Capturing The Journey
What was your approach in capturing the Earth Keepers to create the magic that we experience watching the film?
Renata: A big part of the result you feel when watching the film, I think has more to do with the unique setting than with specific camera or lighting skills. I believe that the energy of the recordings of the characters in the film is so special because of the intimacy. We filmed every individual in their natural environment, the place they would normally sit, with natural available light. Mostly it wasn’t really an interview. You couldn’t call it that. Often it was more like a ‘listening session’, where we would hardly ask any question. In many cases we cut out the interpreter because it interrupted the flow. We had to connect on a different level than the level of language. We would only really find out what we had recorded after we got it translated line by line afterwards. In hindsight these sessions delivered the best sequences
Without much film making experience, no crew and a low budget, how did you manage to make a film to such a high standard and production value?
Rolf: We reckoned that it was more important to capture that intimacy than having the perfect shot. I’m not a techie and have a love-hate relationship with the camera and recording equipment. But we decided that it was better to be fully in the experience as family and accept some hiccups or wobbles, rather than losing the intimacy by bringing a crew. I think we have been extremely lucky considering the limited technical knowledge we have, that we managed to film for a year without any major hiccups. Fortunately it was only after the journey that I started to feel the weight of the responsibility to have been trusted by the Earth Keepers with their story, their message for humanity. At the time of our encounters with them it was all very low key. We were just sitting and chatting, whilst we let the camera run. It wasn’t about the camera at all, it often felt as if it wasn’t even there.
But the film is much more than the wisdom keepers talking?
Yes, that’s right. We wanted to create an experience and not make a ‘talking heads’ film. To capture the journey across the globe, the big challenge was to get the big wides; beautiful nature shots but without using any cranes, planes or other fancy film maker toys. There is only so far you can go with a tripod. To get the aerials that would give the film it’s cinematic feel, we had to be very creative to generate these shots.
Can you be more explicit about the level of creativity involved?
Rolf: We tried out all kinds of things, not hindered by any knowledge. One could say that the areal shots of the film were shot in a very unorthodox way. Without the budget for a glass-bottom plane, we shot all the aerials in America over Hiawatha Forest and Lake Superior from a powered parachute. And the signature shot of the film, flying over the Namib Desert was the most adventurous. We had tried to shoot it form a plane window but it didn’t work. I shared my frustration with the pilot and jokingly said that he would need to take out the door of the plane to make it work. To my surprise he said: ‘we can do that’. The next morning he arrived with a screwdriver and took out the door before take off. It allowed me to point my camera down whilst hanging out of the small airplane. But only after the pilot had strapped to the back of the plane with a bungee-jump cord, just in case I would be pulled out by the air pressure.
Constructing The Film
How did you go about crafting a story from 200 hours of raw footage?
Rolf: The editing was the most difficult part of the process. First of all the translation of all the footage was an incredible amount of work. It took us almost a year to get al the translations finalized, with some of the tribal languages only having very few translators. When everything was scripted, we ended up with a stack of transcripts the size of a telephone book. But where do you start? Shamans talk in stories and in the beginning we had no idea how to start cutting into stories that on average run for ten to twenty minutes. The first cut we made was actually on paper. We started literally cutting out snippets and ended up with a whole room full with stacks of paper snippets. From that the leading themes and the first storyline evolved.
Did you edit yourselves?
Renata: We have done a lot of editing ourselves but we are very fortunate to have been able to work with two great film editors who both felt attracted by the project. Even though we have been in charge of the choice of the themes and the construction of the story, we couldn’t have done without them. Both editors have contributed a lot to the weft of the story. The first cut we made with Award-winning editor Andrew Quigley, who is very gifted in structuring and creating the different layers. We still love that first cut. Where many directors do it afterwards, you could say we first made the so-called ‘director’s cut’. But then, based on the audience and industry feedback, we decided to add our story to the film. That’s when Sahil Gill came on board as editor. We initially told him we needed some help for a couple of months with some changes to an existing film. Well, that became a process of no less than three years! Pulling the puzzle apart and trying to fit the new pieces in… well they didn’t fit at all at first. It was a long process of creating and re-creating. It was like sculpturing; reworking the film, layer after layer.
The music is an important part of the whole film experience. How did you get Stephen Warbeck involved in the project?
Rolf: He came on board early on. We came in touch with Stephen shortly after our journey, through the new school of our children. Our daughters happened to be in the same class as his daughters. When he heard about the project, he asked us to show him a rough cut. After the viewing he offered to write the score for the film. It was an incredible gift to the project that he came on board. Not only did it instantly lift the profile of the project, but working with him was a real joy. Stephen is a most humble and down-to-earth character, who is an amazing listener. He has almost as little ego as the Earth Keepers.
Renata: Things just fell amazingly into place, once again. I realize that we have been very demanding. We didn’t make it easy for him but he stayed committed throughout the whole process and has been incredibly generous with his support for a process that took so much longer than anticipated.
INTERVIEW WITH OSCAR-WINNING COMPOSER STEPHEN WARBECK
Being a very sought-after film composer, what made you decide to work on a low-budget film like DOWN to EARTH?
Each time I choose to work on a project I am looking for something new in it, a new creative challenge. Down to Earth met those criteria. I have not come across a piece of work which so dramatically combines the personal and the universal.
Can you describe how you went about creating the soundtrack for the film?
When did you come on board? Can you describe the process?
The film was still in the editing stage. I watched the rough cut with Rolf and Renata and we started to talk about the way we would approach the music. We wanted to create a language which took no account of boundaries but borrowed elements from the musical cultures of the different indigenous cultures. But also from electronics and from Western orchestral tradition. In the studio we worked with a core group of instrumentalists who provided the main part of the palette. After the recording stage we worked with music editor and programmer Kirsty Whalley and started to put the different elements together.
How did you come to the choice of the instruments that are used in the soundtrack?
Each geographic place the film visits provides us with inspiration for this. Although we never wanted to mimic the music of a particular country or region, we would selectively borrow aspects to serve the overall concept of the soundtrack.
How was the collaboration with first time film makers Renata & Rolf?
Working on a project where there is such a vital connection between the film makers and the subject – on a personal, political and spiritual level – meant that I felt a particular responsibility to be as truthful as I could to their vision.