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DP Jordan Rennert on Documentary Style for “Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously”

A still of Neil Gaiman taken from Respect Films’ “Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously”

During production on the documentary feature “Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously”, director of photography Jordan Rennert considered himself a “camera ninja.” During a series of shoots that followed award-winning writer Gaiman naturally interacting with his environment, Rennert discovered unobtrusive camera angles that lent to capturing the writer’s inner thoughts and reactionary quips.

Rennert cut his teeth in reality television. With a training forged in positions including assistant editor, field production assistant and camera operator, his instinct was to push the story, or the talent, in the direction of what would result in the most dramatic angle.  Working on “Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously”, Rennert went for a more “true to the moment” feel all the way around, from the doc’s shooting style – using only natural light found in the shooting locations to color balancing and post work.

“I learned to stop my impulses, to (allow the story to unfold) as it was happening,” said Rennert. “I went with a more verite feel on the tour.”

Jordan Rennert

Jordan Rennert

Rennert’s been a fan of graphic novels, comic books, anime and avant garde films for as far back as he can remember. Along with childhood best friend Patrick Meaney, he’d began following Gaiman’s work in elementary school.  Comic book fans may know Gaiman as the author of “The Sandman” series.  He’s also written a number of short fiction stories, novels and books converted into screenplays, such as “Coraline.”  He’s received numerous awards for his work, including the Hugo, Nebular, British National Book Award, Newbery medal and Carnegie medal.

Never losing their interest in comics, art films and creative culture, Rennert and Meaney established their own production company, Respect Films, in 2008, in order to both emulate the style of their idols and highlight the journey of creative forces they admired. They began by shooting music videos and commercials, ultimately expanding into documentary filmmaking. Upon completing their feature length doc “Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods” featuring comic writer Grant Morrison, they felt they had enough experience to approach Gaiman.

“We showed Neil the Grant movie, but he was so busy. He went away to write for a while (after we spoke with him),” said Rennert.  “We started filming in 2011 as he still considered if the project would happen.”

Nearly two years went by when they learned they would be invited to shoot his final book signing tour, resulting in “Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously” being shot in two stages. The first stage involved conducting interviews with individuals either close to or influenced by Gaiman. The second phase was built around his 25 stop world book signing tour.  As Rennert observed the interactions he had at each stop, specifically his home town, he began noticing the subtle changes and affects the journey had on Gaiman.  This observation altered his approach to the documentary’s ultimate structure.

“I had done (a few) documentaries that were largely interview-based, and initially thought that’s what Neil’s story needed,” said Rennert. “As I saw him interacting with the reality around him, I saw there was a new way to structure the film, by using less interviews and editing with more of the footage of him out and about.  It was much more interesting to watch his journey.”

The experience of shooting “Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously” also helped develop Rennert’s sensitivity to his subject matter. The book tour found the writer regularly speaking before 1,000 – 2,000 people.  Experiencing such pain after a typical signing, Gaiman would require a bucket of ice to rest his hand in.  After the sixtieth stop, Rennert noticed the physical toll the tour was taking on Gaiman.

“As the tour was winding down, Neil was very tired and sick. I had to be sensitive to this human being who was getting worn down.”

“Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously” premiered on Vimeo and was selected to be the featured video on its site. For those attending Comic Con International 2016 in San Diego, Rennert and Meaney will be participating in a panel entitled Neil Gaiman in Film: Dream Dangerously, The Price, Temple of Art.  The panel will take place Saturday, July 23rd, at 8:00pm in room 29AB, and will feature select clips from the film.

Since completing the doc, Rennert and Meaney completed principle photography on their first narrative film, “Trip House,” which was designed and shot in the creative, cult “art house” style that influences them.

“Lynch films, anime, all the things we find cool we put into our own work,” said Rennert.

To watch “Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously”, please visit: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/neilgaiman

Source: Variety411