Behind the Title: Harbor Picture Company’s DP Greg Wilson
Published on July 27, 2017
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Harbor Picture Company is a post production and production company based in New York City. We help content creators — studios, networks, directors, brands and agencies — execute high-caliber content efficiently and at scale. The company offers a range of services, including sound mixing, color, ADR, picture editorial and VFX, housed across five facilities, including the largest ADR soundstage and largest theatrical mix stage in New York.
I’m part of Harbor’s DP Collective, a group of elite directors of photography who specialize in bringing a cinematic style and quality to any screen.
WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Photography
WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My role is to create the look and feel of a film or commercial through lighting, camera direction, lensing and blocking to best fit the story the director is trying to tell. This revolves around communication with the department heads to build towards a unified goal and create the right tone for the story.
WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think people would be surprised by the amount of time and perseverance some projects can take from concept to final product, but anything that’s worth doing is going to take a lot of energy and effort. For example, the project I did for National Geographic Magazine, Cheetahs on the Edge, took more than nine months to produce and put together.
With the folks over at DoggiCam I designed a 410-foot dolly to use on a shot of a sprinting cheetah. The goal was to mimic the perspective that Eadweard Muybridge achieved in the late 1800s when photographing a running horse. He invented motion picture with those images, and I wanted to take a similar approach by using the most modern technology available at the time.
I wanted to move a camera alongside the fastest land animal in the world, giving a unique perspective on how they move. I believed in this project very much but it was a challenge to get it off the ground, I worked with National Geographic Magazine to raise the money and obtain all the proper permissions to build this dolly system and secure the access to the cheetahs at the Cincinnati Zoo. Once we were green lit, we spent four months acclimating the cheetahs to the sounds of the high-speed camera system, which was very loud. I played a pre-recorded sound for them while they ate to build positive reinforcement, so they wouldn’t be frightened by the noise or speed of the system when we actually started shooting.
From there, we had to design an arpeggiation device to trigger the three DSLR cameras that were on a sled with the high-speed Phantom camera. This arpeggiation device created a seamless looping of the shutters on each Canon D1x, each running at 14fps, giving us 42fps at 20.2MP for still photographs to put in the magazine. This is just one example, but I work on many challenging technical jobs that require a lot of prep time to design new techniques, overcome hurdles and, ultimately, ensure that we’ll get the best images we can.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Being around tenacious and engaged people working as a team to create something that didn’t exist beyond a script until you start to roll the cameras. Being able to work in so many different environments and in and out of unique stories constantly keeps things fresh and exciting.
WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The schedule can be a challenge. It can be tough being on the road so much, but there’s a give and take. For as much as I’m away, I try to have a balance of time off so I don’t get burnt out.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
A cold, misty morning is my favorite, but it’s so fleeting. Magic hour is the best to shoot in.
IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d still be working as a photojournalist and in the darkroom as a black and white printer.
HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
This is my third career, believe it or not. I turned pro as a snowboarder when I was 15 years old and went to the Olympics at 22. After a very bad injury, that left me in the hospital for many months and unable to walk or do much of anything for nearly a year, I found my way into still photography and worked for six years as a photojournalist for National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Wired, Spin, Fader, NYT and other newspapers and magazines.
I also worked as a traditional black and white printer in New York after working as a platinum printer for more than two years in Massachusetts. I found cinematography after seeing some films that really rattled me and made me see the world in a way that I understood, one of which was the Brazilian film Pixote.
I wanted to understand how to create the same emotions and tone I was after in my still photography and apply it to motion. Music was a huge part of this interest as well. The fact that you could use sound to influence the picture was a major eye opener early on. Even though I didn’t get into motion pictures until I was 30, I think my past experience in other fields has greatly influenced my life behind the camera and given me a perspective on the subjects that I photograph.
CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I recently finished a documentary that I’m really excited about called Zion. It’s about a young black wrestler who was born without legs into the foster care system in Ohio. It’s a powerful story and really resonated with me. The director Floyd Russ and I have a few more sports films coming down the line soon.
I also finished up a Netflix Original feature, Amateur, with Director Ryan Koo about a young basketball player dealing with the trials and tribulations of NCAA rules and corruption inside the sport. Lately, I’ve been working on a mix of documentaries, feature projects and commercials — with a lot of them coincidentally surrounding the sports world.
WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m not sure what I’m most proud of. I don’t like to think about it like that. But one project that I was very happy to have been involved with was another recent collaboration with Floyd Russ and NFL Films for the Ad Council’s campaign, “Love Has No Labels.” The spot used the iconic Kiss Cam to showcase love. Period. It was a real pleasure to be a part of that project and see the overwhelming response to the spot. It was great to work on a commercial project with such a great message behind it.
NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Wireless video, my light meter and, unfortunately, my cell phone.
WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m pretty active on Instagram, you can follow me at @greg_wilson_dp
DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I am constantly listening to music. Lately, for writing, it’s been Stars of the Lid. Otherwise I’ve been listening to Billy Swan, Kendrick, The Bats and Mogwai.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I like to spend time in the darkroom printing. I like fishing, being outdoors, riding my bike and woodworking. I like old processes, things where I use my hands and take a step back from technology.