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Shooting my new film "End of Life"


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Telling compelling stories using the visual medium is not horribly difficult. However, with modern digital cinema, it’s becoming easier to tell them in a professional way, so the bar has been raised quite a bit in recent years. This is partially why I really enjoy the documentary genre, for me it’s a lot easier to tell a compelling story and make it visually interesting. Part of why I rarely work in narrative comes from simply not having the financial wherewithal to fund lavish narrative scripts. Plus,  the risk is very high with narrative and very low with documentary. So breaking through into narrative has been very challenging for me. Where I have edited and shot my fair share of narratives, very few of them have been my own production. Shifting from being part of the crew to being known as the filmmaker, is the challenge and the road I’m currently on. I hope it will hopefully lead me to directing my first narrative feature. The last time I shot and directed narrative on film with money on the line was 18 years ago. Sure, I’ve directed and shot tuns of little projects on film, but nothing this serious.

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Spring 2002; Tyler Purcell on location, last day of shooting "The Perfect Moment"

At the end of 2019, I had booked four short narratives for 2020. Two of them were out of town paid gigs, one director role and one cinematographer. The other two local ones, were both DP gigs on film. I walked into 2020 in prep for one of them right before covid hit and everyone canceled. To top it off, my ongoing documentary films were way too challenging to shoot during a pandemic, absolutely not the right time to do so. With so many people out of work, things really looked grim until many of us started working again over the summer. My rental business picked back up again, so I was able to save some cash for a production. I was lucky enough to be on a few commercial/music videos as operator, loader and camera assistant, stuff I go out for all the time when possible. So things were looking good and I was putting my feelers out for a narrative script I could produce before the year was out.
 

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August 2020; Tyler Purcell shooting a commercial for a makeup brand during Covid. 

In late August, my writer/producer friend Hassan, mentioned a short story he wrote. It was off the cuff, but when I read it, things started to click with me. The project was very short, around 16 pages, but I could see a pretty decent film to come out of it, something really stoic and heartfelt. The fact it was based on a true story, really grabbed my attention being a documentary filmmaker and all. By early September, we had started re-writing the script and filling it out a bit. We had it cast by early October and had already set dates for production on the weekend of the 14th and 15th of November. Hassan worked with the cast for weeks, dialing in the dialog and we all rehearsed over zoom together to dial it in.It worked out really well and we all felt pretty prepared for the production date. Lucky for me, some back pay hit right on time and we went all out with a full grip and lighting package, including a light package, jib arm, dolly, high speed camera and a decent lens.

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November 2020: Loading the van for the first day of production on "End of Life". 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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As someone who shoots on film nearly exclusively, I had a real internal conflict with whether to shoot on 16mm or 35mm. Part of me wanted to shoot on 16mm with new stock but I so much prefer the clean look of 35mm. I also had around 5000ft of 250D lying around, so that plus all the dark scenes we needed 500T for, I decided to shoot on 35mm with my own equipment. We rented a Cooke 20-100 zoom to shoot the bulk of the film with, mainly because it was exterior and being able to adjust focal lengths on the fly, saves a lot of time. We shot primarily with my Aaton 3 perf 35III camera and rented a Arri III for the high speed scenes. I initially ordered 4x400ft rolls of 5219 500T for the night exterior scenes so they’d come out super crisp. 2x400ft of 5213 200T for the interior sunrise scenes and the rest of the film was shot on myriad of new and short end 5207 250D as it’s nearly entire daylight exterior. Since we only had two locations that required lights, I used my 4 open faced Mole Richardson 1k’s for the entire house lighting kit and we had a 4k HMI as a “moon” light for the night time exterior. Having examined the location really well, I figured this would all work and put together the package with the largest 60amp generator I could get to run it all. We also had a 15ft jib arm and doorway dolly.

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November 2020; Tyler Purcell with Arriflex 35 III high speed camera on "End of Life" 

I decided early on to crew the production with my film students and friends. This decision may have cost us a bit of time, but honestly in hindsight, they did a great job. We had a camera crew of 3; Operator Macy, Camera Assistant Sophie and focus puller Jonathan. We had a grip team of 3; key grip Hayden, dolly grip Kaelon who is also the composer and grip Steve, who is a friend of Hassan's. I put myself as the cinematographer because everyone was so green, I was afraid of mistakes being made that weren’t fixable if I handed cinematography off to my students. Seeing as I was the only person on set with film experience, I was the person who needed to answer questions and double check the work that was done. We had one chance to shoot many of the scenes, so we couldn’t afford to make too many mistakes. Our final crew was much bigger because the cast brought friends to help and we had makeup, costume and catering people. I think at one point we had close to 20 people on set, it was quite impressive for a low/no-budget short film.

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November 2020: Outstanding production crew and some cast members on "End of Life" 

Hassan and I built the shooting schedule and locations around places which we could shoot multiple scenes in. This played very well because we found some great locations in some back areas of LA that worked wonders for our smallish production. It wound up being six locations which played for 14 or so total. Due to the complexity of the script, we only shot the dialog scenes over the first weekend of production. This was purposeful because we didn’t want to be bogged down with a huge crew as we did insert shots. So from the very beginning, we knew we’d need a minimal of one more full day of shooting. This helped cut a lot of fat off the shooting schedule and try to keep us on task with dialog scenes only.

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November 2020: Hassan Galedary and Tyler Purcell on set of "End of Life"

Our first weekend of production went pretty smoothly thanks to some pre-training with all the crew in the weeks prior. Everyone knew their roles and by the end of the first day, they were doing quite well. Where it’s true, we did two very long days back to back, which could have been prevented with a more professional crew, I think the education everyone got on set was worth the extra time. There were some stressful moments for me because playing Director and Cinematographer when your crew doesn’t know much about the equipment, can be trying. In my head, I had envisioned sitting behind the camera operator looking at a monitor and focused on the actors. What I got instead was a lot of basic questions, stuff young people with little experience ask and it did stress me out quite a bit. In some cases, I simply fixed the problems quickly and went back to work. Other times I told them to keep at it because we had time before the next shot was to be up. They were also very green about how to operate things like the Jib arm and high speed camera, so, I had to work those myself. By day two they were doing much better and had we gone for a day three right away, they would have probably been perfect.

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November 2020: Tyler Purcell running the Jib arm for a shot on "End of Life" 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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One of our locations was a last minute one, a friends house in Glendale. It’s a difficult jib shot that flies over a moving car that’s parking in the driveway and people emerge from a doorway and walk down some stairs onto the lawn for a quick dialog scene. I was going to shoot it in one master wide and then do close up’s, all simple stuff. Hassan had called in an actor to play the husband of one of the characters, I was like ok as long as they know the lines. I remember getting the move all setup and camera was set, I walked over to the “husband” and started directing him. “On action, walk out of the door, down the stairs and stop on this mark ok?” And he shook his head and on the take, they did exactly what they were asked to do. We did three of them because the camera shook on two, but we got one good one. We go in for the close up’s and I started moving the actors around, getting them into the proper places, pushing this guy left, right with my hands to get him perfectly square. Must have spent a solid 20 minutes figuring out how we were going to shoot this scene and we got it shot. Within a few hours, we were ready to go. I shook the guys hand, thanked him for coming to set, he thanked me and he went on his marry way. I sat down for lunch and one of the other crew members came over and said; “wow that was so cool meeting david grohl.” I was like who? Turns out our “husband” was drummer for nirvana. I was like, no fucking way. I had been directing him like cattle all morning and never once did it occur to me that he was anything else but another actor. Whoops lol 😛

EOL_COLOR_TEST_1_42.1.thumb.jpeg.929ba75ec950d68c2066c5fa6082964b.jpegNovember 2020: David Grohl on set of "End of Life" 
Kodak 5207 250D shot with a Rokinon Xeen 24mm at T8 with a 1.5ND using natural light. 

Most of the film was shot outside in broad daylight. I had initially decided to diffuse the direct sunlight in an attempt to smoothen it out a bit, but realized at the last minute, we didn’t have a big enough crew OR the time to build the proper 24x24 framed diffusion for those big scenes. So where we did have some diffusion on board AND a reflector, they were sparingly used and we let the sun do its job for the entire production. This isn’t what I prefer of course, this was a compromise, but I feel it will look ok in the long run. We shot quite a bit of the first day on a 15ft jib and Mitchell mount pedestal doorway dolly. This kit worked very well, I have to say much better than I expected honestly. Some scenes we’d just roll the dolly on the ground, others we laid down track for, which also worked great. We relied heavily on the pedestal dolly for most of the non-jib work. We then used sticks for the remainder of the film. Initially I had wanted to do some Steadicam, but that was dumped very fast once we realized the dolly worked so well. The time it takes to setup the Steadicam and the amount of mistakes you can make with one, was too risky for this production where we really needed to nail focus on every take. For the big exterior night scene, I had planned on using a 4k from a great distance, over 200ft away on a hill as the source. The idea was to simply create moonlight. The problem was that I over estimated how steep the hill was at the location and how the crank stand didn’t go as high as I thought it would. You really need a cherry picker to place moonlight properly and I my idea just didn’t work. So I had no choice but to run the light from as far away and as high as I could, which was closer to 80ft. We ran it through a white bed sheet, hung from two c stands in order to diffuse the light a bit, but even that was overkill. Still it worked alright, just not what I expected.

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November 2020: The big night scene in "End of Life" 

We processed the initial shoot at Fotokem and transferred it at my friends facility using a Blackmagic Cintel II. Not my favorite scanner in the world, but the image is perfectly acceptable. It also has much better infrared detection than our normal scanners, which means less dirt shows up on the scan. Being able to pre-grade on the scanner was great, we got things looking very well in scanner and the Blackmagic raw files that it captures, allow much more adjustment in post. Overall I was disappointed in the footage we got from our first weekend. We had a lot of problems that needed to be fixed, including a few critical moments with soft focus, which were very frustrating. Being able to watch dailies before our re-shoot saved us a lot of time and it will make the movie a lot better in the long run. We built a shot list for our re-shoot date and went to right back into production right away. Sadly Fotokem had damaged one of our rolls, but luckily it shouldn’t effect our final project at all. I was kinda shocked, but happy they compensated me for the trouble and the issues aren’t a big deal.

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November 2020: Tyler Purcell with the first weekends footage ready to head off to the lab

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I always check my negatives before scanning and take pictures with my iPhone of the negative
This is 5213 200T shot in florescent 3200k balanced light. 
Two hand-held lights, one in a chimera and one hard on her face. 
Shot with a Rokinon Xeen 50mm at T1.5. 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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Weekend two was a much simpler shoot, with a few moments re-shot and a bunch of new moments. I was forced to purchased 6 more rolls of 250D as nearly all the remaining shots were exterior day. I also got one roll of 200T in order to re-shoot one scene that was out of focus. We got some of the original crew back together, but the shoot was much simpler, so we didn’t need many crew members. I borrowed an audio recorder from a friend so we didn’t need an audio guy and we were able to capture a few new dialog scenes, which was great. We basically went around to the same locations we had shot before and picked up where we left off. We added one new location to the list, which was where our protagonist wakes up in his car. Over-all the shoot was much more chill, we had the Cooke 20 - 100 zoom and my Steadicam for any moving shots, which were infrequent due again, to time constraints. It took us a while to get through all the new shots, so we did two pretty full days. We wrapped having an additional few inserts missing, but those don’t hold up the editorial process. We should now have everything we need to make an edit and then create a shot list for our insert shots. I’m probably going to rent a super long zoom lens and do a nice day of shooting around LA in the early morning, to help fill in where we are and what’s going on, but most likely in the new year.

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November 2020: Macy Armstrong (operator) and Sophie Verweyen (camera assistant) on "End of Life" 

Initially I had planned for a 7:1 shooting ratio which is 112 minutes of film, but that seemed like too much money, so we went with 5:1 ratio and 80 minutes. Sadly, we’re WAY over that thanks to the re-shoots, I believe we’re just north of 10,000ft and 125 minutes of total film shot for a 16 page script. A lot of that is because we did full-roll takes on some scenes and we had to do multiple takes when things didn’t go well. Some of that is the reshoots we had to do, which actually help the story in the long run, but again add to the length of film shot. Sadly, we’ll at least have another 800 - 1000ft to shoot for inserts, plus we just did another insert scene last week which was another 400ft roll alone. I think we’ll be lucky by the end to have shot 11,000ft or so, but don’t quote me until we’re done.

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November 2020: A reflective moment from "End of Life"
Kodak 5207 250D shot with a Cooke 20 - 100 zoom all the way open (T3.1) 

I learned a lot on this project (so did my students), even though we’re far from being done. Over-all, I need to do more takes. Even if you think you got it, run another one. Re-measure focus, make sure things are good before rolling. We had so many great moments lost because the actor moved and we didn’t catch it because the person looking through the lens, didn’t notice it was soft when the camera stopped. Some of those will just have to be used, we don’t have a choice, others we re-shot and are good. My crew actually worked well, but I didn’t have enough support personally. I could have unloaded things like running the jib arm onto someone else, but nobody else really figured out how to use it. I spent too much time directing crew and not directing my talent. Luckily they were good and knew what was going on from the weeks of rehearsals and plenty of time on set to go through things before takes with Hassan, who wrote it. However, I do feel like I neglected them and spent too much time with the camera and not with them. Next time I do this hybrid job, I’m not going to touch the camera until the camera is about to roll. If I had the money, I would have paid one of my professional cinematography friends to work with the students directly and then they could have played the role of making sure things were ok with the camera, so it didn't pull me away from the directing aspects. 

Our next project is coming up fast. It will be digital, but another DP/Director project for me and a lot trickier as well. I hope my crew does a better job seeing it’s digital, I know they’re more use to that tech. I have a few commercial gigs, a 16mm short and another 35mm short for 2021, all DP/Director gigs. Hopefully the ladder will earn some more awards because it’s a great script and I think it will resonate with a lot of people. I’m ready to move on with my filmmaking career and start producing features. I think with a few more shorts, I should be in good shape to prove I’m fully capable of doing so.

I’ll have more updates on this project as time goes on, so stay tuned.

 

 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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This looks like you had a ton of fun. Well done you and your crew, can't wait to see the final film. Good to read about the experience, I hope you can shoot the missing bits soon. Keep us posted.

 

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Wow. Congratulations. 

Good fun times. 🙂

Was it challenging?

We were lucky too this summer and had a lot of fun shooting two tv show pilots for two series. It's fun doing a project where you're working with good people and everyone has fun. 🙂 

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11 hours ago, Vital Butinar said:

Was it challenging?

Not horribly, it was more fun than challenging. We were limited on time and money. I would have had more of a challenge if we had a bigger crew, more time and more money. It is what it is tho! So far it looks really good. 

Oh and thanks for your kind words, much appreciated! 🙂

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15 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Not horribly, it was more fun than challenging. We were limited on time and money. I would have had more of a challenge if we had a bigger crew, more time and more money. It is what it is tho! So far it looks really good. 

Oh and thanks for your kind words, much appreciated! 🙂

No problem and my pleasure. 🙂

And I do understand. When we shot our stuff it was also not enough time and no money. But we were a small and great crew and had a great time. I love it when there's only a couple of people for something. It was really great because we all did more than one thing. I directed but in some scenes I was holding the light bounce too or holding an umbrella for my girlfriend who was shooting. The lead actor was so excited about everything that he helped out with stuff just to learn more. He got so involved that he's doing the score for the project now and wants to do more. If it wasn't for lockdown I'm sure we'd be shooting something with him now. 🙂

You had some great locations I saw from the photos. 

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From the perspective of someone who fairly recently finished film school, it's awesome that you brought students onto this project. I'm sure the whole experience was super valuable to them and what they learned will help them immensely in their own careers. 

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  • 1 month later...

If anyone wants to see our screener, please PM me and I will send you a link. I can't make it public until after the festivals, but I'm more than happy to share what we have with everyone via PM. 

I'm not happy with our final movie, but it kinda is what it is. You can spit polish an ok script, with non-actors all you want, in the end you still got a C grade product and just wasted more time. The key for me is making product so we can move onto the next one and keep the ball rolling. 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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Great blow by blow series! I like the photo of the stack of film cans.

Next time hire a free intern student to shoot more stills of the production. 

Don't know what the film is about from the demo. But beautiful photography. I like all those slow pans you did. 

Give a breakdown as to the $$ if you care to. Such as costs for film, processing, scans PP, rentals, etc. Looks like an expensive project with all that film. Did you have to pay the cops to shut down the street for the night shots? 

"Over-all, I need to do more takes. Even if you think you got it, run another one. Re-measure focus, make sure things are good before rolling."

That is hard to do on a budget when shooting film.

You need to work the students like hell.  Extract all you can from them. You should also get a second camera unit of students to make a video of you making the film. All that needs to be documented.

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
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1 hour ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

Next time hire a free intern student to shoot more stills of the production. 

I got lots of stills, just didn't want to flood the internet with them, nor make our little BTS video 50 minutes long. 

1 hour ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

Don't know what the film is about from the demo. But beautiful photography. I like all those slow pans you did. 

Thanks! I'm underwhelmed with much of my work personally. It's depressing because I know what I did wrong, and I know why it was wrong, but on set it seemed ok. I need to be more thoughtful about actors faces and creating a solid key. I took too many risks and its biting me in the ass a bit. If you PM me I can send you the finished film so you can see. 

1 hour ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

Give a breakdown as to the $$ if you care to. Such as costs for film, processing, scans PP, rentals, etc. Looks like an expensive project with all that film. Did you have to pay the cops to shut down the street for the night shots? 

It's hard for me to give a breakdown that makes any sense because we don't pay retail pricing for anything. I also can't really share my exact pricing because it's irrelevant anywhere else. What I can give you is some bulk numbers; 

- G&E $1300 
- High Speed camera AND Cooke 20 - 100 rental $350
- Film $2500 ish
- Processing and scan $2000 ish 
- Production expenses $2000 (some labor payments and props/costumes, meals, etc)
- Music $1500 (final score is being written now) 
- Mix $1000 (will be done when we have the final score) 

So looking at around $10k when its all said and done, split between a bunch of people. We all pitched in. I have around $4500 in it thus far. 

The cops didn't care. They drove by a few times, waved and that was the end of that. 

1 hour ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

"Over-all, I need to do more takes. Even if you think you got it, run another one. Re-measure focus, make sure things are good before rolling."

That is hard to do on a budget when shooting film.

Time was our biggest problem, not film costs. We had such long days, I didn't want to keep the actors any longer. 

1 hour ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

You need to work the students like hell.  Extract all you can from them. You should also get a second camera unit of students to make a video of you making the film. All that needs to be documented.

I was going to, that was the plan. The BTS was going to be all on the XTR. I had a friend coming in to do it. However, at the last minute he bailed and I couldn't find anyone else to help. On our 2nd weekend, I called up another friend to come help, but over-all we determined it wasn't worth it. On our next big 35mm shoot, I will for sure get someone to roll BTS for us on 16mm. 

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46 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

- Mix $1000 (will be done when we have the final score) 

 Let me know if you need a guy for that mix 😉

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56 minutes ago, Max Field said:

 Let me know if you need a guy for that mix 😉

Actually, I will keep that in mind! I don't know if my normal mixer has the time. 

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