Cinematographer Dom West on shooting his unique rollerblading films between work trips to Africa and the Arctic – by Mark Miller
Dom West has been working as a director and cinematographer at Untitled Film Works for the past five years now. A small, Sydney-based production company, lead by Milli Award-winning Abraham Joffe ACS, they specialise in long-form documentary and natural history programming best known for the outstanding series Tales by Light on Netflix as well as Big Cat Tales on Animal Planet.
West started rollerblading in the mid-1990s when he was about ten-years-old. From the outset, he and his brother would film each other with their father’s VHS-C camcorder as a way to study their technique and document their progress. Over the years this gradually developed into something more serious as West would put together short films of his friends.
Just over a decade ago now, West moved to Australia where he found himself embedded in the thriving Sydney rollerblading community. It was here that he began to dedicate himself to making films on a more professional level, which has since been fuelled further through working with Abraham on projects with Untitled Film Works. “Now I try to make films that showcase this often misrepresented sport to a wider audience and as an outlet to experiment with different ideas and filmmaking techniques,” explains West.
His approach to making this type of film is strongly rooted in the traditional ‘skate video’ style of fisheyes and follow shots, as this is what he grew up on. Over the years, however, West’s style has developed with his career and he’s tried to incorporate more storytelling elements and cinematic techniques to his films in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. His main goal now is to represent rollerblading in the best way possible, paying homage to the sport’s rich history whilst showcasing interesting stories from around the world.
The concept behind Blue was fairly simple, to follow professional rollerblader and close friend Joe Atkinson across unique terrain through New South Wales. The timing of the project coincided with a pivotal point in Atkinson’s skating career, which made it appropriate to theme the film around the word ‘blue’, both in terms of the colour but also the emotive sense. Through Atkinson, the film attempts to showcase both the physical nature and artistic aesthetic of this sport, focusing on the more subtle aspects of Atkinson’s skating.
“As with all my personal projects, I was shooting alone on this one and so I had to be smart with my kit,” says West. “For the most part I shot handheld on the RED Gemini with Canon Cine primes, which was compact enough to manage alone without compromising the look I wanted the film to have.” For some tracking shots, West used a gimbal whilst on his skates to give the footage a more clinical look, and for aerials he used a Mavic II.
Although West considers himself primarily a director/cinematographer, he finds it hard to not be heavily involved with post-production. “This is how I have always worked as a filmmaker,” says West. “On small passion projects like this I usually produce, shoot and edit, and since there is no budget I will do my best at sound and colour also.” As with most of West’s films post-production for Blue was fitted in around several work trips, with a lot of time spent editing on long-haul flights and layovers.
There are several projects currently in production at Untitled Film Works which will keep the team busy into 2020, including an African wildlife series and an “Arctic feature with a powerful message.” As for skate projects, right now West is working on a piece that looks at the significance of the history of the Australian rollerblading scene, whilst also in pre-production for a short documentary on a unique story in Lagos, Nigeria. Watch this space.
Dom West is a director and cinematographer with Untitled Film Works.
Mark Miller is a contributor to Australian Cinematographer Magazine.