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Big Sur

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I arrived in San Francisco on Wednesday night after driving all day up the 101 in intermittent rainstorms (I have to say that the rolling green hills south of King City remind me of the Battle of Naboo in “Phantom Menace”… but I digress.)


I’m shooting a very small indie production for director Michael Polish based on the book “Big Sur” by Jack Kerouac. The story is basically autobiographical, about Kerouac’s attempt to escape the attention he was getting after the success of “On the Road” by leaving his home in Long Island, NY and going to a small cabin in the Big Sur area, in Bixby Creek Canyon, but finding himself unable to get away from his demons and drinking problems as he hangs out with his old pals from the San Francisco area. We have scenes in Big Sur, San Francisco, and the smaller towns in between, and on Highway 1 as well.


From the start, Michael Polish has used one word to describe how he wants Big Sur to look, which is “epic”. There will be a visual contrast set-up between this intensely internal personal conflict and this grand forbidding landscape, the intimate set against the immense. That’s the general idea at least… we just have to do it on a tight budget and a 20-day schedule.


We first talked about shooting this on film, mainly because it’s a period story (set around 1959-ish) and the challenge with digital is always that it seems so immediate and modern. A 2.40 : 1 aspect ratio was a given; we’ve done it on all our movies together except for the first one, “Twin Falls Idaho”. We decided that the b&w photographs of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston were going to be our guide to how Big Sur should look in the wide shots. The closer shots would sometimes be more experimental, “jazzier” you could say, to match Jack Kerouac’s state of mind.


However, soon it became apparent that we needed to find even more cost savings than shooting in 35mm 2-perf would allow, and I felt that Super-16 was the wrong approach to achieve a medium-format look for the wide shots, so shooting in digital was broached again. Michael Polish wanted to discuss digital from a positive angle, in what it could do for us; he always approaches things first in terms of getting the right look for a movie and he’s very open-minded. I think he would have fought for film had I told him that there was no other way of getting the look we needed, but the truth is I didn’t think it was.


Originally I had proposed taking an MOS 8-perf VistaVision camera around with us just to shoot the wide shots, feeling that it we wouldn’t burn too much film in the process (I was concerned that 2-perf 35mm wasn’t going to be sharp-enough when we went really wide.) So when digital came up again, my immediate thought was that if we could get a hold of the new 5K Epic camera, we might come closer to achieving this highly detailed, clear, medium-format film look for the landscapes that you sense in an Ansel Adams photograph. Michael agreed (plus he liked the fact that the camera was called “Epic”.) Also, the HDR function would come in handy when shooting views of the ocean when the sun was glaring off of the water, always a major challenge for digital photography. And personally for me, the idea of shooting on this new camera was exciting in same the way that using a VistaVision camera would have been – I’m always looking for a new learning experience.


But there was also the issue of the period look, and Michael was a bit concerned about the close-ups being too crisp and edgy in digital, something I feel can be controlled with filtration, plus the “M-X sensor look” is generally smoother, less electronic-looking, than most other digital cameras. (This brings up another issue, which is whether I considered using the ARRI Alexa camera, which I had just used on a cable TV pilot in Vancouver. Personally, I loved the look of the Alexa footage on the pilot – it’s very filmish and faces looked beautiful on it – but since a high-resolution image on the big screen was a major goal for this movie, recording in a 1920 x 1080 format just didn’t appeal to me, especially if we were cropping to 2.40.)


We have talked about desaturating a lot of the frame, either overall or selectively, to achieve the mood of a b&w movie while staying in color, but I also suggested that we try doing something in the D.I. later to fog the blacks in the frame, the way that blacks can halate in a b&w movie print.


The trick will be how to do that in the D.I. without impacting the sharpness of the shadow detail in the wide shots. It will take some experimentation. For the close-ups, we are probably going to use some very light Black Frost or White Frost diffusion (probably #1/8) to soften them a tiny bit. It will also help with the period feeling, and the b&w film stock feeling I think. But the wide shots will be shot clean for maximum resolution.


Here’s a frame I grabbed from the DVD of “Rumblefish” where some black halation occurred when making dupes of shots for optical transitions:




Here’s some photos I took during our scouts, treated by me in Photoshop to evoke the feeling I’m going after, just that I probably softened them a bit more than I intended because I don’t know how to get the blacks to glow other than to do a Gaussian blur overlay:










We’ve settled on doing the D.I. at Warners Motion Picture Imaging, who did “The Astronaut Farmer” for the Polish Brothers. So far, I’ve managed to enlist the services of Reduser regular (and San Francisco local) Dane Brehm as our DIT, and we should be doing a small test next week that we can put through the paces to create our dailies workflow and give me something to color-correct at Warners MPI.


I’m guessing right now that we will shoot 5K 2:1 with a 5:1 compression, composed for cropping to 2.40 : 1. I liked this approach on my other two Red movies with the Polish Brothers, shooting 2:1 and framing for 2.40 : 1, it gives me a little bit of wiggle room for fixing the framing occasionally in post plus makes it a bit easier to create the 16x9 full-frame HD version for TV broadcast later.

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Thanks for the great report, David! It must be Kerouac's year, isn't a "On the Road" movie in the works, too?

Frankly, after reading about all the 3D sequels/reboot/remakes announced to be shot on the new Red camera, this news is very welcome, it's a movie I'll definitely would love to see (and to be totally honest, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who would love to know more about what you think about the new camera, but I guess you'll keep us updated with your production diary :) ).

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David, it sounds like you made the best of the situation, and picked the best tool for the job and the budget,(as usual). Although truth be told, someday I'd like to see you (or someone at your skill level) shoot something in Vista Vision or IMAX on black and white film, really slow film, with the tonal range and clarity that would give us truly the closest thing to an Ansel Adams-quality movie. And then see it projected on a real IMAX projector, not the digital version that pretends to be IMAX...


Still dreaming,

Jay Reimer


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Hey David,

This sounds like a great film to shoot, so I look forward to reading your posts on this project!


Just curious, with photoshop or the timing process, how do you achieve the foggy blacks? Is it simply a luma key used to isolate the blacks and apply a Gaussian blur, or is there something more? Do you feel shooting your CU's with an 1/8th BPM gives you a look you can't achieve in the DI?


Thank you!


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End of prep


Tomorrow we finish the camera prep and the movie officially starts shooting on Sunday in San Francisco.


It’s taken awhile to lock all the deals down so I haven’t posted anything new. We are getting our Epics from Tonaci Tran (thanks!) and filling out the package here in San Francisco at Chater Cameras in Berkeley. This seemed to make the most sense even though for awhile it looked like we’d have to get the rest of the package in Los Angeles; it’s a lot better when your rental house is nearby, and it also means we don’t have to fly the 1st AC Paul Marbury down to Los Angeles to prep, and then drive the package back up to San Francisco. Chater made a highly favorable impression on me when we did our test there a week and a half ago.


Lens package will be Zeiss Master Primes and the Ang. Optimo 24-290 zoom, plus a couple of Zeiss Ultra Primes so that when I splinter-off B-camera, I won’t always be stuck either giving them the primes and keeping the zoom, or the other way around, which can be a frustrating choice.


We have switched to Light Iron for the post work; basically they were the only place that could turn around the Epic footage fast enough for my test when I only had two days at the end of last week to return to Los Angeles. Even though I was only able to watch the test on a large 1080P monitor at their facility because all their other rooms were booked, I could tell how extremely detailed the Epic frames were. We also played with the HDR-x function, which is very exciting. My main interest, besides just seeing that the footage converted without problems, was trying a rough pass at what the director and I have started calling “Black Fog”, the post diffusion effect I want to do where I make the blacks halite without losing too much definition. Colorist Ian Vertovic at Light Iron was able to come up with something that seems to be in the ballpark. There is still a bit of a definition loss that we can still work on minimizing, it mainly just comes from the lowering of contrast in the whites that fogging the blacks seems to cause. It’s hard to tell until we start to work at 4K instead of HD.


The HDR mode is great and will only get better in time; right now there is a tiny bit of a (expected) motion artifact when a fast-moving dark edge is framed against a bright background, sort of a faint double-edge that probably can be solved (in my layman’s understanding) by somehow blurring the motion in the underexposed highlight exposure pass, which essentially looks like a shorter exposure/shutter time was used so motion has sharper edge to it than it does in the normal exposure. Anyway, it will be a highly useful tool as long as people don’t start abusing it or thinking of it as a cure-all.


It’s going to be tough at times to pull-off this period setting – San Francisco has some lovely older buildings, but often the ground floors have some modern elements added, and every street is choked solid with parked cars, so “stealing” a street-level shot on occasion is going to be very hard except in parks and whatnot. This is one reason why I suggested that one scene be moved from a neighborhood park near a street over to a park in Crissy Field by the Golden Gate Bridge. Not only, of course, is there tremendous production value of getting the bridge in the background, but it’s also a lot easier to frame out the non-period elements over there.


We’re hoping for some bad weather when we do our exteriors; we don’t want it to get too postcard-like, too colorful and cheerful. You can see the difference in mood from the day I went to Crissy Field and took some photos to convince people to move a scene there, to when we actually took the crew there for the tech scout:


First visit by myself one afternoon:



Second visit earlier this week:



I'm hoping to get something of this feeling, playing around in Photoshop with some photos I took on the first visit:






Have scouted some older bars in the city… many of them have fragile ceilings with old paint and artwork and no way to rig lights above the bar counter, and they are too dim to shoot in without lighting… I may be able to clamp some Dedos here and there to pieces of grills or whatnot in the ceiling, or double-arm some paper lanterns, I don’t know.


The other problem is that so many streets have power lines crisscrossing the sky for the electric buses and whatnot, there are almost no safe spots to raise a light on a condor or something for a night exterior. I’m going to have to rely on the sensitivity of the Epic and using some smaller lights on building rooftops or fire escapes to light some of these street scenes… and I’m going to have to ignore the fact that the city in 1960 would not have been lit by so many sodium streetlamps, there would have been mostly mercury-halide and tungsten lamps.


At the other half of the shoot are the Big Sur scenes – there the biggest problem is the closure of Highway One literally right between our two main locations, Bixby Creek Bridge and Rocky Point Bridge. The mess caused by the landslide won’t really be fixed until right after we finish the movie. I had something of a nightmare on the day of our tech scout there on Sunday. We had to drive way south of our location on Highway 101 and then cut across on the Naciemento-Fergussen Road, and then drive north to Bixby Creek Bridge, a detour of maybe three hours. We went down the night before, stayed in the town of Big Sur (where the local café had to make French toast from whole wheat bread instead of white bread due to delivery problems… talk about roughing it!). So that morning we went to Bixby Creek Canyon, just below the closure, and then drove south to our other locations such as Nepenthe Restaurant and Anderson Canyon… then we drove further south, took the Naciemento-Fergussen Road detour to Highway 101, then drove to Salinas and then over to Carmel, then drove south down to the north side of the closure where we started our day to see Rocky Point Bridge. But here’s the kicker, I got there early after driving, it seemed, like three hours… and noticed that in a few minutes, at 4PM, they were going to open the work site and closure to pedestrians. Local people were gathering on the bridge holding groceries, dragging luggage, it felt like a scene from “War of the Worlds.” So I decided to cross with the people to see the damaged part of the highway, not hearing the police tell the director and producer that we’d have to run back at the halfway point before the road was closed again. So I’m walking, taking pictures, see the crowd that started at the south end at Bixby Creek passing our group… and I lose my group in the crowd. So I keep walking, don’t see them, so turn around… only to be told by a police officer that the road was now closed and I couldn’t cross back until 7 AM the next morning. Well, I’m all by myself and there’s no cell service up there, pleading with a policeman for fifteen minutes to escort me back to my group on the north side of the closure. Turns out that the director was on the north side doing the same thing, trying to get me back. Luckily a woman showed up late on the north side who lived on the south side and was recovering for surgery, and she pleaded to be allowed to cross. So they held up the construction work and did a prisoner exchange, I walked north, passing this woman on the bridge as she walked south.


To top off my day, when I finally got to my hotel in San Francisco after hiking around Rocky Point Creek, I discovered this big-ass tick embedded in my arm under two layers of clothing. That freaked me out.


Anyway, back to prep... We finished this week with the production meeting, locking down our schedule and locations more or less. Our decision was made to shoot our night driving scenes using greenscreen… the reason being that this takes place on Bayshore Highway of 1960 (now people use Highway 101) as Jack Kerouac describes the passing landscape in the dark (farms, tract homes, etc.). I just couldn’t see a way of doing that on a real highway with modern cars whizzing by, plus how could we see unlit farms in the dark? I figured that a combination of dusk-for-night and day-for-night would be needed to see the background, and that would be easier to combine with the actors in a car if they were shot against a greenscreen. Our exterior drive-bys will have to be shot dusk-for-night as well.

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This sounds like a fascinating film. I look forward to reading your experiences on shooting a lower budget period piece and your thoughts on shooting a period piece digitally. The look you're going for sounds very interesting. Was McCabe and Mrs. Miller a reference for you in creating the look?

Edited by Ravi Kiran
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This sounds like a fascinating film. I look forward to reading your experiences on shooting a lower budget period piece and your thoughts on shooting a period piece digitally. The look you're going for sounds very interesting. Was McCabe and Mrs. Miller a reference for you in creating the look?


I think "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Heaven's Gate" are ALWAYS on my mind when I do a period movie, but in this case, I was more thinking of 50's b&w still photography, both landscape and jazz photography.

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  • 2 weeks later...
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End of Week 1 of 4


The week went very well considering all the logistical and budgetary challenges; we’re getting everything we need within normal shooting hours more or less, though some locations have needed a lot of wrap time for certain crew members, and the transportation department has worked very hard dealing with all of the moves across the city, a city with unique parking challenges.


My crew have been doing top-notch work, including my regular key grip Brad Heiner and gaffer Keith Morgan, as well as my main operator Theo Pingarelli. The local crew has been great, particularly 1st AC Paul Marbury, 2nd AC Annie Lee, and DIT Dane Brehm.


The Epic cameras have been working very smoothly, even more smoothly than the Red Ones I did “Manure” and “Stay Cool” on – these are seriously well-built machines, especially considering how new they are. The small size and the high sensitivity make them ideal for run-n-gun independent filmmaking.


The only thing that can get a little annoying is that if the operators want to use the EVF’s and we have to use the menu controls on the Red LCD, we have to shut down and reboot every time we switch between the EVF and LCD. (It recently occurred to me that most operators I know have reached that point in life where focusing on an LCD is difficult without reading glasses, hence why they prefer the EVF since it has a diopter.) Anyway, the Redmote will make all of these issues go away but right now, we are working with a very stripped-down Epic. I guess the side-handle would allow us to make menu selections while using the EVF.


The images out of the camera are stunning; the clarity is wonderful. We only changed the chroma level in the camera menu to reduce the saturation of the image as part of the period look we are going for. That’s about it other than the normal adjustments to ASA and color temperature, etc.


Generally outdoors in daytime I’ve been shooting at 500 ASA, mainly because I don’t want to deal with 800 ASA, but inside, I’ve mainly shot at 800 ASA, with some night work at 1250 or 1600 ASA, once at 2000 ASA.


Most of the time we shoot on the ARRI Master Primes, but when I have a B-camera covering a tighter angle, they get the Ang. Optimo 24-290mm… it’s necessary mainly because 75mm is the longest prime I’m carrying, and these B-cam shots are often done at 100mm and longer. At 800 ASA indoors, I’ve sometimes used ND.6 filters on the camera just to get the shooting stop down to the T/5.6 to T/8 when I’ve got a lot of windows in the room and the level of daylight illumination is very high. Otherwise, most interior scenes are shot between T/2.8 and T/4… if I plan on running two cameras, I have to keep in mind that the Optimo is a T/2.8 lens when lighting the room.


Though I’m carrying a couple of Schneider Black Frost filters (1/8 and ¼), so far I haven’t used them except for one insert; the “black fog” diffusion effect I want to add in post is invariably going to soften the image a little bit so it seems safer to shoot clean for most of this movie, even though occasionally the Epic image is so darn sharp and detailed on faces I get a bit worried. But so far we’ve only been shooting scenes with the male characters; I may slide in some filters on when we start shooting scenes with women in them to avoid being unflattering.


Dane has been providing me with TIFF’s of frames from each set-up so I can play with them on my computer later. The frames are gamma-corrected (not Log) with the desaturation added. I usually add a bit of a blur overlay to diffuse the blacks using Photoshop and then pass the photos along to the director. My technique is a bit crude though and softens the image more than I intend in the final color-correction, but the visual idea is there. I'll post some of my frames but keep in mind how much I've been monkeying with them in Photoshop; don't draw any conclusions about the Epic frames technically, just believe me that if you could see the original 5K frames, you'd be impressed by the depth and clarity.


Even though adding smoke to the interiors has always been a trademark of the period films I’ve made with the Polish Brothers (“Northfork” and “Manure”, not to mention “Astronaut Farmer” though not a period movie technically), many locations have told us we can’t use a hazemaker with oil-based smoke, so we’ve used a fogger with water-based smoke, the result being that I’m dealing with more drifting clouds and wisps, plus quick dissipation, than I wanted to. That’s a bit frustrating… though easier on my lungs.


I’ve done a couple of shots using my new PL-mount Lensbaby, which I picked up at an expendables store just before I came up here, a great investment at only $300. It’s mainly been for scenes where Jack Kerouac is drinking heavily for a distorted effect. Kinda fun to play with, squeezing a rubber lens back and forth.


Day 1 was spent at City Lights Bookstore and then some exteriors in the vicinity.




I used minimal lighting inside the bookstore on a second floor reading room. There was real sunlight coming through the windows, plus one Joker-800 Source-4 Leko bounced off of the ceiling and coming through another window was a 12K HMI PAR on scaffolding through a 4’x4’ diffusion frame to create an edge from the opposite direction as the angle of the sun. Once I went into close-ups, I either just used a white beadboard to reflect some of the real sun onto the faces, or bounced the Source-4 from more of a side angle instead of overhead. I turned on the HDRx function to give me some more detail outside the windows, but even without it, the Epic was holding the view out the windows pretty well.


Day 2 saw us back in the same area shooting inside some bars across the street from City Lights Bookstore. The scripted scenes all were at night but shot during the day… but when we left the first bar, we pulled down our tent and did an unscripted shot of Jack Kerouac drinking alone, silhouetted by a shaft of light (from a 2K Xenon) – I always find those sorts of old photos the most compelling, seeing people drink in the daytime.




I also did some slow-motion work in the first bar for a montage of Jack’s first night in town; I only went up to 48 fps, which seemed slowed enough, plus between the T/2.8 limitation of the Optimo zoom for B-camera and the difficulty in rigging lights in the place, I felt that I only wanted to deal with lighting up the bar to T/4 at 1250 ASA I think (thus shooting at T/2.8 at 48 fps). Any higher levels of illumination would have been difficult and would have overpowered the natural ambience in there.


I lit the second bar with some Chinese Lanterns rigged high above in a row along the very long counter; the ceiling being old, these were the lightest things I could think to rig up there. I augmented this with some Source-4 or tweenie bounces, plus some Woodylights (medium Chimera bank on a 4-bulb 1K-total fixture that my gaffer Keith Morgan designed and built.) Lit to T/2.8 at 24 fps at 1000 ASA I believe.


Day 3 was spent inside a room at the old Oldfellows Building on Market Street. It had a great period feeling and some views onto old brick buildings; even though the windows were larger than would be typical of a cheap hotel, since the movie opens in this room, we felt that we had to be in a more interesting space in terms of the view. There was also an old bar inside the building that we could use. Even with an ND.60, at 800 ASA I was often at a T/8 in there just to balance with the views outside the windows. I also turned on HDRx so that I had the option of pulling more detail outside the windows later in the D.I.


Day 4 was just a block or two southeast at an old hotel on Mission St. and 6th – that day was interesting mainly because the neighborhood was rather rough, culminating in someone walking out of a porn shop across the street engulfed in flames (he was, not the shop). We had to clean excrement and vomit off of the sidewalks in front of our equipment trucks just to work. The hotel interiors were very small and mostly shot with small tungsten units like Chinese Lanterns, Source-4 bounces, and Woodylights.


Day 5 saw us all over town, starting at a bus station near Laguna Honda Hospital. We had a number of shots to do of a period bus which we could only afford to rent for one day, so we shot at one station meant to be in San Francisco and ended our night at another building in Golden Gate Park dressed to look like a station in Monterey. We only had ten-minute windows between working buses arriving and leaving at the first station, compounded by the problem of the period bus breaking down. With a hour of downtime, I suggested we run over to a hilltop I passed when driving into location to shoot a shot of Jack walking across town; it had a nice view of distant houses where non-period elements were very small in frame. After shooting the bus finally, we split up the units, sending one camera crew to the Great Highway to shoot drive-bys of the bus and other period cars, while a smaller unit went over to Crissy Field to shoot a dialogue scene. This was the location I picked while walking around on an afternoon after work during prep; the weather was so bad that I got soaked but I loved the mood there. But when we returned during the tech scout one morning, it was clear and far too sunny and saturated, plus completely front-lit. So I pushed for that scene to be scheduled in the afternoon since I knew we’d be looking at the Golden Gate Bridge to the west, and while I prayed for some clouds to roll in, I figured that even if it cleared up, at least I wouldn’t be in front-light.


I went with the Crissy Field unit, sending operator Theo Pingarelli to shoot the car stuff. We got very lucky with the weather, a mild overcast rolled in near sunset, giving me some haze while not obscuring the Golden Gate Bridge. Though not as stormy as the first time I visited the park, it was perfect weather for the scene. The only trouble was the lack of lenses; I gave the splinter unit my Master Primes since they had to do drive-bys in magic hour, but that only left me one 20mm Ultra Prime and the 24-240mm Optimo zoom, and switching between the two was an ordeal due to the different baseplates, rods, etc. I tried to shoot the wide shot on the 20mm prime… it was funny because the bridge looked a bit smaller in size than I wanted so I tried moving in closer to the actors on the sea wall but the bridge didn’t really change size since it was actually very far away and I was only moving ten feet closer or so, which didn’t make a difference as far as the background size went. You forget how big that bridge is. I discovered that while the 24-290mm is great for shooting close-ups, when I lost the light and was trying to grab shots with the zoom wide-open, the lens wasn’t that good for wider shots in low light levels. I really need more lenses in my package if I’m going to be splitting up the camera crews more often. We finished the night in the dark over at an old structure on Fulton Ave. in Golden Gate Park, dressed to be a bus station that Jack Kerouac travels to. I couldn’t get a placement for a condor or lift of any kind because the street (and all the side streets) have power lines crisscrossing the sky. So I had to rely on the art department hanging China hats in the structure to light up the interior, the rest was achieved just with a few lights here and there uplighting trees. I had one rake on the street from a Barger Baglite, otherwise the real streetlamps were doing a lot of the work for me.

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Keep in mind this is cropped, reduced, and highly compressed as a JPEG by me for this post, but here is an example of a frame pulled by Dane with our basic desaturation applied:



The interior was just lit with a 800w Joker bounce off of the ceiling, otherwise, it's mostly available light. You can see how much the Epic is holding detail in both the interior and the exterior, and this was shot with HDRx on, so in post, I'll have even more overexposure detail to play with than what this frame shows. But it demonstrates how good the dynamic range of the camera is.

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Lovely work as always David. LOVE the frame from the bar interior.


I was about to write exactly the same thing. I also love the palette you chose: even though I know nothing about the plot, it feels like it makes sense for the period and for the Kerouac character. Can't wait to see it "in motion". And thanks for the "in production" report, David!


(p.s. maybe it's not the right place to post this, but is it just me or Red has an inherent look to it, even with this new camera? i can't really pinpoint what it is, nor am I saying it's "right" or "wrong", just like I wouldn't say the Kodak look is wrong and Fujifilm's is "right").

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Here's an example of the simple lighting I've been doing -- this shot was lit with some hanging Chinese Lanterns (skirted), a Source-4 bounced off of a 4x4 beadboard for a key, a tweenie bounced off of another 4x4 for fill, and a raking edge light from a 1K Woodylight. This is a shot looking back towards the camera:



This is the shot itself:



Here are some other shots from the first week, this is from the hotel room day:



This is a close-up I shot with the Lensbaby:



A night shot:



Crissy Field, with the weather cooperating:


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Hi David, the film looks beautiful. I especially love the look of the night shot, and how you utilized the (I assume?) existing streetlights outside. What ISO did you shoot this shot on? And what source did you have in the room to get that toppy edge light on him? Did you correct with a gel to match the lamps outside? It looks great, I love the shape of the light on his face.




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End of Week 2 of 4


Halfway done, which is hard to believe. We’ve finished the San Francisco portion of the shoot and start in Big Sur on Monday, in a cabin deep inside Bixby Canyon.


We started our week on Monday at Laguna Honda Hospital to do a scene where Jack Kerouac visits on old friend in a T.B. clinic. It was very foggy that day, which was beautiful, though I joked that it was probably not the healthiest place to recover from T.B.


I mostly used available light all day. We ended the day doing some driving scenes on the Great Highway using a process trailer; I had two 1.2K HMI PAR’s for fill light coming through the front windows but it was so dark that afternoon that I ended up with every scrim I had crammed into them just to balance with the exterior. I’ll probably have to fix some of the last shots in post to make them look less dusky. But I did grab a nice unscripted moment of Jack walking along the shore at magic hour, shot at 72 fps to slow down the choppy waves. It was beautiful to watch the full-rez images in slow-motion in the camera truck on Dane’s big computer monitor.


The second and third day was spent in an apartment on Haight for scenes between Jack and woman that Neal Cassady introduces him to. I didn’t mention this before, but Jack Kerouac is being played by French-American actor Jean-Marc Barr, mostly known for working with Lars von Trier. He’s been fantastic to work with, a total gem of an actor who just jumps into the moment and becomes the character instantly, but also works easily with the technical issues of filmmaking, making my life much easier. The apartment was three floors up, making it hard to light from the outside and hard to tent for night during the day, which we had to do. I did a lot of interior scenes with available window light mixed with some Kinos or a bounced Joker 800 Source-4 Leko, but for one sequence I managed to get an 18K HMI up in the air on a scissor lift, but it ended up not adding much light to the room being so far away. Night interiors were lit with a Chimera Pancake light (sort of a pyramid-shape soft light with a skirt; I think it was a 1K globe inside) hung overhead from a wall-spreader.


The fourth day was in the eastern end of Oakland shooting scenes at Neal Cassady’s suburban home in Los Gatos. Most of the scenes were set at night, so we tented the house for the first few scenes during the day, then went outside for a magic hour exterior, then went back inside, then went outside for a night exterior. All told, it was something like a 11-scene, nearly 15-hour day. It really should have been split over two days but that’s the nature of this sort of budget and schedule. We picked a house with a nice 50’ ranch-style look with a long picture window in front that turned out to be nearly exactly 2.40 : 1 in shape, so we shot a whole scene framed by that window, outside at night looking into the house.


The last day was shot just south of the downtown area in an industrial district called Dogpatch. We were mainly there because of a night exterior scene involving Neal Cassady working at a auto tire recycling center, some place where he works on retreading old tires. That was lit mainly by having the art department run some string lights over the tire yard and hang some fluorescent shop lights in the background, then bringing in a lot of tires (thank you, Max Biscoe, our Production Designer!)


We also shot an exterior scene at a phone booth by some railroad tracks, and did some poor-man’s process work with cars on an insert stage in the neighborhood. One car scene was shot with greenscreens. These were all night driving scenes as the characters drive out of town from San Francisco, or towards San Francisco, on the old Bayshore Highway. The main car was a Willie Jeepster, which has a soft top with plastic windows that were so wrinkled and scuffed up that I realized that it was pointless to put a greenscreen outside of them because you’d never be able to pull a key, and I was allowed to use a razor blade and cut out the plastic windows. So I did it all poor-man’s and hoped that the scuffed-up windows would obscure a lot. But another scene was in a Cadillac with normal glass windows, so I used a greenscreen. The third car scene was in a taxi cab as Jack is being driving along Highway One at night in the fog, just before he gets to Bixby Canyon Bridge. I shot that poor-man’s also, but with the stage heavily fogged up. I just hope I can replicate that look when I shoot the exterior scene at the real bridge on Highway One, for when Jack is dropped off by the cab. For the soft blue-ish foggy look I basically surrounded the car with daylight Kinoflos. I had a little eyelight/fill hidden behind the front seat for Jack in the back seat – I used my Roscoe Lightpad for that.


As far as filtration goes, I started using my ¼ Hollywood Black Magic (which is a Schneider 1/8 Black Frost + 1/8 HD Classic Soft) for some close-ups because this week we had female stars working on the show and I wanted to be more flattering. I also shot the scene in the tire depot using a 1/8 Black Frost just because it looked nice in combination with those string lights. Otherwise I shot clean because of my plan on softening the blacks in post.

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  • Sustaining Member

I'll post a few reduced JPEG's but without my additional Photoshop diffusion to show you something closer to the frames that Dane sends me in the evening.


Apartment scene, mostly available light with a Joker 800 Source-4 bounce off of the ceiling for fill:



Even though we turned on HDRx for these shots because of the hot sheers, Dane tells me that the Log version without HDRx added already holds all the info in the bright windows.


The scene framed through the picture window:



The foggy poor-man's cab scene:



I liked doing that because it seemed sort of old-fashioned. The low fill on Jack's face was from a Rosco Lightpad hidden behind the seat.


The tire depot, lit with the overhead string lights, and the 1/8 Black Frost on the lens. We also had a 2K up high in the far left corner on top of the roof but most of the light came from the practicals in the shot:


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  • Sustaining Member

looking great


one question how did you light the night shoot of the apartment shooting through the window?


is it all practical?






I had a 1K Woodylight (medium Chimera bank on a 4-bulb unit, 1K total) behind the camera left wall, and another in the back room creating an edge light on Josh Lucas, and a 2-bank Kino on the floor uplighting him, otherwise it's all practical lighting. There was also an orange-gelled tweenie raking the outside of the window and a Dedolight under the lens for a small eyelight -- both were necessary because at one moment, Radha Mitchell leans up to the glass to look outside the window, so she leaned out of all of the room lighting.

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