Category Archives: Production Stills

First Weekend With The Canon PL Super 16 8-64 T2.4 Zoom

BMPCC with the Canon 8-64 T2.4 PL Super-16 Zoom
BMPCC with the Canon 8-64 T2.4 PL Super-16 Zoom

Last week, I scored. I scored big. I came across a nice copy of the revered Canon 8-64 T2.4 PL Super 16 zoom lens, for an amazing price, so I snapped it up. I’ve had my eye on this lens since I first started shooting with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, but when one does pop up for sale, the price was always out of my reach. Not only is it one of the smallest S16 zooms available, but it’s also one of the widest – maybe even the widest available. Shooting in tight spaces is no problem for this zoom, with 8mm affording an equivalent field of view that is just a hair wider than a 24mm on a full-frame DSLR.

Darren Abate and Nico Wachter on the court during the 2014 NBA Finals, Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs
Yours truly, left, glaring at Nico on the court in San Antonio.

My desire for the Canon 8-64 was cemented during the NBA Playoffs this year. I was covering all of the San Antonio games for The Sporting News/Omnisport, and before one of the games, the NBA TV Phantom shooter struck up a conversation with me when he noticed that I was shooting with my old Mk I Zeiss Super Speeds on the BMPCC. Being a 16mm shooter, he wanted to check out my rig. As it turned out, he had a Canon 8-64 on his Phantom, and we spent some time talking glass. That was the first time I’d seen the 8-64 in the wild, and I immediately recognized that it was the perfect size for the BMPCC rig. It rocketed to the top of my wish list, but it wasn’t until recently I found one for sale that was actually affordable.

On the set of Kevin Sloan's latest short film, "I Love You More."
On the set of Kevin Sloan’s latest short film, “I Love You More.”

I ordered the lens and a cheap PL adapter the same day (not ready to spend 800.00 on the Hotrod Cameras PL mount for the View Factor Contineo cage yet), and they both arrived on Friday. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the PL mount came with a set of shims, so I spent some time collimating the mount, MacGyver-style. The difference between “not good” & “good enough” was 0.03mm. I may revisit it later on if I can find some 0.01mm shims for the Hawk’s Factory mount.

Yours truly shooting with the BMPCC and a Zeiss Mk I 25mm T1.3 Super Speed during the NBA Playoffs in San Antonio.
Yours truly shooting with the BMPCC and a Zeiss Mk I 25mm T1.3 Super Speed during the NBA Playoffs in San Antonio.

Immediately after unpacking the lens and mounting it to the camera, I called my friend Nico and made him go with me to shoot some sunset clips. We went up to the roof of an abandoned high rise and rolled on the San Antonio skyline, with great results. The Canon 8-64 might just be my new favorite lens. It’s definitely the most “filmic” lens I’ve used on the BMPCC. Color and contrast are awesome, and it’s beautifully sharp, with a nice organic looking picture. Flare and bokeh (I still hate that word) are both wonderful, with lots of character. It’s a beautiful look, especially if you love film.

Director Kevin Sloan pauses to look important on the set of his latest short film.
Director Kevin Sloan on the set of his latest short film.

The next day, I was to provide the camera package, DIT, & color services for director Kevin Sloan’s new short, “I Love You More.” I was very excited that the 8-64 had arrived before the weekend, as I would get to put it through its paces on set immediately. After looking at dailies, I’ve decided that it is indeed my new favorite lens. It yields the perfect look for me. Tack sharp, yet organically smooth, if that makes any sense. Coupled with the 12-bit raw color of the BMPCC, we have a winner.

Here is a quick test video I cobbled together to show off the characteristics of the lens, including breathing, bokeh, zoom, sharpness, color, contrast, etc. Unfortunately, the camera I was using suffered from the BMPCC “highlight blooming” problem, and it’s evident in some of the shots. I need to send it in for that…

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

Photos From Set

Cinematographer, Josh, on set with the AF100 and Atomos Samurai.
Cinematographer, Josh, on set with the AF100 and Atomos Samurai.

I love to support local filmmakers, especially students and those just starting out on their independent film careers. Last night, Branden, a friend and local film student, needed some help with a camera yesterday to finish shooting some scenes for his current film project, so I brought over my Samurai and AF100 for he and his crew to use. While I was there, I snapped a few pics for fun.

Mandy B. in makeup.
Mandy B. in makeup, ready for a scene with Branden.

The very talented Lawrence Mercado (http://notbotfx.com) was on hand to make up the lead actress to look like she’d been abused, and I must say Lawrence outdid himself. What an amazing job! The best part of the story is that she had to walk into a Walmart after the shoot, looking like that, because she needed to get makeup remover. Unfortunately, none of us had a GoPro to stick on her for that so we could record people’s reactions!

 

Sebastian Wiegaertner Posts DNG frame from BlackMagic Cinema Camera

Frame from a BlackMagic Cinema Camera by cinematographer Sebastian Wiegärtner.
Frame from a BlackMagic Cinema Camera by cinematographer Sebastian Wiegärtner, processed and color-corrected in Adobe Camera RAW by myself.

German cinematographer Sebastian Wiegärtner has posted a link to download a DNG frame from a BlackMagic Cinema Camera. Follow this link to get it. I downloaded the file and opened it in Adobe Camera Raw to play with it, and I have to say that I’m really impressed with the clarity, sharpness, and — most of all — the clean, clean, shadow detail. That alone is making me reconsider waiting to get the BlackMagic Cinema Camera. If I can have a camera with shadows that clean, I may make and exception to my “don’t buy new releases” rule. I still don’t like the fact that it’s Canon EOS mount only, though. I still think that was a mistake. It’s true that the Canon EF mount is the most popular right now, but with Nikon, Panasonic, Sony, and others now fully committed to the cinema game, I think Micro 4/3 would have been a better choice in order to keep all the lens options open.

Shooting for the New York Times on the Panasonic AF100

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…

Detail of Mayor Julian Castro in my Panasonic AF100 screen
Detail of Mayor Julian Castro in the screen of my Panasonic AF100.
Interviewing San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro for the New York Times
Rolling video on an interview of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro for the New York Times

On Set: “Champion” starring Lance Henriksen, Dora Madison Burge, and Cody Linley

Setting up a shot on the set of "Champion."
Yours truly setting up a shot on the set of “Champion.”

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.

Bring me the hat of Lance Henriksen
Let’s start the bad-assery here: Me wearing Lance’s hat. Well… his prop hat. It counts.

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.

AF100 cameras and Samurai recorders get tuned up on the set of "Champion".
AF100 cameras and Samurai recorders get tuned up on the set of “Champion”.

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.

Day Four of Arose The Coward

Last weekend was full of intense shooting for “Arose The Coward” using the Panasonic AF100, of course. Sunday was a particularly long day. Since I started using the AJA Ki Pro Mini, there has been an ongoing problem with it; every so often, it would freak out and delete clips, or spontaneously rename them. I FINALLY figured out why it has been doing this, and corrected the problem.

I thought of the solution while I was driving to set on Sunday. I was thinking about what could possibly cause these issues, and it hit me. When I bought my Fuji X100 stills camera, there was a known issue regarding downloading images from the camera to an iPad. When the SD card was reinserted into the camera, it would cause the X100 to freak out and become unresponsive for about thirty seconds. This was due to the fact that Apple iOS was saving hidden files to the SD card when it was inserted into the iPad’s card reader. This is not a new issue; Mac OS has always saved hidden files to media that is mounted onto the system. However, the Fuji didn’t know what to make of them, and this caused problems.

Habitually, when I’ve used the Ki Pro Mini on set, instead of reformatting the card in the unit, I would simply delete the files and then empty the trash on my Macbook Pro, because it was a lot faster. It dawned on me this weekend that that was probably what was causing the Ki Pro Mini to freak out; hidden files left on the CF cards by Mac OS.

So, I made it a point to always reformat the card in the Ki Pro Mini after dumping clips, and sure enough, the problem hasn’t resurfaced. Yay me.

Here are some shots from last weekend’s shoot:

AF100 on the set of Arose The Coward
Arose The Coward director Buddy Calvo checks playback in the viewfinder of the Panasonic AF100.
Panasonic AF100 on the set of Arose The Coward starring Anthony Guajardo of Walking Dead
The Panasonic AF100 rigged to a hostess tray to capture lead actor Anthony Guajardo (of The Walking Dead) during an outdoor walking scene.
Rigging the Panasonic AF100 onto the hostess tray
First AC Kevin rigs the Panasonic AF100 onto the hostess tray to capture lead actor Anthony Guajardo (of Walking Dead) during an outdoor scene.

New AF100 Production: Arose The Coward with Machina Cinema

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.

Panasonic AF100 and Steadicam on set
Kevin and Scott set up the AF100 on the Steadicam
Balancing the AF100 on the Steadicam
Balancing the AF100 on the Steadicam

 

Panasonic AF100 on Steadicam
Panasonic AF100 equipped with AJA Ki Pro Mini, Canon 16-35/2.8L, Redrock Micro EF-M43 adapter, remote follow focus, and Redrock Micro matte box.

 

Panasonic AF100 on the set of "Arose The Coward"
Panasonic AF100 on the set of "Arose The Coward" starring Anthony Guajardo and Viviana Chavez from the hit TV program "The Walking Dead".

 

Yours truly setting up a shot on set.
Yours truly setting up a shot on set.

 

Setting up a shot with the AF100
Setting up a shot with the AF100

 

Setting up a shot with the AF100
Setting up a shot with the AF100

 

Another Use for a BlackMagic Design Hyperdeck Shuttle

Many of you already know about BlackMagic Design’s new SDI/HDMI recording device, the Hyperdeck Shuttle. If you don’t know, then the short of it is that the Hyperdeck Shuttle takes an incoming video feed from either SD/HD-SDI or HDMI, and transcodes it to 10-bit uncompressed Quicktime on the fly, and writes it to a 2.5″ SSD drive. There are several good products that do this, but none that do it so cheaply, at US $350.00. I think the closest competitor is the Atomos Ninja at $995.00. What makes the Hyperdeck Shuttle so cheap is that fact that it’s so simple. No display, no menus (unless you’re using the computer interface app). Just standard record/play deck buttons to worry about, and you’re off to the races. Plug your camera in, hit record, and go.

The only drawback to the Hyperdeck Shuttle, in my opinion, and the only reason why I won’t buy one yet, is the fact that you have to hit RECORD manually; the unit will NOT detect time code from the camera and start on its own. When BlackMagic fixes this issue, I’ll probably buy two of the things. My friend Ed, however, DID buy one, and last week, we found another great use for it: acting as a real-time record backup unit for a TriCaster.

BlackMagic Design Hyperdeck Shuttle
BlackMagic Design Hyperdeck Shuttle recording from a TriCaster

If you don’t know, a TriCaster is a miracle machine made by the folks at NewTek. It is, essentially, a TV studio in a box. It takes in multiple camera feeds and allows the operator to switch, add titles, graphics, transitions, etc. and output a ready-made show while simultaneously outputting to a live web stream if desired, and it’s only the size of a small desktop computer case. However, the TriCaster does have one very annoying trait (at least the model I have): Once your show is finished, instead of copying the final file off of the machine’s internal hard drive for delivery to the client, you have to actually PLAY the file out from SpeedEdit in whatever format the client wants, just like you were writing to — shudder — tape. You can’t copy the original AVI from the hard drive because it is written in some proprietary NewTek codec, and it can’t be played unless it’s on the TriCaster, or at least, taken into SpeedEDIT.

But, thanks to the Hyperdeck Shuttle, we have a workaround. Simply take the TriCaster’s HD-SDI out feed, plug it into the Hyperdeck Shuttle, and hit RECORD. While the show is in progress, the Hyperdeck Shuttle writes the program to a .mov file on the SSD, which you can then simply hand to your client when the production is over. Just bill the cost of the SSD into the job, and you’re golden. DON’T leave it up to your clients to supply the drive; they will inevitably cheap out and think that a slower drive is just as good, and you will end up with an SSD that isn’t fast enough. You should have a drive that can sustain a 250mb/sec write speed, especially if you are recording an HD feed.

On Set: AF100 Commercial Shoot

shooting in bright sun sucks.
I love shooting in bright sun </sarcasm>

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.

AJA Ki Pro Mini in action on a Panasonic AF100
AJA Ki Pro Mini, powered by an Anton Bauer Hytron 140 brick.

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.

 

Panasonic AF100 on location in San Antonio
Panasonic AF100 on a Dana Dolly, on location in north San Antonio.
A rough frame grab from the shoot with the AF100. Lens: Zeiss ZE 50/1.4 Planar.
A rough frame grab from the shoot with the AF100. Lens: Zeiss ZE 50/1.4 Planar.

Directing a commercial shoot with the Panasonic AF100.Yours truly directing a commercial shoot with the Panasonic AF100.
Dropped Filter Blues
This is what a guy looks like when he's fuming about having just dropped his Schneider 4x4 Tru-Pol filter on a rock.