“I wanted to create something different from the influencer led travel videos we are used to seeing on YouTube”, says German filmmaker Dennis Schmelz. It was the first time Dennis had travelled to the Indonesian island, and he timed it to coincide with Galungan, the Balinese festival celebrating the Ancestral Spirits and their return to the island.
“I wanted to create a film that celebrated culture and religion. It is the Island of 1000 Gods, with many stories and characters to film.”
Having researched as much as he could before he left, there was still a lot to do when his feet were on the ground.
“Normally, you would find the characters representing the spirits in the temples, which are restricted for tourists to enter during the festival. So, I worked with a local fixer who helped me find the people in the film and suggest locations to film”.
The video took three weeks to shoot, and a busy schedule saw Dennis waking before sunrise to begin shooting before heading to the next location. “The roads weren't always great, so we would sometimes have very long, eighteen hour days, and a lot of that was just driving from location to location”.
One such location was a spectacular waterfall, where Dennis had arranged to film a girl dancing Legong, a traditional Balinese dance.
“She was so calm. She played around with the dancing and her facial expressions to the camera. There is a shot which is a close-up of her face, which is just perfect. It is one of my highlight shots in the video. That whole sequence is great as it shows the people and the landscape”.
For the project, Dennis relied on two cameras - the Sony Alpha 7S III, which he used solely for filming, and the Alpha 7 IV, which he also used for photography. “The Alpha 7 IV is a great hybrid camera as it has a 33-mega-pixel sensor, so it's great for still photos, but it can also shoot video at 4k 60p – impressive!”
The two cameras had distinct roles, with the Alpha 7S III mounted to a gimbal stabiliser with a 12-24mm f/2.8 GM lens. “I used the 12-24mm f/2.8 GM as it is a super wideangle lens which allowed me to show the dancing scenes amidst the backdrop of the incredible landscape. The SteadyShot Stabilisation combined with the gimbal allowed me to move around and create smooth dynamic moving shots”.
Meanwhile, Dennis used the Alpha 7 IV, paired with the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II lens for his photography, but also to shoot handheld video footage. He often used it with the camera's Clear Image Zoom feature to get close-up footage that looks like it has been filmed with a macro lens.
Alongside his Sony Alpha cameras, Dennis shot with a drone to give the viewer more context about his filming locations. “The drone shots are important to show the landscape and to get an idea of where you are. But to show emotion, you have to get close to people,” he reveals.
Shooting at sunrise and sunset meant a lot of contrast in many scenes. One of the reasons the filmmaker chose the Alpha 7S III was because of the camera's impressive 15-stop dynamic range.
“With the Slog-3 Picture Profile, I could manipulate the footage to increase the contrast and colour saturation. I pushed the video to the limit but never experienced any problems thanks to 10-bit recording”.
The dynamic range was needed in Dennis' favourite shot from the video, which was filmed in a cave at sunrise.
That shot was all about timing”, he explains. “There were only about 30mins in the cave where the sun comes through this hole. After that, it is completely dark. It was pretty dangerous and took us two hours to walk there, but it was worth it as the shot looks so incredible”.
In the three weeks working on the project, Dennis shot around 15 hours of video on the guided workshop, which he edited down to just 3:40mins for his final Galungan - Victory of Dharma video. The video shows the colour and contrast of the island, but the editing really makes the video stand out.
“The festival is about good triumphing over evil, so we have these opposites in the video. The good part is calm and often slow motion. Then you have the dark parts. When we see these bad spirit characters, I sped the footage up to make it seem unnatural and to stress the viewer. I also added some sound effects. I wanted to create something other than a nice three-minute video of nice pictures and music”.
Reliable, dependent, and impressive, Dennis reflects on how his trusted Sony gear made capturing this incredible video series a breeze.
"There is always a story to tell and a fresh perspective to be discovered"