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Miguel Angel

Gillette Venus - Directed by Ciarán Dooley

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Back in February Ciarán gave me a call telling me that he was going to have the opportunity to shoot a commercial in Italy for the Gillette Venus brand and he asked me if I would like to go with him and shoot it for him.

Knowing how passionate Ciarán is and how much he cares about the projects he picks I said yes straight away.
 
The script was the story of a relationship between a mother and a daughter and the fragile moments when each of them are vulnerable and don't know how to approach each other because of puberty. 
After that initial call we started developing the tone and the approach that we thought could suit the story we had in our hands.

I had a very strong reaction to the script because I had a difficult relationship with my parents during my puberty (I was pretty much a loose bullet 😄) but perspective (and age) made me realise that my parents were absolutely right about everything they said and they taught to me so this project for me was pretty much my Thank you letter to my parents (especially to my mum!). 
I feel that every time that you're able to make a personal connection with a project that project becomes something else, is attached to you forever and you do the best you can to make it as wonderful as you can. 

Ciarán told me that he wanted to go back to how we used to work together when we first met, just being free to create a scene and shoot it as freely as we could. 
Basically the idea was to use the script as a base to shoot a short-film and work on it as if we were shooting a longer narrative project. 

I like telling stories and I love telling stories in longer formats so I was delighted when he said that. 

From my side, as a DP, I think that I am at a point where I am gravitating towards a more documentar"ish" approach in my lighting (whatever that means) and letting the beautiful flaws of documentaries to fall into my lighting decisions, I do think that if the natural and available light of a location is already perfect for the story you want to tell there is no point on trying to be better than nature!

I suggested that we approach the script from that angle and make use of whatever tools we could to create a rougher and more real than usual look for the brand. 
After a couple of consultations with the client we were all on board with that approach and we started taking a look at how we were going to do so. 

Because the script was about confrontation and vulnerability I thought that we could make use of a panoramic aspect ratio (2.40:1) and not center the characters. 
In terms of the camera language, since you usually are extremely focus and unaware of your surroundings when you're picking a fight with somebody I thought that we could start the project with extremely close ups of the mother and the daughter while they are arguing and open the frame a bit towards the end. 

For the confrontation scenes I thought that using a hand-held camera could add more emphasis to the vulnerability of both characters but a more gentle steadicam and intimate approach should be used while the characters where on their own to show that they were in their safe spaces. 

Thankfully Ciarán had the same thoughts!

In order to be able to focus on the characters more I wanted to shoot with the Sony Venice in full frame anamorphic and I wanted to use the flaws of old anamorphic lenses to wrap the characters around them in a subtle way.
Now, I am not a big fan of anamorphic lenses but I think that I found THE ONES in this project. 

Initially I thought about using either the B or C series from Panavision but Panavision was not in Milano where the production was going to take place so the camera rental house that was suggested by the production company came back to me with a selection of old anamorphic lenses that they had, including the beautiful JDC Xtal Express!!!!!!. 

They weren't sure if any of the lenses from that selection could cover Full Frame either in the Venice so I went to the camera rental house after the scouting, shot a couple of tests with different lenses and found out that I had fallen in love with the Xtals. 
The 35mm and the 50mm covered just about the 2.40:1 area in full frame but from the 75mm onwards we were good.
In the end we used the 35mm and the 50mm, with the 75mm +  diopters for extremely close-ups

Moviepeople, the camera rental house, told me that those lenses hadn't been used in years and they went to calibrate and collimate them. 

Run by Casta Diva in Italy the production was absolutely fantastic, we flew to Milano for two days to look for the right location to shoot on and after we saw several of them we picked the most interesting one BUT the most difficult one from the production point of view. 
It was a 4th floor with not very good access to natural light, no balconies and streets where it was impossible to put either a cherry picker or a condor to light from outside. 
On top of that it wasn't very production friendly in the way that it didn't have an operating lift and it didn't have much space to put the agency and the client either!

And yet, we picked that one because it had a soul and we felt that the rooms could tell a story as well. 

Everybody was so passionate and supportive about the project that we knew that we could make it work no matter what difficulties we were going to find. 

I like operating and I'm not a fan of giving away the camera to a steadicam operator but our fabulous producer brought a fantastic steadicam operator whose name is Luca Sportelli, he was so amazing that I only want to work with him from now on!!! 😊

On the lighting side I am very fixated on what I want and the fixtures I want to create the mood / tone I am looking for and it takes me a while for me to trust somebody I don't know.. however, again, our producer brought a gaffer who is just THE BEST one I have worked with in my short-time as a DP, Francesco Galli, (Call Me By Your Name, Suspiria, The New Pope are just some of the movies he has worked on) and if I could I would work exclusively with him from now on (well, him and Sergio Fuidia! 😄).
When I talked to him about the kind of tone I want and shared references with him he came back to me with paintings and frames of different movies / projects. Since that moment I knew that I had found my soulmate gaffer-wise. 

Seeing Ciarán direct our two wonderful talent, Louise Anne Cole and Scarlett-May Grant was fantastic; he is so subtle that when he changes something you don't realise it until the talent have unfolded the scene! it is just mind-blowing! 

Everybody in this project was extremely caring, passionate and gentle, from our PA to the people from Gillette that kindly took us under their wing and offered this opportunity to us that I miss them so much!!. 

Now, here is the commercial! 😄 

 

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Lovely work as always, Miguel! Thanks for the detailed write up. The story has a lot of heart, I really felt the performances. You have a great sensitivity in photographing actors.

How did you end up lighting the spaces with your gaffer? I thought the look was naturalistic, and less low key than your previous work. Did you use your normal diffusion filter pack? 

Also, were the JDC Xtal Express lenses that you had based on Cooke Speed Panchros or Zeiss Super Speeds? Seems like maybe one of lenses wasn’t collimated correctly, as the squeeze ratio is a bit diagonally distorted in some shots. I’ve had that problem before and found it difficult to correct in post. I love old anamorphic lenses, but this always makes me nervous when working with them. 

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Nice work Miguel!

They are lovely lenses, but only as good as the person using them!

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11 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

You do like anamorphic!

Haha you're right, I do, but only if they fit the story! 

5 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

Lovely work as always, Miguel! Thanks for the detailed write up. The story has a lot of heart, I really felt the performances. You have a great sensitivity in photographing actors.

How did you end up lighting the spaces with your gaffer? I thought the look was naturalistic, and less low key than your previous work. Did you use your normal diffusion filter pack? 

Also, were the JDC Xtal Express lenses that you had based on Cooke Speed Panchros or Zeiss Super Speeds? Seems like maybe one of lenses wasn’t collimated correctly, as the squeeze ratio is a bit diagonally distorted in some shots. I’ve had that problem before and found it difficult to correct in post. I love old anamorphic lenses, but this always makes me nervous when working with them. 

Thanks so much Satsuki!!!

Regarding the look, I'm happy that it looks naturalistic, it was always the idea. 

My plan was to light the spaces to be able to shoot 360º without having to stop each time that we wanted to do a new setup. 
Bear in mind that we shot around 50 / 55 setups in 2 days.  

To me, the most challenging space was the kitchen, we wanted that space to look a bit different in scene 1 (when they are fighting and unhappy) and the last scene (when they are happy), with the light changing from something a bit muddier to happier if that makes sense. 

In order to achieve that I suggested that we make use of the natural light that was coming off the windows for the 1st one (Fight) and we light the 2nd one (Happy), however, due to the production schedule and the budget we had to shoot them back to back and that meant that I couldn't relight or spend time lighting the space after having shot the 1st scene. 

Francesco, my gaffer, came up with the idea of covering the windows with litepanel panels and that way we could block the natural light coming off the window and light from outside!. 
We did that and in the first scene we used the litepanels at around 5% with a bluer colour temperature and in the last scene we used the litepanels at around 15% with a warmer colour. 

1st scene not colour graded

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Kitchen Happy Ungraded

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Bathroom Scene
The interior of the bathroom was super easy, it had a bulb in it and I turned it on. 
The light that hits the window is the sun. 

STILL_DAY_01_1.1.3_1.7.1.thumb.jpg.a75edc6152311403e5f28eb0230f62c2.jpg
 

Hallway
I lit the hallway with an aladdin inside the bathroom and another aladdin (with a bluer colour temperature) in the door from where the mother exists

Bathroom Mother
This is just the bulb inside the bathroom (which is reflected in the tiles at the back of the shot) and CTB in the window to make the space a bit more evening like. 

Bedroom 
Again, with no access to natural light my gaffer put one of the litepanels in the window and we shot everything inside it with just that light. 
The room next to the bedroom is lit with a joker leko off a mirror inside the room. 
The close up of the mother is just lit with that and a polyboard + diffusion frame next to her on the left hand side. 

Now, I had a request from the client (the only one) that the profile shot of the daughter was very dark and we thought that that was a fair point so I shot a series of those with the girl being lit by an aladdin. 

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And that's pretty much all I think!

We couldn't do the colour grading with my usual colour grader and due to the Covid we couldn't sit in the colour grading either and that's the reason why I think that everything looks brighter than usual. If I had sat in the colour grading suite I assure you that it would look as I shot it but I also think that being for Venus it might have been a bit darker for them, I don't know! I'm in a conundrum! 

I think that the JDC lenses were the ones based on the Panchros but I'm not sure and the guys from Moviepeople didn't know either! 😄 
You're right, the 35mm was a bit off but once we discovered that we liked it and we kept using it ha! 
I used a Black Diffusion FX 2 through the whole shoot. 

1 hour ago, Dom Jaeger said:

Nice work Miguel!

They are lovely lenses, but only as good as the person using them!

Aww thanks Dom!! 😊 

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Re: color grading

Ah, that makes sense. Yes, I had the same problem on my last project right before quarantine as well, could not attend color session and the look suffered as a result. So frustrating! I prefer your own frames that you posted above. That said, the story shines thru regardless.

Thanks for the detailed lighting breakdown. I think you posted before that you used LiteTile for the windows? Those things are so useful. Wish they were cheaper so more gaffers would carry them. 

re: Lenses

Ah hah! Glad you finally found a use for the Cooke Panchro look!! 🙂

re: BDFX

You and David have gotten me into these filters. I now own #1/2 and #1. As always, you are bolder than me when it comes to pushing a look! Though I did shoot my last project on Alexa Mini @ 1600 ISO with a LowCon 1/4 and S4 Minis. Learning to love the noise!

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15 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

Re: color grading

Ah, that makes sense. Yes, I had the same problem on my last project right before quarantine as well, could not attend color session and the look suffered as a result. So frustrating! I prefer your own frames that you posted above. That said, the story shines thru regardless.

Thanks for the detailed lighting breakdown. I think you posted before that you used LiteTile for the windows? Those things are so useful. Wish they were cheaper so more gaffers would carry them. 

re: Lenses

Ah hah! Glad you finally found a use for the Cooke Panchro look!! 🙂

re: BDFX

You and David have gotten me into these filters. I now own #1/2 and #1. As always, you are bolder than me when it comes to pushing a look! Though I did shoot my last project on Alexa Mini @ 1600 ISO with a LowCon 1/4 and S4 Minis. Learning to love the noise!

That's right, the Litetiles are the ones! 👍
Strangely enough they are very expensive in Ireland but very cheap in Italy and Spain! I have no idea as to why. 

There were no lights inside the rooms other than that Aladdin for the profile shot of the daughter. 
For the close ups in the kitchen scenes I used a diffusion frame as close as I could. 

I thought the same thing about the Cooke Panchro look 😄 Now I can say that I like it but only when they are in the Xtals! 😄 

I forgot to mention that I shot all the project at 5000ASA and when you see the master file on a big cinema screen the noise is beautiful! 
I'm glad to know that you're starting to love the noise haha, next step, 3200asa!! 😉 

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Great lens selection Miguel, and I love the connection in the storyline that fueled the project.

Edited by chrislockerman

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