We caught up with our friend Daniel Dressel and asked him some questions about his experiences in the industry and his kit. Find out more as he tells you the things most people won’t about working as an Artist.
How did you get into film? What’s your background?
I am a professional artist. I was born in 1985. My two brothers and me grew up on the German country side next to the Czech border. Hof, the biggest town in the area, used to be the last train stop before the Iron Curtain. After high school I went to India to do a voluntary Social Year, during which I worked with mentally disabled people.
When I decided to come to London to do a Master at Goldsmiths University, I soon realized that it was almost impossible for me to afford the rent, the fees, the cost of living and to focus on my studies at the same time without making debts. I had to find an alternative, a coping strategy, a way to enter the city. My solution was to buy a cheap old van in Germany. I restored it and I converted it into a mobile live/work studio. In August 2014, I drove it to London. With the help of friends I discovered Cody Dock in the London Borough of Newham, where I could safely park.
Officially I am Cody Dock’s first artist in residence.
In 2016 I graduated from Goldsmiths University, Master of Fine Arts (MFA). Since then I’ve been busy with my own projects. I mainly work with video. Some of my work is very complex and technically demanding. To produce and show my work I’ve had to accumulate quite a few pieces of kit throughout the last couple of years. I always thought that renting equipment for the time I needed to use it was too expensive. It was always cheaper to buy it.
Next to my work as an artist I try to get additional jobs as a freelance videographer, where I can use my equipment and apply the skills I developed as an artist to earn some extra money.
What have you been working on lately?
Last year I had a few exhibitions, of which one was Polygon.
Polygon probably is the most complex work I’ve made until now. It is composed of a synchronised 4-channel video installation, in full HD (each channel 1080p), 60:00 min long, with 8-channel audio. The four videos are back-projected onto four floating screens. The videos shift their position between these screens with the audio panning accordingly. To watch the work the viewer has to be active and follow the movement of the video he or she wants to watch.
The installation is based on the structure of a Boxing Ring. One of my goals was to explore the relationships between class, community, finance and capital in the context of London’s former docklands. The videos draw parallels between prize fighting in Martial Arts and the relentless prize fight in London’s property market, while juxtaposing the violent image of Boxing with the authority of the financial system. At the same time I wanted to explore an inverted structure: even though Boxing has a violent image, it is rooted in the social context of the gym. I train Muay Thai at a gym in Bethnal Green, where I also shot a lot of the footage. The financial system on the other hand, one could argue, is rooted in a violent underlaying structure (i.e. see the effects of gentrification on the traditional working classes in London). I shot all the video, the only exception is the historic footage which belongs to the PLA collection, Museum of London.
A little later I also had a commercial job with a friend who is also freelancing. We shot in Norway, and I was on crew as a steady cam operator to document the Landrover BORN awards. We delivered a short video, that was published on the Landrover website.
How would you describe your style? And how does it differ from other production companies?
To be honest, I have not yet looked at other production companies. I take the work I can get. But I also take the freedom to say no to some opportunities because most important to me is my work as an artist. Maybe that is already a big difference to other production companies. I won’t take all jobs, especially if I had to compromise my work as an artist. However, whenever I take a job I am 100% invested and I do my best to deliver what the customer and me agreed upon.
I am also not sure what to say about my style. Recently I started to construct my own work as video loops, without clearly defined beginning and end. But I think that every project requires different means to be accomplished. The style has to change in accordance with the conceptual framework. I like to be flexible.
What kind of projects make you excited to do the work you do? What’s your role on each project?
Usually I am always behind the camera, but sometimes I also do some of the post-production. I use Premiere Pro and I have a good computer to edit. Generally, I am more exited about projects that give me enough freedom to take my own decisions, i.e. it is great when I can move around with the camera, shoot spontaneously or try out different angles. I like when things are real, or could be real – like documentary. I’m not that much exited about film, cinema and advertisement, where everything is choreographed. Also in my own work as an artist there often is an aspect of documentary.
Can you tell us about your process?
When I have an initial idea it can sound a bit simplistic, even naive. Yet if I feel there is something about it, I cannot let it go. This is the moment I decide that I need to make work about something and it almost always relates to the world that surrounds me, things that annoy me, things that I am angry about or something that I wished was more present in the world. It almost is as if I need to externalise something that otherwise would stay inside and make me unhappy. Then I start to research and gather material. If I work with video I go out and shoot a lot, to a point that I think I have too much. I discard shots and edit it down in order to make sense of it in a final piece of work. The outcome can be quite different from the initial idea, because in the process of making the work there is a constant negotiation between concept,content, chance and what I want.
I like when a piece of work remains ‘open’. The work I make is supposed to address the issues I want to put forward, without preaching or forcing a political agenda onto the viewer.
What inspires most of your productions?
In general I am interested in questions of identity, migration, class, coping strategies, (self-) organisation and social networks.
The search for new encounters, complicities and alliances describes an attitude which foregrounds an artistic practice that is not defined or limited by a specific medium. It can be seen as a negotiation perhaps, or a spark that interferes with the structure of the world and that in turn allows others to interact with its complexities and its contradictions – an interplay of action, reaction and reflection.
In my experience, if the system is too rigid to be broken, the only viable option is to find gaps that can be exploited. For example, when I moved to London I had to ensure that my van was affordable but still met London’s Low Emission Standards to avoid excessive fines. Generally speaking: one needs to know the rules first in order to navigate them. Yet perhaps even more important than knowing those rules is a network of allies and friends.
What kind of kit do you use on a typical shoot?
In my experience there is no ‘typical shoot’. Usually, depending on the project I use different cameras (i.e. I already used a digital film camera, a DSLR, or only a mobile phone with a GoPro), lenses if required, additional microphones (i.e. clip-on lavalier for interviews, or shotgun mic and a sound recorder in a conference). I use a tripod if I don’t have to move much, or my MoviM5 for more dynamic shots. Every job and every project is different.
What’s your favourite piece of kit? Why?
I do like the Blackmagic Pocket Camera a lot because it is inconspicuous and it is possible to have it with you, ready to shoot, all the time. I can get away with filming in many places where I would otherwise not be allowed to film. And the image quality is really very good. Also I like the flexibility of it, to be able to use lenses. And I can easily use it in combination with the rest of my equipment. I.e. I can mount it on my MoviM5.
What is your most-used piece of kit? Why?
At the moment I still use my old Canon XA10, for similar reasons. Initially I bought it because it is possible to shoot continuously for several hours without having to stop the recording in full HD. I needed this function for a project in which I shoot a video in a single shot that was 9-hours long. It is the smallest professional camcorder produced by Canon to meet TV standards and it has two phantom powered XLR inputs for microphones. It is the first piece of kit I ever bought. I can use it to shoot spontaneously, it is quite small and inconspicuous and very flexible. However I do prefer the image quality of the Blackmagic Pocket Camera, which is much lighter and even more inconspicuous.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in your time in the industry?
Even if you freelance, never work without a clear written contract. A day has 8-hours, you are entitled to have your breaks and you have to be payed extra for every hour you work. If there is no clear agreement, companies will try to take advantage of you.
What advice would you give, based on your experiences?
I was given this advice after I came back to London from a job without a proper contract. I had verbally agreed to work for one and a half days as a steady cam operator. This was one of the first paid jobs I got, and it sounded exiting. We agreed that I would get paid a single day-rate. I thought it was fine for me to work for less than usual because I was new.
In the end the job lasted for 36-hours. During that time we only had a few very short breaks and less than 3-hours of sleep. In the end the customer only paid what he agreed to pay in the beginning, no extra hours. So my advice is the same: ask for a proper contract and don’t sell yourself below what you are worth.
What is something you wish someone would have told you early days about the industry?
There also is a lot more administration and paper work in any creative job than I expected. The image of the artist who just works on his own in a studio is outdated. In most cases it is almost impossible to do things on your own. There is no real independence.
If you want to find out more about Daniel visit his website here. You can also find his kit for rent here.