I was fortunate to collaborate with Paul on two productions that he directed: Colin McCahon: I Am 2004, and The Big Picture series 2007
Late at night in a London budget hotel I had to deliver and exchange cloned HD rushes with Paul. The door opened and I was greeted with his smiling jet-lagged sleep deprived eyes, while in the dark background surrounding his face was a pool of laptops running with that day’s rushes amongst a tangle of cables, flashing drives and clones. His face and his expression in this context will always stay with me.
Paul Swadel was the most ‘hands on’ director I have ever worked with. He wanted to know everything about cameras, especially film cameras. He was more versant and cognizant of the new digital formats than I was at that time. We shot Colin McCahon: I Am in four formats: Super 8mm B&W, hand cranked and single frame 16mm, plus 2 digital modes. Paul wanted this blunt conjunction of grain, texture with the pulse and fluctuation of exposure giving it a painterly or even kinetic bounce; a subjective attempt at projecting McCahon back into a filmic landscape.
On The Big Picture we wanted a small kit for international travel and for Paul it had to be a small 1080 capture camera (which was the ultimate in that day). At that time your recording duration was very limited. We knew Hamish Keith was going to deliver long complex ‘voice to cameras’ and the last thing we needed was a ‘run out’ just when he was peaking. Paul sorted it by devising auxiliary 1GB external hard drives (then larger than a pack of butter) and attaching them to the camera. But Paul was more than just a technician. His relationship with Hamish was casual and yet firm; always able to ignite and project glowing performances from Hamish. At the National Archives in The Hague Paul’s charm secured us the use of service-trollies, making one into a make shift camera-dolly allowing us to move with Hamish as he walked and talked amongst the many aisles of collated material ending with Tasman’s journals.
I will always remember being with Paul on our knees closely examining Isaac Gilseman’s drawings of Tasman’s encounter at Murderer’s Bay 1642. Just us in a treasure-store with a magnified lens on the camera only millimetres from the surface capturing the marks someone else had made all those years ago.
I will very much miss Paul’s vitality, verve and energy.