Derek Frankowski is a director and cinematographer who has specialized in shooting sports and wildlife for commercial clients and documentaries for close to 20 years. For his latest project, Derek shot a commercial with the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. With the fast-paced nature of the NHL and action sports, Derek had to be prepared for any challenges that came his way. Derek was kind enough to discuss how he tackled some of these challenges and how he has been getting it done for all of these years.
Before we get started, can you please provide a little background on how you came into this line of work?
Derek Frankowski: I’ve always been a visual person and can recall being fascinated with cameras at a young age. Growing up in the Canadian Prairies, I began trying to photograph real moments in nature and sport, always trying to find stunning natural light in the process. With a stills camera in hand, I spent almost a decade capturing action sports for commercial and editorial clients around the globe. Feeling I needed a new challenge, I followed my interest in motion and decided to embark on creating a film with a colleague called Life Cycles. Since that films release, I have been submersed in the pursuit of moving pictures and continue to learn each time I go out and shoot or edit a project. It’s exciting to be in an era of filming where the barriers for what you’re able to do are being torn down daily with new tools. These days my career has me in diverse locations trying to capture very different subjects. I’ve spent time in Madagascar for the new Planet Earth 2 series and was the first DP to film with the new Panavision DXL 8K camera.
How did you get involved working on a commercial with the NHL franchise the Vancouver Canucks?
DF: I’ve been fortunate to call the Canucks a client for about five years now. They initially became aware of my work from the film Life Cycles, which I co-created many years ago. Usually, I’m around the rink filming games or peripheral action, but once in a while they like to capture some content outside of the rink for a specific outlet. This was one of those situations – as they were in need of someone to capture slow motion moments for a variety of their marketing material. Check out some of the footage on Derek’s Vimeo page.
Were there any challenges that came up on this shoot?
DF: The largest challenge when working with NHL players is their time. It’s very limited access to these guys. They are usually very accommodating, but they have tight schedules so we only get small windows to get what we need. The only way to work around this is to be prepared and ready when you get your turn with them. I like to have the locations locked and have a shooting game plan in place. You might have to adapt on the fly if circumstance change, but you want to feel relaxed going into a shoot and being prepared is a crucial part of that for me.
Is there anything in particular about shooting action sports that is different from other types of shoots?
DF: There are a few things that I feel are important to capture moments in sports. The first is understanding the sport itself. If you have the ability to anticipate the action, you can predict the movement and be ready to capture it. The next would be that with filming sports, you have to be active. This has always been a very appealing part for me as I have always enjoyed the physical act of filming.
What type of rig setup did you choose for this shoot and why?
DF: For this spot, we wanted to have the camera be a participant and get in really tight to the action. This required me to be able to move quickly and freely to be able to react to all of the player’s actions. I wanted the lightest setup possible without being tethered to a battery belt. As a result, I built a RED DRAGON setup with a Nikon lens that was being powered by IDX DUO-C95 batteries. The batteries created a very light and easy-to-handle camera. They took almost half a pound off the setup, which is a big deal when you are swinging it around chasing very fast moving people.
As you have shot in many different environments throughout the years, what would be your advice for upcoming filmmakers shooting in similar environments?
DF: Dress for success. In challenging and changing environments you need to be as comfortable as possible if you’re going to be in the field. It’s tough to get great images or have patience if you are soaked and cold. Proper clothing and footwear are also important. I see a lot of the younger shooters who look like they’re headed out for the night with friends, rather than going to work. Get your work boots on.
Another big thing would be having camera gear that is flexible and rugged. This increases your odds to bring back some great images, as each shoot requires a slight re-tool on what you are packing and will need. Over time, you’ll also begin to see that there are some key pieces of gear that you always want. Me personally, I like to have more batteries and memory then I think I’ll ever use. I read once “chance favors the prepared mind”. It took me a long time to really understand that.
Oh yeah and bring a positive attitude and optimism, you’ll need that too.
Are you working on any similar upcoming projects? If so, what kind of setup will you be using?
DF: I currently have more natural history filming slated in 2017-2018, where we will be heading into very harsh climates and weather conditions. My hope is that we can come up with new ways to capture environments. Maybe using remote cameras, as well as some super slow motion shooting will help engage the audience in very cool way.
I am also planning to spend more time in the field with a very compact gear set up made-up of just a tripod, camera and a few lenses. I want to be nimble and react to natural environments. I find for me it’s important to head into the field with no agenda or expectations. Just be free to roam and capture whatever catches my eye. Something that has taken me a long time to figure out is how to be comfortable relying on my instincts while shooting. When you are, it almost feels like you’re not trying. It’s a sense of flow. Also when you over think, you probably aren’t going to be doing your best work.
About Derek Frankowski
Derek is a visual storyteller that uses moving pictures and editing to communicate his ideas. His career started in the late 90’s with a stills camera in the action sports industry. With over a decade of success in that genre, his desire to create a feature film led him co-create Life Cycles, a film that has been credited with changing the way action sports films are made and what many consider the bench mark for the genre. Since then he’s had the ability to communicate in motion pictures and has collaborated with a diversity of production teams on global projects. He is part of three creative collectives, that all embrace a different fingerprint and focus. Leveraging Derek’s ability to communicate with intimate and honest perspective, his services are pursued by agencies and clients direct. To see more of Derek’s work, visit http://frankowski.ca/