Exclusive Interview: Cinematographer Fabian Von Holzen
Fabian Von Holzen is a cinematographer based in Bali shooting and producing a range of stunning visual material personally and commercially through his production house called From The Woods Productions. Having just completed his most recent commission for Volcom Indonesia called "Eastern Roads", we catch up with Fabian and get to know the guy behind the lens and his thoughts on film and photography. Read more below...
G - Lets start at the beginning - Where are you from and what is your history with Bali?
FVH - I am 25 years old, half Indonesian (Balinese) and half Swiss.
G - and your history with Bali?
FVH - I was born and raised here in Bali, I went to school here then set off to university in Australia to study sports management with Film and TV and now I’ve been back in Bali for the last 5 years and working as a cinematographer and photographer.
G - So, What came first for you, taking photos or videos? and what made you start?
FVH - What made me start? Well my dad is a photographer, he has a studio at home. So, since I was a kid I grew up with this environment where theres a studio, proper lighting, film…so yeah it all began from my dad being a photographer and I fell into the same trap, I mean path! Haha, trap? (he said under his breath - he is clearly joking).
G - Freudian slip? Whats on your mind? Haha! Okay so your dad got you into filming…
FVH - Nope.
G - Oh so…
FVH - Growing up I just watched Dad take photos of… well he used to be a photographer for Vogue in the US, but then he quit and became a chef. So I grew up watching him take photos and seeing all these lenses, cameras and his work looked amazing and somehow I started to like it as well.
G - So, how did you get into the business of making surf films? Making films is one thing, but getting into the water and filming from there is another element, how did that start?
FVH - I grew up by the ocean. It’s five minutes down the road from my house - beautiful white sandy beach in Nusa Dua and I’ve always loved surfing all my life and then, when I finished uni I wanted to do something that involved surfing, so I would go on a sunset mission and take photos of waves and empty ‘line-ups’.
G - You just started with photos to begin with.
FVH - Yea, just photos. After that, I realised that there are too many photographers taking similar photos and not many people were filming. So, I was like “I’m going to try filming”.
G - How old were you at this point?
FVH - This was when I was 20. So yea, I tried out filming and I’ve stuck to it ever since.
G - So did you make a show reel first or something? I assume you didn't just get hired to do a surf film straight out of uni.
FVH - Well, I graduated uni but I actually didn’t need to write a thesis. Everyone in my class had to write a thesis to graduate, but I didn’t. I got lucky you could say as one of the professors highlighted one of my presentations called “Journey Into Indonesia” about miner in Ijen and offered me the opportunity to go to Sumatra and make a project with the SESAME Development Faculty. While everyone was writing, I was in Sumatra with 7 others putting this project together.
G - So in exchange for doing this project you were pardoned from writing a thesis?
FVH - Yep! We finished the film, brought it back to the university and then it became their marketing material to get new students and stuff. So the uni was like “Ok great, you’ve done that - off you go!”
G - Usually, cinematographers spend a lot of time fine-tuning a style or a signature, what would you say your signature is (even if you’re still working on it)? What is the “Fabian” look?
FVH - Umm. Ok, well I have friends who are also cinematographer and photographers and they always ask for suggestions and I always say to them “Whatever is in your heart, whatever you’re feeling - put it in that screen”. And if you don't feel a video clip, it’s not going to work. If you feel it, then thats good!
G - And in terms of the imagery, what is that?
FVH - It always depends on what you’re shooting, whether is wildlife or surfing. If you’re shooting surfing, just try to shoot differently every time.
G - Your recent video with Volcom Indonesia “Eastern Roads” is nothing short of epic. In your opinion, what sets this film apart from the other ones you’ve done?
FVH - A lot of surf movies or films have a lot of surfing in it and they don’t really show the journey into a culture or landscape - it’s just surfing. Surfing clip, boom, surfing clip, boom, maybe a portrait here and there. But Eastern Roads is 50/50, surfing with adventure and culture.
G - So, what specific area of Indonesia were you in?
FVH - We went down the eastern roads… (laughs)
G - Haha okay but Indonesia is comprised of thousands of islands, which particular one did you go to?
FVH - So we started at the Volcom head office in Kuta (Bali) and travelled non-stop for 24 hours by ferry and car to get to Sumbawa.
G - What makes these film trips special to you?
FVH - Oh man, what makes them special? I think it’s being lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel to different areas of Indonesia and see new cultures and new landscapes.
G - As a cinematographer, what kind of shots are your favourite to film? Is it people, nature, people in nature, busy, tranquil, slow movement or fast? Basically, what always catches your eye?
FVH - It depends on my mood actually. I like street photography for taking portraits but also portraits on the sea and in a rural village. But it’s when you put them all together and see the contrast, that is what’s amazing. Facial expressions, their wrinkles are different, you know, clean vs rugged.
G - Tell me some of the challenges you face in making these films? You said earlier that you work alone - you're a one man show.
FVH - You can be in the ocean most of the time and you’re holding all this expensive camera equipment so I’m always worried if my water housing is going to leak. You shoot from a boat and you think “what if a big wave hits us” and suddenly you’ve got salt water in your equipment. I would also say that editing can be a challenge too, because you want to be creative and feel it but you cannot force it.
G - Whilst we both know that gear isn’t always important, tell us your current setup.
FVH - I like to GH4. For lenses i have a 12-35mm for walking around…
G - I saw for Eastern Roads that you also use a drone
FVH - Yep! Lots of drone footage. So for Eastern Roads, I used my Canon 5D mkiii with a 400mm fixed f/2.8 with an extender, which is good for surfing. I also have a Canon 35mm fix, Canon 24-105mm f/4, Canon 50mm f/1.2..
G - So there’s a lot of gear on these trips! For those who are starting out in photography and videography, what advice would you give?
FVH - Oh…uh, I don’t know. I guess I’d say just follow your heart! Sounds cheesy, I know haha! People sometimes force things to happen and that’s not how it works. Like, if your mind is on cooking but you’ve got to build a table, nothing is really going to go right. So making films is the same, you want to make a film - you have to put your heart into it and mind into it.
G - You said you surf. What has surfing taught you about life - we’re getting deep here…
FVH - I’d say I’m lucky to have grown up with surfing. In Nusa Due, there aren’t really any night clubs, it’s just the beach, fishing, sleeping and surfing, you know? And in Seminyak theres nightlife and because of surfing I didn’t really get involved with this kind of culture, which allowed me to really focus on my passions. It’s also a waste of money, I think.
G - AND Lastly, if people wanted to watch more of your stuff and get in contact, where should they head to?
G - Easy! Thanks man!