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'Stormlife'


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#1 Michael Collier

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 04:45 PM

I got an oppourtunity to DP and operate on a short 16mm film over the weekend. This was my second one on film and I was keen on making it a smooth easy shoot. It was one location in a very small bathroom. We planned to shoot about 400 feet of vision 200t (I think 7242? I forget) anyway this shoot was bogged down by that damn Murphy charecter and his law.

First, prior to the shoot, the main location dropped out, then the lead actress, then the backup. The director basicly had to re-prep the whole film in a day to save the production. Seeing all the work he had done I felt I needed to make the shoot go smoothly (and figured all the problems possible were out of the way)

I get to set and set the first setup, load the mag, spool the camera and mount the lens. We rehearsed the shot and all that was left was to slide a battery in and go....and thats when it happend. Just as the battery made contact with the terminal, sparks flew and I got a very bad feeling. After pulling the battery and replacing it with another I found no power at any point in the camera. Not even the indicator lights in the viewfinder would turn on. My heart sank.

Feeling confident in my electronics experience I figured there would be a fuse inside that I could replace or short out and get it through the 400 feet. No such luck (this is a CP-16) after 20 minutes of searching the camera and the scematics in the manual I finally found the problem. In the circut that regulates the 20v down to around 5v for internal logic circuts, a transistor had blown. Lucky the flat side was still left and I was very happy to see a part number I recognized. 2N3906, pretty much the most common general PNP type transistor availible. We went to the nearest radioshack and found they had one pack left. I soldered the new on in place, fixed a fried wire in the battery harness and low and behold we are back and running! The director was very impressed and I looked like I knew what I was doing, though up until the motor sprang to life, I wasn't sure if it would work, I feared more parts had fried during that power surge. But the day was saved and all we had to do was shoot. Now I can document what I really like to do....shoot!

First....take two asprin extra strength.

The first setup was fun, and really my heart sank when the camera fried because I wanted to shoot the light I had setup. My idea for this film was dark, contrasty and drab-anoying colors. The director in prep had mentioned something like a blue-ish look, but didn't want to go all blue because of the cleche attached. I agreed and suggested using cyan. This sparked an hour of holding gels over tungsten lights in my appartment to find the perfect look.

I had settled on a motif of using very hard toppy light as a key, and low slightly soft fill. After playing around with gells I settled on using roscor calcolor cyan30 on the key lights and cyan60 for the fill, just so the shadows would have a saturated color to it, while the key maintianed a washed out look.

The bathroom was excelent for our needs. During prep I had mentioned I wanted to shoot a delapedated 'bulgarian' style bathroom, and the director did an awsome job finding it out in Eagle River, about 15 minutes from Anchorage. The only problem was its size. Around 10ftx10ft max, with shower, toilet and vanity hogging most of the space.

The shot started with her in the shower sitting down fully clothed with water running over her. We used an angie 6mm prime for most of the shoot, partly for logistics of shooting such a small bathroom, and partly to give the barrell distortion that this movie would need to define its look. We shot all inserts with the angie 12-120 zoom.

After my experience on sleep I wanted to push the film a little harder this time, by introducing more color into the light and carefully working with contrast. To that end I put an omni on a boom arm (almost didn;t fit in the bathroom) over the shower and made a blackwrap 'snoot' to control the way the light landed on the walls around her. The fill was a tota on the floor bounced off a bounce board and through light diffusion) most of the talents face fell in shadow, but I was carefull to bring it around so she would have the sunken in eyes and sickly look. The way the light interacted with the falling water was gorgeous.)

Every setup was lit to a 4-5.6 split key with the fill at about a 1.4, giving about a 3.5-1 ratio. the director mentioned not going more than 5-1, but since I put the actresses face mostly in shadow, I didn't want to go too far. I rated the film at 120 and shot with clean glass.

We had no room for a dolly, so the pull out was done handheld, as everything in this movie was. I was careful to make the pull out as smooth as possible, which is quite easy when your on a 6mm. I found that if I rotated the viewfinder up I could get in very close and my head would block the small drops that would have landed on the lens, allowing me to go closer. The final shot seems to almost weave in between streams of water. It looked great, though I had to check the lens after every shot for drops.

We wrapped that and moved on to the vanity space. this was accomplished in a similar manner. low fill light bounced off the corner wall, and a harsh toplight on a boom. This looked really cool because as she walked into the light it would slowly rise up her and cover her. The only problem was axis rule in such a small space. We worked around it by shooting the first shot very nutraly. The second shot of her standing up was done from across the line I wanted. Then in the second shot we started with the same line and as she crossed frame towards the vanity, I walked accross the line to pick up her reflection in the mirror, and placing me on the axis I wanted for the rest of the shoot.

We did some inserts and reverses from that side, the only major difference in lighting was introducing jsut a hint more fill light by removing a blackwrap flag tapped between the vanity and the wall. At a certain point she takes a bunch of pills and the camera was supposed to start to act drunken, when before it had been very soft handheld. That was a lot of fun because we started at BAC of 1.2 and worked it up. I can't really tell what BAC should look like, but it gave a good referance to how drunken I should act. Slow moves in and out on the wide prime looked really good.

Then she was supposed to move back to the shower for the final suicide scene. Thats where we encountered our second problem. I am not sure why, I assume it was because of the extra humidity induced by the shower running, but the film went all spegetti inside and made a terrible sound. I stopped the take in the middle (I hate to do that, but something was obviously wrong) It was simple to fix I just cut the film and downloaded what we had and then threaded the rest of the film up for the next take. While I was doing this I spyed 50 feet of gash film lying around and figured, its been such a dramatic shoot we all need a few laughs. I wrapped it all around my hands and walked back to the bathroom with a horrified look on my face 'I THINK I JUST FLASHED EVERYTHING WE SHOT!' I said to the director....I almost regretted the prank as soon as I said it. The director drops his head in agony. I couldn't tell if he was about to kill me or himself, but he was not happy. I could only let that last for about 10 seconds before I broke my ficade and we all had a good laugh at it. He said he'd remember that and get me back on the next shoot. He also told me a story of pancing a loader while they were mid-load forcing the guy to finnish loading with his pants down....remind me to wear a belt.

As it was we only had 4 shots after that. a wide retake for saftey in case the spagetti had ruined our take previous to that happening, then a CU and a couple sfx inserts. Those were interesting because we had a slab of meet covered in silly putty and pantyhose with some kind of makeup applied to the top representing her arms. It ended up looking pretty gruesom in the final shot, and I expect it to look fairly realistic. Then one final close up shot of blood running down her hand and into the drain and we were done!

Sorry this was such a long post, but it was an epic short film, if we only shot 400 feet that day. I post the problems we had to show that its not a bad thing to know a bit about electronics on a set....though it reinforced my decision to be a cinematographer and not an electrical engeneer. The whole time I just wanted to be shooting. I thought about it later and if it had been a video camera we would have been royaly boned. Film camera are very simple to fix it turns out (they have full scematics posted in their manuals!) Next time I have a chance I should find a good alternative camera if this ever happens again. I have my K3, but no way to mount that 6mm on there, and it would have been a different movie if I had used the 17mm meteor lens.

I will try and post pictures of the shoot once the director emails me...I don't know if theres shots of me fixing the camera, that was all sorta a blur...but the light setups I think looked really good. I hope to have frame grabs when it all comes back from the lab. I still have the offending transistor, I should post a pic of that.

oh well my next short is on video :( either an HDV camera or a digibeta camera (Im leaning towards the digibeta) but soon I have a 16mm music video to shoot and I'm back in the game! and only 6 months until I leave for LA, hopefully there I'll be able to find more films to shoot...even if they're only student films.

Any body else have a shoot this chaotic?
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#2 Michael Collier

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 12:42 AM

Ok, here are some production stills. It seemed the camera's whitebalance was on auto, so I graded these to aproximate what I intend. Film goes out to alpha-cine on wednesday. Update: as we were looking for a spare can to download the last bit of footage, the director stumbled upon 4 factory fresh sealed cans of double-x 16mm. I love free stuff!

Hope you enjoy the pics, I would definatley appreciate any feedback.


(aproximation of final shot)
Posted Image

(during rehearsal)
Posted Image

(me lovin that lens!)
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#3 David Sweetman

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 01:47 AM

Nice! I like the colors a lot. That location is amazing too, very visually interesting, unlike many plain white bathrooms. And the camera-fixing story is awesome, I would've had no idea.
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#4 Nick Mulder

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Posted 22 April 2007 - 03:23 AM

heh heh

good on ya with yer soldering iron there...

The amount of time I've spent swearing at electronics on set is getting up there also - Still doing shots with breadboard circuits taped to the side of camera now and again...
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