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Austin Serr

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About Austin Serr

  • Birthday 06/22/1988

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  • Occupation
    Cinematographer
  • Location
    Los Angeles

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  1. Hello everyone! I'm getting ready to start production on a low budget thriller with director Janice Woo. We had shot a short teaser for the film last year as her student thesis film and now lo and behold, close to a year later we're shooting the feature. This marks my second independent feature film but it's the first that I feel totally confident in the end product based on the quality of the script, the scope of the story in relation to the budget, and the general working relationship with the director. What makes everything even more exciting is that we're shooting this bleak thriller in beautiful Iceland! I just flew in yesterday and we are getting ready to shoot on Wednesday. The whole schedule is for 18 days, all shooting in and around Reykjavik (the country's capital). As a quick breakdown without getting specific, the story is about a married woman who starts an affair with a man who isn't as he seems... There are several scenes that call for an empty landscape out in the middle of nowhere so we couldn't have asked for a better place to shoot. All of our equipment is being provided by local rental house Kukl, who have been very accommodating. We're shooting on an Arri Amira in 4K UHD in ProRes 4444XQ framing for a 2.00:1 aspect ratio. I'm usually a fan of spherical lenses framed for 1.85:1 but given that the landscape is going to play a major role in the mood of the film, I pushed to shoot 2:1. I'm generally not a huge fan of 2.35:1 or 2.39:1 when shooting something so character driven since I'd rather have a more vertical frame when shooting singles of the actors. However, I felt like the landscape shots would benefit from a wider frame so 2.00:1 is where we landed. We are shooting on a set of Uncoated Zeiss Super Speeds. The film is split between present day scenes and recurring flashback scenes so my original hope was to shoot on Zeiss Master Primes for present day and the Uncoated Super Speeds for the flashbacks. As things started falling into place, it was clear that the Master Primes were out of our price range so I opted to shoot with just the Uncoated Super Speeds for the whole film, using their interesting qualities as both a way to show a fading memory in the flashbacks as well as the budding romance in the present day scenes. This decision to only shoot on one kind of lens presents the challenge of giving distinct looks to both the flashbacks and present day scenes in ways other than the choice of lens. My plan is to shoot the flashbacks with the lens closed down no further than a T/2 to really enhance the milky blacks, softness, and enhanced flares that the lenses give when at a wide aperture. Since the lenses already have so much character and are softened so much when at a wide aperture, I'm not planning to use any filters other than NDs and a Polarizer (I also bought a set of cheap diopters for some macro shots that we're planning in the flashbacks). I also want to give it a "fly on the wall" feel by using either static, wide angle shots or voyeuristic, longer-lens shots that kind of survey the scenes and the characters in them. To contrast that, I plan to shoot the present day scenes with the lens' aperture set to no wider than a T/2-2.8 split in order to get a sharper image with deeper blacks. I plan to shoot in the 25,35,50mm range with camera placement/movement that's more subjective to what the characters are going through instead of the more objective feel of the flashbacks. As for the color palette, we're going for a warmer, more inviting tone in the present day scenes while the flashbacks will have a lot of blues, grays, and browns and will be graded to be slightly desaturated on top of what the production design will already give us. Our small team won't include a DIT so I'm planning to just use Arri's Rec.709 LUT when on set and then on our day off in between work weeks, I'll select various stills to grade in Photoshop as our reference for when we move into the color grade later on down the road. I'll be posting several of these stills each week to update the thread on that week's work and so that I can get more into explanations of my lighting approach. I wanted to start this blog to hopefully give others some insight into the cinematographic process like other forum members have graciously done in the past so hopefully this will be useful to others out there (I know those other threads have been extremely helpful for me). Stay tuned for more!
  2. I was really impressed by Wally Pfister's work on Moneyball and was surprised to see that he wasn't recognized by the ASC or Academy. I'd say it was my favorite of the year. Top 5: Moneyball Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Hugo The Tree of Life The Artist
  3. It all depends on what general focal lengths you're planning on using but I'd also recommend the 24-70mm f/2.8L (I actually just invested in one that I picked up yesterday for a shoot I'm getting ready for). It's fairly fast (one reason I wouldn't recommend the 17-40 f/4L you listed when shooting video), is amazingly sharp, and has a great general focal range. You might want a couple lenses that are wider and longer than what this lens can do but it covers a great range as far as what's considered the usual narrative filmmaking focal range. Also, it doesn't breathe! Such a great lens. Also, make sure you don't pick up any EF-S lenses if you're planning on shooting with the 5D mk. 2; they're specifically made for crop-sensor cameras and don't work on full-frame cameras. The EF 24-70 f/2.8L finished off my desired lens kit for now, which also includes: a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 EF-mount (a specifically crop-sensor lens but can be used as a high-quality 16mm f/2.8 prime on full-sensor cameras, which is actually recommended given the price and great quality), an EF 50mm f/1.4, and the EF 28-135 f/3.5-5 kit lens. This is all for a 7D, so keep that in mind. Serves my needs just fine, but I'm still contemplating getting the EF 85 f/1.8 in the future, which I hear is wonderful and would be nice to have so that I have a lens that's longer than 70mm that can open wider than a f/3.5 :P
  4. Here's a great doc on him called "In the Mood for Doyle". He's a very interesting guy and a huge inspiration for me. His body of work and how it's progressed over the years is fascinating. I'm especially a fan of his work on In the Mood for Love, Fallen Angels, Last Life in the Universe, and Limits of Control; all are highly recommended if you haven't yet seen them.
  5. I'm so unbelievably excited for this film; P.T. Anderson is quite possibly my favorite director. Robert Elswit has been a huge inspiration to me so it's a shame he won't be working on this, but I'm really excited to see what Malaimare brings to the table. I'm especially excited to see how the film will be different, style-wise, without Elswit there. I've watched and re-watched each and every P.T. Anderson film countless times to study the amazing filmmaking so it'll be interesting to see how much of that genius was Elswit or Anderson's call (they both obviously worked together but I'm sure it'll be obvious what trademarks were Elswit's once I get to see Malaimare's style when fused with Anderson's). Any new P.T. Anderson film is cause for celebration but this is especially exciting since it's the first time he's worked with someone other than Elswit. Can't wait!
  6. Very nice production design. You definitely succeeded in getting a mood across. The low-key lighting reminds me of a Fincher film. A few words of advice: the idea of including a back light to increase dimensionality is a good one, but I found it to be a little distracting. You can see the cone of light from the high up bulb hitting the wall behind the subject. In creating a lighting set-up, you should try to make every lighting choice motivated from some source of light in the set (lamps, windows, props like a flashlight, etc.). It seems to me like the only source of light you're trying to sell with this set-up is the single lamp on the desk, which makes that back light seem out of place. You said that you wanted to add the other lights to your set-up because there wasn't enough dimensionality with just the one weak bulb in the lamp. What you can do when you get into a situation like that again is have a light set up out of frame to mimic the light coming from the prop lamp that you see in the frame. This will make it so that you can keep the actual prop lamp at a reasonable exposure (meaning you won't have to overexpose the lamp in order to get the desired amount of illuminance on your subject's face) while still lighting your subject with enough light to get your idealized exposure. Overall great stuff! Looking forward to seeing the final product.
  7. David, thanks again for sharing all of this with us. I just had a question about one of your explanations of a lighting set-up: what is a "raking edge" light? The term sounds like a light that's specifically used to give dimension to a given surface, but I'm not quite sure...
  8. Here is the interview with Fong. He explains that he shot on 5219 and 5213. He exclusively used 5219 and pushed it a stop for all of the night scenes because he "needed the stop with the long lenses". And yeah, the use of hard light was supposed to be a call-back to Zsigmund. Fong explains that Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a major influence for the look of the film, so they decided to light in that style (as well as make other key choices, such as going with anamorphic).
  9. Thank you, David, for sharing your experiences on this film. It's always much appreciated. Do you have any more production stills or production reports for the last couple weeks of shooting? I'd love to see more :)
  10. Haha yeah yeah. It was still a very good film and I commend them for taking a risk with the style in a film that's otherwise very conventional (don't mean that in a bad way). I'm still very intrigued to see what Hooper/Cohen do for their next project. And yeah, thanks for pointing out "Bertie". That makes way more sense. I knew something was wrong with my spelling of it :P
  11. I just rented and rewatched this and while I still love the directing, performances, art direction and actual quality/color palette chosen in the cinematography, the framing did nothing for me. I'm all for interesting (even distracting) framing, but only if it serves a purpose. It was obvious early on in the film that the reverse lead room and large amounts of empty space in most of the framing was supposed to signify Birdie's disconnection with the rest of the world due to his inability to comfortably communicate. The reverse lead room was most apparent when Birdie and Lionel first met, which I thought was a good way to show that they were at odds with each other. The problem is that as they became more and more comfortable with each other, the framing never changed. Any possible interesting significance that could've been associated with the framing then got thrown out the window and basically became useless and served only to be "different" and "unique". Also, the scene where the empty space in the frame was most apparent was just a random scene when Lionel was at home with his family. There was a frame where Lionel's head was in the extreme lower right-hand corner of the frame and the rest of the frame was taken up by a wall that has a repetitive pattern on it. It's a really interesting frame but it serves no purpose - why would the DP and director want to convey a feeling of emptiness, loneliness, and a feeling that the family is at odds with each other? It's made obvious in the film that Lionel has a good family life; there's no need to suggest otherwise. It's an overall very solid film but the majority of the framing choices bothered me to no end.
  12. Yes, it seemed like he used a lot of large soft sources. The "behind the scenes" portion of the DVD showed him using a very large soft fixture for the church scenes. It was held up by cranes and was big enough to cover the entirety of the church! (He of course augmented this with smaller lights inside the church)
  13. I think it might be out of place if you had a "moonlight" lamp set to go along with the street lamp. This is just my opinion, but I think you should try to stay away from the moonlight idea as much as possible when lighting (in general). If a script specifically calls for absolutely no lights to be on in a scene then you will probably have to go there but I personally think it looks fake and almost always pulls me out of a film if it's a big part of the way the scene's lit. For the scene you're describing, if it's an absolute must for you to be under a sodium vapor lamp, either just use the lamp itself and adjust the blocking accordingly to get the angle you want from the light or if you don't like the likely shadows over the eyes you're going to get, throw a butterfly over your subject's head to soften the lamp, then use one of your lights with the sodium vapor gel to light their face how you want. But yeah, simpler is indeed always better!
  14. I'm in the film program at Cal State Long Beach and as far as I know the only CSU's that have decent film programs are LB and North Ridge. LB used to be one of the best schools in California for film (behind USC, UCLA, and Chapman of course and it was due to Spielberg giving us a huge grant that he never renewed - bastard :P ) but since the CSU's have taken quite a few budget cuts recently, I don't think any of them are too hot right now. We're kind of lacking in quality equipment right now but there's still a decent amount there that you would need on a shoot. We have quite a few quality post-production labs and the staff is very knowledgeable and helpful (if you're really looking to get into editing, our main editing professor is in the ACE - his name's Jack Tucker if you want to look him up). If you can afford to go to one of the top 3, I'd definitely recommend those over any of the CSU's but if you're low on money, CSULB is still a good place to go.
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