Created by filmmaker Nora Jaccaud and sound engineer Arie van der Poel in 2014, Human Postcards is an ongoing series of one-minute video portraits of everyday people who offer unexpected insights about life and death and everything in between. To date, the duo has filmed subjects in New Zealand, France, Indonesia and Singapore.
Tell us about the Human Postcards project and how it began.
The concept of Human Postcards was to talk, film and listen to people who are often unnoticed by our busy urban lifestyle. The idea came in 2014 when Nora was working in London. Every day, she walked along Oxford Circus and she saw a man in a human billboard costume advertising a golf store. She wondered what he was thinking as he stood there being passed by thousands of people, and if she could capture his story in a format which all of these busy people could enjoy, to change their perception of him.
As we started filming we realized that the project was growing to be more than something about unnoticed people, and that everyone had stories, lessons and dreams to pass on.
Tell us a little about yourselves.
Nora is a filmmaker from France. She studied cinematography in London, and has worked with well-known filmmakers from America and Europe.
Arie works a sound engineer in London, working with music, film and TV.
We met in 2014 when Nora was shooting a documentary about Rickshaw riders in London.
Three words that describe each of you.
We will describe the other person:
Arie says: Nora: Human, compassionate, curious
Nora says: Arie: Passionate, dedicated, respectful
Who does what for each video?
Nora does all the camera work and video editing, and also conducts the interviews with the contributors.
Arie is the sound recordist/sound mixer for the project, and also handles the color correction of the films.
How do you find your subjects?
We travel with an open mind, and the project has made us more attuned to every encounter than ever before. We believe that Everyone Is a Story, and our experience with the project so far has proved it.
We choose the people the same way we choose our friends in life. Somehow a special connection happens and we often jump into it without wondering why or how. Sometimes a smile is enough, like Shane, who was helping a friend move cows down the road in Russell. Sometimes it’s Emma at the grocery store, advising us on the best anti-mosquito spray after our first sleepless night in the van. Another time it’s John, competing at a wood-chopping competition against men half his age. Just like the other portraits, these three examples are no exception… We never knew what we were going to discover.
How much footage of a subject do you usually shoot?
We normally film our contributors for 45 minutes depending on the scene, followed by a 30-minute interview.
When you’re conducting interviews, do you know when you hear the quote(s) you’re going to use or do you find those when you’re editing?
There are always a few moments in each interview that take us by surprise, but it’s not always what we use in the films. Depending on the contributor, the interviews can span for hours, so its always good to go over the interviews again when editing to make sure we have the best piece.
Do you know people’s stories before you interview them or do you discover their stories during the interview?
There have been a few instances where we knew something about a person before we interviewed them, but most of the time we have no idea who these people are. It’s so exciting to learn about new people!
What’s the most unexpected thing someone told you?
Probably when we were filming Inaki, an 8-year-old boy from Christchurch. Although the whole interview was amazing, there was one moment that sent shivers down our spine. That was the moment we kept in the film.
Do you each have a favorite subject?
Honestly, every Human Postcards subject we film is our favorite! We’re so thankful that all the contributors who took part in the project, and opened their lives for us to look in to with our camera.
Why the one-minute length?
Nora’s idea was to create something human that even the busiest person in the world could enjoy. We tried one minute, and we enjoyed it so we stuck with it!
Would it be correct to say that you strive to reveal the extraordinary in the everyday?
Definitely, but the objective of the project is to communicate ordinary peoples stories.
Why so many people relate to them is it’s just something human and ordinary. They just put it in words.
So far, your work has focused on New Zealand. Do you have plans to expand to other countries?
We have filmed the majority of our postcards in New Zealand, but have also captured stories in Bali, Singapore and France. We will start to show these on our website once we have released all of the portraits from New Zealand. We are currently in Paris working on a project, and hope to have time to find stories here as well.
Who or what inspires you?
Nora: I’m inspired to create curiosity towards others and in consequence I get inspired by every person we portray and the process of sharing it with the world.
Arie: I’m inspired by challenges. We had to learn a lot to get Human Postcards off the ground. On top of the filming, we design our own websites, curate our social media pages all while continuing to run our daily lives. It’s a lot of fun!
What camera, gear, apps and/or software do you use?
Nora’s camera is a Panasonic Lumix GH4 with Panasonic and Voigtlander lenses, which she uses to film all of the postcards. All of the editing and post production takes place in Adobe Premiere Pro.
Arie uses a selection of Sennheiser and Ambient microphones, with a Sound Devices mixer, Zoom audio recorder, and Rycote fluffy. All audio post-production takes place in Steinberg Cubase 8.
Other than photography equipment, what three things do you bring with you to make life on the road easier, more comfortable or more fun?
In New Zealand we conducted most of our interviews the same small van we slept in, so we would bring lavender oil with us to freshen up the interview space.
But other than that we really just took the basics plus camera equipment. Oh, and great podcasts for the road like “This American Life” and “Serial.”
What’s your favorite souvenir and the memory it conjures?
The van we travelled New Zealand in, which belonged to Bruce from episode #2 of Human Postcards. Bruce is a dairy farmer in the south of New Zealand who let us borrow his van for 6 months. At the end of journey, we filled the van full of crates of beer for him. Without that van Human Postcards might not have been possible!
What has Human Postcards taught you about yourselves that you never knew?
Nora: Every human given the right attention and space to open up has incredible capacities to put his thinking into words and share it with others. It inspires me to see how people deal with their lives. It made me feel more present and part of the realm of humanity.
Arie: Human Postcards changed my approach to strangers in the world. I ask more questions, I’m more interested and I’m always open to meeting new people.