Making the documentary a City Named Benicia was a great and rewarding experience. Producing the documentary took few years to record and editing, but in the process I learned more about the City of Benicia and the importance of it in California’s history.
Making the film was a slow and difficult process that couldn’t happen if it was not for Sam Chohan’s interest and passion for California history and his role as board member in Benicia Historical museum. Everything began a year before when I was working as a teacher assistant for the producing and directing films class at Solano Community College in Fairfield California. During that time I had to meet a lot of students and Sam was one I did a good connection with in the manner Sam was always interested in film as an art form and liked to talk about the technological side of the film making process because he is an technology engineer. During the premier I learned many people are interested in the history of their town Benicia, in the manner they came with good and meaningful questions at the end of the two screenings premier. It was great feeling of accomplishment to see the screen room at the museum packed during both of the screenings some people had to watch the movie standing.
Creating a documentary takes time and experience because is something people will see, enjoy and judge by the quality of your work. Personally, I felt I was ready to take on the director of photography job for the years shooting and editing documentaries in the bay area and abroad. From the beginning Sam wanted the film to look something like Ken Burns documentaries. However, Ken Burns films mostly relies on a static images that slowly zoom in and out making the film too static in my point of view, even people says the opposite.
Producing the documentary was an adventure that I decided to get involved because I love documentary film and as a Mexican-American I think telling the story of Benicia for future generations to come is important in the manner the documentary talks about California history, specifically the general Vallejo’s Wife Benicia which form part of the rich Spanish-Mexican History dating back to late 1800’s.
Sam wanted to create a documentary with the style such as Ken Burns, and we took that idea into perspective during production which make sense for a historical documentary but I wanted to add some of my documentary style which relies more on camera movement and vivid colors making it look smooth and fresh. The end product is a fusion of historical images moving back and forth and panoramic cinematography with various views of Benicia green Highlands, establishing shots of downtown buildings and of places such as, Benicia’s port, Downtown Benicia, Benicia Capitol and other detail museum artifacts. Moreover, at the time to record interviews as Director of Photography I discussed with Sam to take a more interactive approach and to record multi camera sessions instead of one camera only.
Before production I remembered watching the shot list. The shot list contained many details that we recorded nicely but the takes looked somewhat static so I decided to come with the idea to record the interviews on a multi-camera setting. I remember during the last day of production, Suddenly in the last take from Benicia’s pier I got it, probably a traveling shot from downtown would help to smooth the beginning sequence making more interesting to watch.
So briefly after discussing the plans with Sam we got into the back of the SUV and recorded downtown Benicia’ pier even this traveling shot was not on the shot list. As an engineer, Sam always tried to do whatever was planned accordingly to plan. However as a good director, he listened and trusted my decision. As a result I learned you need sometimes follow your gut in order to create something cool to watch.
Camera technology gets better and better everyday and what helped us getting away with this traveling shot was the new Gimbo stabilization technology 4K cameras have nowadays, this stabilization system holds the camera lens not to shake when camera hits bumps and holes on the ground.
I personally like to record natural landscapes and multi camera interviews and it was a good idea once I saw the results at the premier, making the film more interactive and visually exciting.
Been part of the production of the film was a rewarding experience in the manner A City Named Benicia documentary is going to form part of the city’s history and imagination for future generations visit the museum and look at the permanent exhibition at the museum.
The expectations and results from a City named Benicia documentary premier made me think that making documentaries sometimes pays off and is what I want to keep doing in the upcoming years.