SAE film lecturer Peter Baker


7 Nov 2016

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SAE film lecturer Peter Baker

7 Nov 2016

Peter Baker is a Film Lecturer at SAE Institute Melbourne, whose passion for film started at the tender age of 11, with his talent in filmmaking, recognised as a teenager, when he received a grant from the Australian Film Commission (now know as Screen Australia).

Peter went on to study a Bachelor of Film & TV at Curtin University and won an industry award for Best Cinematography in a TV commercial at the WA Advertising Awards.

Not surprisingly, Peter’s first short film produced after University was selected to screen as the intro film on opening night at the New York Film Festival before the night’s feature, the release of Pulp Fiction.  Iconic directors Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee were in the theatre to view Peter's short film which was met with a positive reception.

Peter Baker filmSAE film lecturer, Peter Baker, on location

Peter’s career has since covered a wide range of experiences; from working on a wildlife documentary, to working on over 150 television commercials, most notably a series for Lotto, which saw Peter film on location in Germany, UK, Italy, the US and Fiji.

Now working as a Director of Photography, with an extensive collection of surfing documentaries to his portfolio, Peter spoke to us in length about his career, what keeps him in the film industry, and his recent TV series for ABC ME Kids, This is Me.

SAE: What are the main skills required of a successful cameraman in a production environment?
It varies a lot depending on the kind of production, there are a different set of skills you need to have on a drama series, feature film or big budget TV commercial compared to a documentary or reality TV.  In general you’re there to translate ideas into a visual form and to create pictures that tell the story in the director’s vision. You need to understand how get the images you want from the available technology and people in your crew. It’s important to be a good communicator.  To be able to listen, convey ideas clearly and concisely and give clear instructions on what you want from other people - sometimes in a high pressure environment!  A lot can be riding on you to get the shot. You need to be confident and to inspire confidence in others. It’s also important to stay up to date with new developments in camera technology so you can choose the right tools for the job.

SAE: What does a Director of Photography essentially do?
At the start of a large production, the DoP will talk to the director about what they have in mind and they will contribute ideas about the way in which the images can be achieved.  The DoP is also responsible for choosing the right equipment and other personnel to bring the vision to life.  Usually this involves talking to the producer about what the budget can handle in terms of camera equipment, lenses, lighting, grip equipment such as dollies, cranes, camera stabilisers.  Often it will also involve doing location surveys and talking to a production designer about the way locations and sets are going to look, and discussing what props and wardrobe they’re looking to use. Most of the important work is actually done before you start shooting.

DOP Peter BakerPeter Baker filming

SAE: What is it like working on surfing documentaries? What challenges do you encounter when executing this type of filming/directing?
I shot and directed a film for Rip Curl a few years ago that was designed to show off the talents of their team riders who come from all over the world.  The doco’s theme theme was searching for waves in remote places off the beaten track. The first place we went to was Morocco. You can imagine the logistics of getting a group of surfers who had five surfboards each and transporting them, plus all the camera gear in a place like that was very tricky!  I love being exposed to other cultures and fortunately I can speak some French, so that was handy. On that film we also sailed a yacht around the French Polynesian Islands looking for unknown surf spots and we drove up the coast of Mozambique in a 4WD from South Africa. The road was just 2 wheel ruts in the bush so we drove.  We’d been warned not to get out of the car because there were land mines so we drove on the beach at night under a full moon until we found what looked like a good set up for surf.  After a couple of hours sleep in surfboard covers on the beach we woke up to a perfect set of waves.

SAE: What personal skills do you possess that assist your film life?
Because I love film-making it often doesn’t feel like work.  I guess having a good work ethic is important.

SAE: What skills do you impart and encourage from young filmmakers at SAE Institute?
I try to emphasise how important preparation is before a shoot and how crucial it is to communicate well when you’re working in a group. I try to impart the idea that everything you choose to put in the frame is important to the overall feel, so you should make informed choices.  I love to see when students put a lot of effort into their productions because it always shows.  It becomes so much more rewarding for them, and for me!

Peter Baker, SAE Institute film lecturerPeter Baker

SAE: How did the ABC ME Kids TV series come about? What was your role in the project?
I was contacted by the Producer who did the series 'This Is Me' which is about kids who lead unusual lives and telling their stories. I was the Director of Photography and I asked an SAE Melbourne Film graduate, Matt Poidevin, to come out and assist me with camera and lighting. We did an episode with a girl who came from Burma and grew up in a refugee camp until she was eight before she immigrated to Australia. She was an extremely talented violinist and artist.  The show was really empowering for the kids who were in it and it was in turn a great project to work on. The first series has been very well-received and I’m hoping there’ll be a second series soon.

SAE: What do you love most about producing a TV series?  What has been the best series you’ve worked on to date?
On a TV series you get into a groove of working with the same people and can develop good working relationships with them. I’ve worked on the UK version of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here over the last few years and I like it because it’s set in beautiful rainforest in northern NSW, you have to drive through the cane fields every day to get to the location. The catering on that set was off the chain - I had to restrain myself from eating too much! I also got to go surfing in the morning if I was working the afternoon shift, which was another bonus!

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