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David Mullen ASC

The Quiet

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That low-budget (under 1 mil.) feature I did in Austin, TX in conjunction with some UT Austin students on the crew, came out today on DVD. It was shot in 24P HDCAM on a Panavised F900 through Panavision Dallas, 8-72mm Digital Primo zoom.

 

We smoked a lot of the movie and aimed for a stylized cold, blue-ish look, somewhat desaturated. It was not intended to look realistic. Many scenes indoors were shot in "moonlight" for example. Scenes that were not smoked used a #1/8 ProMist, sometimes combined with a #1/2 Soft-FX on close-ups. I pulled some sample frames that give you an idea of the approach. We tried to shoot in silhouette a lot.

 

quiet1.jpg

 

quiet6.jpg

 

 

Here is an ordinary dinner scene, the people lit by the real bulb in the overhead practical.

 

quiet4.jpg

 

quiet5.jpg

 

For a later dinner scene with the same lighting in the wide shot, I decided to replace the bare bulb for a Chinese Lantern on the close-ups:

 

quiet7.jpg

 

 

I discovered that I could backlight the shiny tiled hallway in the school at night with a single vertical Kinoflo tube outside of the glass doors. That single tube got reflected down the length of the hallway. Here I played the scene in silhouette:

 

quiet2.jpg

 

In this later scene, I added an overhead Chinese Lantern:

 

quiet3.jpg

 

 

Here is a day scene in the school hallway:

 

quiet8.jpg

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Looks great! I've been fascinated by silhouettes lately, but I've had trouble trying to create them on set. What are some keys to getting a proper silhouette - or what kind of a exposure value difference did you go for between the dark subject and the background?

 

Also what do you think of the contention that blue is the most distracting and "amatuer" color of light to put in the frame? It appears you've handily avoided whatever pitfall that may be, but I've read DP's who are so decisively against it that I wanted to get your take on it.

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Figuring out the exposure for silhouettes is the easy part when you're shooting digitally -- you can see the results right there. The tricky part is to try and get the black object framed against something bright to create a good silhouette. What the frame grabs don't show you is the movement of the actors and camera, which can help in creating separation from the background too.

 

Smoke helps too in that it creates a lower-contrast background with an overall wash/haze that makes a dark foreground object standout more clearly.

 

Blue is just like any other color -- what matters is if it is motivated by the story and hopefully can be logically motivated as well. Warmth and coldness are probably the two color effects that are easiest to justify since there are many real life sources that naturally create warm or cold lighting. Odd colored lighting like red or green is harder to justify unless motivated by a source that color.

 

Whenever I do a cold-looking movie, one of the films I look at is "Blue" by Kieslowski.

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Just looking at the extras on the DVD, I'm featured heavily in the "shooting on HD" segment. It's the first time I've seen so much footage of myself talking and at work. It's clear that I belong behind a camera, not in front of one!

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David,

 

- Just wondering what kind of settings you used to get your blue look - desaturizing colour with a lower ct preset, gelling lights with blues and contrasting this with warmer gels on face/character key lights? etc...

 

... interested to hear more from you...

 

Cheers.

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I turned the Color Matrix and Rec 709 off, which gives you a somewhat softer color pallette. Rec 709 (ITU 709) gives you somewhat punchier colors and boosted red chroma.

 

Day scenes were shot with the "C" filter (sort of a halfway balance) or the "A" filter (an 85 filter) but never the "D" filter (Sony's orange filter that makes day scenes warmish.)

 

Night interiors used half-blue light for moonlight (1/2 CTO on HMI's or 1/2 CTB on tungsten.)

 

I learned the hard way on a day-for-night shot in "D.E.B.S." to never use full blue on HD, unless I want the image to go completely monochrome with just blue overlaid heavily. You need to record a little info in the other channels.

 

Sometimes when I have a night exterior entirely lit for moonlight, it's easier to leave the HMI's ungelled and use the "C" filter setting in the camera (sort of an 81EF correction.)

 

Because of some noisy blues I had in the film-out, I probably shouldn't have used the +3db boost in low-light for some shots, but just boosted the light level, perhaps even enough to use -3db. Or exposed my night scenes a little more brightly and brought it down in post to keep the noise down. It was tricky because this was a movie where the director pushed me to make scenes darker; maybe I should have just darkened the video monitor... I should have remembered Eric Adkin's advice regarding using bluescreen on "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" and predicted the blue noise problem. However, it was not enough to see on a 22" HD CRT monitor, and I didn't really see it much on a 50" HD CRT monitor in post, mostly in the film-out to 35mm where it really popped in some shots. Luckily, it kinda looked like grainier film stock...

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David,

 

First off, great work. You've proven again that you can take a small budget and make it look much bigger, consistently throughout. Whatever compromises you may have faced were certainly well worked out.

 

A couple questions:

 

1) During the basketball game scene, did you also shoot with the ITU 709 Matrix "off?" Aside from being normally color balanced compared the rest of the film, the colors still seemed more naturalistic and without the annoying oversaturation in skin tones you often get with the F-900. It looked nice.

 

2) How did you do the slow motion shots? Did you shoot those shots 60i? Or did they take 24P scenes and use a post technique to create the "tweener" frames? And was it just me, or was there just a slight increase in noise in those shots (on the DVD)?

 

I'll have to go back and read your journal for "Dot."

 

http://www.cinematography.com/forum2004/in...c=2679&st=0

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I loved But Im a Cheerleader...but man this movie was horrible! However it did look bigger than its budget. David who were the UT students? I was surprised to see Jamie Babbit directing a burnt orange film!

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Yes, ITU-709 was always left off. The basketball game was lit by a grid of Parcans or Source-4's (can't recall) pointed down with a piece of 216 on the end -- the next day, the 216 was replaced by party gels for the school dance scene. Probably the basketball game looks more saturated because it's lit up more than most of the movie, plus it's not biased towards the blue, so skintones look more natural. Unless you want a poppy color look, I've come to the conclusion that it looks more natural to leave the ITU-709 off and let it be slightly desaturated. The big problem with ITU-709 is the red chroma boost, which leaves things like red lips or blood looking really cartoonish.

 

The slo-mo was created by switching the camera to 60i mode and converting that to 60 fps in post.

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT

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I had some issues with the screenplay and I think that Jamie came to similar conclusions while editing, but at some point, when Sony bought it after the Toronto Film Festival premiere, they wanted to return the cut back to an earlier version that matched the original script, including the voice-over, which I thought was a bad idea (to have a movie narrated by a deaf-mute yet keep it a surprise that she was not really a deaf-mute until late in the movie.)

 

This was a film where the chance to work with Jamie Babbit and to shoot in Austin, TX sort of trumped my misgivings regarding the screenplay.

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Probably the basketball game looks more saturated because it's lit up more than most of the movie, plus it's not biased towards the blue, so skintones look more natural. Unless you want a poppy color look, I've come to the conclusion that it looks more natural to leave the ITU-709 off and let it be slightly desaturated. The big problem with ITU-709 is the red chroma boost, which leaves things like red lips or blood looking really cartoonish.

 

Thanks. That's what I meant, that it looks more naturalistic compared to the "709" look. Was the camera original less saturated looking than the DVD?

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Thanks. That's what I meant, that it looks more naturalistic compared to the "709" look. Was the camera original less saturated looking than the DVD?

 

I think it's pretty close to the original. You have to remember that there is a psychological effect that after looking at blue-lit desaturated scenes, a normal scene will look more saturated in comparison.

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I think it's pretty close to the original. You have to remember that there is a psychological effect that after looking at blue-lit desaturated scenes, a normal scene will look more saturated in comparison.

 

Yes, I agree. I meant that the basketball scene looked really good, and less saturated, compared to other F900-originated movies. I've always found the Sony to be too warm in the reds/oranges, and the 709 matrix seems to be a large part of that. Thanks!

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This may be a weird question, but how would you describe the color space that the camera is working in when you turn off the ITU-709 color matrix?

 

I just shot my thesis film using an F-900R with the 709 matrix on, but then going in and dialing the saturation to something like -25 to get it looking "normal" to my eye. Was the desaturation just undoing the matrix? Do you guys have a guess as to what the difference would have been if I'd just left the matrix off?

 

Looking forwards to checking out "The Quiet" DVD, the stills look great, David.

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ITU-709 is just a set of color space parameters for the image to look a certain way on an HDTV monitor. People find it useful when shooting HDTV because it looks more colorful than turning it off. There are some other pre-set color space matrices that are an option but no one ever uses them (like "NTSC" is an option.) You can cycle through them and see if you like any of them. Truth is that you undo a lot of the color parameters as soon as you color-correct in post or play with the Multi-Matrix in the camera anyway, so ITU-709 is just a starting point.

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Hi David,

 

Do you recall what detail settings you may have used? I just came off an F-900 shoot (I was gaffing) and we played around a bit with the detail, starting with it "off" but ended up using -35 or so, and I'm not sure where the frequency or limiters were set (although I suspect they were at "Clairmont" default).

 

I'm always playing around with detail on all the cameras I use, but I always feel that detail "off" is just way too soft looking even on the F-900. Since I've never filmed out any HD stuff, I can never test the settings under the most critical viewing conditions. On a 20" HD CRT detail "on" but in sufficiently negative values doesn't show any artificial-looking artifacts, and much sharper than detail "off." I scrutinized small specular highlights (where detail usually shows up the worst-looking) and was hard-pressed to see anything artificial looking.

 

I'm just curious what others are using for detail settings, and why detail "off" seems to be so popular.

 

Oh and BTW, we turned the 709 matrix "off" and with further Master Desaturation got a beautiful, smooth, "pulled" look in camera.

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Galen, it's time to go to My Controls and update your Display Name to a real first and last name, as per the forum rules.

 

Michael, I usually alternate between using the Detail at around -60 or just turning it off (I think in this case, it was at -60). -35 is a bit borderline becoming visible on the big screen, especially if you crop to 2.35. I found than when cropping to scope, where you'd think you'd want more sharpening, actually the edge artifacts and noise are more visible due to the loss of vertical pixel resolution, so you want to use less Detail.

 

Since you can add more Detail in the color-correction or the Arrilaser film-out, there is an argument to made for turning it off in camera -- or using it at a less-strong setting than you feel you need.

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That is my real name. I guess i'll add a last name, but i'm a little skeptical of putting information on the internet.

 

I'm going to check out the DVD for your extra feature alone.

 

Can I ask you what it was like working for Burnt Orange?

Edited by Galen Carter-Jeffrey

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That is my real name. I guess i'll add a last name, but i'm a little skeptical of putting information on the internet.

 

I'm going to check out the DVD for your extra feature alone.

 

Can I ask you what it was like working for Burnt Orange?

 

You're a film student -- how many millions do you have for the internet crooks to steal? ;)

 

The Burnt Orange folks have always been nice to me. I also wonder how much longer they can support what they are doing without a commercial hit. It seems to me that they will have to either get much smaller and cheaper if they want to do more art house fare, or bigger and more expensive (but more commercial). I also think they should do more projects developed by UT Austin students, but again, on a smaller budget.

 

I've worked with other small companies trying to make a slate of indie films, and often they fall into the trap of making something too arty and risky first, not realizing that it gets much harder for them later if the first one finished isn't financially successful.

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Amongst most of the undergrad students that I know Burnt Orange is kind of a Joke. A friend was an assistnat editor on Homo Eructus and he said he only laughed once in the entire movie. I'm kind of disapointed really, I had such high hopes for them when I came here.

 

 

They really need to do a solid genre picture.

 

"It seems to me that they will have to either get much smaller and cheaper if they want to do more art house fare, or bigger and more expensive (but more commercial). I also think they should do more projects developed by UT Austin students, but again, on a smaller budget."

 

I would also like to see more students involved also, but given their circumstances I dont really see that happening.

Edited by Galen Carter-Jeffrey

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A friend was an assistnat editor on Homo Eructus and he said he only laughed once in the entire movie.

 

Well, I suppose it's one kind of lesson, that it's not so easy to make a good movie, despite everyone's good intentions.

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Well, I suppose it's one kind of lesson, that it's not so easy to make a good movie, despite everyone's good intentions.

 

Amen to that!

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To be fair to Burnt Orange while yes they do not actually place students in real key positions (except their second film which was a very small effort) they do however give many students, such as myself, a chance at getting some real work under them. David can tell you that Jeremy Rodgers was a relatively fresh face when he started. He is now doing very well for himself after finishing The Quiet with David. He had paid positions on every B.O. film and has worked on many other features including the tv series Friday Night Lights. I can attest too that it was monumental in helping me build a network and has led to 8 features in little over a year that I worked on as a 2nd A.C. or camera PA. I was even asked to DP the title sequence for their most recent film "Elvis and Anabelle". That was a film shot by Conrad Hall jr. so to get to work with him and then shoot material that would cut with his work was more educational than any classroom. Not to mention my first venture shooting 35mm. So show some support for B.O. Galen I think that if you really want to work in Austin B.O. can help you get in. I hope they continue to make their films and bring in incredibly talented people like David Mullen, Scott Billups, and Conrad Hall jr. to educate by example. So thank you David and I hope that you too support their effort, just wish that I could have worked on The Quiet (it was the only B.O. that I DIDNT work on) so I could have got a chance to see you work.

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