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CHARLIE BALCH

Charlie is originally from Los Angeles, CA. He has been living in Bali for a few years and working all around the world. Charlie has worked as a Director of Photography on a great number of TVCs for major international brands such as IBM, Unilever, Airbnb, etc...
What brought you to Indonesia?
What brought me to Indonesia? The unknown is the first thing that came to mind. Before my first visit I had heard many stories of volcanoes, deeply rooted culture, and a world that was starkly contrast to the environment I grew up with in Colorado. What influenced me to stay however, was a half Indonesian girl that I fell in love with.

How did you find work in Indonesia?
Let me start by saying that I’ve never worked a desk job in my life. I attended films school in Los Angeles and from there, aided several lighting houses as an intern. This experience alongside several people providing me with opportunities for which I was not yet qualified, I quickly moved up the ranks in the lighting department. It wasn’t long after that I transitioned from lighting to Cinematography. Working in Los Angeles as a freelancer for 11 years, I quickly learned to be prepared for a wide variety of working environments and situations. Because of this I started to shoot internationally more often, and it wasn’t long until I had the opportunity to collaborate in Indonesia.

How would you compare shooting in a place like America, compared to a place like Bali?
Having come up through the Hollywood studio environment, the transition to a primarily location based shooting style meant some adjustment. I quickly found out that one of the biggest advantages to shooting in Indonesia is its extremely diverse landscapes and rich qualities of light. Additionally the tradition of storytelling in Indonesia far precedes the days of film. In Bali for instance I’ve found detailed narratives in everything from the intricate carvings located throughout the island, to the music that can be heard late into the night. Spend time on the Island during Nyepi to find out for yourself!

While in Indonesia you work with BaliProd, how’s your experience been there?
I often say that people make a place what it is. During my time with Baliprod I’ve witnessed not only a creative group of artists, but a community and a vast network on the island. I’ve seen the company grow quickly, and I credit a large part of that to the integrated approach that focuses on story and community.

Where is your favourite place to shoot in Indonesia?
I have always been mystified by the ocean. Not only for its vastness but also the enormous power witnessed during some of the tropical storms. My opinion also is swayed because I met my wife pretending that I knew how to surf in Bali. With this in mind, my favourite location that I’ve worked in with Baliprod was off the coast of Nusa Penida (an island just south of mainland Bali). Here you’ll find massive jagged cliffs, towering over an open ocean of Manta Rays and other sea life. A quick image search would reveal some of the stunning locations available within a short boat trip.

What aspects of Indonesia are sources of inspiration for you?
To describe Indonesia as a whole is a challenging task, as the country is made up of over 17,500 islands and 300 natively spoken languages. With a cultural diversity that is as ancient as it is widespread, this makes it near impossible to describe it as a larger whole. What I can say about Bali however is that there is a very palpable warmth that one feels upon spending time on the island. With the native language of Bali being vastly different from that of the national language of Indonesia, there is never an excuse to stop learning. I feel like I could spend the rest of my life in Bali and not even scratch the surface in terms of learning about the Island and the beautiful people who inhabit it. There is beauty in the complexity of the society (take the Subak system for example), but despite that there is a general laid back nature when it comes to the Balinese people. The lifestyle and beauty found on Bali serves as an integral point of inspiration for me.

How has your experience been with sourcing equipment and crew while in Indonesia?
I have been working hard with Baliprod to bring the equipment available in Bali to an international standard of quality. My Alexa Mini is the first on the Island, and it is now available as a complete package. There is also a wide range of equipment available on the neighbouring island of Java for any special requests. Lighting wise I recently imported some Skypanel s60c lamps to serve in a wide range of applications on the island. When it comes to the local crew I have nothing but respect for the positivity and creative problem solving attitudes I’ve come across thus far. You’ll also find that English is widely spoken on the island, which is perfect for people like me who take a little extra time in learning languages.

Craziest Bali story?
The culture shock I’ve experienced in Bali brings many stories to mind. So much so that witnessing a family of six with two dogs and a picnic packed onto one motorbike seems commonplace. There’s this particular story may not be crazy per say, but I was blown away by the ingenuity of my local crew on our last campaign for DJI. On this particular day, we were filming a rock climbing scene and did not have space for stands to support our 4x4 Meter overhead silk. After a quick look at the rock face, the lighting team had the entire frame built and safely secured 3 meters above talent with nothing more than ropes and climbing equipment. It’s this style of creative problem solving that makes me all the more excited to be a part of the film community here in Bali.

What made you decide to pursue cinematography?
When I was 14 years old I was given my first opportunity to leave the United States. I had saved my pennies and went to work in a youth camp off the southern coast of the Japanese Island of Okinawa. Before this trip my grandfather gifted me his Nikon F SLR, which is a still 35mm film camera from the 1970s. Upon return from my time in Japan, the best way I could describe my experience to others was to share the images I captured while there. It was this act of storytelling that clued me in early on to the world of expression through image. A few mentors followed in the years after this trip, but I would credit the initial spark to this event.

All time favourite piece of equipment you can’t shoot without?
One of the first things people typically point out upon meeting me is how tall I am. I am 2 meters tall in fact. This leads to be getting an aerial perspective shot every time I put the camera on my shoulder. To avoid the not so flattering ‘bald spot shot’ ™ I often use an easyrig for handheld applications to allow me to cradle the camera closer to the eyeline of my subject.

Did you ever want to pursue anything else before discovering cinematography?
Growing up in Colorado instilled in me an immense love for the outdoors and exploring places unknown. If my DP hat was taken away I’d opt for a career in exploring or guiding lesser seen regions of the planet. Anything but a desk job.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Some of the beautiful elements of living in Bali are the proximity to the ocean and the ability to be off the tourist grid in no time flat. I’m often found on a day off making a fool of myself on a surfboard or finding remote local restaurants (warungs) and punishing myself with the spiciest food I can find. Let me also note that I can’t leave Bali for a day without missing the food and people!

What’s your favourite aspect of being a DOP?
Some may assume that the biggest perks of being a DP would equate to traveling or new camera/lighting technology. However in the same vein as what I mentioned earlier that it is often the people that make a place. I think similarly when it comes to career. The privilege of being a DP is that one gets to closely create story centered images with a talented team of passionate artists, who all specialize in vastly different areas. This community allows me to learn more each day on set and also be challenged to produce the highest quality image to suite the story at hand.

www.charliebalch.com
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