Emmy-award-winning filmmaker Patrick Moreau explains why having a psychology degree helps him decide which gear to pack, how to go from charging onto the field with a football team to interviewing the President in 30 seconds, and how Tenba’s new Roadie II shoulder bag helps him tell better stories.
Aimee Baldridge: In 2005, you and your wife Amina started the filmmaking company that would become stillmotion. You had no filmmaking experience then. Why did you suddenly pick up a camera?
Patrick Moreau: We were both in university for psychology, and we wanted to use psychology to tell documentaries. Originally the idea of getting video equipment was just that it was a medium we could use to get out things we wanted to talk about through psychology. So it was a way of communicating, but in and of itself, it wasn't something we were terribly interested in. The byproduct of learning about it was that we became really fascinated in the art itself, and it kind of took over and became its own passion.
AB: What does it mean to tell stories through psychology?
Patrick Moreau: I firmly believe that it absolutely is most of what makes me who I am as a filmmaker, and has been a big part of shaping stillmotion. It’s why I'm always asking why, and asking the question why is a big thing for everybody on our team. Why are we choosing this lens? Why are we using the camera like this? Why are we composing our image like this? How does the color affect the mood or the tone, and how does the color relate to the setting that we're trying to convey and the emotional scene that we're trying to set? Having a psychology background really pushes you to look at different perspectives and question things. Justin, Amina, Ray, and Joyce all have such different backgrounds, from fine art to finance to engineering, and this mixture comes together to make something really special in how we approach every story.
The process of filmmaking is so often overlooked as being valuable. Most people look at the final product, and that's all that matters to them. But we care very much about the actual process, the experience that we and everybody involved in making the piece have. We find the more you value that, the more authentic emotion you get, and the deeper the experience becomes. What that affects specifically is how we conduct interviews, how we talk to people, how we explain what we're there for and why we care, how we act on set, how we talk to each other, how we collaborate.
AB: Can everybody in stillmotion play all of the roles in filmmaking, like capturing sound, shooting, or setting up lights?
Patrick Moreau: Yes, aside from some very specific limitations—not everybody can run a full body-mounted Steadicam. Everybody's at different levels with different things, but we try to make sure that everybody gets a chance to play all the different roles and develop them. We believe that by being part of all the different facets and stages in putting together a story, you start to understand the deep interconnectedness between them, and you can be a much better storyteller.
AB: Do you have a standard kit for each role that's played?
Patrick Moreau: That is the dream. We’re developing standard kits. We have a lot of gear, and we have people in Portland, Toronto, and Mountain View. So it's always a challenge getting gear to shoots, and also having it be accessible on the shoots so that it doesn't become a liability and slow us down.
Every piece of gear has so many little related parts, and what we’re trying to develop is the best way that certain things can travel together so that a certain lighting kit, for example, all goes inside one flight case. So if you need HMIs, that’s the kit. You take the bag and you're set to go. When you're done, you put everything back in that same bag, and then it can go somewhere else. Our old strategy was just to mix and match, and throw things in with our clothes. Everything would be everywhere, and there were always things missing.
The Transport flight case we use is huge because it’s got a really nice space inside of it to carry larger things, but it's very robust, too. We feel safe if we're checking $20,000 HMIs in it. More important than what they're worth is that they need to show up and work the next day. A lot of our shoots are one or two days, and there's no way we're going to find lights of that quality and type in two hours’ notice if we get to the shoot and they’re broken. The Transport cases also help us stay organized, because they allow us to take an entire set of grip or a lighting kit and use the dividers to separate things out.
As we’ve evolved, we’ve learned to figure out what a shoot is about, and then determine what tools best tell that story, as opposed to saying we need a slider, a monopod or tripod, a crane, or a jib for every single shoot. We always ask, "Who is this person? What is the story and what tools relate to it?"
AB: So when you decide which gear to pack for a shoot, you’re considering not just the physical logistics of the scene but also what your subjects are like as people?
Patrick Moreau: Yeah. We're always trying to figure out what it is we're really trying to say before we decide what tools we're going to bring. And we decide on that based on the people and the story, not the locations or the timing.
For example, we did a story last year about adoption. The mother hired us to tell the story of the baby she adopted so that her daughter would have the film when she grew up. It was a very powerful, raw story. We said, "A slider doesn't really fit. We don't want those subtle, perfect moves. A Steadicam doesn't really fit. We don't want to be flying around them, and have that crazy, busy kind of motion. Even a tripod doesn't really fit, because we don't want things to be perfect and safe and locked off, because that's not what the story is.” So we approached it almost entirely with a monopod, because the monopod has a natural shake and motion to it. It feels more like somebody is standing there watching the story. We wanted to have that imperfection because it was such a real story.
AB: The sports documentary you worked on, A Game of Honor, won three Emmys this year. How many people from stillmotion were involved, and what did you shoot with?
Patrick Moreau: There were three main people: Joyce, Justin, and myself. We did the majority of the 125 shoot days, and then Ray and Paul were the second crew that came in and helped out a fair amount. CBS has a staff shooter who was a big part of the film as well. He and our team of five shot well over 90% of it.
We were usually shooting with a monopod, a Canon 1D Mark IV DSLR, some primes, and a slider—usually a small, super-light one like a Cinevate Atlas FLT. We have certain shoots where we’d bring a full body-mounted Steadicam. The Mark IV is very similar to the Mark II, but has a bigger, slightly heavier body. It’s just super robust if you're shooting Army or Navy training and it’s raining or you’re avoiding live fire. Joyce was lucky enough to be covering the Navy on their first day of training, and there was live fire.
We shot the final game with the Red Epic and DLSRs. We brought in the Epic so that we could get some super slow motion, as well as shoot a little bit wider and crop in post. That meant we were able to capture a lot of little plays and things that we didn't even realize were happening when we shot them.
Joyce and Paul from stillmotion shooting on location for A Game of Honor.
AB: How do you carry all the gear you need while you're doing a fast-moving shoot?
Patrick Moreau: We use several different solutions. We have a really small bag that just carries lenses, and we use the Roadie II shoulder bag for almost all of our commercial shoots because it allows us to take either our Red Epic or our Scarlet with the matte box, filters, spare batteries and cards, and everything else in it. The one problem we've always had with bag solutions is they offer one solution to get to a shoot, and then give you an entirely different solution while you're on a shoot. What we really love about the shoulder bag is that it gives us one solution that does both. We can use it to protect our gear and get to the shoot, but then we can also show up to set, shoot with it, and get gear in and out of it. That is really rare.
When you travel a lot like we do, it's very hard to bring two sets of bags—one to travel with and one to use. We can carry a fully loaded Red Epic or Scarlet on a plane in the shoulder bag, so it’s been a really huge addition for us. It’s become a big part of letting us work with the Epic and Scarlet because there are so many pieces to one of those rigs, and it slows you down so much if you have to bring it in a Pelican case and spend half an hour assembling it, and then you still need to be able to get around from location to location. And it's terrible if you have to take it apart. The shoulder bag is the only solution we’ve found that lets us build it, keep it ready to go, and still have things like batteries, filters, and cards that we can switch in and out as needed while we're shooting. That has been very helpful in letting us tell better stories.
The Tenba Roadie II HDSLR/video shoulder bag on location with stillmotion, packed with a fully assembled Red camera.
AB: In A Game of Honor there's a brief interview with President Obama. How did that come about?
Patrick Moreau: That was a pretty exciting part of the whole documentary. And by exciting, I mean nerve-wracking. The interview was right after the teams had run out of the tunnel for the final game. It's called A Game of Honor because the whole story builds up to the Army/Navy game, so I really wanted to run out with the teams for that final game. Unfortunately, President Obama also wanted to do his interview on the sidelines about three minutes after they were supposed to run out. And there were Secret Service everywhere, crowds everywhere—it was just very hectic.
With so much going on, I think it was a natural reaction for the producers to say, "Just stay here and get ready for the interview." But it was the biggest game in the documentary, and there was no way I could skip the moment of running out with the team. After several moments of pleading, they agreed and off I went. I ran out with both teams, ran right back to the interview spot, took the Steadicam off, with somebody helping me to grab it with the arm intact, switched the camera to a monopod, and switched lenses. Within about 30 seconds I went from running out with the team in a full body-mounted Steadicam to interviewing the President with the camera on a monopod.
Patrick Moreau running out with the team at the final game.
AB: What was the hardest thing about shooting a big game like that?
Patrick Moreau: How many different people there were in different places. At most of the games we shot, we’d have one or two people, and take a creative approach to capturing the essence of the game. We’d get a little bit of the fans, a little bit of the bench stuff, a little bit of the game, a little bit of scenery, and then mix it together to tell the story of the game. Whereas the last game was really what we were building up to, so we needed to cover things a lot more comprehensively.
We had our entire team there with about eight cameras. So we had to figure out who was going to be where and make sure that people were staying on top of what they were supposed to. If your job was to stay on the bench for the entire game, no matter what happened on the field, you couldn't look at it. You had to look at the players, and get their reactions. Then we also had the logistics of things like getting batteries and gear to the right places, and making sure the cameras were synced. We’d meet between quarters and at the half, because we couldn’t use our phones. First of all, we couldn’t hear, and second, the service was practically non-existent.
The field producers were keeping us on top of the stories as they evolved. When you're on the field for a big game, it’s very hard to get the same sense of the game as you do when you're watching it on TV, because you don’t have the commentary. A player might go off to the bench, and you have no idea anything's wrong. On TV, people tell you he's not coming back. So the field producers, who were getting broadcast feeds, would be telling us things that there was just no way we would know on the field. We could adapt to the story a lot better with that help.
AB: Which categories did A Game of Honor win Emmys for?
Patrick Moreau: We won Outstanding Sports Documentary; Outstanding Sports Promotional Announcement, Episodic—which is marketing speak for the trailer—and Outstanding New Approaches, Sports Programming, which was for the original approach to the web series.
AB: What was original about the approach to the web series?
Patrick Moreau: It was badass! I think it was the way the stories were told. There's the access that people haven't gotten before, the way it's shot, and the tools it's shot with. It has much more intimate stories that we would like to believe also have great photography behind them. The series paired a different look and feel with material that has never been shot before. As a result, I believe it was CBS Sports’ highest-rated web series ever.
Its original look and feel came from everything we've been talking about in terms of approaching each shoot with the right tools, using them well, and having a team of producers and directors behind you to give good direction on what each shoot is about. All together, that gave us the ability to tell a great story.
You can visit stillmotion's website to learn more about their work, and go to CBSSports.com to see the web series A Game of Honor and a film about the making of the documentary.