Ryan Schembri: Why filmmaking?
Abraham Joffe: My first love has always been
a fascination with history, stories of exploration,
endurance and science. My dad used to
read me National Geographic magazines for
bedtime stories and I loved it. And when I was
10 years old, my mum and dad packed up the
four kids, bought a 1984 Troop Carrier and
traveled around Australia. Mum was the one
who bought our first camcorder—which quickly
became my camcorder. I started by filming our
adventures as a family and I was hooked.
RS: Did you go to film school? Is it necessary
for today’s filmmakers?
AJ: I attended the North Sydney TAFE film and
TV course straight after school. It was a great
course, and it was nice to get the experience
of working with 16mm film. Even though I did
miss most of the second year due to working
with Malcolm Douglas, they graciously allowed
me to complete subjects in my own time. It was
good to get the diploma. I think all forms of
training and study are beneficial, but of course
nothing beats hands-on experience.
RS: When was your first experience using a
DSLR as a video camera
AJ: I first picked up a Canon 5D Mark II in April
2009, at the NAB conference in Las Vegas. For
me, like most people, it was a jaw-dropping
experience. The combination of full-frame
sensor/shallow depth-of-field plus low-light
capability made it irresistible. I was an early
adopter, and we bought three cameras and a
bunch of primes right out of the gate. We were
the first studio in Australia shooting multi-cam
weddings with the 5D; our business soared.
RS: Untitled Film Works shoots more than
90 weddings per year. Is there a formula for
a good wedding film?
AJ: We’re known for our cinematic, story-driven
films. We believe our point of difference is that
we will spend a lot of time with our couples
prior to the wedding because to document
the big day successfully, we need to fully
understand the couple’s story.
We often shoot what we call ‘pre-scenes,’—
interviews and scenes with the couple going
about their everyday life before the wedding.
It’s nice to weave this footage in with the
wedding day because it gives a broader sense
of who the couple is.
Almost every wedding features a white
RS: How do you successfully intersperse
dress, vows and speeches, but if you have
other material from outside the wedding day,
you can create a film that means more to the
couple...and offer a larger package.
interviews into videos?
AJ: Like always, content is king, and the most
important thing you want to take away from an
interview is narrative that helps push the story
further or reveal something new from your
subject. I am constantly striving to become a
better interviewer—and I find it all starts with
empathizing with your subject. The interviewer
ideally should not be involved in the technical
side of the shoot. Keep eye contact with your
subject and try and help them forget there is
a recording session taking place. The more
comfortable and connected the subject is to
you, the more personal it becomes.
RS: With a large-sensor camera and
4K resolution, what’s your secret for
AJ: In 4K, correct focus becomes even more
critical. In the past, getting a subject just slightly
out of focus could sometimes be included in
a scene and go by unnoticed. Not in 4K. Even
the slightest degree out will strike the eye very
quickly. So practicing your focus pulling has
never been more needed. I tend to stay away
from adding larger monitors to the cameras as
I generally find that slows down the shooting
speed. I like my rigs stripped down to the bare
essentials; it suits my shooting style.
OPPOSITE PAGE: A shot of Joffe filming time-lapses for a wedding in Santorini, Greece, in 2013.
BELOW: Australia’s first 4K wedding, captured by Joffe in 2012.
BRAHAM JOFFE has gained ground in recent years, both in his native Australia
and here in the U.S., as a dedicated, passionate documentary and nature
filmmaker. The advanced diver/underwater cameraman, adept at 4K workflow,
time-lapse and other filmmaking techniques, began his career shooting for the late
filmmaker and adventurer Malcolm Douglas in the far reaches of Western Australia. Today,
Joffe’s Sydney-based company, Untitled Film Works, is highly regarded for its creative
storytelling and currently produces most of the film content for Canon Australia.
I first met Abe at a wedding expo where we were both displaying our work. I was totally
mesmerized by the beautiful imagery playing on an HD monitor Abe had brought in to
showcase his first 5D wedding. (We’ve since shot many big weddings together, and I have
appeared in a couple of Abe’s documentary pieces for Canon.) I recently sat down with Abe
[who won a Grand Award in the Filmmaking category at WPPI; see pg. 78] to ask him about
his style and technique and find out what’s next for this cinematographer from Down Under.