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Per Axel Hagne

First time DoP seeking guidance for Short Film

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Hey Filmmakers!

This summer i'm officially doing my first job as a paid DoP for a short film (30min approximately) .

I've never shot fiction before, i am foremost a Director and Writer for my own films. 

Although i have studied still photography for a long time, i've only shot and directed my own documentary short film.

The film is mostly taking place in one location, a forest with a cabin/small house.

I want to create a very unique look for the film, i'm gonna play with mist/rain, shoot early mornings and evenings. I take a lot of inspiration from my favorite filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky, Theo Angelopoulos and Yasujiro Ozu. I'm worried that my technical knowledge will set me back during filming, i'm probably gonna have to rely on my camera operator if that ever happens. 

We're a pretty small team of great guys and girl, so i'm in no worry that we're gonna be in a disagreement in anyway.

What are the things that i should avoid?

The lightning equipment is not much but i want to achieve a soft looking light in a lot of scenes, i will also list those below with the gear.

All tips/comments are welcomed!

 

Camera: Sony PXW-FS7 

Lenses: Sony FE 28-135/4,0G - Sony FE 24-70/4,0 - Sony FE 70-200/4,0 - Sigma AF 18-35/1,8 

Tripod: Manfrotto 519

Rig: Shoulder rig, Slider 

Lightning: 1 Smaller LED, 1 Blondie, 4 Flags, 3 Bounce boards, Black wrap, some C-stands

 

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If you're outside in a forest during the day with that equipment, you're not likely to have much ability to affect the light that much. Make sure one side of your bounce boards is black, so you can use it as negative fill and get some sort of shape in faces for closeups, perhaps.

The FS7 is a very capable camera and it's possible to create very presentable results with it. I think in your situation it'll be about blocking and framing and camera movement.

Got any photos of the location, examples of what you want it to look like, and an idea of the action?

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Thanks for your reply Phil!

I'm sure that i will be able to get some great shots with the FS7. I will try and play with the flags, that's a great heads-up!

Some photos from the location scout below. Still don't know why this website doesn't allow any uploading of better quality images..

 

61564551_288427875259055_5018015359425314816_n.jpg

62040561_841476466210586_3949052515470802944_n.jpg

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Posted (edited)

when shooting in a forest I often find it challenging to control the shadow colours reliably. there tends to be lots and lots of green cast from all the greens around you and that contaminates the shadows very easily because the key and sky ambience are limited by trees and are thus often very directional and everything around is dim and green which just reflects the green everywhere. You can use it as a part of the look of course but if you want to cancel it you may want to use large bounces (if there is enough direct sunlight available) or artificial lights (larger surface softer lights just enough to cancel the green and add a little of pure cold light to the shadows) if direct sun is not available. 

On a recent shoot I had two 4' 4-bank Kino Flos on outdoor set in the middle of the day which looked ridiculous because they are not normally used that way but they had just enough output to create a nice shaping light on a cloudy day to a couple of meters wide set without consuming too much power or being overly heavy to carry about 1km off the road to the forest along with the small genny and sandbags and stands and everything. then could bounce that kino light and the sky ambience around as needed.

47992329828_a7b1d66a56_c.jpg47992377206_5d95c3c066_c.jpg

Edited by aapo lettinen
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There's a danger in accepting any  job on a film crew that is a lead role in a department when you've never worked on any set in that capacity for anyone other than yourself.  If you're really not qualified to be there, it will be obvious and leaning on the camera operator or gaffer or anyone else is a bad idea.  Unless they're a friend who has got your back.

Doesn't matter if the position is as the DP, sound recordist, HMU or 1st A.D.   When your primary experience is only ever on your own set where you are in charge you're working in a vacuum.  You could easily be doing things terribly wrong all the time with nobody around to correct you.  So instead of experience, you could be bringing lots of bad habits and dangerous working methods to set and you would never even know.  Till the G&E crew starts whispering about you to production.

On the other hand, if this short is staffed by 100% newbies then it may be the perfect opportunity for you to learn.  Just be aware that a paid DP typically would have years under their belt on multiple crews for different producers and have a good basic knowledge of how a set is safely run and how a shooting schedule, crew and gear package is set up.  If you've never been paid to do it before and have never watched a DP work before as a 1st a.c. or operator then you're missing a lot of basic information on set procedure, protocol.  By accepting the job, you could be setting yourself up to fail.  Or not.  If it's all a group of fun friends and low stakes, be safe, be well and have a good time.  Just consider these points for the future when a more high stakes position presents itself.

 

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13 minutes ago, Michael LaVoie said:

There's a danger in accepting any  job on a film crew that is a lead role in a department when you've never worked on any set in that capacity for anyone other than yourself.  If you're really not qualified to be there, it will be obvious and leaning on the camera operator or gaffer or anyone else is a bad idea.  Unless they're a friend who has got your back.

Doesn't matter if the position is as the DP, sound recordist, HMU or 1st A.D.   When your primary experience is only ever on your own set where you are in charge you're working in a vacuum.  You could easily be doing things terribly wrong all the time with nobody around to correct you.  So instead of experience, you could be bringing lots of bad habits and dangerous working methods to set and you would never even know.  Till the G&E crew starts whispering about you to production.

On the other hand, if this short is staffed by 100% newbies then it may be the perfect opportunity for you to learn.  Just be aware that a paid DP typically would have years under their belt on multiple crews for different producers and have a good basic knowledge of how a set is safely run and how a shooting schedule, crew and gear package is set up.  If you've never been paid to do it before and have never watched a DP work before as a 1st a.c. or operator then you're missing a lot of basic information on set procedure, protocol.  By accepting the job, you could be setting yourself up to fail.  Or not.  If it's all a group of fun friends and low stakes, be safe, be well and have a good time.  Just consider these points for the future when a more high stakes position presents itself.

 

safety is a really challenging issue on indie/low budget shoots and on any film set for that matter. the HODs are responsible keeping their crew safe and to report any safety issue they observe and immediately react appropriately. Personally when in DP position I feel responsible keeping the whole crew and actors safe which involves saying NO to the director or ad or producer if something cannot be done safely enough. There is the downside that you need to be always able to find another solution on the fly which may require incredible amount of improvisation in very limited time frame. The tough part being a HOD is that you need to be able to adapt if plans change suddenly... and they always change. saying no to stupid and potentially dangerous ideas is accepted and is generally regarded as a good thing but being unable to adapt quickly and being unable to instantly find a new great solution if the planned approach didn't work will leave a very bad impression and may affect your ability to find work in the future.

The more hats you use the tougher it will get and the riskier it might get at times. it is best to choose your projects carefully and always prepare as well as you can. and if in any way possible you should hire the best crew you can, ideally them being more experienced and talented than you so that you can learn from them in the process.

if something cannot be done safely, just say no. then you will figure out a better way to do it with the resources you have available. 

ps. No cheaping on sandbags. use them as many as necessary especially if it's windy or the terrain is soft and unstable. a falling stand can really hurt an actor or a crew member and it is incredibly easy to get them fall down on outdoor shoots if the g&e don't know what they are doing

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Congratulations on your new job!

You're not going to learn how to be a Director of Photography on an internet forum...

So, just do you best.  There is a reason you were chosen for this roll.  Just show em' what you've got, tell the story, and learn along the way.

Happy shooting!

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14 hours ago, Michael LaVoie said:

There's a danger in accepting any  job on a film crew that is a lead role in a department when you've never worked on any set in that capacity for anyone other than yourself.  If you're really not qualified to be there, it will be obvious and leaning on the camera operator or gaffer or anyone else is a bad idea.  Unless they're a friend who has got your back.

Doesn't matter if the position is as the DP, sound recordist, HMU or 1st A.D.   When your primary experience is only ever on your own set where you are in charge you're working in a vacuum.  You could easily be doing things terribly wrong all the time with nobody around to correct you.  So instead of experience, you could be bringing lots of bad habits and dangerous working methods to set and you would never even know.  Till the G&E crew starts whispering about you to production.

On the other hand, if this short is staffed by 100% newbies then it may be the perfect opportunity for you to learn.  Just be aware that a paid DP typically would have years under their belt on multiple crews for different producers and have a good basic knowledge of how a set is safely run and how a shooting schedule, crew and gear package is set up.  If you've never been paid to do it before and have never watched a DP work before as a 1st a.c. or operator then you're missing a lot of basic information on set procedure, protocol.  By accepting the job, you could be setting yourself up to fail.  Or not.  If it's all a group of fun friends and low stakes, be safe, be well and have a good time.  Just consider these points for the future when a more high stakes position presents itself.

 

Sweden has a different film industry than the one in US, i'm not worried about other peoples opinion or how they're judging my work. I do however listen to their words and try to always learn something new. I know i have a lot to learn, but no one else is gonna stand up for my visions within the industry so that's up to me. 

Thanks for the heads-up

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I used to worry about this stuff a lot, but frankly, on the odd occasion I get to work with proper crew, I take the position, without wanting to seem arrogant or unilateral, that it's their job to support me and we'll do it the way I want to do it. I'll absolutely take suggestions, this is not a dictatorship, but if the results aren't right, I'll be the one who'll be unpopular, so I'm not going to be told how to do it by someone who won't be held responsible later.

This may slow you down, because other people may not be completely familiar with your working practices, and you just have to live with it. But frankly, there's a lot less uniformity of approach than most people seem to think there is. If you were walking onto a TV show that's been shooting for years and intending to take an unusual approach, that might be a bit of a problem, since you'd be throwing a stick into the works of a possibly well-oiled machine and risking inconsistency with the stuff that had already been produced. Much more likely, though, what you'll be doing will be mostly within the normal spectrum - there are only so many ways to direct a crew to create a shot. Many people think that there's only one way to run a crew. There isn't. There's lots, and anyone who's convinced that a one-true-technique exists is operating from a position of inexperience themselves.

As I say, don't come off as arrogant. Aim, perhaps, for politely assertive. Filmmaking is a team sport and it's important to build that team, but at the end of the day if someone else thinks they know how to do it better, they're free to apply for your job.

Personally, I made the mistake of being far too nice about this sort of thing early on, and it cost me dearly. Whatever you do, do not go to this with an insecure mindset. Someone asked you to do it because they like your style, whatever that means. They don't want you to subvert that to the whim of other crewmembers.

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12 hours ago, Per Axel Hagne said:

Sweden has a different film industry than the one in US, i'm not worried about other peoples opinion or how they're judging my work. I do however listen to their words and try to always learn something new. I know i have a lot to learn, but no one else is gonna stand up for my visions within the industry so that's up to me. 

Thanks for the heads-up

You may have misread my advice which is less about the perception others may form of you and more about what you may be lacking as far as experience that is uniform and expected of you no matter where you're working.  

Just replace the job title with A.D. or anything else on the crew and you'll find it makes sense.  You'd expect your 1st A.C to know how to pull focus under most situations no matter the country they're working in with or without a monitor, with or without a wireless unit. etc. 

There are variations to approach but also general best practices for each position that cross cultures and countries.   One of which is location scouting and daily scheduling.  It's by far the best way to avoid falling behind in your days.  Visit each location and discuss the breakdown with the director.  Then make a lighting plan for yourself so you can give it to the crew.  It'll save a ton of time.  Especially if they can prelight the next area while you work.  Good luck.

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Posted (edited)

there is nothing wrong being a first time fiction DP but it may make things incredibly slow especially if there is high artistic intentions and standards which need to be met and if the rest of the crew is not super experienced so that they can help you out both in pre production and in the field when problems arise. 

By my experience, the easiest way to slow a production and get it to go hugely over budget is to hire a newbie DP and newbie Assistant Director. if the Gaffer and Key Grip are also inexperienced it can multiply. It is mostly about staying in the schedule as best as you can and any mistakes can have serious time effects to the point of having every day go seriously overtime and still needing to leave shots or even scenes off the movie because the time for shooting them was wasted earlier on. I heard of a newbie AD who wasted maybe half a million euros on a movie production by being inexperienced in scheduling and not listening the technical people enough and trying to be too nice to the director when really should have said no and moved on to the next scene. lots of time wasted there and the production company was not happy at all..

I would say keep your lighting and camera setups very simple and fast to do (make sure they can be done in half the time you have available for rigging) and always make sure the safety is taken care of. You need to communicate with your staff and the Director and AD beforehand to make sure everything planned can be done in the time you have and if there is any time consuming setups you can find a workaround which is more time efficient. For example on that kino flo shoot in the middle of the forest I would have had possibility to use gimbal every day on certain shots but I intentionally left it completely away because it takes lots of time to rig the camera to the gimbal and back to tripod so we would not have time to shoot all the shots for the scenes and would have needed additional day to finish them. it would have been marginally possible to shoot the shots on steadicam which we also had possibility to use but the terrain is very difficult there and would have slowed down the steadi a lot so it was not practical. .... you need to be able to do this kind of decisions both beforehand and on the fly without consuming too much time to think about them. otherwise it will seriously hurt you in the next scene when you are hours late on schedule and the sun is setting and you have only one smaller light and still two pages of dialogue to shoot... 

Edited by aapo lettinen
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