My favorite thing about being a DP is that every project I do is so incredibly different. It’s always new and exciting. I find that every project contains its own set of challenges and rewards. Whether it be a commercial, music video or feature film each provides distinct opportunities to try something new and hone my craft. This is why pre-production can be so exciting yet daunting at the same time. And so begins the saga that is Talentâ€¦
The short film Talent re-teams me with the likes of Director J. David Shanks and actor Nelsan Ellis. I have done a combined three films and a pilot with J. David and Nelsan, so it is exciting to be working with them again.
Talent is the story of a young girl whose dream is to make it big in Hollywood. To make things worse she receives no support from her family and is forced to seek out her dream alone. It is a dark and sometimes disturbing story that must be portrayed that way on the screen.
One of the first things I do when coming up with the look of a film is to try and put together some visual references. I feel this is one of the quickest and easiest ways to convey to a director what I have imagined while reading the script. I also ask the director for any visual references or films they may have in mind. While reading Talent I couldnâ€™t help but think of the Tony Scott film Domino. To me Domino was amazing in the risks it took in terms of its look. It is one of the grittiest most hyperkinetic films I have ever seen. While Talent doesnâ€™t call for the hyperkinesis of Domino, it does share its gritty tone.
After talking extensively with Shanks about the look of the film, we were able to decide on an approach to lighting, camera movement and tone. The following is a breakdown of the camera gear we have selected to help us achieve the look we want and why we have selected that particular gear.
*Camera: Panasonicâ€™s AG HPX-170
*Adapter: Redrock M2 Encore
Having shot the short film Trespass for J. David and Nelsan on 35mm, we were quite keen on the idea of shooting Talent on film as well. We initially discussed shooting on Super 16, but budgetary constraints and the eventual plan to make this a 2 camera shoot killed any idea of shooting film.
I have been a fan of Panasonic for quite some time now. Over the past few years I have owned the DVX-100, 100A and the HVX-200. I feel each generation has improved upon itself and the current incarnation the HPX-170 is heads and tails above any of the other HD cameras on the market in its price range.
While the camera itself is a great starting point, there is no way I would ever chose to shoot this project on that camera alone. Enter the Redrock M2 Encore. Over the past few years I have tried out several of the depth of field adapters that have come to market. Amongst the adapters I have tried out are a homemade adapter, the Brevis35, Redrockâ€™s M2 and the P+S Technik. Up until this point I have felt that all of the adapters were pretty similar. Sure, they all had their pros and cons, but in the end they all sort of fell short of what I was really hoping for. That was until I had the pleasure of trying out the Redrock M2 Encore. As I have said in the past, I shot a feature film on the M2 to mixed reviews. To clarify, everyone was a big fan of the footage, but my experience behind the lens was less than perfect. So when Redrock released the Encore I was a bit skeptical. To my delight though, theyâ€™ve somehow managed to fix every single problem I had with the M2, creating a nearly perfect unit.
Some of the fixes include total edge-to-edge sharpness, rechargeable AA batteries, and a simple new way to collimate your lens mount. Oh yeah, and almost no light loss at all. These guys have created a unit Iâ€™m actually excited to work with, not just something that Iâ€™m using because I hate the alternativeâ€¦ no adapter. It was not hard to convince J. David to use the Redrock system, after all, we had used it on his last film Vile, and we both loved the results.
*Lenses: Zeiss 35mm ZF T*2, Zeiss 50mm ZF T*1.4, Zeiss 85mm ZF T*1.4, Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8D Zoom Lens, Lensbaby Composer with the 0.42x Super Wide Angle and Macro attachments
Many DPâ€™s will extensively test and re-test lenses in order to find just the perfect coating and sharpness. While I also stand by this philosophy, on this project I have chosen to go in a different direction. Ultimately, our aim is to have harsh, gritty and at times ugly final images. Knowing this ahead of time, I am positive because of the degradation of the final image, we will be able to match the look of the Zeiss lenses to the Nikon zoom. I plan to also employ the swing and tilt like effects of the Lensbaby Composer. There are several scenes in the film in which a character has been drugged and or is not in a normal state of consciousness. The Lensbabyâ€™s ability to warp perspective and make things slightly askew will play a major role in these scenes. Beyond the Lensbaby, I will also be using lighting cues to help enhance this effect, but weâ€™ll speak more about that in a coming post.
*Filtration: Circular Pola, ND Soft Grad and Tiffen Streak Filters
In todayâ€™s world of heavy post work and Digital Intermediates, I have begun to phase out a lot of my on camera filters. In the past where I would have been tempted to use Pro Mists or other image changing filters, I now try and coordinate my vision with the color timer. I find this to be a good way to ensure a cleaner negative or tape going into post. If you are working with a director and color timer you trust, I find that you can still ultimately achieve the look you wanted without permanently changing the negative, or in this case, the RAW files. On Talent, I will be employing very few filters using only those to control the daytime sky or to take down portions of my frame that I deem too hot. Thanks to Redrocks improved ground glass, I find myself NDing down with the HPXâ€™s in camera NDâ€™s most of the time and saving the slots in my filter tray for other filters that I may need. With other adapters, I used to worry about starting to see the spinning or rotating ground glass, but with the Encore this problem has been all but eliminated.
The sole exception in this case, is Tiffenâ€™s Streak filter. While I have employed this filter on music videos in the past, I have never used it in the case of a narrative film until now. For those of you unfamiliar with Tiffenâ€™s Streak filter, it is a filter that closely mimics an anamorphic lens flare. You know, those incredible, usually blue tinted flares that streak across an image when light hits the lens directly. They can be incredibly beautiful and I think this type of flare will work amazingly against the backdrop in which we are setting them.
Over the next few days, I will continue to post on camera support and lighting. I will also be happy to field any questions about any of the earlier posts. Please come back often as I will be posting location photos and providing more insight into what this film will ultimately look like from the inside out.