You have probably already seen this but just in case you haven’t this really is a must watch.
Not that it really matters what camera you shoot something on, “Undercity” clearly benefited from the excellent low light capability and small size of the Canon 5DmkII.
I don’t want to talk too much about the content of this, best if you just watch it. But I am really busyright now, in the middle of lots of things that have to be done today but everything stopped when I started watching it. It gripped me immediately. 30 minutes online is a long time to hold a viewer’s attention these days but if the content is good enough…I wanted more!
Technically he used one single lens, the wicked 24mm F1.4L from Canon, a Zacuto Rapid Fire (now called the Target Shooter) which has always been my recommendation for a hand held rig as it’s so small but gives you the stability you need. For sound he used a Sennheiser G2 plugged into a Zoom H4N. I assume he just left the Zoom recording the whole time and it was synced up in post using pluraleyes.
This film is getting a lot of deserved attention and rightly so. It’s perfectly paced, well shot, got a likeable protagonist and scares the shit out of you at times. This really is guerilla filmmaking at it’s best and already my favourite film of 2011, big screen and small screen!
It looks like he shot pretty wide open most of the time which is a bitch to do, but his control of focus was tight and accurate, no mean feat and the handheld was masterfully done
Although I would not recommend taking a trip down there yourself, yes it’s illegal, but more importantly it is bloody dangerous. Let the filmmakers transport you there, they have done the hard work for you!
SO sit back, make sure you click HD and full screen it! Enjoy!
EDIT: Director/ Cameraman Andrew Wonder has written for me a nice detailed explanation of the shoot which you can read under the video.
When the 5D came out I felt like I had finally found my paintbrush. I always shot stills with my Nikon F and rangefinders. Those small cameras always allowed me to connect with my subject better than any traditional video camera and always dreamed of them capturing motion. I was a union AC while I was in film school and after a few real sets I fell very out of love with “traditional” shooting. I always felt ENG guys were the real badass’ of cinematography and using the 5D with canon lenses is the perfect mix of panavision and fujinon.
Since buying the 5D I’ve used it for a lot of broadcast TV work including two reality shows for MTV. The first was called The Real Show Choir and was shot almost completely wide open on a 50mm 1.4 and was aired pre-House. The second aired this fall and was the 200th episode of MTV’s MADE. I shot it with a sigma 24-70 and a beta copy of the beachtek DXA-SLR (which I burned through 5 of before figure out how to make it production ready). I still prefer the zoom H4N to the beachtek but when you are giving a network 12-16 hours of footage a day not having to sync is a lifesaver.
I had just bought the camera right before we started shooting Undercity so this adventure was a great trial by fire to see if the 5D could handle action and extreme environments (like my rangefinders). I was also using the camera at the same time to shoot a lot of parkour videos with some guys from your side of the pond. We actually shot one with Steve who took the athletes to some real funky abandoned places upstate New York (http:0//vimeo.com/1806400) and a cool one with EX1s (this was before clients believed the 5D could do anything) where we shut down a state fair and I would climb rollecoasters with them as they jumped (http://vimeo.com/17746153).
The footage in this video is just a few of the adventures we shot over the course of a month in four of NYC’s five boroughs.
I had seen a lot of videos of TV programs that had dealt with this subject matter and they always felt bland and emotionless. People seem to have so many preconceptions of the mythical world of the underground that I wanted to play with those fears and tensions while still teaching a bit of history. Emotionally I hoped that if I was always within 5 feet of Steve and if he was always speaking to me, the way he would take a girl on a date, you would have a true visceral experience when watching. What also makes this shooting style effect is that since you never see my reaction to the situations then audience members are forced to project their pre-concieved notions about the dangers of the underground onto the film creating even more tension. We took this idea even further in the edit using a mix of quicker jump cuts with drawn out long takes to keep an continual sense of uneasiness.
Look wise I used a custom profile based on the portrait setting in the PP menu. I wanted everything to pop and I didn’t want to do it in post. We were almost always shooting at 2500ASA or above so I knew that any grading (no matter how minor) would make the footage even noisier. I also think the skin tones are nicer in the portrait settings (with the right white balance and color tone) than the neutral.
For white balance I always use 2800 K for tungsten lighting. I felt like it was handling mixed lighting better than 3200.
We went through a lot of trials with the audio rig to get it right. The biggest concern was the audio recorder. Luckily Jeff, Andy and Charlie from Abel Cine Tech in New York helped me every time something would break/not work to find a better piece to keep me and the gear safe. We were always using the Zoom H4N but originally we were putting it on a hot shoe on top of the camera with the lav receiver velcroed to the back of it. That worked for a while until I was climbing out of a sewer and the zoom hit the manhole and fell into the sewer. Somehow by immediately putting it in a bag of rice when I got home both were saved and still work to this day. After this failure I starting wearing a AC pouch with the Zoom h4n and receiver on my belt which gave me more flexibility. Recently I’ve switched over to using the zoom h1 because it’s so small and sounds great. The 1/8″ in works great with my lavs. I also now put another H1 on top of my camera with a hot shoe adaptor to get me nice stereo recording of the ambiance in the tunnels. I learned that using a traditional shot gun (like the rode mono video mic) is not good in the tunnels because you’re mostly looking at someone’s back and all the creepy noises really mess with the audio gain and don’t record well. The stereo recording (even the in camera audio) mixed with the lav on the zoom created a really nice mood where you got to hear my actions and Steve’s. I would record the entire shoot without stopping and then used pluraleyes to sync up in FCP.
The biggest invention that saved my life was the Zacuto Rapid fire (now striker). At first when trying to put it in my arm pit I hated it, but I quickly discovered that I could hold it in a bayonet position (see photo) which would allow me to run backwards and forwards while keeping the camera steady (as opposed to the arm pit method which only worked when I stood still). What I loved about the rapid fire is that when you need it, it’s there but when the camera is on a strap over my shoulder it’s like nothing is attached to the camera. For camera straps I prefer my old Sony DV strap because I can draw/drop it much quicker than the canon. It’s also more inconspicuous when trying to get the camera to a hidden location.
KEEPING IT STEADY:
On the first day of shooting I got my foot stuck in the track and lost my shoe. After retrieving it and climbing for a few more hours I looked down to discover my pant leg soaked with blood and my ankle completely black and blue. I had done some real damage but didn’t want to stop shooting and even with an ace bandage around my ankle and a cut that took weeks to scab we kept shooting. Because of the bandage my weight distribution had changed and my hand holding was not as smooth as usual (especially when climbing). I knew I had relearn my breathing and balance with this new distribution so I used a trick from when I first starting shooting. For just over a week I would walk around my apartment with a mug filled to the brim with boiling water. Soon I was able to walk around on my bad ankle without burning my hand which gave me the control I needed to run and climb while still keeping the camera steady.
In terms of lenses I specifically used the 24mm 1.4 mk i. I tested both versions and felt like the version 1 was a little softer in a good way (I swore the moire problems were less pronounced) and the flares looked more cinematic. I felt like the mk ii tried to hide the flares with its fancy modern coating but the times they did show up it was much uglier and since I wasn’t shooting stills I couldn’t photoshop them out. Sadly I had to use the UV filter (creating more flares) because of all the muck down. Originally I wasn’t using the lens shade but when we were climbing out of a station I smashed the front of my lens pretty hard and realized it was very helpful for protection.
I am a huge z-finder fan but it would have been way too dangerous to shoot in the tunnels with it. 90% of the time I was either running, climbing or watching out for obstacles (3rd rail, etc) and had to shoot/focus without looking at the LCD screen. To focus it I had to go back to my rangefinder training and try to use zone focusing. I spent a few days with the lens and trained my hand to know the distance for a close up, medium shot, wide shot and infinity on the lens. When we were running through the tunnels I used muscle memory to keeps Steve in focus and rack to the background when necessary. I bought the camera right before shooting this piece and got used to pulling canon lenses with my hand that now I can’t focus anywhere near as accurately with a follow focus or longer rotation focus barrel.
We used all natural light. In situations where it was too dark I would give Steve a litepanel miniplus to use as a flashlight
–From our last expedition featuring Steve trying to get the water out of my hip waiters with NY Times reporter Alan Feuer in the background. Photo credit: Erling Kagge
–The camera rig
–Sound Pouch with 2 lavs
–Bayonet position with the Rapid Fire