“The Beekeeper” – A mini Documentary

While driving around country Victoria Australia, in early 2009, I stopped by an old Sawmill near Jubilee Lake in the township of Daylesford. Daylesford has an amazing history including playing a large role during the 1850’s – 1950’s Gold Rush era. Today it’s Melbourne’s weekend escape with many Spa & Massage Centres, thanks to the naturally occurring mineral springs, Restaurants and Art Galleries. However Daylesford has many hidden gems, including the subject of my mini documentary.

My family has a long history with the township of Daylesford, including my Grandmother who taught at the local High School. So I remember traveling to various peoples homes to get things like eggs, milk, bread and honey. For some reason, there are several families that make honey in the district. However I remembered one particular place that looked more like an industrial sawmill then a place to get honey. Having recently fallen in love with my Canon 5DMKII’s ability to record HD video, I thought to myself, why not go back to the mill and ask if I could walk around, take some videos and stills. So on a slightly wet and dreary day, I rocked up with nothing more then my camera.

Barry is the Beekeeper. He’s been working the property for ever, having built the place by hand from scrap. It’s difficult to find words that describe what exactly Barry has built other then I would like to describe it as a “Terry Gilliam” inspired work of art! In all fairness, Barry has built everything he needs to make Honey, including growing the Timber to make the Bee Boxes! Hence the Sawmill’s purpose. After logging the forrest, his small team then turn the raw timber into planks that make Bee Boxes. He makes the Wax inserts that will eventually house the honey, as well as obviously taking the Boxes out into the fields where the Bees do all their work. After the Bee Boxes are recovered, he produces Honey & Wax and sells it all over the world. There are people who travel from as far away as India to buy from him.

So I didn’t really arrive at his door step with a great plan. I just wanted to record some of the visuals before time took it all away and have some fun with my camera. Barry is a very kind and generous man. Not only did he allow me to film him and ask questions, he took me on a detailed and frank journey about his life’s work. With my handheld 5DMKII camera with no external microphone or any lighting, I followed him around the property as he explained a few things to me. In my haste, I forgot to switch off the Image Stabiliser on the 24-105mm lens I was using and the sound has a nasty rattle running through everything I shot. I don’t think it matters because the industrial setting does allow for such mechanical noises but I did also reduce it in Post Production. I used Final Cut Pro and Soundtrack Pro to edit “The Beekeeper”. Using the noise removal tools in Soundtrack Pro greatly helped the audibility of the dialogue.

At the time of filming, I was using the 1.0.4 firmware so everything was 30fps only. I converted all the footage to Sony’s XDCAM 35mb/sec format because mostly I was cutting on a laptop and I didn’t want the files size to bog me down. It’s actually a really great codec that looks nice without getting silly on the file sizes. Because Canon hadn’t released it’s FCP plugin, the conversion was done in Mpeg Streamclip. Back in Final Cut Pro I did add some colour adjustments here and there but not on everything. I loved mostly how it looked as it came off the camera. Because the day was quite gloomy and dark, I was shooting wide open and the resulting depth of field is very pleasing. The tones in the scene were largely monotone browns and blacks, which helped give the images an amazing look. So not much was needed to enhance the overall look and feel.

In less then two hours, I had shot an interview, a good amount of cutaways that I could add as overlay and said goodbye to Barry. I can tell you as practicing filmmaker, that is very fast. To add to it, I was completely by myself. In the professional world I can’t do that! So the power of my 5DMKII is not lost on my at all. Some would argue, “Well hang on, I could do that before with my camcorder!” That’s true, but we could never do the job with such film style and aesthetics. At best we could approach Television style news gathering quality but not a rich Cinema experience. Armed with my laptop, I was also able to do most things on battery power and in the field with no other resources such as tape decks, edit suit, or sound studio! Does that change the ability to tell a great story? – I certainly think it helps.

Several months later I went back to see Barry but this time I took along good friend Tibor Hegedis, who lives in Daylesford as well. He’s an experienced filmmaker in his own right and he was gracious enough to come along and help me re-shoot the doco but this time with more gear, more time etc. We shot for most of the day and I used a Dolly, Lights and Pro level Sound Gear to record interviews etc. However, a really strange thing occurred later. As I was cutting the new footage, I felt it looked manufactured and fake. It looked setup! I actually felt crestfallen by it because I had worked so hard to make better the situation. So for the next few months I kind of left it and moved on to other work. Recently I looked at the original raw edit and was surprised that it was actually quite watchable. The rawness of the interview and the unplanned nature of the questions even seemed to be more honest and believable then the revised version. So after much indecision I decided to post it on Vimeo.com so the world at least could pass comment. Barry’s story is worth watching and he really is an engaging individual. Hopefully, with so many DSLR’s now out in the world shooting video, the lives of individuals, Societies and their hard work can be better recorded for the future. It’s exciting to see technology advance but when it has such a profound impact on our own lives and the lives of the next generation, I can truly appreciate the importance of such a technological change.

Feel free to comment yourself. Enjoy!

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