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David Mullen ASC

The Love Witch

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I'm shooting an indie film called "Love Witch" for director Anna Biller, who has posted on this forum in the past about classic studio cinematography. We met back in film school at CalArts and I shot a short film for her in the mid 1990's in 16mm in the style of an old Technicolor movie. She asked me to shoot her latest feature in a similar hard-light style, modeled somewhat on 50's-60's color movies such as "Marnie". Anna is also doing the production design, costumes, and later, the editing.

 

We are shooting in standard 4-perf 35mm 1.85 on an Arricam ST and plan on a photochemical finish, and then a transfer to digital from a timed IP. FotoKem is handling the processing and HD dailies (to ProRes 422 LT). I'm shooting most of the movie on the slowest speed tungsten stock available, Kodak Vision-3 200T, rated at 100 ASA in order to get the printer lights up higher for more saturation and contrast. This means I need to get up to 100 foot-candles of key light just to achieve an f/2.8. For day interiors scenes on stage, that's a lot of light and a lot of heat.

 

We are using mostly Zeiss Super-Speeds and I'm averaging near an f/2.8 for everything inside. For a couple of interior locations where I have to balance to daylight and don't have enough light to use an 85 filter (and thus end up with an effective 64 ASA), I'm switching to Vision-3 250D rated at 125 ASA. With HMI lighting, I can get to an f/4 a little easier but it's easier to do this old school hard lighting style with the tungsten fresnels.

 

We're about halfway through the shoot so far. We spent two weeks in a warehouse converted to stage space in North Hollywood shooting on sets, then a week outdoors in a park, and then spent last week at the old Herald Examiner building using some of their spaces.

 

I won't be able to post any images for a couple of months at least, so when that happens, I can discuss the technical aspects more clearly.

 

Ideally, the best stock to use for this Technicolor look would have been the EXR 100T that Kodak used to make a decade ago, printed to Vision Premier 2393, also obsolete now. Or maybe the Fuji Vivid stocks, though I think they only made 250D and 500T in that style, and I would have needed a 100T or 250T version. Anyway, the choices have been reduced to Vision-3 negative and regular Vision print stock. Vision-3 200T is pretty sharp I'm finding and I'm using a lot of diffusion filters to knock that back and get a more glamorous look, which is fun.

 

I'm finding that I need to use a direct 2K (Mole-Richardson stage Junior) at full flood about 15'-20' away or so to get an f/2.8 key, for closer work, a 1K or 650w Tweenie is bright enough, again, all direct.

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We are shooting in standard 4-perf 35mm 1.85 on an Arricam ST and plan on a photochemical finish, and then a transfer to digital from a timed IP. FotoKem is handling the processing and HD dailies (to ProRes 422 LT).

 

Yeah, baby! :D

 

Sounds like a blast, David. I remember you said you wanted to get back to shooting film, so enjoy. Anna sounds like a director who truly appreciates the medium of film. Looking forward to seeing the frames.

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Muy interesante! Are you enjoying working photochemically? I'm trying to picture overexposed but diffused medium speed stock but I can't - it sounds cool, though.

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Hey David, it sounds great that you guys are following the photochemical workflow. Do you find any advantages to photochemical workflow over DI - considering you will have to get the color timed print digitized? Cost wise and quality wise. Thank you and good luck with the shoot.

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I'll answer that once we go through post... personally I'd prefer to do a D.I., there are too many advantages in terms of matching contrast, blending shots, etc. But when the footage is perfectly shot and exposed, then nothing beats a straight contact print, the quality is amazing. It's just that movies are more than pretty but isolated shots, there is continuity and storytelling involved where sometimes it is more important to keep a seamless feeling from cut to cut with in a sequence. But since I believe that you should deliver footage as close to the final look as is practical, I tend to shoot as if I weren't going to do a D.I., even when shooting digitally -- it's a matter of pride to have footage that cuts smoothly and looks properly exposed for the look, etc. But sometimes there are post tricks that can save time on the set, so you have to be pragmatic.

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The reason I am asking is that I am prepping for a project that I'm planning on going with flat 85 and photochemical workflow. I was just wondering about digital versus photochemical workflow in terms of cost. Thank you.

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D.I.'s are pretty expensive so shooting 4-perf 35mm and doing a neg cut and contact printed finish is cheaper assuming you have few digital effects... But if you do a D.I. you could shoot 3-perf and save some money to pay for some of the D.I. costs, but also consider you need to finish to 2K and HD minimally these days for theatrical and home video. If scanning a color-timed I.P. then it's a cheaper D.I. than working from uncut o-neg scans and doing a conform, and color-correction will take fewer days, but you still are going through some form of a D.I. or at least an HD telecine.

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-- it's a matter of pride to have footage that cuts smoothly and looks properly exposed for the look, etc.

 

You said it, David!

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This is my kind of production. It's nice to hear someone else using hard lighting and make a "studio" picture. If you're talking about "Marnie" the Hitchcock film, it's got an interesting look, as most of his films do. You could always do what Hitchcock did, shoot rear projection in the studio for those outdoor scenes!

Of course, I guess we would chromakey it today. Who has time to sync a rear screen projector....

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Re: Scanning the IP, why scan the IP rather than a showprint? Intermediate stocks are designed to print and be printed from while release stocks are designed to hold the desired image, right? And how many prints do you have to make to warrant intermediates?

 

Looking forward to seeing frame grabs.

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If you scan the IP you don't lose a generation in the printing. The image will be ever-so-slightly sharper. Then you can just apply the color timing you did in the print to the digital version.

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The contrast of a projection print is too high to make a good-looking transfer for digital presentations... Just look at some old movies on DVD where only a projection print existed for transfer to video, they look rather harsh. Plus a print is usually made on a continuous belt printer whereas the IP is made on a step printer so is steadier and sharper.

 

An IP has the gamma of camera negative but would be color-timed and single strand with no splices.

 

There used to be a poor man's compromise which was a low-con "telecine" print, too flat for good projection quality but cheaper to make than an IP, but I believe Kodak discontinued the stock.

 

Anyway a distributor would expect the quality from a transfer from the o-neg or IP; they generally would not be happy with a telecine of a projection print unless it was an old movie and the only source.

 

For example, the blu-ray of the long European cut of Ridley Scott's "Legend" was made from a print because the original negative had been recut to make the U.S. version and there are no surviving IP's of the European version (with the Goldsmith score). So some reviewers were disappointed with the quality of that blu-ray.

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There is no hard rule but generally you wouldn't want to make more than a dozen prints or so directly from the o-neg and you'd definitely want a protection IP made first. But historically there are famous cases where hundreds of prints were made from an original negative, causing much wear and tear (the original King Kong for example, or Star Wars).

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Intermediate duplication stocks are designed to copy a piece of film with minimal increase in grain or contrast, i.e. show as little generational loss as possible.

 

A projection print has a high contrast so that blacks look black when a bright projector lamp shines through the film and throws an image onto a white screen, so there is a loss of dynamic range compared to the information stored on the negative or an intermediate dupe of that negative.

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Anna Biller said I could post a few frames now online. I pulled a range to give you a sense of our non-contemporary (i.e. classic Hollywood studio style) approach. Besides directing, Anna did the sets and costumes, which is a huge part of the look of this movie.

 

lovewitch1.jpg

 

lovewitch2.jpg

 

lovewitch3.jpg

 

lovewitch4.jpg

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Most effects are done in-camera -- for example, I used a kaleidoscope lens for this shot:

 

lovewitch5.jpg

 

 

I created a red grad effect by cutting a slit in a red party gel taped to the matte box, about six inches away from the lens to control how sharp-edged the effect was. You can see the star-type flare from the Dior net on the lens in the reflection in her eye:

 

lovewitch6.jpg

 

The deep blue moonlight is my little homage to Douglas Sirk / Russell Metty and "Written on the Wind"...

lovewitch7.jpg

 

lovewitch8.jpg

 

A good example of the effect of using 200 ASA stock rated at 100 ASA and the high light levels involved -- I had 150w light bulbs in these practicals and they are barely reading as being on! This shot, like most, was lit to an f/2.8 and shot on Zeiss Super Speeds. Generally key lights for a scene like this would be a direct 2K fresnel, or a 1K fresnel for closer shots:

lovewitch9.jpg

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Most of the movie is shot through various degrees of diffusion - I was a little surprised at how sharp overexposed slow film stock was, so I used much heavier filters than I ever have in my life to get that older glamour style. My favorite combination was a light black veil material I found in a fabric store, stretched on a frame, combined with a light Classic Soft filter. That gave me more fine control than the Dior and Fogal nets I used for the tighter close-ups but were generally too heavy for wider shots. For the separate story arc of the police investigation, I mostly just used a #1 Soft-FX filter to take the edge off but generally that portion of the story is cleaner, more straight-forward, and those scenes mainly involved the male characters such as the last frame above.

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It looks really good David. I don't know why but it has that older movie look, which is pretty cool in my opinion.

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Ah - thanks! What steps are between scanning a timed IP and projecting a DCP?

 

The scan (2K or 4K) would usually be delivered as 10-bit Log DPX files even though color-correction is baked in -- it would get color-corrected electronically, just much faster than if working with original negative with no corrections built in, so you are still doing a D.I. session using the I.P. but you schedule fewer days to do it in. That scan would be corrected in the P3 color space of a digital projector and another Rec.709 color version would be made for home video, downscaled to HD.

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Looks fantastic David! I love how you've committed to using the actual lighting style of the period and recreated that 50's-60's hard-lit Technicolor look down to the colored fill and edge lights. I think a lot of cinematographers would have lost their nerve and softened their keys a little bit or used more soft top light. You must have had a lot of fun on this shoot. The second to last image with all that pink and red reminds me of 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourgh' (not Technicolor, I know). What were some of your references for this film?

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