I apologize for having to take the break from posting last week. I’ve had quite a busy two weeks that culminated this weekend with a three-day shoot in Richmond on a short film titled “Heather.”
Directed by Lisa Crawford with cinematography by Kuni Ohi, the script tells the story of a lonesome woman who is deeply in love with her cat and constantly trying to avoid interaction with other people, especially men. The final film should clock in somewhere around 20 – 30 minutes which is a decent chunk of movie to shoot on the weekend.
Luckily for me, they had already shot one day of 10 pages last weekend, largely suppressing the load for this past weekend.
We shot the short on the RED One (and a crazy set of accessories) with a fairly small crew. There were about 10 of us total and many people wearing multiple hats; myself wearing those of First Assistant Camera, some 2nd AC stuff and part-time data loader. But what was great about this was that each of us were friends with each other, extremely competent at our jobs and so despite the smaller size, we moved fast, efficiently and nobody felt dragged down.
Like I mentioned above, the rig for this RED was a little strange: the EVF (external view finder) and Red brand LCD had been shipped off for maintenance so we were using a Panasonic 7 inch production monitor mounted on the camera both for myself and for Kuni who was operating.
That alone posed some interesting problems.
For one, the way the RED outputs its video feed, we weren’t able to display the menus, histograms, and additional data you normally see within the EVF or monitor. The reason for this is that we were outputting the feed on HD-SDI to the Panasonic monitor in a 720p resolution. I read up on it to find that the RED only outputs its menu display, among the other stuff, as a DVI output (from the HDMI port) or to its own monitors/EVF which don’t use the mini-BNC outputs or HDMI to send data.
So, essentially, we couldn’t see sound levels, I had to depend on the back display to navigate menus, and it was harder to keep track of media, power, and other information that is normally in your eyesight on the monitor.
Another problem this rig presented was its handheld configuration. Since there was no EVF, Kuni had to depend entirely on the large monitor. When I thought about this before ever prepping and seeing the camera, I figured we could just remount the arm as close to the smart side of the camera (that’s the left side if you’re looking the same way as the camera) and lower the monitor to eye level, but the arm mounting the monitor was on was way too short to do this.
The solution, as devised by Kuni and his AC from the one-day shoot two weeks ago, was to unmount the monitor completely and have somebody else (such as the 2nd AC) hold the monitor close to eye level for both Kuni and I to watch.
This solution worked, but it was very clumsy. It made moving the camera difficult, it made operating it a little more awkward and it was also a heavy monitor to be holding in your hands for long periods of time.
We also shot the short using Nikon still lenses with an interesting Nikon mount on the camera. I hadn’t seen it before, but you mounted the lens, stopped it down completely, then it used an aperature ring attached to the mount to change exposure.
It sounds like it would work fine, but there was no marking for where the exposure was actually at. And even when I put paper tape on the camera and made a mark, the lens mount was entirely inaccurate.
For instance, one lens went from T2.8 to T16, while the lens mount went from 1.4 – 16. You would figure that you’d just have to mentally compensate for a stop i.e. that 1.4 on the mount actually meant 2.8 on the lens since both would mean WFO (wide-f*&^ing open), but that’s not how it worked. In fact, on almost all the lenses, the mount would only stop down to 8 even though the lens could stop down to 16.
Now this doesn’t mean the lens wasn’t at T16, it just means the mount was reading that exposure as T8. The problem inherent in this was that we were unable to quantify exposure. It was often set by eyeing it or using the Red’s false color predator vision. Kuni asking me to close it down half a stop was met by some kind of guessing at what I thought was about half a stop since I couldn’t actually see markings for it.
Overall, the lenses were a bit cumbersome and they were still lenses, but I got used to them very quickly. They output some great images, especially the 85mm and the 50mm which became our workhorses. We did have a couple of zooms, but they either took too much time to remount for how fast we were going or they zoomed between awkward focal lengths for a film (11 – 16mm for instance).
The only bit that annoyed me was the lack of distance on the focus barrel for pulling. The lenses went from infinite to 50 feet very quickly, often with only one tooth of a gear changing on the focus wheel. It made for some very delicate pulls, but like anything, you get used to it quick cause you have to.
The shoot went incredibly well, I believe.
Our director, Lisa, was confident, thankful and most importantly, knew the story well enough to communicate to both the actors and crew exactly what she wanted. This made the world of difference and it’s always wonderful to work with somebody who can allow their creative ideas to be articulated so clearly. So thank you Lisa if you’re reading this! You were a wonderful director to work for.
I think I speak for all of the crew in saying that it was a great experience for a weekend shoot, especially because it reunited a lot of us who hadn’t been together in awhile. We did work a bit extra on Saturday, but nobody seemed to mind, and in the end, we got wonderful footage out of those last two hours. I was very impressed with all of the footage I scrubbed through while dumping the CF cards.
For a little tease, here’s a still from one of the shot’s: