After some delay, I’m finally posting links to the spots we produced for the law office of Thomas J Henry that aired during the Super Bowl. This was a fun shoot, for which yours truly was the director of photography and also colorist.
Principal photography lasted four days, and we shot on two Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras, which were awesome. I love the small form factor of the BMPCC, which makes it superb for hand-held and run-and-gun work, especially when mated with my Zeiss MkI Super Speeds, a small Vocas matte box, and the superb wood/metal grips from iKan. The camera feels like a natural extension of my hand, and I can shoot all day without any noticeable fatigue in my arms or hands. I can’t say that when shooting with a RED rig or a big ENG camera.
In addition to handling great, the BMPCC also puts out superior 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW color, and I adore the Super-16 size imager. It’s a great format; large enough to afford shallow depth-of-field when you want it (especially with the T1.3 Super Speeds, which are nice and sharp wide-open), but small enough to maintain critical focus while on the run.
Speaking of the imager, it is sharp. Seriously sharp. Like 1000 TV lines sharp. When shooting RAW with good glass, it seems like you could actually cut yourself on the footage. Unfortunately, this extreme sharpness also means that moire is an issue occasionally, but I have to have it be a problem after the footage has been graded and exported to ProRes. When all is said and done, the BMPCC moires less than any DSLR I’ve ever used, so there’s that.
I’ve been having a lot of fun with the new Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 X-mount lens. Up until now, I hadn’t had an autofocus lens for my Fuji X-E1. I didn’t buy the 35/1.4 Fuji lens for it, instead I opted for the body only and a host of X-mount adapters so I could use all of my old Leica LTM and M-mount lenses on it. That worked out pretty well, considering the X-E1 has a high-resolution EVF, twice as dense as the EVF in the X-Pro 1 body. Focusing manually using an X-E1 is a lot easier. I’ve also just learned that coming in July, Fuji is releasing a firmware update that will give the X-E1 and X-Pro1 EVF peaking, which will make MF so much easier; it’s something that X series owners have been screaming for since the cameras launched. I’m really happy that Fuji listened to us and finally delivered. I love the X-mount cameras, and this makes them that much more usable.
I took delivery of the Zeiss Touit 32/1.8 last week, and immediately took it with me to shoot another charreada. I got some great results, just screwing around in the dust. But I really saw the little Touit shine yesterday when I was shooting new photos for the band Phonolux, who needed some quick shots for their new EP before one of the band members left town for a month. It was a short-notice shoot, and the set was in their garage. And all we had for light were Home Depot clamp lights and a couple of small Arris. It was a very shallow set, and I had to be fairly close to my subjects, so it was nice to use a shorter lens with a more forgivable depth-of-field. I burned some frames on one of my FX Nikon bodies as well, but the X-E1’s APS-C sensor and shorter lens combination just work better for this particular shoot. Plus, the Zeiss lens is inherently sharper, and has more pop than much of the Nikon glass I have, with the exception of the 70-200/2.8 VR II, which is simply one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever encountered, if not the sharpest.
As you can see, I had to be pretty close to them to get the shot, so being able to use the shorter 32mm lens worked out well, since I also had to shoot at f/2.8 due to the light being so low. At 32mm f/2.8, at a shooting distance of about ten feet, I was still able to squeeze them all into a focal plane that allowed everyone to be sharp while still putting a little separation between the band members and the background.
The New York Times called me yesterday about shooting an interview of San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, who will be making the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in a couple of weeks. The shoot, which was this morning, went really well. Mayor Castro is always nice, respectful, and reserved. Plus, he’s a great interview. I can see why the Democratic party is grooming him to be a future superstar. As a San Antonio native, I have to say, he’s arguably the best mayor we’ve ever had. I enjoyed this assignment very much, and of course the AF100 was awesome.
I used my Nikon glass for this one, and a three-head fresnel kit. It was a very basic setup, but the results were great. I wanted to roll to the Samurai, but since I knew I was likely going to have to transmit this footage, ProRes422 was right out, and instead I opted to record to AVCHD. I didn’t mind, since it was destined for the web, and also I knew that the footage wasn’t going to have any large color moves applied to it. Note how dirty my camera is from filming outside for thirty days during a very hot and dusty South Texas summer. Maybe I should do some detailing this week…
As some of you may already know, I started working on a new feature film called “Champion,” as Dir. of Photography/Cinematographer. It stars Dora Madison Burge (Friday Night Lights), Cody Linley (Hannah Montana), and… wait for it… Lance Henriksen (every awesome movie, ever). I’ll cut to the chase: I’m approaching 40, and had no idea who Dora or Cody were before they signed up for this film (but it turns out they’re awesome). But Lance Henriksen?! How effing sweet is it that I get to have one of my all-time favorite actors in front of my lens? I never would have thought I’d get this opportunity. Strap in, because I’m going to gush about this for a while.
Like many people who are about my age, I first saw Lance in James Cameron’s “The Terminator” and again in “Aliens” in 1986, as the android synthetic human called Bishop. We all know how bad-ass the knife scene in that film was, and so far, everyone on set has been able to keep their cool and not ask him to do it. No-one wants to be “that guy.” He really did do it, BTW, and he said that Bill Paxton didn’t know about it beforehand; Paxton’s surprised expression while Lance was stabbing the knife between his fingers was authentic.
Since “Aliens,” Lance has been one of my favorites. His roles are always just so cool. But what I really love about working with him is the fact that Lance Henriksen the man is simply a dream to work with. He’s incredibly nice, laid-back, professional, and his experience really adds to the production. All of us on the crew of “Champion” will be better filmmakers after working with him. During breaks on set, Lance can often be found “holding court” as the crew gathers around him to hear his stories.
Now, on to the tech: We’re shooting “Champion” on two Panasonic AF100 cameras capturing footage to Atomos Samurai recorders. Day One was a test of our patience, however, when one of our Samurais kept spontaneously turning itself off. After a firmware update failed to fix the problem, it was determined by the Atomos LA office that it was a faulty unit. They overnighted a new one to us the next day. I call that some pretty sweet customer service. Since then, both units have been flawless. Using the Samurai in the field is a dream. I wish they had brighter screens, though.
Both of our Samurais are running AtomOS 3, which adds some awesome and much-needed features to the unit, including peaking, zebras, false color, and the ability to not only mark clip ins and outs during playback, but also export XML so you can then open your rough cut in Final Cut Pro. Talk about a time saver: you can do your rough edit in the car on the way back from the set! I still wish the screen on the Samurai was brighter, but I can live with it, since I’m using my Cineroid most of the time anyway.
Since our MacBook Pros do not have eSATA ports, one piece of new technology that has made life easier on set is the new LaCie Thunderbolt to eSATA hub, which makes things flow much faster and allows us to save a lot of money in the storage budget. Footage can be backed up on multiple eSATA drives by our dailies editor without wasting any time. Before, we had to use USB 2.0 or FireWire docks, which was excruciating, considering we’re shooting about 100GB of ProRes footage per day. Yay for Thunderbolt. I just wish the Thunderbolt architecture would mature faster with third party suppliers. There aren’t many Thunderbolt products out there, which really confuses me, considering how fast it is.
I’ve been dialing in my ENG-ized AF100 for some time now. Recently, I added a Varavon lens support to relieve some tension from the not-so-robust Micro 4/3 mount. The Varavon works really well, and I especially like that it has a rubber strap that holds the lens down onto the post suport. This not only provides negative-G stability, but also prevents the lens from torquing the mount when I’m using the ENG hand grip.
On July 4th, I was hired by the San Antonio Scorpions professional soccer team to shoot some b-roll before and during their game against FC Edmonton. I thought this would be the perfect chance to try out the new rig. I wanted to make it as light as possible, so I elected to remove the Anton Bauer plate and battery, which powers the lens’ servo zoom, and just roll using manual zoom instead. The total package consisted of AF100 body, Fujinon 10×4.8 Super-wide ENG lens, rails, Atomos Samurai, and a Cineroid Metal HD-SDI EVF.
The client wanted 720/30p for web and broadcast use. I set the Samurai to record ProRes422 LT and it looked great. A lot of people overlook LT but it’s superb when you want to save space and you’re not going to be doing heavy color moves in post. Even though it’s “LT” it’s still a heck of a lot better than AVCHD. I recently switched to Intel X25 SSDs in the Samurai, and I couldn’t be happier with them. Fast and tough. That’s all I can ask for. I was using a Corsair SSD, and after three RMAs from failed drives, the switch to Intel was needed.
Here is a two-minute reel of raw clips from Wednesday night. These are ungraded, straight from the camera:
Last weekend saw the start of my latest project with Machina Cinema, a short entitled “Arose The Coward,” which is being filmed on my Panasonic AF100. I’ve recently made some upgrades to my system, and I’ve been looking forward to putting them into service. I switched out the Kipon Canon EF to M43 mount for the new Redrock Micro LiveLens mount adapter that allows electronic interface with the Canon lens aperture. It’s pretty cool, although it doesn’t work with all the EF lenses. Not sure why. It works great with the lens I need it for most, though, which is the 16-35/2.8 L. It also works with my 70-200/2.8L IS, and my 300/2.8 L IS. However, it does not work with my 24/1.4L, which is a serious bummer, as that’s my go-to low-light lens.
For the start of production, I outfitted the AF100 with a Ki Pro Mini ProRes422 recorder, which I’ve tacked a Hytron 140 battery onto for field work. A fully charged 140 will power the Ki Pro Mini for at least 5-6 hours… pretty handy on set.
Below are some photos from the first day on set. Friend Kevin Sloan recently acquired a Steadicam Provid and was looking forward to trying it out on set. As luck woud have it, the entire first day called for Steadicam.
I had a job last weekend, directing and shooting a commercial for a prominent local plastic surgeon. The client wanted a cinematic look, with models in various scenes shot in a fancy house. Check. With my 1AC, Dave Novak, and Supergrip Greg Ventura, we knocked it out in what ended up being a really fun day of shooting.
Since the client wanted a cine look, I of course used my Panasonic AF100 to shoot the spot, relying on Zeiss primes and a Canon 16-35/2.8 L II to refract the light for me. Footage was recorded via HD-SDI to an AJA Ki Pro Mini.
The client wanted everything to be in slow motion, so in order to get the footage onto the AJA recorder, I had to shoot in 720/60p and convert to 30p in post, as the Ki Pro Mini does not support variable frame rate mode… yet. Hopefully a firmware update will fix that problem soon, and yes, it is a problem. To be fair though, I don’t know of a recorder that does support 1080p/60 yet, although I think the Cinedeck might. At $10k though, I’m not even going to bother to go to their website to check.
Since I knew the client was going to want a significant amount of post processing, I wasn’t about to record to AVCHD; I had to go 4:2:2 out to the Ki Pro Mini.
The shoot went really well, and I’m very happy with the results. The best thing about this shoot is that this job allowed me to pull the trigger and order my copy of DaVinci Resolve, so I can finally update my color grading capabilities into the 21st century. It should arrive Friday. I can’t wait to try it out on this commercial!
BTW, I learned on this shoot that although they are of the finest glass, Schneider filters still won’t survive a fall onto a large rock. Take that wisdom with you into the future.