The Making of Islam: Empire of Faith
by Robert Gardner, Producer
The production of Islam: Empire of Faith was a big challenge from the beginning, simply because it covered more than a thousand years of history and culture, and a very large part of the world.
But we really wanted to push beyond the conventional form of historical documentaries, which have depended on pans and tilts of still pictures, supplemented with landscapes and interviews. We wanted to find a way to use the visual techniques usually reserved for fiction motion pictures to tell a story of great scope that took place in pre-photographic history. This meant the project would require very large scale costumed re-enactments and equipment far beyond the ordinary documentary production package of camera, zoom lens, tripod and small light-kit.
We knew that we had to find a way to present images of cultural history — both re-enacted scenes and contemporary scenes of Islamic architecture and city life — in a way that would evoke the past, but maintain a sense of authenticity. The scenes would be dream-like and impressionistic but would still give viewers a sense that what they were seeing was accurate in historical terms.
We designed a production package that included a robotic crane with an 18-foot reach (Jimmi-jib), allowing us to fly the camera through architectural spaces, and a Steadicam that would allow for smooth camera moves through buildings at ground level — even mounting it on a truck to shoot running horses at full speed. We took a wide selection of lenses from extremely wide to telephoto and we also brought a high-speed camera for true slow-motion (500 frames per second) allowing us to slow an action down that actually took one second to fully twenty seconds on-screen. All of these taken together would provide an extraordinarily production palette. But it also meant that we had to travel with more than 40 cases of equipment — and do so in seven different countries. The logistics were severe. Read further: