition, Mike also spent 9 weeks with many of us while we were installing the North Pond observatories back in the fall of 2011. Mike’s passion for making documentaries is in capturing events as they happen (instead of trying to re-create past events) and conveying the excitement of the moment, so we all got very used to having him around during our meetings and operations. Mike
is also very dedicated to capturing intense operational moments, even if it means sacrificing personal comfort, such as working long hours out on the ship’s rig floor or spending time standing in a refrigerated room to capture footage of a scientific experiment. One of the reason’s Mike was hired for the in-progress documentary is his interest in aesthetic style and attention to artist detail. This interest was very evident when we all went to the beach in the Bahamas before this expedition started, and what do you know, Mike was instantly out in the water capturing footage of the waves from close up.
Talking to Mike about how he uses math in his daily activities actually helped me to learn a lot about how good film is made. For example, Mike explained to me the calculations he has to make to figure out where to place lights in a room to achieve a lighting effect he wants, such as the amount of shadow on someone’s face. Then he has to think about the angle of the camera in relation to the object or person being lit up, to make sure that the balance of light and shadow matches between shots. Mike also likes to make dynamic shots, where the camera moves in relation to the subject in the frame. To make this look really good, he has to think about where to start and stop the shot, and then how fast he should move the camera between those two points, and how to change the focus during the shot. Lots of calculations. Mike told me that he keeps a little calculator handy to help with all of the numbers he needs to calculate on the fly while shooting a documentary.
After seeing some of the clips of footage that Mike has been shooting out here, I can see how his calculations are paying off – the footage looks spectacular. As an example, you can see some of his clips from the last expedition we did (4th and 5th videos on this page). I can’t wait to see how the whole production comes together!