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Michael Mann & David Frankham Talk HBO's 'Witness,' The Influence Of '60 Minutes,' Filming War Zones & More

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist November 5, 2012 at 9:56AM

Everyday, from the around the world, we receive images in our newspapers, magazines, inboxes and online articles dispatched from some of the most dangerous places on Earth. Usually accompanied by an article or text giving an overview of the situation from whatever far flung place the pictures are coming from, we're usually on to the rest of our day before that image has a chance to linger. And given that the media tends to work in cycles, while situations in places that made headlines months ago may still be evolving, reporters in general are on to the next thing. But that's where "Witness" comes in.
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HBO Witness

"It wasn't looking for a balance, it was looking for how that individual photographer relates to it and each person relates to it differently," Mann explained, adding: "They're there to record something that becomes a fraction but somehow encoded in the image that they make, encoded in that image is the power to move us. And that’s why these images sustain."

But getting those images was no easy feat. Working with a very small crew of five people max, the production team was light and fast, aided by Canon 5D digital cameras that allowed them to remain mobile.

HBO Witness

"We go as five and that includes our subject, lead photographer and then Jared, who would be like our DP and then the segment producer, the director and a digital tech who is just making sure that we're not losing any data, backing everything up and taking care of the cameras and all of that. So every day we kind of hit the ground because as four of us sometimes we'd split up into two and two but we all have cameras, we're all filming," Frankham detailed, adding: "These photos don't happen in front of you. Veronique I think sums it up quite well: part of it is getting to these places [and] putting yourself in these situations and we can't do that with a crew and you can't do that with a big crew and you can't do that with a TV camera on your shoulder, I think that immediately effects the situation. So we tried to be as small and as invisible as we could be. And I think it was quite effective. As I go back we went back through the edits and go back through it now, with the screenings, I feel so many moments that it feels like the camera's invisible and that we're capturing this experience."

And watching "Witness," it's certainly a unique piece of storytelling, both visceral and haunting, giving viewers a generous look into the heart of places where history is being made almost on a daily basis. And for Frankham, he hopes the show can recall an old school era of reportage that could enact action.

HBO Witness

"...when this idea was first coming and developing I kind of thought of it as the new '60 Minutes.' When I was a kid, on Sunday you would see something on '60 Minutes' that you had never heard of before and on Monday everybody was talking about it. And it was so effective and so you know it created change and I think that this is a way of like going back out to those," he shared. "I remember the kids in Brazil sniffing glue out of the little jars, you know? '60 Minutes' told that story that stuck in my head from I don't know, thirty years ago. And that [report] changed that you know? The companies who were responsible for the glue like it ends over night because of the power of that. So there's this naive side to me that believes that we could keep telling these stories, going into conflicts and trying to engage people."

As Mann, he hopes to continue to share these remarkable stories. "I'd love to do some more, we'd like to do another set," he said.

"Witness" airs on HBO, Monday nights at 9 PM starting tonight.

This article is related to: Michael Mann, David Frankham, Witness, HBO , Television, TV Interviews


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