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David Mullen ASC

90 Minutes in Heaven

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I'm just in the final days of prep for my next feature "90 Minutes in Heaven" with director Michael Polish. This is sort of our "8 1/2" in the sense that we did seven features and one short film together before this. We start shooting on Tuesday here in Atlanta, GA.

 

This movie is being made for the faith-based market and is an adaptation of a book of the same title, written by a minister who was in a major car accident; he was pronounced dead at the scene for 90 minutes before someone realized that he was still alive. He spent over a year in physical rehabilitation due to his severe injuries. During the time his body was trapped in the wreck of the car and he was left for dead, he says that he visited Heaven. So the story mainly covers his experiences starting with the car accident and his long recovery, and the effects it had on his family, plus the recounting of his trip to Heaven. (Four years ago I did another faith-based feature, "Seven Days in Utopia", which was also the last time I shot on film...)

 

We are shooting on the Alexa, in 2K ProRes 4444 16x9 composed for cropping to 2.40. Recording ARRIRAW is out of our budget range, but lately I've seen some movies shot in ProRes on the Alexa that look quite good, such as "The Theory of Everything", so I'm not too concerned. I pitched either shooting on the Red Dragon, the Sony F55, or the Alexa to the director because the costs were similar and some cameras had certain advantages over others (particularly, the smaller cameras would make our car work easier to shoot). But Michael's last feature was a small film shot by Cinematography.Com contributor Jayson Crothers (based on my recommendation), who I think owns an Alexa -- anyway, that film looked great and Michael was very happy with the image from the Alexa. So am I, actually, I've spent the last three years shooting on the Alexa, but I also like to try new things and I hadn't gotten a chance to put the Dragon or F55 through its paces. Some other time...

 

2.40 was sort of a given, we've used it for all of our films except for the first one. But I don't think Michael is as in love with anamorphic lenses as I am, and with our tight budget and short schedule, it just seemed prudent to keep it simple and stick to spherical lenses and crop for 2.40. I'm having the viewfinder / monitor set-up for near common-top 2.40 / 1.78 frame lines, or what is also called "1/4 Off-Set 2.40". I prefer this to center crop because with similar headrooms between 2.40 and 1.78, your non-letterboxed 16x9 HDTV broadcast version is easier to make and even more important, I don't get into arguments with the sound recordist about having to protect the top of the frame for both 2.40 and 1.78.

 

The only downside to not going with center-crop, other than having to explain near common-top to a lot of people, is that you're not optically centered so zooming straight in requires some tilting to compensate. I used this same 2.40 off-set format in a couple of my 3-perf 35mm features using what was called the "Fincher GroundGlass" at Panavision, made for "The Panic Room".

 

I'm getting a set of Zeiss Master Primes, plus one 24-290mm Ang. Optimo zoom. Alternative Rental is providing the gear.

 

Though I normally shy away from shallow-focus photography, it seems like a good idea to try that look out for this movie because so much of the story involves the main character stuck in a bed, suffering, and the shallow focus will visually isolate him from others, disconnecting him. Hence the Master Primes, which I hope to use around T/2 mostly. I've also got my own LensBaby with me, plus a 45mm tilt-focus lens.

 

The story is set in 1988 and I'll be using very light diffusion, either a 1/8 Tiffen Pearlescent or a 1/8 Schneider Black Frost, just to take the edge off and to get a bit of halation around bright lights, I think this will help for those moments when I want the hot light to suggest a spiritual dimension. I'm planning on creating two LUT's for the image, one that is not far from the normal Rec.709 look (just less yellow-green than ARRI's version of Rec.709) and one that is slightly less saturated with deeper blacks.

 

I'm not sure how much I'll be able to discuss during the production other than the basic technical details of the shoot. These days you sign a lot of confidentiality agreements.

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This is what the Fincher ground glass at Panavision looks like:

http://www.davidmullenasc.com/FINCHER%20GG.pdf

 

This is ARRI's Common Top frame for 2.40/1.78

240commontop.jpg

 

This is ARRI's 1/4 Offset 2.40/1.78

240quarteroffset.jpg

You can imagine what center crop 2.40 would look like.

 

In the early days of the Sony F900, I did a center crop to 2.40 for about three features (Jackpot, D.E.B.S., New Suit). The problem was mainly that the boom would dip into the space between 2.40 and full frame 16x9 (1.78) and then I'd have to zoom in in post to remove it, forcing me to pan & scan the image slightly, losing the sides. Even without the boom in the shot, half the time the headroom looked too excessive when unmatted to 1.78 and I'd have to zoom in to lose the headroom, again, causing the sides to be lost.

 

But the trouble with true common top is that you have no room for error in framing headroom and there is SO much space below 2.40 that now the issue becomes getting the dolly tracks into the outer 16x9 area, so you're back to zooming in sometimes in post to get rid of stuff at the bottom but with no room at the top to move around.

 

So 1/4 Offset seems to be the best compromise, if you protect all of the 16x9 frame, then it looks OK when you make the non-letterboxed version for broadcast HDTV. I'd still rather see things letterboxed properly to 2.40 for all versions, but you can't always win that fight. At least on blu-ray it generally gets released in the theatrical proportions.

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On the three Red camera features I did with Michael Polish, we recorded 2.00 : 1 Redcode, so in this case, we just did a center crop for 2.40, and then the HD 16x9 version was slightly taller but slightly less wide:

 

240_200_RED.jpg

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True common top shares the same upper frame lines for both aspect ratios.

That's what i thought. I've done a couple of movies with Center crop, but the 1/4 offset is a much better idea.

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It just occurred to me that another alternative would be to center crop 2.40 but instead of downscale 2048 x 1152 to 1920 x 1080 for home video / HD broadcast, instead crop 1920 x 1080 from 2048 x 1152. This would solve any resizing artifacts since there would be no resizing and would reduce the headroom difference between HDTV broadcast and 2.40, though not as much as 1/4 Offset would. Maybe it's something I'll experiment with on a future project, I haven't heard of any feature deliberately trying this approach.

 

The frame lines would look something like this:

 

240_HDextract.jpg

 

Sort of a lower-rez version of what Fincher does when recording 6K on the Red Dragon but framing for 5K inside of that for resizing, reframing, and stabilization.

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Probably you can make HD and 2K share common bottom.

 

ARRIRAW is a lot more data plus you'd need to rent an Alexa XT or a Codex or some other attachable recorder.

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How does ARRIRAW produce more data, than ProRes 4444? They're both 12 bit, I'm led to believe, so ARRIRAW's 2x pixel count should produce a third less data than ProRes's three channels. Presumably, lossless compression can be applied equally.

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Thank you very much for your thoughts on your new feature Mr. Mullen.

 

ARRIRAW is also slower to download and with the internal codex you have about 35 minutes to shoot per drive at 24fps in anamorphic, sorry I don't remember the spherical times :).

It is a pity that ARRIRAW is out of the budget, however, Prores is fantastic too :).

You mentioned that you chose the Master Primes because of the possibility to shoot with a very shallow - focus photography, do you mind if I ask you to explain a tad more what is the concept / idea behind getting the Master Primes as there are plenty of lenses out there which open at that stop an even further, obviously not that sharp though.

 

Being the movie set in the 80s would you have chosen any other lenses if you had had the option?

 

By the way, the Glimmerglass series of filters might be useful too to get those highlights a little bit expanded without being too much, I'm rather sure that you have tested them though :) , if you haven't and you have a chance, it is a very interesting filter.

 

Have a good day (and thanks again!)

 

Best.

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I'm probably using the new Tiffen Pearlescent filters -- if you look at them up close, they are similar to GlimmerGlass, in fact, I'm not sure what the difference is. The 1/8 Pearlescent seems close in strength to a 1 GlimmerGlass or a 1/4 Black Frost.

 

There aren't a lot of lens sets that open wider than f/1.4, there are the Vantage 1.1 lenses but that's about it. There are a number of f/1.4 series of lenses though -- Cooke 5i's, Zeiss Super Speeds, and the Leica Summilux-C's. Yes, I was worried about general mushiness if I had to use Super Speeds wide-open, otherwise the other two choices were fine by me. The rental house had more of the Master Primes than the other two so it was easier to get enough sets for two cameras.

 

Truth is that I may find it hard under hospital fluorescent lighting to get down to an f/1.4 anyway and I'm not sure I want to add ND filters to the diffusion and possibly deal with double reflections unless I tape the glass together. So it's possible that I could have made a T/2.0 series of lenses work if I had to. But since I'm using some diffusion, I generally like to start with crisper lenses. If I were going to shoot clean, I might have chosen some lenses that were lower in contrast. We start shooting tomorrow so we'll see what works for our location, lens-wise. But my initial concept was that shallow focus might make the shots of the actor in the hospital bed more visually interesting, less straight-forward, more "in his head" (which is clouded with pain medication.)

 

On a side note, I recommend seeing the movie "A Most Violent Year" in a theater, it's a great example of creating a period mood.

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Thank you for the answers Mr. Mullen, very informative as always.

 

I will have to go to Panavision in Dublin to see if they have those Pearlscent filters, maybe the difference is mostly in the strenght, having a wider option in the Glimmerglass filters if you want a less visible effect? Or maybe they can be combined so you use Glimmerglass and if you want to go further than the number 2 you can use the Pearls because they are denser than the Glimmerglass?

 

I think I will send an email to Tiffen just out of curiosity!

 

I'm sorry I made a mistake now that I re-read what I wrote, I meant T2 as it is the stop you will be using, my fault!

Of course you are right, not too many options available when talking about lenses with stops further than T1.3 (maybe the lenses that Kubrick used? Although I don't remember the exact T-stop and I remember the price being just out of this world)

 

Regarding double reflections I worked recently on a car commercial where we had that new matte box from Arri that you can tilt and it worked really well (we used Soft Fx and NDs and zero problems with the car lights and etc!) so if you can get one for your next projecf I highly recommend it, unless the light comes from a very very strange angle you tilt the matte box and voila! No double reflections.

 

Talking about initial concepts, when you shoot a feature, do you find it difficult to stick to the original plan or you let the movie grow and flow and embrace the new options?

 

I have wanted to see "A Most Violent Year" since I saw the trailer, it will be released soon over here so I'll go to see it.

 

Thanks a lot and "mucha mierda" for the movie as we say in Spain!

 

Have a lovely day!

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David,

 

I hope the shoot is going well for you. Could you talk about how you are creating your 2 LUTs for this film?

 

I was actually the DP of the feature that was shooting when you showed up to scout the hospital in Atlanta. Small world!

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My DIT Violet Jackson is creating the ARRI Looks and the LUT's for dailies, based on my notes. I just want something a bit muted and less yellow-green compared to ARRI's Rec.709 look, and then another one that has deeper blacks and less saturation.

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I just wrote an email to Tiffen the other day regarding the filters and this the answer just in case you were a tad more curious about the differences 😊:

 

 

"Glimmerglass is a diffusion filter that softens fine details by adding a mild lowering of contrast while adding a not too overpowering mild glow to highlights. The filter has a distinct silver sparkle to it, that when viewed by the talent can be used in an pseudo physiological fashion, by showing your talent you are using this filter to accentuate their beauty and make them look wonderful!

 

Pearlescent Filters are designed to remove the excess sharpness of today's lenses and high resolution sensors. Pearlescent filters produce a subtle new look by introducing a slight softening of contrast added to a luxurious spill of halation around highlights. These new filters aid cinematographers and photographers alike in taking the edge off the image and aid in reducing blemishes on talent adding a softness in the images highlights.

 

You can also learn more here:

http://tiffen.com/tiffen-filters/4k-diffusion-test-film/"

 

Hopefully the first day went well!

 

Have a lovely day.

 

Best.

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Just that's just marketing talk, when I want to know how a filter works, I need to know the mechanism behind the diffusion. When I look at Pearlescents up close, they have silver sparkles in them like GlimmerGlass but I do find that the mistiness of the glow from Pearlescents is less "grainy", somehow tighter. So maybe part of the design involves a different form of particulate matter to create the glow than ProMists or GlimmerGlass uses.

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Good luck with this David,

 

Probably too late and I expect you don't have the budget but I saw the removable head Alexa on a car mount the other day which was an interesting setup!

 

Freya

Edited by Freya Black

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WEEK ONE

 

We just wrapped our first week, all at a research hospital that represents one of the two story hospitals. In fact, we spent three days in a 12'x12' ICU room. Even though the walls were not movable, at least there were observation windows looking into the room, so when shooting master shots in there, the question always became whether to be inside or outside the room.

 

Since so many scenes involved people standing over the bed, it was difficult to hold both a horizontal subject like a patient in bed and a vertical subject like a standing person in 2.40 without going wide. Inside the room, I usually had to use the 16mm Ultra Prime or the 18mm Master Prime to get those shots. It's been interesting for me getting back to using primes after three years of using zooms on TV series, and to get back to framing for 2.40. You find that when you are cropping to 2.40, you use shorter focal lengths than you'd think because the cropping makes them tighter vertically.

 

When possible in other rooms, I generally back off so I can use longer lenses for the wide shots, mainly because I like the straighter lines of the architecture.

 

The Alexa has been great to work with, the wide dynamic range has been very helpful when dealing with things like white hospital clothes and using more available light without fill. In fact, I almost never have had to set up a fill light other than a small LED over the lens (a LitePanel Croma) to get a glint in the eye when the source is a bit toppy, like with the fluorescent tube over the headboard of the bed.

 

I pulled four frames just to show some of what I'm dealing with, lighting-wise. The hospital room is on the second floor and faces southwest, so the real sun, on clear days, starts to come through by 2PM. The window is too high in the air to flag the sun off of the glass other than near sunset when the light beams almost straight in. I have a condor to light through the window, set up with a 9K HMI and a 12K tungsten underslung on the platform, and then a Joker 400 HMI for night scenes as well. So in the morning, I either use natural soft window light or I shine the 12K tungsten through for a sunrise effect. Then in midday, I either use the real sun or the 9K HMI (if it is overcast) or I just go back to available overcast light. Sometimes I'll close all of the blinds and light the interior for a twilight effect, warm inside and cold outside.

 

Here's a shot where the only light in the room is the real sun coming through the windows, no fill other then a small ceiling bounce outside of the room to bring up the wall around the observation window frame:

90M1.jpg

 

We had a short hallway with windows on the second floor that we put some chairs into for a waiting room, all available light. On the opposite side of the windows were some modern boxes and an ugly exit door that we first tried to hide with vending machines but they were too large so we pulled them out. I saw a glass cabinet that I thought about using to block the left side of the hallway but it was too heavy to move -- instead I just used a piece of glass on a c-stand in front of the lens to create a reflection that hid the left side of the room:

90M2.jpg

We had one night exterior in the parking lot. I wanted an overhead streetlamp effect and had a small condor rigged with a 2K Chimera pointed down for that, but the parking lots' lights were so bright that I was able to just park the car under a real streetlamp, which allowed me to pull back even wider. So the only lighting was a Lowel Rifa raking the foreground bush and a distant light to rake the far tree line. I was at T/2 at 800 ISO, with a 1/8 Black Frost on the camera:
90M3.jpg
This is a hallway shot at night for day. I left only two overheads on down the hall, globed with daylight fluorescent tubes, then put 1000H paper on the glass doors at the end of the hall and blew them out with an 18K HMI through additional diffusion (considering I put a triple scrim in as well, I probably could have done this with a smaller HMI). The foreground was lit with a 2K tungsten fresnel with 1/2 CTO on it, hitting the wall hard for a sunset effect with siders and a topper to box in the pattern. The camera was set to 4300K so let the background go cool and the foreground go warm. You can see the bit of glow from the 1/8 Pearlescent filter:
90M4.jpg
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