ETHICS STATEMENT: Zacuto are one of my main site sponsors. I used their gear, as well as many other companies’ gear. I use Zacuto as I believe it is some of the best gear out there. This is a great opportunity to talk about their new C300 stuff. 99% of the gear I mention in this post I have purchased myself.
I am sure there are other great rigs for the camera. I can only talk about what I have used. I hope to get some Letus stuff soon…
First off, I need to make one thing clear. Despite having lots of gear, I prefer to shoot with minimal equipment. It’s generally faster, but there are some jobs where pimping up your gear is needed. It’s not for show but for practicality. When doing narrative work, you generally need more stuff on your camera than doco work which is my main area. There are a number of mentions of my site sponsor Zacuto’s gear as mentioned in the above Ethics Statement.
FRAME GRABS COPYRIGHT: PHILIP BLOOM/ DANNY LACEY
BEHIND THE SCENES PHOTOS COPYRIGHT: JULIAN HOLTOM
BEHIND THE SCENES iPhone PHOTOS COPYRIGHT: PHILIP BLOOM
EDIT MARCH 2012: Behind the scene video now up!
EDIT April 2013 Danny has finally released the film online. Hurrah! I have only shot one fiction piece since then, Genesis for the GH3 launch…I am itching to do more as its easily my least experienced genre and I have a lot to learn. I would also specially love to direct some…
A fly-on-the-wall style look at how we made That Day, a short sci-fi film shot over 3 days on an incredibly low budget.
10 actors, 15+ crew, 3 locations, 11 page screenplay
Written, produced and directed by Danny Lacey
The short film will be released in Summer 2012.
Making of videography by Tom Chapman
Before heading off to Australia and New Zealand for 5 weeks, I had a substantial period of time (for me!) at home in England. A whole month! Of course I was working, but it was nice to be home. When I knew I had this time, I got in touch with Danny Lacey, for whom I shot the short film Host on the Epic,and I asked him last month if he was up for anything else…He said “Absolutely! Let me write something!” That something turned out to be “That Day.” A sci-fi mystery film set in the past and in the present day.
With such a short turnaround, it was a hell of a challenge for Danny. Not just writing it, but producing and directing it. Getting the locations, props, actors. A huge task even though the end film will only be 10 minutes or so long. The logistics for one person are huge.
So for my part as DP, I had to decide which camera I was going to shoot this on, how to shoot it, and what I needed to achieve this.
I decided upon the C300…why the C300? Well first off it is my newest camera and I really wanted to see it pushed in this situation. I was looking at the F3 which would have worked great, but for me this camera made more sense. Especially as it’s the EF version and there would be some hand-held work. Those IS lenses are a dream for that.
Anyway…I am already rambling so let’s go through day by day what we did and why.
First off prep of gear.
David Beaumont was my lighting chap and he got hold of some of the lights we needed. A 2.5k HMI and a 4 foot 2 bank Kino Flo Diva. My assistant James Miller brought 3 x 800 watt lights and just as a backup, his 2k. I brought 3 x Dedo 150s and 2 x Kino Flo Divas. We also used a lot of practical lights for the Attic scene and some bounce boards and reflectors for day 1 in the woods. More on the lighting setups later.
We had 3 days of shooting and 3 locations. The woods, the attic and the office. For the woods we had originally planned to shoot with a Steadicam, but our guy was unable to make it so it had to be handheld. This was not ideal as I wanted more movement in the woods. Handheld is a totally different look, and doing the amount of movement I wanted handheld would look very ugly compared to the fluid beauty of Steadicam. To make the handheld as good as possible, I needed a decent hand held rig. The camera is relatively ok to use with the built in EVF but it really needs a rig, especially as we would need to have a follow focus on there and other bits and pieces. My favourite doco rig for the C300 is based upon the Gorilla rigs by Zacuto, very simple and light. If you already have one for your DSLR you just need the C300 gorilla plate and away you go ($150 from the Zacuto store). This rig was no good for this project though as it needed to be bigger and have stuff attached to it… for my other stuff it’s perfect though.
Zacuto, sent me their C300 baseplate. This was essential for me, as due to the slightly odd design of the camera, the base plates I currently owned were too low for the follow focus really. The baseplate is clever in its design as it puts the rods on top of the plate, meaning the follow focus and matte box will fit on perfectly. The rods are held in securely. For anyone using a C300 with any of the above mentioned gear, this is an essential purchase. It also gave me the ability to put 15mm rods into the side for easy mounting of monitors and other stuff. Even if you use other rigs, this plate is essential, as long as your rig works off of 15mm rods it will be compatible. It really is the dog’s bollocks! 🙂
The rest of the rig was trickier. I am 6’2″ and the kids we were shooting handheld in the woods were mostly under 4 foot. The camera needed to be the same height as them. The handheld rig I have is essentially the C300 Stinger.The same rig I use for other cameras with counterweight for the shoulder but with the above base plate.
This rig is great for on the shoulder but too high for what I needed. In hindsight, I should have used their DSLR rig the Scorpion with a modified lower front end but I didn’t. Holding it under my arm without the counterweight seemed the best compromise solution.
The last of the Zacuto mentions, as I am talking about their C300 stuff, the RECOIL is probably their best rig. I have all the bits to make it up, that is the joy of Zacuto stuff…it’s great as it sits exactly where a camera should be. On your shoulder. Zacuto are doing a spring special on it at the moment…What I like about it is that the position of the camera negates the need for a counterweight. This makes the whole rig much lighter and its position makes it super steady.
Lens wise, I brought a large amount of lenses with me. Mostly because I brought my Sony F3 with me as backup. Why? Paranoia! After our Epic nightmares on Host, I wanted another large sensor camcorder JUST IN CASE. I didn’t want to put Danny through that stress again. Of course the C300 is a different beast entirely and has no reported reliability issues. As I have no decent EF adaptor for my F3, I brought my Nikon lenses with me and my Zeiss ZFs (which I used on the C300 too with a simple adaptor).
Although I brought many lenses with me, I can list the ones I actually used on the shoot here.
Tokina 11-16 F2.8
Canon 17-55 F2.8 IS (VERY useful for handheld but the focus is fiddly)
Canon 50mm F1.2
Canon 100mm Macro IS F2.8
Canon 135mm F2
Canon 70-200mm F2.8 IS II
Zeiss ZF 35mm F1.4
Zeiss ZF 85mm F1.4
I had two monitors with me. The 5.6″ TV Logic and the 7″ TV Logic LVM-074W which acted as a Director’s monitor. Both excellent quality with SDI/ HDMI inputs. Very good waveforms, vectorscopes, peaking, audio and the ability (not needed here) to convert HDMI to SDI. I bloody LOVE these monitors. Best I have used. Pin sharp with great features and wonderful image.
They were lovely to have around, with barely a complaint about the cold…unlike me!
For the most part I was handheld with the camera under my shoulder to keep their height. There were very few walking shots. Mostly static with pans. For the real statics I put the rig on my shoulder and kneeled down on my cinesaddle. Perfect height and way more comfortable!
All sound was recorded dual system, timecode was locked in via Johan’s wireless TC sync box. I did also record reference audio. Why not record in camera? Well the C300 can only record 2 tracks and at times we had more than that. It’s way better to keep things unmixed. Hence the majority of narrative is recorded dual system.
The 17-55mm Canon IS lens is great for handheld with one caveat. The focus throw is quite short meaning focus pulls are very fiddly. Jamie was my focus puller for the shoot, but there were times when it was easier for me to pull off the barrel of the lens, like this one. Especially when the difference was so small.
I had a pretty small team. There was myself, Jamie, James Miller, Ronald Vonk and of course David working the lights. There were times when we really needed one or two more people. There were also times when it would have been quicker without all the extra stuff, and I just got on with it. That is the documentary filmmaker in me who operates alone! 🙂
We used no extra light for the day light scenes. Occasionally a reflector was used but not often. The light was very flat and even, making it pretty easy to deal with. It was nice when the sun came out, streaming through the trees. The problem with that was clouds and branches. When exposing for the sun it was damn tricky with it going in and out and moving take to take, causing branches to shadow our actors when they hit their marks…very time consuming, but when it worked it made all the difference rather that the flat lighting.
What this camera excels at is the detail off the sensor. It loves fine details, so often I was shooting quite stopped down to see all the details in the woods. This not being a DSLR meant there would be no image issues, so I felt comfortable and safe shooting this way. The camera’s image really is exceptional and this came through will the daylight filming. The ability to hold highlights and shadow detail using the cinema lock mode and C-Log, giving us 12 stops of dynamic range camera was really handy when we were shooting out of the woods. Inside the woods…not needed so much! 🙂
Our last “daylight” scene we barely scraped in. Light was dropping fast and we were behind. This is where another joy of the C300 came in. With barely any light left, I pumped up the camera to a ridiculous 10,000 ISO. Unsable on most cameras. Not here. Yes there was noise, but incredibly easy to clean up with Magic Bullet Denoiser or Neat Video with just a few clicks. Incredible. Even without doing this, the noise is remarkable grain-like. Still, cleaner the better.
I was able to knock off a tight shot of one of young actor’s eyes as well as tight shot of his face. The 100mm Macro with IS was used at F2.8 for his eye and the 50mm F1.2 for the tight shot of his face as the light had all gone and we were in the woods. VERY DARK!!
I won’t talk about the nighttime shots here as I don’t want to give any spoilers. But there are two frame grabs from the HMI scene. The hand holding and the down the line shot.
Day two: The Attic
This was immensely more complicated than day one. An intricate lighting set up was needed and 58 set ups to rattle off. That’s a LOT of shots.
The location was above a storage locker in Batley, Yorkshire…again…ABSOLUTELY freezing.
Danny did immensely well getting our talented adult cast. Matt Sutton, Julia Mallam, Holly Matthews, George Banks and John Guilor.
The main lighting set up consistied of a 15 watt domestic bulb hanging from a light fitting. A Dedo 150 watt to replicate it stuck onto a beam pointing down, various other kinos, and dedos lighting up different areas and giving extra light to our actors for the close ups. David used a reflector at times to bounce the light into the actors but all of it was pretty dark to the eye and the camera. Quite a different way to light and very fun and creative. I have never shot like this before, so it was a lot of fun. Generally I light for 640-800 ISO indoors…Shooting at high ISOs of 6400 on this camera meant candles made a huge difference to the light, so there was no need to fake the flickering, we were seeing it clearly on camera. The downside to using very subtle lighting was the room didn’t heat up (which normally is an upside but not in this freezing location!) This was a really freeing experience, and the camera really comes into its own here.
The majority of these shots were shot underexposed by around one stop deliberately. This does give you more visible noise, as the sensors copes great with high ISOs as long as the shot is exposed. But with a very quick pass of magic bullet/ neat video de-noiser it vanished (I tend to leave some as it’s aesthetically pleasing) The reason why it was underexposed was to give the feeling over a very dark room…the only time shots were exposed were when characters came more into the light.
The above 17-55 lens was used less here. The main lens was the 70-200mm F2.8 for tight shots of actors with compressed backgrounds. This was VERY fiddly for focus on the end of the lenses. I often stopped down to F5.6 but the throw on the focus at this point is so tiny it meant that keeping focus was very hard. In the end, we switched to the Zeiss ZF 85mm as the throw was huge in comparison, meaning getting focus was much easier. Although it meant a change in perspective as we had more background, less compression due to it being wider and me having to move closer.
There was a dolly shot needed, and I used my lightweight and simple to use Wally Dolly for this big track-in. Ideally, I could have done with a heavier duty dolly that someone could have pushed with me on it. But this was all we had, and it did the trick.
We got all the shots done and the C300 did a smashing job again. An absolute joy to work with.
DAY 3: The Office
The office set up was a lot simpler. We had 3 setups and around 2 shots needed for each one. The main one being the opening of the film which was a wide dolly left going past an object to naturally wipe to a tighter shot of one of characters asleep at his desk.
David set up the HMI to light the building opposite through the window. Dedos were used the most here, to replicate light from the computer screen. The below screen grab is coloured to represent approximately what the final image would look like (Perhaps a bit too dark!)
So now the film is out of my hands and into Danny’s. This will hopefully be entered into festivals before being shown online, much like Host. I don’t know the timescale, but keep tuned to the Facebook page for more info!
The camera turned out to be the perfect camera for the job. Everything about it worked perfectly. For a camera that I will mostly be shooting documentaries with, it excels at narrative work too.
Huge thanks to all the cast and crew for making this pretty painless. Especially to Danny Lacey of course and my team.