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[A Photographer's Notes] Behind the Camera: Interviewing Ice Climber Gihado Kadota

Filming an interview with Japan's top ice climber was a challenge for sure, but offered great lessons shared here by action photographer Jason Halayko.

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Read the interview here. 

Although my profession is stills photography, I have always had an itch to work on filming videos as well. When I was in junior high and high school, one of my friends had a VHS film camera (the thing was a beast of a camera). We used it to make all kinds of silly videos for school projects and fun afternoons alike. Good times and good memories for sure.

Since then I have always wanted to do more filming, so I started YouTube to get more practice filming and editing. But I never had a camera with high enough quality that I thought it would be able to film anything on a professional level. Now that I have the Nikon Z9, though, that has changed. And I have started to step out of my comfort zone, yea, fun…Haha.

My first longer project has been a recent interview I filmed, edited, and translated, of Japanese ice climber Gihado Kadota. This was a pretty big challenge for me, but a great learning experience, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful people at JAPAN Forward for giving me the opportunity to do this. Thanks!!

Ice Climbing: On The Job Learning

On the day of the interview I was a little nervous to be honest. Not only had I never filmed a full interview before, but this would be my first time meeting Gihado ー and seeing ice climbing as well. Thankfully, during our 20 minute drive from the station to his training gym we were able to chat and get to know each other, allowing both of us to relax a bit for sure. 

Upon arrival at his ice climbing gym, I was quite surprised at the very "do it yourself" (DYI) nature of the gym itself. If you have seen the interview you would have noticed that the building looks very dilapidated from the outside, like a forgotten shed in the very back of a farmers property. 

Once you enter, though, you can see that it's the perfect place for focused training. No electricity, no gas, no running water. In other words, no distractions. The perfect place to just "shut up and train," as my martial arts sensei would say. 

Getting the Light Right

For me as the filmer, I was lucky that there was a lot of light, and it was a nice day. I didn’t bring any lights with me so it was great to be able to have nice natural light. 

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For photography this would have been perfect, but while filming our interview I noticed a cloud must have gone in front of the sun and my camera was set to 100% manual mode. This meant for a bit of the interview Gihado was not as light as I would have liked. Good lesson learned. 

By shooting with only natural light I am at the mercy of the elements and things can change quickly. So maybe the next time I find myself in this situation, I will have my ISO on AUTO so the camera can adapt on the fly for me, and I don’t have to stop the interview to wait for better light. Or, I can get some lights that are easy to carry. Will look into both options for sure.

It's All About People

As the interview went on, I was happy to see that Gihado and I had a good rapport going and we were both having fun. Although he was a little nervous, he answered his questions clearly, making the interview go very smoothly. 

Having been a server at Denny’s and a bartender in Canada for several years I am quite comfortable talking with people I have just met. And people just open up to me randomly for some reason. 

I think this skill is something I get from my mom, as she was an amazing server at Denny’s for way too many years. She taught me by example how to deal with all walks of people. Thanks mom! 

Letting the B-Roll Tell the Story

After the interview came the hard work for both of us. As Gihado is an ice climber and we were at his gym I really wanted to get lots of cool B-Roll film to use in the interview. Good B-Roll film can really enhance the quality of an interview, and helps tell the full story of the person being interviewed. 

Gihado was amazingly cooperative and just kept on climbing, time and time again. It was amazing to see his climbing skills on the wall with his axes! I was so taken back by his moves once or twice I actually forgot to record ー haha. 

Taking the B-Roll was super fun though. Each time Gihado climbed he would do a long set of movements that gave me lots of time to move around and try different angles and shots. Thankfully he climbed about 5 times in total, so each time I was able to change my lens, and even play with my GoPro 360 camera for a bit as well. 

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Just like when I am taking photos, it's best to have a wide variety of shots for the B-Roll. Tight shots, wide shots, shots showing specific details, shots of extra elements in the area, etc. This was lots of fun.

Hints to Make the Job Easier

Also, with regards to B-Roll, I think it is important to take notes of what the person is explaining and remember to take specific shots of these elements after the initial interview is over. 

For example, Gihado at one point explains how ice climbers wear crampons on their shoes. So I made a point of taking a few shots of these shoes to use during the interview. 

This time I didn’t take notes during the interview, but I think next time I interview someone I will take physical notes to remember any elements they mention that I can film afterwards for B-Roll. More lessons learned!! Yea! 

In the end, what I thought might only take a few hours, ended up taking much longer. But we were both having a good time. Gihado even mentioned it was really nice to have someone to chat with while he was training, as he almost always trains alone. Being the No. 1 ice climber in Japan, the routes he has set up are quite challenging. So not many people are able to keep up with his pace. 

Editing the Interview

After the filming it was time to edit the interview. This is another skill all on its own for sure. 

I used a free software called DaVinci Resolve, which is great for beginners and pros, and the free version is way more than I needed for this project. While I won’t go into many details here, there is one point I would like to make. Back in our VHS camera days, if there was something we wanted to know about filming/editing we would have to go to the library, or take classes, or find someone in the industry. That is all very time consuming and potentially expensive. 

In this day and age though, thanks to YouTube, you can learn anything, for free, in seconds. If you don’t know how to stabilize your footage? Need help organizing your timeline? Not sure how to add subtitles quickly? There is a video for just about ANY question you could have. It's such an amazing time to be creative and trying to learn something new! 

So, although it was my first time filming an interview like this, I am very happy I tried and stepped out of my comfort zone. With anything in life, you just have to get out and try it. 

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Sure, you can watch how-to videos, or read how-to books, but it’s not until you are actually physically trying to do "the thing" that you understand the difficulties, and learn the real hands-on lessons you need to get better. I am sure I will look back on this interview in a few years and notice all my beginner mistakes. But for the moment I am quite happy with how the interview video turned out and am looking forward to interviewing someone else again soon. 

Any suggestions?

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Jason Halayko is a professional photographer specializing in action sports and portrait photography. Follow him on Twitter (@jason_halayko) and Instagram (@jason_halayko).

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