Documentaries come in all shapes and sizes, but the challenges facing their DPs are always the same: small budgets, tight, if fluid, schedules and the cinema verité demands of capturing real events in real time. In fact, it takes an experienced magician, who's utterly at home with improvisation and dealing with the unexpected, to craft and shoot a compelling documentary that both tells a good story and captures its subject, all presented through the lens of great cinematography.
No one knows this more than Tom Hurwitz, ASC, the veteran documentary DP whose credits include NOVA and Frontline, and such acclaimed documentary films as Wild Man Blues, Valentino: The Last Emperor, The Queen of Versailles and Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. He shot the new 90-minute documentary film, Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police, based on guitarist Andy Summers' 2006 memoir, One Train Later, about his musical career and life with the supergroup.
Narrated by the guitarist, the documentary also incorporates rare footage dating back to the '60s and Summers' involvement with the early British rock scene and seminal artists including Zoot Money and Eric Burdon, as well as many still photographs taken by the rock star along the way.
"I was always interested in photography, so it was very natural for me to document everything," notes Summers, "whether it was backstage at some grungy club or on early tours with The Police. So, there's a lot of intimate moments and interesting shots and archival stuff, especially in the first 25 minutes of the film, with the Sex Pistols appearing and so on."
For Hurwitz, the first big challenge was shooting the band live at the Anaheim Convention Center. "It's a huge venue, and ultimately, it was quite a challenge to color-correct the footage, as we shot with both HDV cameras—Sony Z7Us and Z1Us—and HDCAM—the Sony F900R, which is what I used on the job," he reports. "Secondly, I was the only stage camera, and it was pretty amazing shooting the band at their sound check and then at the actual concert. And being in 'the pit'—this catwalk that runs along the front of the stage—my movement was limited as I had to shoot the entire show looking straight up, so it was very physically demanding. But the results were spectacular."
Hurwitz and his team used a total of four cameras to record the show, with the film's producer Brett Morgen manning one of the HDCAMs. "Two of them were wide shots, and Brett had another tighter-shot setup," he notes. "And we just went with the concert lighting on the day." The New York-based DP also used a rental lens, a Canon 20x zoom, "which is unusual for me, as I have my own modified zooms, but I was on the West coast. But I used my own lenses for the rest of the film."