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  • Writer's pictureClaire Labry

Doors of Glory: della Awards

A peacock-like bird that poses with large blue feathers behind it. The title below the bird is 'della Award 2023'

Dear reader, have you ever heard of the small town of Potsdam, Germany? Probably not, at least us folks at Bus Door Films didn’t. If you have, you may know that Potsdam is famous for its large influence in the film industry that dates back to the early 1910s. Potsdam was dubbed the ‘Creative City of Film’ by UNESCO in 2019. It is also the home of the second oldest large-scale film studio in the world, known as Studio Babelsberg. You might know the movie, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ by the famous director, Wes Anderson? Or Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’? Well, fun fact, both of those films were filmed in Studio Babelsberg! Alright, alright, enough with the fun trivia. You never know you might end up on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire' and the question pops up, ‘In what famous film studio was ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ filmed in?’ Well, remember us when you win one million dollars!

Bradley and Ruan pose together, in tuxedos and Ruan is holding the Best Camera Award. The award is a gold figure of a person with wings reaching up in the air. Both co-founders are smiling at the camera.
Bradley Gantt and Ruan du Plessis pose for a photo op

Bus Door Films had the exciting opportunity to attend the della Awards that was held in Potsdam. Ruan, one of our two cofounders was nominated for ‘Best Camera’ for ‘What? The Movie’. It was a great opportunity for us to go meet like-minded deaf artists and explore the Creative City of Film, and of course receive the award for ‘Best Camera.

Let’s rewind back to 2019. *vintage film strip reel visual effect* You’re now on the set of ‘What? The Movie’ in sunny Los Angeles, you’re sitting in one of those fancy director chairs. You’re watching the author of this blogpost interview Ruan and Bradley of Bus Door Films.

A film crew captures a scene on the 'What? The Movie'
on the set of 'What? The Movie'

Author: Ruan and Bradley, tell me more about your experience of filming this production?

Ruan: This is actually my first black and white film. Alek Lev, writer and director of this movie, who introduced and challenged me to bring his inspired actor and silent movie by Buster Keaton’s style to this What? Movie. It has been a great learning experience as the director of photography.

Bradley: Three months after founding Bus Door Films, this was our first full feature film gig. Everything that Ruan and I’ve dreamt of, it was right here, in front of our eyes. This defining moment marked the realization of our vision, this project marked the true launch of Bus Door Films' mission, and we were incredibly fortunate to collaborate with an exceptional cast and crew. A: What are some notable things you’ve learned with this production that you will treasure forever?

A film crew looks on to capture a scene with two train cars surrounding them
Behind the scenes of capturing an unmoving train shot

R: In every production that I am involved in, there are always some tricky shots to make the scene look like a million dollar shot. With this production, the tricky shot was the train scene where two of the main characters of the movie are arriving in the United States from Spain. It was actually taken at an abandoned train station in Los Angeles. The train just sat there. Yep, not budging at all. So we had to get creative to make it look like the train was moving. The trick was to use a dolly that rolls on a long rail track (apart from the train tracks) and have the lead actor (person picking his relatives from the train station) stand in front of the camera on the dolly. We had crew members push the dolly and with a medium shot, we successfully created a cinematic movement that allowed us to depict that the train was actually moving. With Bradley’s gaffer / lighting magic, we also added lighting to reflect on the train windows to show the actor’s heads. I will forever cherish the team’s effort to make this shot convincing and magical.

B: This experience was one-of-a-kind production, whereas many people of different communication methods worked together on a film set, especially when there were deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing individuals. As the gaffer of this production, I faced some unique challenges working with my crew as the Hollywood filmmaking industry has been accustomed to wearing walkie-talkies on the sets. My deaf crew, including myself, do not use any walkie-talkies, but my hearing crew used them. It was a bit jarring to work together and there were some gaps of communication at first. Fortunately, we worked with an excellent group of interpreters and they were able to accommodate my hearing crew’s communication needs. A few days later, we all were communicating through gestures, a few words of sign language, and typing on the phones. We understood each other well later on.

A: What were some of the biggest challenges of filming a black and white movie? R: One of the challenges was to create a black and white style film. Especially working with modern digital cameras and lighting that had technological advancements that were not available back in the 1920-30’s. There are a range of black and white varieties in film, be it more of a stark contrast between white and black or a milky/dewy black and white style. So I worked with Alek Lev (the director) to determine which style of black and white should be used for a modern-day era movie. We managed to pull a successful style with a mixture of both (contrast and milky black and white).

B: Gaffers play a crucial role in black and white cinematography, as they are responsible for manipulating lighting to create the desired mood, atmosphere, and visual effects. In the absence of color, texture and form become even more prominent in black and white cinematography. With modern digital cameras, I had to use lighting to accentuate textures, such as wrinkles in skin, the grain of wood, or the roughness of fabric, to enhance visual storytelling to the director’s liking. This had taken much more time than anticipated, but regardless, it was a feat to accomplish that I’m very proud of our film crew.

Two photos depicting a comparison of the different black and white styles. On the left is a shot from one of Buster Keaton's movies with a man with a tuxedo looks at the camera with a surprised face. The photo on the right is from 'What? The Movie' The man in the scene is standing and has his hand on his chest. He is attempting to order a cappuccino without much success.
A black and white comparison from one of Buster Keaton's movies and 'What? The Movie'

**<this interview above is in the imagination from the author’s head; it didn’t happen on the actual set of the What? production. These questions were actually asked several years later in this blog, but for imagination’s sake, these questions were fictionally asked on set>** Fast forward to the present day. *reverse vintage film strip reel visual effect* You’re sitting in the audience of the della Awards. You’re wearing the chic-est/elegant outfit you own. You’re feeling very high class. You see the familiar faces of Lauren Ridloff, Troy Kotsur, Nyle DiMarco, Deanne Bray, Shoshannah Stern, and Louis Neethling.

After some champagne and chatter, the awards begin. They start to go through the awards, until they reach the ‘Best Camera’ award. You see Ruan du Plessis’s name, in large gold letters on the screen, the lights are flashing and you see that the cameraman is looking for Ruan on the screen (much like what they do in the Oscars when someone wins an award). You see a huge wave of applause as Ruan walks up to the stage and says to the audience: ‘My apple watch is warning me that my resting heart rate is 120!’ *Ruan searches for Troy in the audience* Ruan asks Troy ‘How can you handle this?’ You see Troy laughing.

A monochrome shot of the 'Best Camera' presented at della AWARDs in Potsdam, Germany. It is a golden figure that is reaching up in the air and has a old-style film strip surrounding the figure.
della Award :: 'Best Camera'

Ruan tells the award presenter that he must touch and feel the award and you see that it’s beautiful. Ruan tells us that now his heart rate has slowed down. Some award, huh?

Ruan shares his beautiful tribute (on-and-off screen): ‘What a long journey it has been for me. I was born in South Africa. The first little spark of flame in my beginnings as a filmmaker was that I was involved in a few episodes of Shakies. I was only 10-years old and had the opportunity to work with Louis Neethling (*who was also in the audience*) who was the director of the children’s programs. He was responsible for developing ideas, stories and was the lead actor. While I was on set, I saw a huge camera that was responsible for filming the show and wanted to touch it but since I was a little boy, I was promptly told, no. Some years later, my parents helped me bring that spark of flame when we moved to the United States. This is where all of the teachers, friends, and professional colleagues, who have contributed to making that flame bigger. They believed in me, the boy who hailed from South Africa, who got to film different kinds of projects including short films, feature films, music videos and more.

Seven figures stand in front of a camera posing with Ruan and Bradley. They are all smiling and in formal attire.
The 'What? The Movie' actors and film crew

Bradley and I began Bus Door Films (video production business) and just a few months later, we had the opportunity to work with John Maucere and his team to create a full black and white feature film. We had a wonderful team of 10 crew members who worked with us to create the magic behind ‘What?’ The Movie.

Ruan receives his award and steps off the stage, and you see hands shooting up in the air waving an applause for Ruan du Plessis of Bus Door Films. You see that folks rush to Ruan and Bradley and congratulate them for their wonderful achievement. You look on in pride, smile, and think to yourself, ‘Well-deserved, I cannot wait to see what’s in store for Bus Door Films. See you both walk at the Cannes Film Festival? You bet.

A monochrome photo of Ruan looking at the camera holding the della award for 'Best Camera' He is grinning widely.
Ruan holds the 'Best Camera' della award

*screen fades to black*


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