When he first saw the Sony RX0, Artisan Of Imagery Jeff Berlin was attracted to its size and how the robust construction could enable him to make a film that he’d been thinking about for a long time. The Hawaiian Islands have captured the imagination of countless travelers including Berlin. Since his first trip to those islands, Berlin knew he wanted to make a film there. “I was just awestruck at how jaw-droppingly beautiful Hawaii is above and below the surface of the water.”
So much sheer beauty everywhere you turn can be overwhelming. As a visual artist, one almost doesn’t know where to begin. Calling on his background as a fashion photographer who worked in Milan, Paris and New York, Berlin’s imagination drew him to the possibility of making a film that had an editorial fashion feel to it. With the RX0, he had a tool that could bring the idea together.
“A small, robust camera that shoots high quality images makes a lot of things possible,” Berlin explains. “Most action cams have a particular look due to their ultra-wide-angle lenses. That makes them suitable for one kind of action shooting where the distortion they create isn’t a huge issue. But that look doesn’t really appeal to me and it certainly wouldn’t work in the kind of film I wanted to make. The RX0 is tiny and the aluminum body is absolutely solid, but it also has a 24mm Zeiss lens and a high-end image sensor. That meant it could create the kind of cinema look I wanted.”
As his plan gelled, the visuals started to take shape in Berlin’s mind. “Because the camera is inherently water-proof, I wanted to take advantage of that and do something underwater with freediving which has an elegance to it,” he says. “I wanted to structure the film around that. We kept it really simple. I wanted the film to have a rough narrative arc and to be dreamy and ethereal so we made it very much into a little dream sequence that people will watch and think ‘what did I just see?’ then watch it again.”
With the idea firmly in place, Berlin’s small team set out to do the actual shooting. “There was definitely some trial and error. The RX0 was great underwater, but that’s still not an easy environment to work in. Sea conditions around a lot of the island were very rough with huge swells. We were shooting in a sheltered area where it was safe and the particulate in the water actually worked for us by softening things up and making things look dreamy.”
He continues, “We had eight cameras with us in total. We had a couple of shooters using the cameras underwater shooting a lot of footage. This wasn’t a big shoot with a lot of time so I wanted to get a lot of B-roll to give myself as many options as possible in the edit. The RX0 made that really easy to do. We got the cameras dialed in after a couple of dives and set everything to either S-log or in a flat profile for shots where we wanted ISO flexibility.”
Most of Ether was shot with the RX0 cameras handheld or attached to a Yuneec H520 drone. For some shots where he wanted more precisely-controlled camera movement, Berlin used a ProMediaGear 36-inch slider. Ether was graded on a DaVinci Resolve system at Bertone Visuals in Los Angeles.
“One of the things about photography is it’s given me entrée to different worlds. That got me into fashion and celebrity photography as well as aviation. And now it’s taken me into this new world of scuba and freediving and the world of the ocean that I'm just starting to explore. I think it's pretty cool to have a camera that can make that happen.”