I recently wrapped my 2nd RED feature, a revenge thriller called THE BRAZEN BULL, starring Michael Madsen, Rachel Hunter, Jennifer Tisdale, Gwendolyn Garver, and David Fletcher. During the shoot I kept a brief DP journal and having just received permission from the Producer to post stills, I thought it might be interesting to post some excerpts from my ongoing journal from the production, as well as notes and thoughts afterwards. It's a long posting (can you tell I've got a little too much free time on my hands this past week?)......
Anything in ITALICS are taken from the DP journal I kept during the show (usually these were just brief notes, maybe a paragraph or 2, I jotted down each night at wrap) whereas everything else is being written after wrap.
The film was a major challenge for 2 reasons – the location and the schedule. Virtually the entire film takes place in one building, but the location we shot in (an abandoned high-rise in Van Nuys, CA) had no power and no working elevator, so our two biggest logistical issues were a massive cable run to get power everywhere we needed it, and how to work out the scenes and blocking since every piece of equipment had to be moved by hand up and down stairs. The other issue was we had only a 15 day schedule (though working 5 day weeks was a nice change of pace for a low budget film). The budget was around $300K.
The director (Doug Elford-Argent) and I had done a short film together about a year ago and he asked me to shoot this film with him based on that experience. I think we make an excellent team because we have virtually identical visual tastes and senses of humor – where we differ is also a strength because we compliment each other – he is more interested in what’s most visually interesting and I’m more interested in what the story point is – it’s two different roads to get to the same palce. We push each other and keep each other honest at the same time.
Some of the films we looked at for reference were SESSION 9, THE MACHINIST, SEVEN, etc. Doug was very keen on incorporating as much camera movement as possible into the film and trying to avoid the typical things one sees in a low budget film made on a fast schedule – master, over the shoulder, over the shoulder. We both of course knew that some of the film would invariably be that type of shooting out of necessity, but we both pushed very hard to minimize the use of “conventional” coverage and create more interesting ways to shoot the film and connect the scenes together. Another element that made things interesting was that after Scene 11, the whole film essentially takes place in real time since it’s all over the course of one afternoon that turns into evening.
Doug and I spent about 4 days crawling over the location, trying to find interesting ways to stage everything, tie together all the scenes (“So if they run out of THIS doorway on the first floor for Scene 67, they could enter through THAT doorway on the third floor for Scene 68…”), and minimize how many floors we shot on since moving floors would be a huge loss of time. In the end we settled on the basement and first three floors – there was one scene Doug wanted to shoot on the roof, and while I wasn’t looking forward to the logistics (remember that it’s a 14 story hike!), I agreed that from a story point it was important and it was only one scene. Overall I’m very pleased with how well we managed everything.
This was the first RED feature for Doug and the Producers – Doug had shot his last feature on an F900 and was keen to have a bigger look for this film. We framed for 2:40:1, but I elected to shoot the film 4K 16x9 because the Producers wanted us to protect for 2:40:1, 16x9, and 4x3. I went back and forth with the post house a bit and we decided it would be easiest to shoot 16x9 and matte for the 2:40:1 from that – this way the 16x9 version would be faster to create (this was entirely a budget decision). I’d been burned once before by shooting an F900 feature for 2:40:1 and having a 16x9 version made without any supervision, resulting in about a foot of headroom through-out that film. To cover ourselves, we shot with a common top-line; I left just a bit of space at the top of the frame since Doug mentioned he and his editor wanted a little bit of freedom to adjust headroom if need be, but for the most part the 16x9 version will have a lot of space at the bottom of the frame – there are a handful of dolly shots that will have to be extractions from the 2:40:1 framing, but otherwise we were very attentive to protecting for all deliverables.
We shot redcode 36 and used Build 17 – the rental house wasn’t entirely sold on Build 18 yet, and I’d just done 2 RED shorts prior to the film on Build 18 and had a few bugs that popped up (nothing too serious) – I didn’t feel there was a big difference at the time, so I was fine with shooting Build 17. Most of the film was shot using Zeiss Super Speeds (we had one day with a Cooke 10-1 Zoom) and our shooting stop was typically a T2.8. The entire film was shot clean; we used ND’s and Polarizers for a handful our 3 day exterior scenes, and for a few close-ups we used a ¼ Classic Soft, but otherwise we kept a naked lens.
PRE-RIG DAY 5/2/09
G&E crew is AMAZING. Stopped by the set today to check in with everyone and the amount of cable they are running is massive. Glad we pushed for the extra money for all of it and for the rigging day. Curtis is going to be a life-saver – we walked through the distro run and I’ve got power on every floor, in any room I want, within 5 minutes – I’ve no idea how he’s able to do this with the time and money we don’t have. By the time I left we had the first three days work mostly pre-lit and were ready to start rigging for Day 4. Still unsure how we’re going to pull off all of the work we want to get in only 15 days, but we’re off to a good start.
DAY 1 – 5/4/09
First day went great – got everything we wanted and wrapped about 30 minutes early. Madsen is a nice guy – very professional and to the point. Learned that he changes his lines and some of his blocking on the fly, but it invariably makes it better and more interesting, so I’m happy to roll with the punches – just made it a little rough when we had to toss out the shot-list and shoot from the hip on Day 1! The “torture room” (as we’ve all taken to calling it) is going to be tiresome to shoot in – there’s only so much I can change, so I feel like the challenge is going to be how to keep things fresh and interesting when the set is relatively small and there’s very little I can change in the lighting. Art department really helped out with all of the practicals. Tomorrow I should try to push the mixed color temps even further and incorporate more flares.
We only had Madsen for the first three days of the show and then one day later in the shoot, so we had to shoot virtually all of his material in those first three days. Fortunately it almost all took place in one room. Knowing that we had to move fast and would have a number of turn-arounds due to the schedule, I tried to light it with as many practicals as possible. The art department hung 4 china hats overhead that we had on dimmers, we placed a few practicals for flavor through-out the set, and our key source was a dual-headed work-light in the corner of the room (we put ½ CTB and ½ + Green on this unit) – this unit did a lot of lighting for us and created great opportunities for flares (a motif we continued to build upon through-out the shoot) but it was also troublesome because the unit got very hot and we had to be very diligent with keeping an eye on the gels because they kept burning. The back wall had 4 single kino tubes down-lighting the wallto create separation (daylight tubes with 1/2+ Green). Curtis Sherman was my Chief Lighting Technician and brought two Woody Lights to set – I’ve never been a fan of Chimeras, so I was skeptical at first, but once he put them up I was sold – these became the go-to lights for the entire shoot. They are compact, sturdy, and light-weight; you can elect to either have a 1K bulb or select between 4 different photofloods – there’s also a dimmer built into the unit, so you can rapidly adjust the light with or without any color shift by flipping a few switches. The Woody Lights became the only source we had on the floor and we danced them around as our key source for almost every shot we did on this set.
DAY 2 – 5/5/09
Very tough today. Bouncing around through the three scenes and shooting around Wendy made for an number of headaches and continuity questions. Curtis and Mike came up with the term “Biba Golic” (apparently she’s a Serbian Table Tennis Superstar) in honor of us shooting one way, then turning the room around, then turning it around AGAIN, and then yet AGAIN…….they made me laugh today – very much needed. Fortunately we rigged the room so turnarounds could be done in under 10 minutes, but it’s still demoralizing to have to say “We’re turning around…..again.” A few snags from other departments cost us about an hour today – that hurt. The Woody Lights are fantastic – I want them on every set now – very fast and precisely what this set calls for. Might have pushed the contrast too far today, but the color temps and flares were great. Camera keeps changing it’s monitoring setting between REC709 and REDSPACE without any rhyme or reason – agitating. Finally getting more camera movement into the scenes – Doug and I were in much more sync today.
We had around 8+ pages to shoot this day and during one scene a character is murdered – there was a time-intensive gag that needed to be rigged on them, so the challenge was that we had to shoot their shots prior to the effect rig being put on them, then find shots that didn’t involve them (keeping in mind that it’s one room, there are only four people in the room, and three of them are tied up), and then jump back and shoot the rest of the shots that involve them after the effect. The camera switching from REDSPACE to REC709 was a constant problem that persisted through-out the shoot; most times we caught it, but there were a few rushed times when I didn’t catch it until take 2 or 3.
DAY 3 – 5/6/09
First part of the day was odd – Madsen walking around with the EX-1, shooting himself. Doug and I worked out exactly how each piece had to work, so it felt like there was very little for me to do before lunch as Doug and Madsen walked through each piece. EX-1 is a surprisingly nice camera – great images. Watching Madsen play with the scene and swing the camera around in that set was fun. Shot the big effect of the hand being severed – everyone was clearly nervous about it working and looking right, but it worked well and looked appropriately disturbing. Remember to incorporate more camera movement – Doug wants the camera always moving and I always want a reason –I’m trusting Doug more and more and want to give him what he wants. Felipe is great – my job is so much easier when I work with passionate and talented people like him. Getting more comfortable with how to use green in the lighting – getting the right balance is funny. 1/2+ Green on Daylight kino tubes looked great on the backwall.
The first scene where Madsen’s character is seen was a tough one – it’s a 7+ page scene where he’s only seen on a television, speaking with our two female leads via a security camera. To accomplish this, we spent the first part of this day shooting all of Madsen’s dialogue so that the editor could assemble it for playback when we shot the actual scene. Within the scene, Madsen is suppose to be holding a little DV camera and talking into it (it’s theoretically being fed to the TV the girls are watching elsewhere in the building) as he moves all around the room, reveals that he’s kidnapped one of the girls boyfriend and there are two practical effects. To accomplish this, we broke up Madsen’s material into 8 different shots – this allowed us to make sure the timing of his performance would match with their dialogue (to be shot two weeks later) and it also allowed us to find ways to trade off who was operating the camera – since the effects shots had to be specifically framed, the operating for those shots was done by me, but the rest were all Madsen. We used an EX-1 shooting at 1080 59.94 and I kept the settings very neutral so we could adjust the image later in post for the playback. I was surprised by how good the images were and how light sensitive the camera was – I taped the iris so Madsen didn’t bump it accidentally, but left the focus on auto and the zoom control on – we showed Madsen briefly how to use the camera and then cleared the set and let him loose.
DAY 4 – 5/7/09
Finally got out of the torture room – shot most of our inserts today. Glad to be out of there – was running out of ways to shoot it! The wind was pretty intense, so instead of going to the roof we shot all of the bigger shots of the gang first entering the building – took some time but we got through it all and everyone seemed happy with the work. Got a little stuck trying to cheat one angle, but made it work – one of those cheats done out of necessity, not because it’s faster. Protecting for all the different aspect ratios made some of the dolly shots particularly tough today – one long push in had to take a hit – going to have to muck with it in post, but it’s unavoidable. This schedule is so fast. Last tracking shot was rushed – big set-up with very specific timing for everyone – needed bigger lights to do what we wanted. Turned out ok in the end, but not exactly what Doug and I had discussed. Wrapped right on time and everyone is in high spirits. Gregg Luckman (investor) has been on set and he’s wildly supportive – it’s a great feeling to do good work and to know you have the trust of the people who hired you. Why can’t every show be this enjoyable?
DAY 5 – 5/9/09
Felt slow today – less work on the call sheet, so I think people were a bit more relaxed. Started the day off with some great lighting – chasing Jennifer down a long corridor. 90 degree shutter worked really well – if I can get the light levels, remember to use it for the rest of the chase sequence. First time I was really excited about the lighting – I’ve been happy thus far, but this got me excited. Dark – always try to go darker. “The Yards” - its essence is something I should remember for this film. Went a little too far with the third set-up – should have used a little more light – oops - still worked though. Finished shooting the home-video footage on the EX-1 – had fun purposely doing bad operating. Had some generator trouble – lost a little bit of time, but didn’t hurt us too badly. Moved into the stairs – the windows did all of the lighting for me. Made the trek to the 14th floor roof for our roof-top scene – everyone was exhausted by the time we got up there, and I was gently pushing to get going because I was terrified of losing the light – sunset scene and I pushed hard to shoot as close to the end of the day as possible to avoid needing to bring G&E gear up there. Curtis and Felipe still amazed me – they had some lights and other gear waiting up there “just in case” – total rock-stars. Once we blocked the scene it all went very fast – other than a bounce card, I danced around with what happened naturally. Final shot was great – followed Jennifer across the roof into a flared CU and then she’s snagged away. That purple dot “sun” from the RED is annoying as hell. Got a head start on the set for Monday. Wrapped early yet again – end of a good week. Had to fire someone – not pleasant, but necessary. Hope it doesn’t trickle through-out the set and cause any bad blood.
Below are frame grabs of a few shots from Week 1. All of the frame grabs were taken into Red Alert and exported as 2K tiff files. They all have relatively minor adjustments (adding contrast and boosting the greens and blues a little). Those 2k tiff files were then cropped to 2:40:1 and turned into jpg files. For shoots done on the Red, I’ve been finding it useful to color-correct reference images for the production in the event that I’m not available to color-time the film. I typically use a CRT monitor to color-correct these images, but I only had my laptop when pulling these stills, so I avoided doing too much since they wouldn’t be terribly accurate anyways.
This is the first shot we did in this set (dubbed “The Torture Room”, even though there’s very little torturing that goes on here). The back-walls are lit by single 4’ daylight kino tubes with ½+ Green (one of the bulbs can be seen on the left side of frame through a missing ceiling tile). The hanging china hat is a 100 watt globe that was dimmed down a bit. Madsen is being keyed by a 100 watt globe practical off camera right – there was a practical already there and rather than trying to squeeze in a conventional movie light, it was easier to just move the practical in closer and use it. The ceiling is getting ambient light from our practical worklights.
This is the end of a dolly move and the second shot we did in this set on day one – it’s interesting to me that I notice the lighting in this scene getting darker as the days went on – I was playing it too safe at the beginning and getting bolder along the way. The wall behind Madsen is still being lit by the 4’ daylight kino tubes with ½+ Green. The wall behind the man on the table (actor, and producer, David Fletcher, who should have got a medal for having to do tough emotional performances while being strapped uncomfortably to a table for 10 hours a day) is being up-lit by a covered wagon hidden behind some file cabinets. The overhead practicals have 100 watt globes in them (the china hat above the table had a painted interior versus the one in the background which was highly reflective white, which is why they look different). The practicals on the table at the right are a blue fluorescent and a lamp with an energy saving globe in it. A Woody Light is keying Madsen off screen left.
This shows some use of the flared practicals – the work-light seen in the background is a dual headed unit and each light has two 300 watt bulbs in it (so there are a total of 4 bulbs and 1200 watts). We put ½ CTB and ½+ Green on the unit to get a color temperature that fit the film (the units are naturally very warm) – in this shot each head only has one bulb burning in each and the units are tilted down a little so they aren’t shooting straight into the lens (upon hindsight that would have been better and was what I was doing by the end of the week). The daylight tubes with ½+ green are still playing on the back wall. The Woody Light from the shot above was walked over to key Madsen. There’s a covered wagon dimmed to be very warm that’s creating the sheen on the back of the metal table in the left foreground – I elected to make it warm so there was some color contrast against all the cool colors in the set, otherwise I was worried about the eye getting adjusted to that color and losing its effect.
This was shot on Day 3 and was part of a long dialogue between Madsen and Jennifer – most of this was the two of them sitting across from each other, so while we found ourselves doing more traditional coverage, we kept the camera moving through-out the entire exchange to create some more visual interest. The practical work-lights were walked in close to key Madsen, while a Woody Light with a single 250 globe on is giving a very subtle kick on the left side of his face. The art department created an interesting wall by taking very thick plastic sheeting and painting it and distressing it – it’s seen behind him and it being backlit by a 5K being bounced into a white wall to create the glow. The practical seen near his head is a 100 watt globe.
When the characters first arrive at the building, there are a series of shots where we wanted to create a sense of how big the building was and how small they are in comparison to it. There’s a series of 4 dolly shots that get them into the building and show them initially exploring it – this is the first one. This began much further back and is a slow dolly forward as they first enter (this is about half way through the move). There’s a 4K HMI coming through the doorway as a back-light (and it’s bouncing into a white wall off camera left that eventually becomes a soft side light for them). Hidden around the corner on frame right is a 1200 HMI through a 4x4 of 250 to create the sheen on the frame left wall, and there’s a 4x4’ kino with daylight tubes creating the kick on the frame right wall. I also had a 1200 HMI bounced into the ceiling above camera for a very subtle ambience.
This is the 4th (and last) wide dolly shot of the characters exploring the building – after this they all separate. Off frame left is a 10K boxed in with 4x4 solids to create the hard beam of light they are walking through. In the doorway near the center of the shot there’s a covered wagon on the ground dimmed down to create a very subtle glow to show the doorway. On frame right, in the far corner, there’s a Par can with a VNSP to create the hot spot – there’s a 2K Junior with a silk topper that’s creating the glow in the far doorway, and then there’s a 5K edge-lighting the pillars. The one thing I wish I could have done better with this shot was to control the atmosphere better – we were pumping tons of atmosphere into this shot (I believe it was a DF50 hazer), but the space was enormous and there were too many broken windows, cracked open doors, etc that the haze kept rapidly drifting out of this room.
When Jennifer switches on the power, we wanted the room to light up as though it’s entirely practicals. Since the rest of the film would be so dark and contrasty, I elected to make this feel a bit flatter and brighter. The crew hung 3 strips of work lights with 100 watt globes. In addition, we also turn on a 5K that’s bouncing into the ceiling to add to the ambience.
These four shots are from the sunset rooftop scene we did. I included the raw images as well as the very basic correction I did to match them. The wide shot was one of the first shots we did (about 2 ½ hours before sunset) whereas Jennifer’s close up was done about 10 minutes before sunset (her head is covering the sun – when she’s pulled out of frame a moment later the sun is shooting straight down the lens). The wide shot has nothing but natural light and her close up has a bounce card off camera left so I could stop down a little to see some of the horizon.
DAY 6 – 5/11/09
Karma bit me today – guess it’s what I get for having such a smooth first week – felt off today. The set was a headache. Too small – too confined – everything working against the lighting. One of those sets where nothing seems to work the way you want it to – happens, but doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. Felt bad for Michael and the art department – still a miracle what they did with the time and money they didn’t have, and they far exceeded anyone’s expectations, but it still didn’t make the set any easier to shoot. Felt uninspired today. Doug and I pushed hard to get done early so we could shoot the alternate ending we came up with over the weekend with David – end of the day was great – excited energy on set and Doug and I were feeding off each other. LOVED the last shot – strong lighting and dynamic camera movement – everyone left on a high note. Exceptionally tough focus pull, but Mel nailed it as she always does – she spoils me and I can’t work the way I want to when she’s not on camera with me. New crew member is working out well.
We spent this entire day shooting morning scenes in the apartment of our male and female leads – because of the budget and schedule, the set had to be combined with other sets (if you shoot this direction, it’s a kitchen, but if move the camera 6 inches to the left you see a living room for a different location). The set also had to be built in a corner of the location and the art department had to use the actual building for one of the walls. It’s amazing what they did with so little, but the layout was difficult and getting lights where I needed them was often impossible. This was one of those sets where the Woody Lights came to the rescue again because we could cheat them over walls quickly due to their size and light weight, so I was able to still get light where I needed it. Over the weekend Doug and I had been shot-listing when David Fletcher (producer) stopped by to check in with us – while discussing the work for the coming week we talked about how the film ended and came up with an alternate ending. Since our idea took place in this set, we pushed hard the whole day to make sure there was time to re-light the scene for a night scene involving a light gag (it’s a call back to how the film opens).
DAY 7 – 5/12/09
Big Steadicam day. All on the 2nd floor – crew impressed me again by having everything in place and ready at call – Felipe and Curtis are the reason this schedule is possible – I have no idea when they get all the work done for upcomg scenes. Had to redo the shooting order on the fly because cloud coverage was making the big steadicam shot impossible. First time working with Brian Hart – incredibly positive energy and I love that he’s as much of a perfectionist as I am – harder on himself than I was. Scene 22 finally came up – went easier than expected. Mel was in the hot seat more than Brian was – incredibly demanding on her, but she shined and after 8 passes we had some really good ones to pick from. Lighting it was tough – camera was everywhere, so we either saw the lights or saw our own shadow. Happy with how we solved everything. Things felt like they moved slowly today, but we wrapped early again and got everything we needed. I’m getting bolder with using less and less light – shooting with more silhouettes. Might have pushed my luck a bit towards the end of the day. Had to shoot a lot a T2 because of the natural light we had to rely on – not a fan of T2 – try to maintain the T2.8 – better dof and the contrast is better with the lenses.
DAY 8 – 5/13/09
Rachel’s first day today – she’s a dream to work with. Total pro and an excellent human being on top of it – very funny, which was a bonus. Big day – not thrilled with the first scene of the day – had to shoot in the shade out of necessity to make the schedule, but it felt flat. Curtis tried to bring in lights and Felipe tried bringing in blacks and bounces, but we had to crank through the scene and get it done. Not bad, but not thrilling. The set spanked us again – lots of time spent to make it work for us – felt like I was re-living Day 6 again. First scene in the hallway took a long time – too long. Doug and I consolidated the next scene into one shot – took a very long time to get done, but ultimately less time than if we’d shot it as planned. Interesting how we did it – not sure if it was the RIGHT way to stage and shoot it, but it was certainly very interesting and unconventional – pretty happy with the lighting. Re-light to the night scene was rushed – felt half finished and compromised – it worked well enough though. Made the day in the nick of time- whole day felt rushed and a bit sloppy, but I know I’m just being overly critical. Stay in control of the set or it’ll control you. Outside, inside, re-light, back outside – 7+ pages – lots. Accept that some things won’t be precisely as I want them to be. Still surprised by the quality of the work we’re doing on the schedule we have. In truth I think even our “bad” days aren’t really bad, they just seem disappointing because everything is going well.
I pushed to shoot our first (and really only) day exterior very early in the morning when the scene would be entirely in the shade of our location – I knew that we had such a heavy day of work and trying to cover a dialogue scene between 5 people would take enough time as it was without contending with matching light, plus I didn’t feel we were properly equipped or crewed to try to fly a number of large frames. With that in mind, we shot entirely in the shade so there was at least consistency and we were able to get done relatively quickly.
DAY 9 – 5/14/09
One of the only days I was nervous about during prep. Final climax between everyone – big story reveals, gun fire, SWAT, and a set full of practical lighting FX. Electric crew really shined today – had the whole set rigged and gave me more options than I’d asked for – blown away by what they rigged for me. Madsen’s last day – he’s fun to work with and straight to the point – it’s an attitude I respect and appreciate. Set looked good – between the art and the lighting I was very happy. Doug surprised me – after shooting our master for the big reveal scene he came over and said he liked it and wanted to move on to the next scene – not at all how we planned it or how I would have envisioned it, but it works in a very different way. I asked to clean it up a bit and do it again since there’d be no coverage – exciting to work with a director who’s fast, knows what he wants, and is willing to take chances. SWAT stuff was a blast – I knew Doug was looking forward to it so I went all out – very dynamic camera moves and went a little over the top with the lighting (even for us) – he loved it. Finally used the 18mm – worked for the shot, but out of character for the film – 35mm and 50mm are our hero lenses. Felipe continues to perform miracles – dolly is always up quickly and he nails it the first take out. I can’t do my job without such a crack crew.
DAY 10 – 5/15/09
Roller coaster day – started in high gear and ended on a low note. Finished shooting the cafeteria set – one of those scenes where every shot is JUST as it should be and I felt like some of the best work I’ve done on the film – felt totally in the zone and excited by every shot. Wish I could figure out how to get in that groove every day – maybe bottle it and sell it? Moved up stairs to the third floor – tiring, but went pretty quickly since the crew had been working ahead of us. Opening scene looked good – took a while (finally came up with a “grip killer” set-up – first one I’ve done in a long time), but it all worked well. Then re-lit for day interior – very hot set, but it looked good – the contrast was a little unnaturally high for an apartment day interior, but it looked good and I went with it anyways – helped make an otherwise mundane scene look a bit more dynamic. Some interesting blocking – everyone went home happy. And then DIT reported some weird banding in the images – looked like negative scratches on the RAW files. Calls to everyone and the same verdict – unknown and nobody had ever head of the thing we were describing. Tech came to set after hours and announced he’d never seen anything like it. Swapped camera bodies. Decision is made to re-shoot the scene. It’s a big set-up and it only fits on one day of the schedule – that day is going to be very long. I came home feeling a bit defeated. Not looking forward to telling the crew.
I tried grabbing some frames that show the problem we had, but they’re virtually impossible to see when the image is shrunk down to something manageable for posting. Basically, around the last shot of the day we noticed an odd green line on the monitor that we could also see on the Red LCD – after wrap was called, we pulled the shot into both Red Alert and Red Cine and it looked like a pulsating line of green dots – in film I would have called it a negative scratch. As we began looking through more and more shots, we saw the problem on a number of shots – it would appear in one place, then disappear, then come back elsewhere, sometimes it would appear in multiple places at the same time, sometimes the lines would be long and others they’d be short, and sometimes the shot would be fine…….I’ll be damned if anyone can give me a definitive answer as to what this was. If anyone has any ideas, I’m open to them……. Since we only had a narrow window of time with Rachel, we only had one more day that we could have her to re-shoot the scene. I brought up the suggestion that since we had a two day weekend, we try and see if the editor could do a rough cut of the scene, and based on that edit get an idea of what type of post work would be involved to remedy the issue, but that idea was shot down and a re-shoot was scheduled. It all worked out in the end and frankly that was the only real hiccup the show had, so I’m by no means complaining.
Frame Grabs from Week 2:
These are a few shots from our long steadicam shot – the shot begins with the girls coming around the corner in the background and then leads them as they walk around an entire floor of the building (imagine walking in a big square around an office building floor). To accomplish this, we used a mixture of available light and hiding our own daylight units – since we were on the 2nd floor, we couldn’t bring anything through windows (and it wouldn’t have helped anyways since the windows were almost all mirrored on the outside, so even direct sunlight shining into the windows became very filtered). The back wall behind them is being lit by a 4K HMI through 4x4’s of 216 and 250 (I only used a 4K because it was the only HMI I had left) – this first hallway was the darkest, so the 4K kept them in silhouette whenever there wasn’t light directly on them.
Same as above, but a few more feet forward and they’re in direct light now. This is natural daylight filtering through a window and then hitting them as they pass the open doorway – the building windows faced North and South, so this is indirect ambient light – I based my lighting off of this natural light, so the entire shot was done at T2 on a 35mm. To help my focus puller, I tried boosting the ASA from 320 to 500, but there was a lot of noise and I went back to 320. Instead, I adjusted the shutter and was able to give her a T2.5 – not much difference, but every little bit helps.
This is the third hallway they move down. The second hallway is a series of narrow twisting corners, so it’s tough to pull stills that show much of value. The second hallway did, however, create a very difficult focus pulling situation, and was primarily the reason we had to shoot 8 takes of this. For my operator (Brian Hart was my Steadicam Operator and I have nothing but enormous praise for both his work and his entire disposition and personality) the shot got toughest in the second hallway because it gets very narrow and is a series of three very tight turns – at one of the turns it became so narrow that he had to extend the steadicam arm away from his body to get himself around the corner and then pull the rig back to him. For my focus puller, this shot was frustrating because she lost sight of the actors at three different points – since she’s behind the operator, when they go around the corner she has no idea how close or far the actors are – and there are three corners, so this situation happens three times in the span of about 10 seconds. Since the girls are coming from an intense scene prior to this, they are moving very fast, so when everything is mixed together my focus puller was in a situation where she could only guess where the actors might be in relation to camera. It was a situation without a good solution, but she was able to give us three good takes. In the third hallway (above) the wall behind the girls is being lit by a kino flo kick and there’s a 1200 HMI through 216 shining through the open wall on frame left that’s keying them. In the background on frame right you can see a window that was spray painted black (the paint was on the outside and we couldn’t scrape it off).
This is just a few more steps forward from the previous shot to show the difference between the girls being in the light and out of it. The shot continues like this up to a close up of a door handle being opened.
These two stills are taken from part of our built set. Without an overhead diagram, it’s almost impossible to explain the difficulties we had with this set. Due to space and (primarily) cost, three different sets had to be built as one set – for example, the end of the hallway behind the actors above turns directly into the living room set for other characters. Additionally, the wall on frame right is the actual wall of the location, painted and dressed to look like a hallway. This meant that layouts were awkward, the sets themselves were small, and the space to work around them was even smaller. For this scene (it takes place right after the rooftop scene we shot in the first week), in the wide shot at the top I put a 4x4 bead board behind the blinds in the background and bounced a 2k Mighty into it to create the glow. Above that bounce is a 2K Junior though a 4x4 Opal to create the directional light on the wall behind Rachel. There’s a window off frame left that I asked the art department to put blinds on and put a 10K through that (the 10K was a little overkill, but it was there from a different set-up, so it was easiest to pan it around and use it). Behind camera there’s another window with blinds with a 2K Junior (in place for a reverse angle) – I closed the blinds all the way, making it a warm and very soft fill light. For Rachel’s medium shot, I added a par can through the rear window to raise the light level back there just a little and I added a 4x4 Opal in front of the 10K (she steps back out of the hard light, so there was no concern about losing the blind pattern from the wider shot, and the Opal helped soften the light on her). For the medium shot I also added a ¼ Classic Soft filter.
This was one of the more interesting scenes we shot only because it’s about 2 1/2 pages of dialogue and we’d intended to shoot a number of angles with Rachel exploring the apartment while her partner interviews the other woman. Due to a number of unexpected time delays this day, we were falling behind schedule and Doug and I came up with the notion to shoot it all as one shot. I’ll reiterate that I don’t know if this was the best way to shoot the scene, but it certainly made it interesting since it’s all one fluid shot. The shot starts as a high angle wide shot (top frame) and then tracks right while booming down to end in a 3-shot (bottom frame); through-out the entire scene there are cops and photographers entering and exiting and moving around while Rachel is also wandering around the apartment. The lighting was still rushed a bit, but doing it this way got us back on schedule. In the top shot, there’s a 2K Junior through a blind creating the pattern on the frame left wall. Outside each of the two windows are a 12x12 and an 8x8 frame of ultrabounce with a 5K and some mighty’s bouncing into them to create an overexposed exterior (the equipment staging and video village are actually right behind the frames) – that was an interesting challenge because we really needed much larger frames – while they work for the opening of the shot, as the camera dollies and booms you start shooting off the frames, so we had to move them around to find optimal spots where they’d work from the start of the shot to the end. A 10K is coming through the window near the two actors and a 5K is through window in the background. There are two Woody Lights rigged above the set giving an edge to the cop talking to the woman. In the end frame you can better see the Woody Lights playing (one is edging Rachel’s partner on frame left and the other is edging the woman on frame right). As the shot neared the end, we subtely moved in a little bounce card as well to fill in the two people in the foreground.
This is the opening shot of the film – the shot begins wider than the top frame (I chose this one because the woman is walking in and out of frame) and does a very slow dolly forward as this character crosses in and out of frame on the phone. At one point she sits down and the lights all go out, cueing our introduction to Madsen’s character. Doug specifically wanted a warmer look to these scenes to counter all of the cool tones for the rest of the film, so the PD helped a great deal by painting all of the walls in warmer tones for us (this “apartment” is actually an office and what was likely a copier room on the third floor of our location – the wall in the far background is a flat and everything else was the amazing art department). I thought it was important for this scene to start different than the rest of the film, so I used a fair amount of light and kept it bright. In the top frame, each of the three practicals are 100 watts. There’s a Woody Light off camera right keying her and a 2’x4’ bounce card in the corner behind the wall on frame right with a tweenie bounced into it to continue the wrap-around soft light from the Woody. There’s also a tweenie bounced into the ceiling to further boost the ambience. You don’t see it much in these frames, but there’s also a baby playing in the back hallway (you see it play on her when she enters at the top of the scene). Another motivation to using more light was that I wanted to over-power the “street-lights” that would play after the power went out – I’ve never liked the gag of turning off one light and timing it to turn on another one, so the street-lights were on the entire time (most obvious by the lamp shadow on frame right). When the lights go off, there’s a 2K Junior with ½ CTS lighting the wall in the foreground, another 2K Junior with ½ CTS lighting her, and a 1K Baby with ½ CTS lighting the wall on frame left to create the silhouette of the lamp.
This is the reverse of the shots above, revealing Madsen (although at this point in the show he was no longer with us, so this is one of our PA’s, who looked shockingly similar to him when we doubled him in the wardrobe). He’s suppose to only be a voice, so the key was to make sure we couldn’t see him at all (towards the end of the scene he lunges towards camera). The back wall is a 2K Junior with ½ CTS, and the foreground wall is a tweenie with ½ CTS – the foreground wall was a bit bothersome because to the left of frame there’s about 2 feet of space, so getting the light and flags into the right position was difficult.
This was one of my favorite sets to shoot – the art department did an amazing job and my electric crew did a brilliant job of rigging lights and giving me options everywhere. Doug had asked for a couple of lights to be hanging and flickering on and off, so my crew took a number of existing fluorescent units out of the ceiling, re-wired them to work, and then re-installed them through-out the set (both hanging units as well as a number of units in the ceiling) – they had it all wired so we could have any (or all) of the units flickering if we wanted to (the flickering was achieved by simply putting 1K variacs on the fluorescent lights – the crew had spares ready to go if we burned out a ballast). I included three different frames to show what the scene looked like with and without the practicals on. On the far back wall there are 3 4’ Daylight Kino tubes with ½+ green down lighting the wall. The two hanging practicals have cool white tubes in them. Off camera right, there’s a fluorescent unit overhead lighting the corner with the table, as well as a kino flo with 2 4’ cool white tubes edge lighting David (there’s some atmosphere in this room too, which you can see from the kino unit glowing on frame right). There’s another fluorescent unit in the ceiling on the opposite side of the wall that’s lighting the small window we’re shooting through. And finally there’s a tweenie straight down on the wall behind the hanging practical on frame left (most clearly seen in the top frame). One interesting issue that popped up in this set is the rolling shutter on the Red and the flickering fluorescents – we’d get some odd banding across the image from time to time – it’s something the most people will likely never notice, and for the most part I don’t usually see it, but when I fast forward through dailies I can notice it more. I wonder if there’s any way to address this for flickering light gags involving fluorescents on the Red for the future?
This is a continuation of the shot above (you can just barely see the widow we were shooting through on the far left side of frame). There is a 2K Junior side-lighting the back wall from frame left (with a ½ CTB and a ¼+ Green). There’s a 5K with ¼ CTB front-lighting the shot with a 72” flag cutting the lighting off the top of David (you can see that it’s only cutting off him since the light continues all the way down the wall on frame right). There’s a little atmosphere as well. This raises the issue of flashlights – since our budget was so low, we couldn’t afford to rent or purchase the types of flashlights that would be ideal, so in our case we used a large maglight for David and I had to keep checking to make sure it was focused properly to get a solid beam out of it – as long as the batteries were fresh, the beam usually worked pretty well. The front-lighting of this shot diminished the effect of the flashlight beam.