Taylor Gill served as both cinematographer and lead editor for True North, a new docutainment series that’s now streaming on Verizon Go90. The show takes the viewers on a trip deep into the Arctic, telling stories of the people, places and animals that live in one of the most remote and rapidly-changing parts of our planet.
Here, Gill takes time to speak with Post and detail his work on the series.
What cameras/resolution was the program shot with?
“The bulk of the show was shot on the Canon C300 MarkII, which was recording at either 4K or 1080p to Cfast 2.0 cards, plus a low-bitrate backup to SD card. These proxy files were used by our assistant editors to prep the episodes. Additionally, we often utilized a Canon 1DXmII, a couple DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ drones, and multiple GoPro Hero 5s.
“In the field, I was frequently changing resolutions and frame rates to give us plenty of options in the edit. As much as I would have loved to shoot everything in 4K, I did a lot of resolution and storage estimates while prepping for the series and realized it was both cost prohibitive and risky on a three-month production to shoot entirely in 4K. Since we were filming in such a remote area, it wasn’t like we could just run to the store and buy additional hard drives if we were running low on space.”
How did you determine what would be shot in 4K and what wouldn’t?
“Interviews were all shot in 4K to allow us to reframe while keeping our footprint small by only running one camera, which was the only practical option while filming on boats, glaciers, etc. I found the 1DXmII sweet spot was 4K@60p and also had some fun running 120fps while filming herds of reindeer migrating across Norway, an arctic fox, and during some intense storms out at sea - which allowed for lots of speed ramping and zooms/reframes in the edit.”
Talk about the look of the series?
“In post, one technique that was often used was the ‘dolly+zoom’ effect on drone shots…so as the camera flew forward toward a subject, I’d keyframe a slow zoom out to counter it. This often resulted in a surreal perspective shift, especially on shots above glaciers or soaring over melting sea ice where the viewers sense of scale is already distorted.”
You were on location for production, but did you use any stock footage?
“Stock footage was extremely valuable to this series. The history of the arctic is a recurring theme, so we were frequently looking for archival film and images of the early polar explorers. Incredibly, Roald Amundsen had a filmmaker tag along during a few arctic expeditions in the early 1900s and they captured some incredible film footage from his trip to the North Pole, which we were able to license through different Norwegian libraries and museums.
“On many occasions, we would come across archived photos or video that would have almost identical framing to something we shot, so I tried to use those visual matches to transition back in time. Since we were pulling from a variety of sources and stocks, I used a combination of adjustment layers, film grunge and floating particle effects to create a ‘look’ for these archival resources and animated them on/off with a film projector sound effect to try and create some continuity between each episode.
“The Premium Access plan for Getty Images was a fantastic resource as well, so I would frequently download many more low-resolution comps than we would need for certain scenes until we found the best options. With pretty minimal color grading, we were able to incorporate the occasional stock footage cutaway shot in-scene that I think will go unnoticed to most viewers.”
What editing system did you use and what was your process like?
“I chose to edit on Adobe Premiere CC for its ability to quickly handle mixed resolutions/codecs and its easy integration with the rest of the CC apps. While in the field, I would backup all our media at the end of each day to a 48TB G-Tech Shuttle XL, configured in RAID 1, as well as portable Western Digital 4TB USB drives. Since we [were] constantly travelling, these drives were always in waterproof Pelican cases to keep them secure while out at sea, camping or travelling through airports. We had 4 G-Tech EV SSD drives as well, which were crucial during our two weeks out at sea when the weather was too rough to run the spinning drives. Then, when the waves calmed, the EV SSDs could just slide into two open bays on the Shuttle RAID to safely archive the footage.”
How big of was the crew?
“In post, we had a small team - myself (lead editor), Michelle Boley (director and story editor), Brittany Donahue (assistant editor) and Pete Larsen (assistant editor/editor). With 16 episodes to turn around to Verizon Go90, plus eight additional half episodes for HuffPost, organization and tagging were vital for tracking down specific moments.
“After three months of production in the Arctic circle, Michelle and I returned to Los Angeles and jumped into post production within a couple of days. We had shipped a hard drive with about half of our proxy footage back to our assistant editor, Brittany Donahue, who had been creating stringouts, syncing multi-cams and organizing the master project file.
Talk about media management?
“For all the interviews, the AEs created individual subclips for each answer and added many keywords into the description field, which would help us find a specific sound bite later. Since one interview subject may reappear in multiple episodes across the series, this proved to be an effective method that allowed us to use the bin search options and quickly see our options.
“B-roll was categorized similarly, though usually attaching these keyword tags to title cards or sequences. In addition, all the footage was organized by camera type, shoot date, location and episode - so footage could be culled through in different ways based on the moment we were looking for. If one method didn’t work, the next one typically would. Adobe’s Media Browser was a really valuable feature on this project and the ability to quickly open up previous episodes as ‘read-only’ sequences and import only what was needed was very helpful.
“Being both the primary camera operator and editor was a huge advantage as well, since I could usually remember what camera a specific moment was shot on, or an insert that could help to bridge two scenes together. The director, Michelle Boley, and I have been working together for over eight years and each episode was a very collaborative process. Once all the media was subclipped and organized into an episode project by our assistant editors, Michelle would take the first pass, making selects and choosing the foundational moments that she wanted to include for the episode. We’d do the next pass together to get the episode closer to length, then I’d refine with b-roll, music and montages.”
What graphics or VFX software did you make use of?
“In addition to Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects were all used to create the show’s [graphics], animated maps and all the scientific animations, which were created by Hank Thompson.”
What are some unique challenges for a project like this?
“Because it was such a small crew - just two of us on the production side of things - we were often only able to run one camera, so one of the biggest challenges in post was to make it look like we had more cameras than we did and to keep it varied. With the edit in mind during production, we shot primarily handheld and would frequently change the frame size. I would often try to time out crash-zooms with pauses in speech, which allowed us to cut together sound bites seamlessly.
“This series covers a variety of topics on the Arctic, with each episode focusing on a specific place or subject. It was a lot to juggle - once the initial trailers and promos were cut, we were working at a one episode per week pace. Creatively, this was very fulfilling - one episode we’d be cutting an action scene of reindeer crossing the tundra, then the next would be an in-depth explanation of the work scientists are doing to study climate change, then the next was the story of a Syrian family who crossed through the arctic for safe refuge in northern Norway. Each episode had its unique challenges, but the variety was also quite refreshing and freed us to try new techniques and break convention in certain episodes.
“For example in Episode 5, Arctic Eats’, the show’s hosts John Iadarola and Chavala Madlena go to Huset, an upscale restaurant located in Longyearbyen (the Northernmost town in the world), where they enjoy a 14-course meal of unique arctic cuisine like reindeer, whale and seal. This dinner was over six hours long, so with one camera filming the food preparation in the kitchen and the second camera locked-off on the hosts, we had 10-plus hours of content for what would end up being an eight-minute scene. We selected our music first to set the tone of different courses and leaned into the fast paced jazz music to pack in cutaways and shots of food preparation. On the lock-off camera, we embraced jump cuts to enhance the comedy and punctuate certain moments as the hosts become increasingly intoxicated with each course, which was accompanied by a wine pairing. This scene was a lot of fun to edit.”
Where can we watch the series?
“The series can be viewed on Verizon Go90’s streaming platform at: