‘Blue World Order’ cinematographer Robb Shaw Velzen ACS chats to Australian Cinematographer

Filmed in the nation’s capital Blue World Order sees a post-apocalyptic world where a man is desperate to protect his daughter, the last remaining child on the planet. Cinematographer Robb Shaw-Velzen ACS takes us behind-the-scenes on his first feature film.

By Robb Shaw-Velzen ACS.

Blue World Order is the first feature film from writer-directors Ché Baker and Dallas Bland. The duo collected the awards for ‘Best Film’ at the Canberra International Film Festival, and the LA Invasion Film Festival amid screenings around the world.

After a nuclear war decimates the northern hemisphere, the surviving population in the south become desperate and violent competing for scarce resources. Society crumbles, and an infectious bacteria threatens to destroy those who remain. 

Bruce Spence (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), Jack Thompson (The Man from Snowy River) and newcomer Billie Rutherford round out the cast of survivors in search of a new beginning after war and ensuing plague have pushed humankind to the edge. Titanic star Billy Zane also features in Blue World Order, his second Australian production after 1996’s The Phantom, filmed on the Gold Coast.

In an attempt to rebuild civilisation, a self-appointed government called ‘The Order’ distributes an immunisation to the bacteria. Secretly, the Order is also delivering a virus giving them power to control the population. One man (Home and Away’s Jake Ryan) remains immune to the virus and must search for a way to keep his daughter, the key to the survival of mankind, alive.

Cinematographer Robb Shaw-Velzen ACS on location with ‘Blue World Order’ – PHOTO Michael Mulirine

Blue World Order is a high octane action/sci-fi starring Zane, Thompson and Spence, filmed entirely in Canberra. I got involved with the film fairly early with the hope that Andrew Lesnie ACS ASC may be involved in some way. As it turned out, he was my mentor for much of the film although, unfortunately, he never got to see it.  

He was kind enough to offer me some wise words. “Wake up every morning,” Lesnie said, “look in the mirror and say… you are an artist! Not just a tradesperson or a craftsperson, but an artist. Go to work with that.” He also gave me this advice, “Get inside a director’s head. Annoy the shit out of them, and get inside his head.” This, as it turned out, was very good advice.

Blue World Order in an adventure story with something for every taste; laser battles, car chases, loads of science… and a DeLorean! The film is a must see for indie film lovers and sci-fi fans alike. 

We had a wonderful production design team headed up by Merryn Schofield who was simply fantastic to collaborate with. The first time I met Schofield, Baker screened for us a ‘look-and-feel trailer’ he had put together. As well as the Blue World Order short film which he had shot a year or two before. 

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Actor Jack Thompson in ‘Blue World Order’ – DOP Robb Shaw Velzen ACS

They made the short film Blue World Order in a single weekend. The final product swept the short film awards circuit and got audiences talking. Many questions followed, mostly, ‘what happens next?’

The the duo of Baker and Bland turned into a trio when Sarah Mason got involved as Co-Writer and Producer. With the advice of best-selling author and Executive Producer Matthew Reilly, the team turned out a full-length feature script for Blue World Order. 

Schofield and I had a similar sense of the look we were working together to achieve on the feature film version, and she did an amazing job making sets out of whatever she could find; canvas, tarpaulins, old furniture. I suggested places she might be able to source things locally and she took it from there, picking up some amazing props along the way.  

Blue World Order called for us to create a post-apocalyptic, war-ravaged world. The look was very much barren landscape with a few resistance camps set up where leftover infrastructure stood. The Australian National University in Canberra, where we filmed a variety of scenes, were throwing out and discarding a whole bunch of vintage/retro, obsolete  technical equipment… and wait until you see how Schofield used this on our ‘Telstra Tower’ set!

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Cinematographer Robb Shaw-Velzen ACS filming a scene with actor Billy Zane on ‘Blue World Order’ – PHOTO Rob Little

We didn’t have a lot of money to throw at big camera and lens packages. I had a few different cameras however. At the time I was loving the BlackMagic 4K production camera. This, coupled with my own Canon Cine Zoom lenses, meant we could shoot in 4K resolution and occasionally, when things got tough, I could shoot RAW.  

We filmed difficult low-light scenes in the Wee Jasper Caves in New South Wales with a Canon C500. We were filming three-hundred meters underground in the caves (Mad Cap’s Lair) for four days. Although tough, it was forty degrees outside so nice to escape from the heat and flies. When the light got so low that we needed 1.4 and 1.2s I pulled out some really nice Canon primes. My First Assistant Camera, Jeffrey Truong, loved shooting with these zooms wide open and remarked at one point that they where just as sharp. I think the glass helped us incredibly on the film as they all matched beautifully and look amazing on the big screen.

There is a lot of dialogue, action and fight sequences down in the caves. I wanted to see as much of the background of the limestone walls as I could without adding too much light. I could not have achieved what we did without Canon Australia and the C500 package. Everything else would have being too big and cumbersome to get what we needed down the mines in the limited time we had. I am very pleased with the results.

There was a lot of computer-generated visual effects to contend with on Blue World Order, much more than I expected. Our visual effects team did a great job; sky replacements, moons, mountains, explosions! All the on-screen technology in the Telstra Tower set and the laboratories was to be added onto the screens in post-production. I became mindful of this given most of the film is hand-held, or where tracking was needed and the pace slowed down a little. There were a couple of scenes which required green and blue screen, such as an elevator escape sequence mostly shot in a gymnasium where my eldest son trains.

Stephen Hunter in Blue World Order
A scene from the film ‘Blue World Order’ – DOP Robb Shaw Velzen ACS

I very much like the tower scenes with actor Billy Zane, featuring some wonderful crane work by Peter Daniels. Daniels kept making himself available because he was having so much fun on the shoot. The crane shots add so much to Blue World Order and also meant I could put the camera down for a bit.

Baker and I understood that we didn’t have all the time or money in the world. We took the approach that we wouldn’t budge on the performances and gave the actors a lot of freedom. This sometimes drove Throng crazy as First Assistant Camera, and he would often ask, “What’s happening? Where are they going?” I would simply reply, “I don’t know… let’s follow them and find out!” Luckily, Throng loves a challenge and was always able to follow them sharply, and with professionalism.

I had worked with some of our crew previously. We all got along very well. We had a saying on set: ‘You’ve got one job.’ Even though, saying that, many of us had more than one job, however every crew member needed to focus on the task at hand and do it to the best of their abilities. I asked a lot of my assistants and props department. Anytime I could get an extra set of hands, to move scrims, lights or roll cables it became all hands on deck. 

Low-budget films are like this. Everyone is glad to be learning something new, being part of a team and knowing they are helping contribute to the final product which everybody can be proud of.

Cinematographer Robb Shaw-Velzen ACS on location with ‘Blue World Order’ – PHOTO Rob Little

After we finished filming we were in capable hands. I wasn’t overly involved during post-production on Blue World Order however we were fortunate to have James Lane on board as Editor and Warren Eagles as Colourist. Both did such an amazing job cutting around the 4K, and pacing up the shots.

Baker and Dallas set out to achieve a fun, action-packed science-fiction film with some depth to the story. Not simply a bunch of fight scenes and one-liners. We managed to make a film which is a cross between Star Wars and Mad Max… on the budget of a Storm Trooper’s lunch.  I am really proud of what we have managed to put together. Everyone who sees Blue World Order has told me it looks like a multi-million dollar production. If only they knew! That’s good enough for me for my first feature. My first full-length, super low-budget feature. 

Blue World Order was been completely independently financed through a group of investors who have a passion for film and for growing the creative industry in Australia. “We have not received any federal or state funding to produce the feature,” explains Co-Writer/Producer Sarah Mason. “We have, however, received a provisional certificate from Screen Australia, which means we will be able to claim the producer offset for Qualifying Australian Production Expenditure now the film is complete.

Since Blue World Order it has been back to freelancing, which I love. It gives me the diversity of shooting something completely different everyday, from music videos to television commercials to documentaries. I recently returned from Asia shooting a corporate for Symantec, and last year I worked on the Menin Gate Lions documentaries for Max Uechtritz at Kundu Productions. 

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A scene from the film ‘Blue World Order’ – DOP Robb Shaw Velzen ACS

I can’t say too much yet, however I do have a potential feature coming up, which I am very much looking forward to. I love working with actors and helping add to the drama.

Looking back at Blue World Order, next time I want a gaffer. Someone like Nick De Laine or Simon Williams to bring all their toys, and to be in on the final grade… that will be in my next contract!

Robb Shaw-Velzen ACS is an award-winning international film and television career spanning two decades. He has received multiple Australian Cinematographers Society awards, including the prestigious Gold Tripod at the 2009 for Icon’s ‘Tara Moss’.

To view the film, visit www.bwomovie.com

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