British filmmaker/videographer Danny Germain spent several weeks in Costa Rica for his family vacation last year. He hadn’t been to the Central American country, but had heard and seen a lot about it before. Danny was only allowed so many kilograms of luggage, but made sure to pack his camera. We talked with him about his trip, filming in Costa Rica, and how the video came together in post-production.
What were you expecting Costa Rica to be like?
I wasn’t really sure. It’s not a place that anyone I know had been to. It’s quite far away so it’s not an obvious destination for people here in the UK, I’d had one family-friend who had been before. I’d seen so many different landscapes — jungles and volcanoes and beautiful beaches — and it just seemed like a place that had everything. So I didn’t really go with any expectations, I was just going to wait and see when I got there.
When you were there, how did you decide what and how to shoot?
I made things a bit difficult for myself really, because I didn’t have an end-vision of what I wanted to make. I was there for three weeks and obviously I didn’t want to spend the entire time running around with a camera, but I was very conscious that this was a place I wasn’t likely to revisit anytime soon. I kind of blanket-covered everything — just a mixture of details and whatever I saw when I was out and about that caught my eye.
There’s a lot of animal visuals in the video, they’re sort of a dominating theme. Can you talk about why you chose to include all those animals?
My degree at university was in wildlife conservation, and I’d actually written an essay on the Monteverde Cloud Forest, which is a big natural reserve in Costa Rica. It’d been awhile since any of my filmmaking had directly linked to wildlife or anything like that — I made a film from Malawi a few months before, in which I focused on the people rather than the landscapes. I did head out with the intention of including a focus on the natural surroundings as opposed to featuring the local people.
And did you just see those animals while you were doing your regular vacation activities? Or did you set out to go and find them?
A bit of both.
In certain places, we’d take a boat down the river and we’d go out looking for iguanas, or sloths, or whatever. Some happened to be inside the hotel — I filmed some of those scenes just off my balcony in the middle of the rainforest, which was incredible.
Actually, it wasn’t difficult to find any of those animals. I’m sure [the video] gives the illusion that I could’ve spent three months camping out looking for the perfect shot, but they all came to me very easily. I think the shot that took the longest was the shot of the hummingbird. They move so quickly! I had to try to preempt where it was going to be, so just outside of the frame there was a flower that I’d seen loads of hummingbirds go to. I set up the camera, rested it on my bag to keep it stable, and just waited and waited and waited. Some of them were a bit far forward and out of focus, some were just a bit off frame, so I was getting really frustrated because I’d set my mind on getting this shot and it was taking a while. Eventually, patience paid off and, after about an hour, I got it.
But otherwise, you can just go walking for 10 minutes outside and you’ll hear things and see things. It’s a very beautiful place.
Do you think that your video evokes what it’s like to be in Costa Rica?
I hope so. For me, even when I watch it now, I feel how I felt at the time, which is nice. I don’t feel like I’ve made some grand, marketing promotional tool that’s going to get everyone to go to Costa Rica — I’d do that very differently. But it’s more of an off-the-beaten track type feeling.
How did the video come together in post-production? What did the editing process entail?
Lots and lots of time! Because I didn’t really know what I was going to make at the end of it, I came back and I had a whole bunch of other jobs so I didn’t edit it for a long time afterwards. I had a nice break in between — I think six weeks or so — before I even got the chance to look at the footage again.
I sat there with hundreds of gigabytes of content and was like, “Oh boy.” I knew I wanted to keep it quite short. There’s a real danger when you blanket-cover everything that you end up making something that’s a lot longer than it needs to be. My idea was to pick the song, pick out the selects I knew I wanted to use, and then design the film around the song. I would spend hours and hours and hours looking through different soundtracks and I would get disheartened and I’d leave it — I’d give it three days and I wouldn’t even touch it. But then when that song came about, all of the sudden, it all came together very quickly. I found that the clips matched the song great and [the video’s] length was defined by the length of the song. That forced me to be really ruthless and only use the best bits that I had as opposed to dragging it out.
What kind of mood or tone were you trying to evoke with the video once you had all the footage?
I didn’t want to create something that I feel didn’t reflect what I was feeling at the time. So, for example, the very obvious choices of using some kind of Latin-American music choice, which would have been very upbeat I didn’t feel was appropriate.
[Costa Rica] is one of the loudest countries I’ve ever been to. It’s all natural sounds, typically where we went were very rural areas. So I tried to feature that and just a sense of tranquility really, as opposed to the hustle and bustle of cities. I didn’t really want a dominant soundtrack or anything.
I spent a lot of time trying to find the right song. One of my favorite musicians — a guy called Tom Rosenthal — I found that his track was on Audio Network, and with that I was like, “Yes!”
So much of the video was dictated by the song (About the Weather, by Tom Rosenthal) — why do you think that song worked so well?
It’s not too overpowering. It’s a very simple song. I think that that works well because it doesn’t detract from the visuals, because you still enjoy what you’re seeing and it’s complemented by what you’re hearing. I think that’s why it works. I never felt like the visuals were being lost out to the music, or vice versa. It’s not a song that I listened to whilst I was there, though he is an artist I’ve enjoyed for a while. It just seemed to come together really.
What was it like to see the final product?
Because I had a bit of trouble getting it together — I had a lot of stuff to go through, I couldn’t find a song for a long time — it felt like I was getting quite down. I wasn’t happy with it for a long time. I had all this stuff but I wasn’t quite sure how to craft it. I remember rendering it out for the last time and playing it back … and I was really happy with it. My family loved it.
It’s definitely been my most well-received bit of work. The comments from colleagues and friends were all, “Danny this is the best thing you’ve ever made!” Which is really funny because all I had was my camera. Usually I might have lights and gimbals and drones and tripods and sliders and all this extra stuff … and this just goes to show that a lot of the time, you don’t even need that.
How has working on this project influenced your other projects?
My goal is to produce travel content. And like so many of us out there, we use our corporate/commercial work to self-finance our passion projects. That’s why I took the opportunity to film while I was there.
I was in doing a film in the Maldives just before Christmas, which is due to come out soon, so [the Costa Rica video] has certainly helped me develop my travel portfolio and opportunities.
Also, not to forget that you don’t need all the toys to necessarily make a good film. Which is something I’ve often overlooked admittedly.
Where would you like to go next?
My number one destination is Bhutan. It’s a tiny Buddhist kingdom nestled between Nepal, Bangladesh, and India. And again, it’s because no one goes there. I would love to know what happens there on a daily basis. I think it would be fascinating. It’s a really remote place that I think would offer a lot visually, and I would to share the story of a place that isn’t often frequented.
Danny filmed using a Sony FS5 camera and edited/color-graded in Adobe Premiere Pro.