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The Sophomore


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 August 2007 - 01:38 PM

I'm in Hoboken, New Jersey finishing a 4-week prep on "The Sophomore" (tenative title). It's a noir-ish mystery-comedy set in a Catholic (i.e private) high school, the simplest way to describe it is as a comedy version of "Brick" I guess, though not the same missing-woman plotline, more of a conspiracy story.

The director is Brett Simon; he comes from the commercial and music video world.

Stars Reece Thompson, from the upcoming movie "Rocket Science", as the titled sophomore, and Misha Barton, with Bruce Willis as the principal.

We're shooting it in 3-perf Super-35 using Fuji Eterna 250D and 500T stocks, with a raised 2.40 groundglass (halfway between common top & center extraction). This is all similar to what I did for "Solstice" except that we are renting Arricams (LT and ST) from CSC in New York, with Zeiss Ultra Primes.

There is some vague 1970's conspiracy movie feeling to the story, so I suggested 2.40 to the director, who was interested. I was thinking of movies like "Klute", "Parallax View", etc. Director also suggested I look at "Ratchatcher" and a French movie called "The Beat My Heart Skipped" to look at for some of the feeling to the lighting. In fact, we've talked about shooting as much of the movie in the natural light of the school (we spend four weeks out of our six in one location, a giant brick high school in Bayonne, NJ, not far from where they shot the opening of "War of the Worlds".) So to some extent, my goal is a sort of unlit look for the day interiors.

Since we are in one location for such a long time, the AD Tom Fatone suggested a technique that he did on his last movie, also shot mostly in one location, which was to shoot still photos with stand-ins and create a photo storyboard, put together by his 2nd 2nd AD using a comic book software. So I've just spent two weeks, 6 hours a day, in the high school with the director and AD (who appear in most of the photos) staging scenes and taking photos, and then a number of hours in the evening editing and labelling the photos on my own, and typing up a shot list. Here is an example of the book we've created:

Posted Image

I also spent Tuesday shooting some tests with a 35mm movie camera on location to see how much I could get away with not lighting the day interiors, seeing how much the windows burned out or the shadows went dark. We digitally projected the test in 2K over at Postworks in Manhattan, who will be handling our DVD dailies.

Most of the shots in the test we either just available light or a single Kinoflo to wrap the windowlight around a face or fill in a little, or I just used a white card. The wide latitude of the Eterna stocks are a great help in this regard. The director preferred it when we timed the image towards the faded pastel side, with somewhat soft blacks (sort of the Eterna look to some degree anyway).

Since the light levels will be so low, especially on overcast days, I tested shooting without the 85 filter on the Eterna 500T (rated at 400 ASA), looking for any digital color-correction artifacts from correcting out the blue cast, but it seemed fine compared to the shots done with the correct 85 filter. There is some loss of skintone saturation, which is fine with us.

I also tested the Eterna 250D and pushing 500T one stop. They all looked fine. There was a little more grit to the pushed shots, of course, but it wasn't that noticable.

The director expressed some interest in anamorphic, but considering we will probably end up shooting a lot of scenes at T/2, and the movie is mostly interior, there didn't seem to be a good argument for dealing with anamorphic lenses on this show, not enough day exterior work where the format really can be shown off. Plus he wants a little grain to the image anyway.

Even though this is a high school comedy, we are avoiding any comedy lighting -- the look will be somber, and we will shoot into light sources for more shadows and mood. But conversely, the director has not been interested in doing any stylized film noir lighting effects; he wants the look to be very natural and motivated by sources in the frame.

Biggest lighting challenges are a gymnasium at night that has to be lit twice, once for a game and once for a homecoming dance (I had the same challenge on "The Quiet" but this gym is much bigger and the ceiling isn't as easy to rig to.) Again, I am trying to hang an array of Parcans that I can then just gel for the dance scene, leave white for the game. The other challenge is doing some nighttime scenes where the main character rides his bike down streets at night, through a dark industrial area. I may rent Zeiss Master Primes for this and add some minimal light and try and shoot near real city lights as much as possible -- we can't take the time to light a couple of blocks.

We start shooting on Wednesday. It's a 29-day shoot (6 weeks). Crew is all local, but some of them worked on "Shadowboxer" -- my Gaffer (Kevin Janicelli, who did "The Sopranos") and the sound mixer (Tom Varga) and the AD staff (Tom Fatone, etc.)
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#2 Nathan Milford

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Posted 03 August 2007 - 02:18 PM

David,

I've got nothing but nice things to say about the people at Postworks.

While you're in the area, swing by Abel and say hi to Mitch and I.

- nathan
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#3 Alex Ellerman

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Posted 03 August 2007 - 02:49 PM

Love the book idea, David... any idea what the comic book software is called?
good luck on the shoot~
ae
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 August 2007 - 03:09 PM

any idea what the comic book software is called?


Comic Life by Plasq for Macs:
http://plasq.com/comiclife

Less than $30.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 August 2007 - 03:19 PM

Here is a photo I took with my Nikon 40X of a classroom location, in available light:

Posted Image

What was interesting when I shot my test on Fuji Eterna 500T of the same angle, the windows were equally hot in the initial color-correction, but then I asked the colorist to show me what was outside the windows and he could pull all detail outside though it was several stops overexposed. That's one of the things that I love about working with film, all of that hidden information you can pull up when you need it.
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#6 Richard Boddington

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Posted 03 August 2007 - 03:30 PM

Please post shots of you standing beside Bruce Willis so we can all believe that he really is the star :D

R,
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#7 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 04 August 2007 - 06:07 AM

Small world - My girlfriend went to filmschool with Kevin Jakubowski and i was one of the visiting lecturers he had there - he's one of the two writers on that movie. Its his first feature and he's become sort of a school hero having only graduated a few years back and with a Hollywood script already in production. Pleases say hi if he visits the set.
That still looks lovely - looking forward to seeing some more. Is this your first Arricam project David?
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 August 2007 - 07:33 AM

Is this your first Arricam project David?


Yes. It seems like a well-designed camera. The Zeiss Ultra Primes, to my eye, seem similar to the Primos in look.
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#9 John Holland

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Posted 04 August 2007 - 12:02 PM

its a great system hope Panavision are worried ,they should be .
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#10 Dan Goulder

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Posted 04 August 2007 - 12:43 PM

We're shooting it in 3-perf Super-35 using Fuji Eterna 250D and 500T stocks, with a raised 2.40 groundglass (halfway between common top & center extraction).

Is this choice of ground glass to protect for 16x9 HD broadcast? If so, are there plans to create a separate 16x9 broadcast master, or do you just protect for that ratio in the event that the networks decide to broadcast that way? Thanks.
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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 August 2007 - 10:09 PM

Home video deliverables always mean a letterboxed theatrical version and a full-frame 16x9 and 4x3 version. So I try and keep as much of the negative clear as possible to make the panning & scanning easier, just like when I shoot 16x9 HD framed for cropping to 2.40.
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#12 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 04 August 2007 - 11:22 PM

a raised 2.40 groundglass (halfway between common top & center extraction).


David,

Can you explain the reason for this? I'll admit to being confused...
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#13 Tim Partridge

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 04:51 AM

Was anamorphic ever discussed?
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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 08:08 AM

The trouble with real common top is that any hairs along the gate get into picture too quickly, plus it be hard to keep the bottom of the negative clear of dolly track.

The trouble with center crop is that you have so much extra headroom in the full-frame 16x9 image than when making the TV versions (16x9 and 4x3), the first thing the colorists tend to do is zoom in slightly so they can raise the image without seeing the bottom frameline come into view, to get rid of the excess headroom. But then by zooming, they are panning & scanning a little more.

So common top slightly lowered seems to me to be the most flexible for post and looks the best when viewed unmatted in 16x9 full-frame.

I've done a number of "2.35 extracted from 16x9" HD movies, all center extraction, because the Sony F900 viewfinder doesn't allow you to see different top & bottom framelines, so I use their "Vista 2" preset framelines in the Marker Menu. That's when I noticed that the colorists were zooming into the 16x9 to make the full-frame 16x9 version to get rid of the excess headroom, thus losing some of the sides.

---

Considering we'll be shooting a lot of the movie on long lenses at T/2, I didn't even want to consider anamorphic. The director asked and I explained the pros and cons and why in this case, I thought it would be a bad idea.
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#15 Max Jacoby

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 09:04 AM

The Zeiss Ultra Primes, to my eye, seem similar to the Primos in look.

Hi David

What was the reason picking the Ultra Primes over Master Primes or Cooke S4s?
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#16 Michael Waite

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 09:50 AM

Hi David, thanks for the interesting post about the pre production work. I like the idea of the look you have devised with the director & it sounds like it will be a satisfying project for you.
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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 10:03 AM

Hi David

What was the reason picking the Ultra Primes over Master Primes or Cooke S4s?


I just figured that renting an Arricam LT and ST was expensive enough without also trying to carry Master Primes for the whole 6 weeks. I suppose I also didn't want to be "encouraged" to shoot at T/1.4 all the time, because that would have been disasterous. But I will pick up some Master Primes when we do our night work.

Just not sure about the Cooke S4's -- everytime I see a movie in the theater shot with them, they look soft-ish, and since I'm using Fuji stock & some smoke on the sets, maybe a Smoque filter for some scenes, I didn't want a softer lens on top of all of that natural softness. But honestly, I've never compared them -- maybe someday I'll shoot a test.
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#18 Tim Partridge

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 10:49 AM

Many thanks David.

Just out of interest, is the director an anamorphic fan (given his enquiry)?
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#19 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 12:07 PM

I don't think he's shot it, but he likes the way anamorphic movies look ("Lives of Others", "Parallax View", etc.) so was interested. Plus he wants a shallow-focus look. But wide-open on an anamorphic lenses is not only super shallow-focus (enough to make you lose time dealing with focus issues) but distorted on the edges. Shooting T/2 on a 100mm spherical is already pretty swimmy in terms of how shallow the focus looks, and super critical for a focus puller on a close-up.

If I could guarantee I could light to T/2.8 all the time, if not T/4, and wasn't going to be asked to use the zoom (which is T/4.5), then I might have considered anamorphic, but I suspect that the director will be wanting me to work in minimal light conditions.

Also, I'm not sure if the production company would have approved anamorphic, either cost-wise on the rental or in general. They already called me to ask me to not shoot common top 2.40 because they wanted some post flexibility to fix the framing on shots. Of course, I generally don't shoot movies that need their framing to be fixed in post...

A number of studio types and production companies are somewhat nervous about anamorphic, though they shouldn't be.
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#20 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 05 August 2007 - 02:18 PM

They already called me to ask me to not shoot common top 2.40 because they wanted some post flexibility to fix the framing on shots. Of course, I generally don't shoot movies that need their framing to be fixed in post...

Is this scary or unnerving to you at all? Seems odd that a production company would be telling you they plan on "fixing" the framing before you've even shot the movie....
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