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David Mullen ASC

The Love Witch

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http://www.theasc.com/site/blog/web-exclusives/the-magic-of-hard-lighting-for-the-love-witch/

 

My AC article is now online. It's funny how I'm writing about hard lighting but what stands out in the BTS photos are the 1x1 LEDs next to the camera used for fill or eyelights. I realize now that softlights naturally show up better in shots of a set because of their size.

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I did two features on Agfa XTR250 and XTS400, both ultra low-budget

 

I'm always blown away whenever someone refers to a production shot on film as "ultra low-budget."

 

P

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Phil, I was just talking to a 1st AC on FENCES -- a 35mm anamorphic feature -- who is trying to get a group of producers to come in on a real study about costs for film and digital, with all expenses included in the breakdown. He is convinced that in a lot of non-VFX heavy cases, that the cost is probably very very close, though obviously the turnaround is going to be longer with film.

 

One of the big challenges on FENCES was that they are having to train up on set about stuff like being a film loader, because the current skillsets don't seem to support an originated-on-film workflow. And I've gotten other recent feedback from DPs -- some on the young side -- who when they do get to shoot film (sometimes as a special event on an otherwise digital show) have to deal with crews who don't even seem to have second-hand knowledge of how to do it.

 

Seems like cinematography is at the crossroads VFX came to near century's end, where motion-control and a lot of traditional toolsets got set aside in favor of the whole-cloth CGI origination, and that now we're really hurting as a result of the loss of that creative option.

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I'm always blown away whenever someone refers to a production shot on film as "ultra low-budget."

 

P

Well, it's all relative, isn't it? And things have changed in terms of average budgets, but in the early 1990s when this movie was made, over 90% of features, even the smallest, were shot on film! Otherwise you'd be talking about shooting on professional betacam equipment back then or something new like a Digital 8mm video, which few chose to do until the later part of the decade.

 

As for budget, "Ritual" was made for about $300,000, which was considered pretty low in Los Angeles at the time. The Spirit Awards even has a special category for independent features made for less than $500,000.

 

Now "Love Witch" was made for more than "Ritual", though ironically it was shot in 35mm when most indies with three or more times the budget usually claim that film is unaffordable. This was the smallest movie I've shot in 16 years in terms of budgets.

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David,

 

You wrote in the first post that your finished digital deliverable was made from an IP. I remember reading the AC article for "Hateful Eight" in which they talk about the finishing for the DCP release and comparing it rigorously to the finished print. I am assuming that was a 2K scan that you did?

 

Two questions: did you finish both in P3 and 709 (or 2020)? If so, how intensive was the process doing A/B/C testing to get the digital gamma to match the print density?

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I wasn't available to be involved with the DCP -- Cinelicious used a lasergraphics scanner to make a 2K scan of the color-timed IP and a P3 and Rec.709 version was made from that. The director supervised it but since the budget was tight and the film element was timed already, it was mainly a quick color-correction pass.

 

What's a bit annoying to me is that the trailer in the theaters is just an offline cut from the Rec.709 ProRes LT dailies -- it wasn't re-graded for P3 so it's not only compressed and a little flat in terms of black levels, but also overly edge-enhanced, etc. It was just our video dailies after all!

 

The promo spot that also plays with our leading actress saying "please turn off your phones" to the audience is better-timed for digital projection, and that was just shot on my little Sony NEX6 camera in AVCHD / Rec.709:

 

http://www.indiewire.com/2016/10/the-love-witch-promo-talking-texting-anna-biller-samantha-robinson-1201738870/

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Just saw the print at the new Alamo Drafthouse NYC/ Brooklyn.

 

It's great! I loved the films clear affinity for the 60s aesthetic while asserting its own visual grammar in tandem.

 

David,

 

I particularly admired the use of filtration. Did you ever feel you were pushing it or overdoing it? I liked how the close ups on the witch's bottle kitchen scene were star-filtered (was that a net?) while the medium shot of her was clean(er). It all worked for me, and was sometimes a visual reminder/callback to previously filtered scenes.

 

The lighting, perhaps not surprisingly, reminded me of "Far from Heaven" (2002) which is the only other recent hardish-light film I can think of shot to reference the Russel Metty-shot Sirk 1950s works. I remember reading that Lachman frequently used tungsten lamps as fill on exterior setups, to make the foliage pop more. It looks like you had a lot of fun with color, was there any discussion as to what the various colors would mean to the character and plot throughout the film?

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Thanks! Yes, I played around with the filters, sometimes they came out a little heavier than I wanted but I was trying to get something magical in key moments like with that bottle. No star filters, just the net pattern creating those effects (unless you count the rotating rainbow diffraction filter as a star filter...) Watching older movies that used nets extensively, you see some mismatching as they switched types of nets, like in "Marnie" or Slocombe's use of nets in "Great Gatsby" or "Julia"... both used one subtle type and one heavy silk stocking type. In some ways, I think the visual inconsistencies from the old Super Speeds and the nets and not having a D.I. to smooth anything out or fix anything -- plus projecting a film print -- adds to the feeling that this is an older movie.

 

The colors came from a tarot card deck, the only extra color I really added beyond the production design was the red vignette now and then.

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NY Times called it a study in red. And another great review just popped up on FB Film Forum. Time-Out Chicago - said he fell for its charms. Here in Balto Sun - A very good witch indeed - (apparently it was in the MD Film Festival). It just played at a friend's theater in Albuquerque. Excited to see it!

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LA folks have a few more chances to see The Love Witch. Cinefamily is showing it from 12/30-1/4, projected from a 35mm print. Director Anna Biller will be at the 12/30 screening.

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Hey David, I just got back from watching the Love Witch and I really enjoyed it. The script/story was a lot of fun, the costumes and set design were a blast and your cinematography was just great!

 

Having read the AC article, it was nice to finally watch it and put the pieces together. I think the filmmakers and you captured that style perfectly, it really looked like "Marnie" in a lot of ways. Pity the modern film stocks kinda make it look "modern".

 

The print at CineFamily looked good, there was a light scratch on reel 4 at the beginning for around 10 minutes :gulp: but I don't think anyone noticed it but me. Few dirt marks around reel changes, but nothing a quick cleaning wouldn't resolve.

 

Over-all, I really enjoyed the movie and would recommend it to any cinephile. It's not quite general audience, but it's still a boat load of fun. :)

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Thanks!

 

I felt that for whatever reason, the print at Cinefamily looked a bit "hot", perhaps their projector is so close to the screen that they should dial it down, I don't know. It's just that the brightness kept some of the color saturation down, especially in the faces.

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I felt that for whatever reason, the print at Cinefamily looked a bit "hot", perhaps their projector is so close to the screen that they should dial it down, I don't know. It's just that the brightness kept some of the color saturation down, especially in the faces.

 

 

I watched the film at the Cinefamily and I thought it looked terrific. I didn't get a chance to watch it at the Aero last week and I have no frame of reference.

 

I did think that the print of the movie looked completely different than the stills you've been posting here as well as the blu ray grabs. The print that I saw was extremely rich in color and tonality with high contrast and very saturated colors which I love.

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