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Wednesday, 24 November 2010 21:01

Shooting in the Winds of Cambodia

Written by  Gordon Meyer
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Cinematographer Melissa Holt has a passion for film and shooting both narrative and documentary projects. When she majored in biology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Penn., Holt enjoyed watching nature documentaries from places like National Geographic, and that led to a desire to incorporate science into filmmaking. After a few elective courses, she fell in love with the filmmaking process, switched majors and later earned a Masters at AFI, where her thesis project was a documentary about leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica.

CamCol_ChristopheIvinsSteadicamHolt is currently directing and shooting a documentary on “The Winds of Angkor,” a Broadway-style musical set in Cambodia in the mid-1970s about the true story of two lovers in a Khmer Rouge prison camp. As she followed the troupe all over Cambodia while they developed their musical, Holt shot at many of the actual locations where the original story took place. “I set up some of the musical sequences that will be done on stage and put them in the real locations,” she explains. “I cut from someone singing an a cappella version in the real location [to] how it’s performed on stage.”

Holt used a Steadicam-mounted Panasonic HPX500 because it stores on P2 cards. “This is critical when shooting in a climate that is 100 degrees and 100-percent humidity,” Holt explains. “I had no problems downloading the footage. The HPX500 is a great documentary camera because it holds up to four cards and, at 1080 24p, it shoots up to four hours. In most cases, I was able to shoot all day and not have to worry about changing cards.”

As her second camera, Holt used a Canon EOS 5D DSLR. “It was very handy and cuts in well with the footage from the HPX,” she notes. “It’s lightweight and was very useful in tight situations, like when we did a singing sequence inside a tuk-tuk, which is a motorcycle with a cabin attached to the rear that’s commonly used as a taxicab in Cambodia.”

Holt shot in a number of locations that had no electricity, including a striking floating pagoda that was out in the middle of nowhere. “It takes two hours to get to this place on this little dirt road,” she recalls. “We were supposed to shoot that scene in the daytime but got there so late we had to shoot at night. The inside of the pagoda was fairly large and so only having DC was our primary concern.” To light the production, Holt and her team brought RGB LEDs and a Gekko ring light.CamCol_MeposingatBayon

As of press time, Holt’s documentary is still in production with plans to go back to Cambodia in 2011 to shoot additional sequences. The film’s release date tentatively planned for the end of that year.

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