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Austin Serr

Angels Never Cry

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Hello everyone! I'm getting ready to start production on a low budget thriller with director Janice Woo. We had shot a short teaser for the film last year as her student thesis film and now lo and behold, close to a year later we're shooting the feature. This marks my second independent feature film but it's the first that I feel totally confident in the end product based on the quality of the script, the scope of the story in relation to the budget, and the general working relationship with the director.


What makes everything even more exciting is that we're shooting this bleak thriller in beautiful Iceland! I just flew in yesterday and we are getting ready to shoot on Wednesday. The whole schedule is for 18 days, all shooting in and around Reykjavik (the country's capital). As a quick breakdown without getting specific, the story is about a married woman who starts an affair with a man who isn't as he seems... There are several scenes that call for an empty landscape out in the middle of nowhere so we couldn't have asked for a better place to shoot.


All of our equipment is being provided by local rental house Kukl, who have been very accommodating. We're shooting on an Arri Amira in 4K UHD in ProRes 4444XQ framing for a 2.00:1 aspect ratio. I'm usually a fan of spherical lenses framed for 1.85:1 but given that the landscape is going to play a major role in the mood of the film, I pushed to shoot 2:1. I'm generally not a huge fan of 2.35:1 or 2.39:1 when shooting something so character driven since I'd rather have a more vertical frame when shooting singles of the actors. However, I felt like the landscape shots would benefit from a wider frame so 2.00:1 is where we landed.


We are shooting on a set of Uncoated Zeiss Super Speeds. The film is split between present day scenes and recurring flashback scenes so my original hope was to shoot on Zeiss Master Primes for present day and the Uncoated Super Speeds for the flashbacks. As things started falling into place, it was clear that the Master Primes were out of our price range so I opted to shoot with just the Uncoated Super Speeds for the whole film, using their interesting qualities as both a way to show a fading memory in the flashbacks as well as the budding romance in the present day scenes.


This decision to only shoot on one kind of lens presents the challenge of giving distinct looks to both the flashbacks and present day scenes in ways other than the choice of lens. My plan is to shoot the flashbacks with the lens closed down no further than a T/2 to really enhance the milky blacks, softness, and enhanced flares that the lenses give when at a wide aperture. Since the lenses already have so much character and are softened so much when at a wide aperture, I'm not planning to use any filters other than NDs and a Polarizer (I also bought a set of cheap diopters for some macro shots that we're planning in the flashbacks). I also want to give it a "fly on the wall" feel by using either static, wide angle shots or voyeuristic, longer-lens shots that kind of survey the scenes and the characters in them.


To contrast that, I plan to shoot the present day scenes with the lens' aperture set to no wider than a T/2-2.8 split in order to get a sharper image with deeper blacks. I plan to shoot in the 25,35,50mm range with camera placement/movement that's more subjective to what the characters are going through instead of the more objective feel of the flashbacks.


As for the color palette, we're going for a warmer, more inviting tone in the present day scenes while the flashbacks will have a lot of blues, grays, and browns and will be graded to be slightly desaturated on top of what the production design will already give us. Our small team won't include a DIT so I'm planning to just use Arri's Rec.709 LUT when on set and then on our day off in between work weeks, I'll select various stills to grade in Photoshop as our reference for when we move into the color grade later on down the road.


I'll be posting several of these stills each week to update the thread on that week's work and so that I can get more into explanations of my lighting approach. I wanted to start this blog to hopefully give others some insight into the cinematographic process like other forum members have graciously done in the past so hopefully this will be useful to others out there (I know those other threads have been extremely helpful for me). Stay tuned for more!

Edited by Austin Serr
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