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#1 Michael Nash

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Posted 16 June 2007 - 06:03 PM

Currently half-way through principle photography on a feature film called FARMHOUSE (working title), a horror/thriller starring Kelly Hu, Steven Weber, William Lee Scott, and Jamie Brown. I'm the Gaffer, working under Tim Hudson, ACS.

It's a pretty low budget show, but appears much bigger in more ways than one. Tim is doing an amazing job at making this film look really classy and much bigger than its sub- $1 million budget. He's mainly a commercials DP and this is his first feature, so he brings a lot of the precision and finesse of commercial cinematography to the drama. The tradeoff is that we have barely the crew or equipment to keep up a low budget feature pace and high quality at the same time. We've finally introduced a second camera for quicker coverage (something I'm used to, but new to Tim).

We're shooting 3-perf 35mm for a DI, but we're saddled with some old Fuji 8552 250T (long story). Testing proved that it needs almost 1 stop overexposure for a normal looking image, so we're effectively lighting for 125 ASA. We're carrying Panavision Superspeed primes, but had so many focus problems the first week when below T-2 that we upped the shooting stop to 4-5.6. At 125 ASA you start to feel that in terms of setup time and heat. I always go for a slightly bigger head than I need and wire it down for the most control, and the DP likes a lot of precise cuts with flags and tape. It's time consuming, and the set quickly becomes a spider web of stands, flags, duvetyn and tape. Not the way I would normally choose to go, but it's what the DP wants. To be fair, the shots do look pretty amazing. Gradually the stop has been whittled back down to a 2.8, which is simply a more realistic way of shooting for the equipment we have and look we're doing.

Tim has exclusively been using his Canon 20D digital still camera as a light meter, and I've rarely even had the chance to break out my meter while lighting. We light by eye, and then he takes a snap of the whole scene from camera side rather than using a spot meter to fine tune certain areas. He says that his Australian crews call it his "cheater meter," but our key grip Matty Gulbin has renamed it "the money maker." Tim is also a very easy going and affable guy, and I've really enjoyed working on this, my second project with him.

The film also looks "big" enough for IATSE to step in, and after one week of non-union status we went on strike for one day until the producers signed a contract with the unions. So now I'm getting 20+ days toward Local 728, but I'm still trying to get into Local 600! The only reason I continue to work as gaffer is to stay connected to the film world, since as a shooter I spend so much time in the TV realm.

In any case, it's been fun and educational despite the drama behind the camera as well as in front of it. No matter how good you think you are as a DP there's always more to learn, and I'm learning a lot of new tricks and approaches that I wouldn't have come up with on my own. Tim likes to use bleached muslin a lot, both as a bounce material and as a diffuser. We've been using 4x4' frames in front of image 80's and I absolutely love the quality of light it creates. We also "go big" on our soft sources and carve them down with flags, which also takes a bit of time. For a medium-ish bedroom shot the other day (on stage) we used a 12x12' muslin with a 2K mighty to provide "ambience." We've also been using a Kino blanket light with an eggcrate, and a 6x6' eggcrated frame filled by a Masterbrute (Leonetti).

The cast has been amazing, and it's always a joy to watch what such talented actors bring to a performance. There have been some really emotionally intense scenes that are 10 times more powerful to witness in person than what will appear on the screen. Off screen they're all really cool and great to work with. Billy is a bundle of energy, Steven's got a great sense of humor, Jamie is super nice and sweet and then has to turn around and play a (literally) tortured soul, and Kelly simply smolders!

Two more weeks to go, including the "torture room" set and the vineyard exteriors near Paso Robles. I'm looking forward to putting three 12K's up in a condor!
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#2 Dan Goulder

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Posted 16 June 2007 - 06:23 PM

I wouldn't use substandard stock even if it was given to me for free, which may be the case for all I know. It appears to have made a lot more work for the crew. However, since you sound positive about the shoot, maybe all will work out in the end. Good luck.
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#3 Richard Boddington

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Posted 16 June 2007 - 08:49 PM

"The film also looks "big" enough for IATSE to step in, and after one week of non-union status we went on strike for one day until the producers signed a contract with the unions."

Good grief what a joke, if I was the producer I'd just shut it down and walk away.

Who the hell do these unions think they are? Canada? USA? Free countries? Yeah right.

R,
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#4 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 16 June 2007 - 10:41 PM

Hi,

Careful, Michael.

Last time I mentioned what I was up to on a feature - in much less detail than you have - I was hauled over the coals for it by the production office, despite having been given the explicit go-ahead by my HoD.

Phil
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#5 Mike Williamson

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 01:43 AM

Thanks for the info, Michael, it's alway great to hear about experiences from set. In defense of 8552, it looked great on "Swordfish", but I guess that's Paul Cameron and a Bruckheimer-funded lighting package. Good luck on the show, post more updates if you can.
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#6 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 04:55 AM

Good grief what a joke, if I was the producer I'd just shut it down and walk away.

Who the hell do these unions think they are? Canada? USA? Free countries? Yeah right.

R,

I see. So you'd screw over all the people working hard on your film so that you could make more money?
If the producers couldn't afford to turn the show union they wouldn't have signed the contract.
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#7 timHealy

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 08:28 AM

I worked on one film with Steven Weber and I recall that he was a great guy with a sense of humor. He kept things light. Pun intended.

Best

Tim
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#8 Richard Boddington

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 10:32 AM

I see. So you'd screw over all the people working hard on your film so that you could make more money?
If the producers couldn't afford to turn the show union they wouldn't have signed the contract.


No one forces any one to work any where in Canada or the USA. Employees have the right to quit if they don't like the job, employers have the right to hire who they want and spend THEIR money however they like. Unless you want some one following you around all day, telling you what gasoline you can and can not buy, which fast food chain you can go to and not go to.

I have nothing against unions or their members per se, it's the idea that the union can force some one to do some thing against their will that I will never accept. If a producer wants a non-union shoot he has a right to a non-union shoot, and the unionized workers have a right not to work on it. Simple really.

R,
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#9 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 06:54 PM

I have nothing against unions or their members per se, it's the idea that the union can force some one to do some thing against their will that I will never accept. If a producer wants a non-union shoot he has a right to a non-union shoot, and the unionized workers have a right not to work on it. Simple really.

R,

The producers could have very easily kept their project non-union. All they had to do was not sign the paperwork. No one was forced to do anything. And believe me, it didn't cost them much to sign the contract. The low budget union rates are pretty terrible. It's very possible that a lot of the crew was already making more than scale before the deal was signed. But at least this way they get a little bit put away for health coverage.
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#10 James Brown

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Posted 06 July 2007 - 04:50 AM

Hi Michael,

I just stumbled across your post about working with Tim. He actually got me into the film industry here in Australia. I have the utmost respect for him as a person and as a DP. His shaping of light is truly inspirational, his calm collective manner on set is admirable and he has the complete respect for his crew

Recently when he was back in Australia i worked on a few commercials with him and it really was a festival of cutters, nets, frames and bounce (it looked great but very tiring for a two man electric crew). He does a lot of tinkering which can be quite time consuming, which, brought up the discussion "i wonder how much this will vary when a feature pops up" I can imagine it would be hard to keep that sort of quality on a low budget feature.

A few questions....

How many minutes are you trying to shoot a day? How many crew do you have in the Grip & Electric team? Many Nights?

Hope you enjoyed floating back to the Gaffing side of things.

Regards, James.
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