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Leaving Barstow


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#1 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 11 September 2007 - 12:21 PM

WEEK THREE of Principal Photography

Final stretch of the shoot ? I always forget that 6 day weeks are a tough way to make a movie but are a necessary evil on low-budgets; you need that one day off just to rest and then you're ready to actually catch up on real life stuff the next day??.but you can't. =)

Day 13 was our last day at the house ? we spent most of the night doing exteriors. I swapped the porch light for a 213 on a dimmer and flew a 12x12 ultrabounce high with our usual maxi-brute; next to that we had a mighty on the pin shooting almost straight down at the corner of the front yard of our location; the large soft source gave me a base ambience and the mighty provided a very real looking streetlight ? by dropping it on the pin, the fall off also felt very real. I shot most of this night at a T2.8 and played most of the scene at about 1 ½ - 2 stops under. What was interesting to see in the dailies was that the warm yellow streetlight made the porch light feel relatively blue (it's a trick of the eye, but interesting how pronounced the effect is). We shot some nice, contrasty stuff here before heading out to do our one car dialogue scene. This had been something of a sticking point for a while; it's only about 1 ½ pages of dialogue between two people, but it's still a significant story point (it's akin to their first date). Peter and I both agreed we didn't want to use hostess trays (shooting from outside the car felt wrong), but our budget simply wouldn't allow for a shotmaker of any kind (plus the necessary police escort you need to hire when you use them). Peter asked about shooting in available light only, which I knew wouldn't be entirely possible, but I was intrigued by how little we could get away with. In the end it was a hybrid ? we shot entirely from within the car and selected a street near the house location that was well lit; I mounted a single LED panel light outside the car (using a secured suction cup on the front windshield and pointing down) to give me a little ambience and then relied on the available light to do the rest. The panel light was appealing because it runs off of batteries and is dimmable; I shot at a T2 and set the panel light to be about 3 stops under that; the available light on the street ranged everywhere from nothing to a T5.6. Dailies were very dark, but what's great is that you never feel the panel light ? it's just dim enough that it feels like natural ambient light but the actual streetlights and signs overpower it as you pass through them. I was very happy with the results and am ultimately glad we went for this simple approach. I wasn't thrilled about having the actors actually drive, but the only saving grace was that the road we were on was literally abandoned at the time we were shooting (5 lanes of nothing). We had to shoot a pivotal scene at sunrise that had me a little stressed ? we had to shoot the interiors that matched it 2 days before, and since I was never able to scout this location properly during prep (see my earlier posts to read my complaints about this) I had been basing the interior lighting off of educated guesses and Sunpath. We had a very narrow window of time before traffic nearby would become too bad for sound and because the scene was largely hand-held (which meant I had to be flexible and ready to shoot in almost any direction), there was very little I could do with grip to help things. In seeing the dailies, there was a mistake made and this footage was all transferred very dark, so later this week I'll get a new transfer of it, but in general I think it matched our interiors close enough.

Day 14 was our toughest day of the shoot ? we had 7 ½ pages to shoot and one location had to stand in for 2 different place; the exteriors, living room and kitchen had to stand in for one of our female leads and a small back bedroom stood in for the lead's best friend; it was a cramped apartment in Canyon Country. The first 2 scenes were day interiors (and this whole week was also overnights) and both featured large windows, so again I was faced with trying to get the windows to glow in a believable fashion ? our style of shooting and the small space made this very time-consuming and these scenes took much longer than I'd hoped. After that we had what appeared to a be simple night interior, but since we start inside a living room and then pan to see outside through the front windows, we had to light a night exterior as well ? I had to think ahead to our night exteriors here as well since they'd all eventually tie together. As luck would have it, we had a freak electrical storm roll in that brought lightning and rain; we had to run inside to block the next scene while the rain quickly passed. Again, the blocking made it tough to light the exteriors because the camera moved around so much that we saw about 180 degrees and where we didn't see couldn't be used because I'd throw a shadow on the actors ? these night exteriors became bounce cards above the actors (in an odd U-shape to get some modeling on them) and splashes of light in the background to create depth and separation. The interior bedroom was all day scenes and was about 10' by 10' with one giant window along a wall. I couldn't shoot towards the window because it was too big to really sell as daylight, but looking away from the window also meant I was constantly throwing shadows on everything ? add in some camera moves and it made for a long day (only 13 1/2 hours, but it felt much longer). We had a bizarre heat wave too, so that wasn't helping things go any faster. However, we got everything we needed (and even a few extra pieces) and almost made it out on time; I was ultimately happy with everything we did, but it just seemed to be one of those days where nothing seemed to "click" correctly.

Our last 4 days were all spent in an Italian restaurant that was dressed to be a tacky Chinese restaurant. Day 15 was all night exteriors ? again, our need to be flexible made the set-ups take a long time in the beginning because we were lighting for essentially 360 degrees. All of these scenes took place in a small parking lot on the side of the restaurant; one direction you saw the restaraunt, another direction was about a 1/4 mile of open field, and the other two directions were a road that curved around us. We flew a 12x12 ultrabounce off the roof of the building with a series of par cans into it (we'd considered a maxi-brute, but it seemed like overkill to drag it to the roof when we knew we wouldn't need all 9 globes) ? a mighty raked along the building to mimic a security light that was actually there (we turned it off because it came in at about 9600 degrees) and a 5K provided a wash of light across the actual parking lot. We clamped a mighty with a street-light gel pack onto a telephone poll for some architectural lighting and a maxi-brute was hidden behind the restaurant to throw light out into the open field (I typically dislike night exteriors where the action is lit but then the rest of the world just vanishes into nothingness). We positioned 2 10K's far from the set to be on standby for lighting buildings that were far away in the deep background. As usual, once we were lit we moved quickly. This was one of the few set-ups were I was able to find a lighting set-up that also supported our actors - our lead is 25 in reality but was playing an 18 year old; I discovered during my tests that to sell that he needed a very frontal soft light (plus he has extremely deep set eyes and ALWAYS puts his head down when action is called). Most of the night he was blocked with the rooftop 5K as a backlight so I could bring in a 4x8 bounce to key him with. Conversely, our lead actress looks best with a high, hard frontal light (she also looks really good with a soft direct sidelight, but only if it's at an exact 90 degree angle to her) ? since she was blocked to play directly towards the 5K all night, I was happy.

The final three days were a mixture of some dynamic work and some scenes that just felt a little off ? most of the scenes we shot in the restaurant kitchen were great ? I swapped all of the fluorescents for tungsten balanced and used a single kino tube from time to time but otherwise we just flew through these scenes. All of the appliances and such created excellent depth that made for interesting compositions and we were very much maintaining the style of our film. The main dining area just baffled me a little ? there wasn't a lot of depth (it's not a terribly big restaurant and the lay-out is pretty open) and I always felt a little like we were stumbling to find interesting ways to block and shoot the scenes ? there aren't a lot of scenes in the main dining area, but they're pivotal ones, so I'm disappointed that I don't feel as confident about them as I do for most of the rest of the film. The lighting was very simple ? I'd planned on bringing our streetlights in through a few windows, but once we started to do so on the first day it just felt unnatural to me and I dismissed them. Instead we put 213's into all of the overhead fixtures (which were these heavy red china hats) and dimmed them up and down to taste; in closer shots we'd wrap 216 around them to take some of the harshness away, but for the most part 80% of these scenes were lit with just the practicals. The last 2 days I used a 2x2 book-light through a 4x4 opal frame to key our actors because we shot a series of scenes that introduce our lead's love interest and they share their first few scenes together in the film, so I wanted it to seem a little more gentle than just bare overhead bulbs.

Due to our strange overnight schedule and a mix up with our post house, we were about a week behind in the dailies ? it made me nervous to a certain extent because as we went along I kept getting bolder and bolder with underexposure. Even now I'm still waiting to see some dailies from the last few days. We had a few scenes that came back too dark overall, but it's a transfer error and I'm waiting to see the new transfer from them.

All in all I was thrilled with the whole shoot; the entire experience was, frankly, the best I've ever had on any shoot. I had a director who knew his story front and back and knew precisely what he needed and knew when he had it and would move on. Great communication and complete trust in each other ? I can't wait to work with Peter again; watching him work with his actors was a real joy. The actors were all fantastic as well; not one bit of ego from anyone and they all delivered the types of performances that inspire you to do better work. Even our day players with a single line were great. My camera crew was top-notch under extreme pressure ? Melvina Rapozo (1st AC) has been with me since I first picked up a camera and I can't imagine doing this film without her. Teague Hunkizer and Robby Hart (2nd AC and Loader) were new to me and were absolutely fantastic. I also had a camera PA who took impeccable notes and kept a photo log of every set-up (as soon as I can post some of them I will); Scotty Field was invaluable in helping maintain the continuity of my work and I'm grateful we found each other before the shoot. My grip crew were rock-stars ? Charles Matthews (Key Grip), Wilson Weaver (BB Grip), Alex Hamiltion (3rd Grip), and Alex Konowitz (Intern) ? all very funny guys and incredibly resourceful and fast; I never heard them say they couldn't do something and they almost always came in ahead of their estimates. A special thanks goes to Shannon Davis, who was originally my Key Grip but had to bow out at the last moment; he put together an amazing crew and then came out on his own time whenever he could to lend a hand - few people have that kind of character. And of course I've raved about Emily Topper (Chief Lighting Technician) and the rest of the electric crew; Derek Vass (BB Electric ? and seriously the fastest and best I've ever had), Robin Mallard (3rd Electric), and Paul Seradarian (4th Electric) ? the most efficient and forward thinking lighting crew I've had the pleasure of working with. I also had the best experience with a Script Supervisor on this show ? Erin Connarn was not only superb at her job, but was also very friendly and very collaborative; we'd often jump back and forth over "the line" during a scene on purpose and she was invaluable to sit with and double check myself to make sure we weren't missing something; she also catches EVERYTHING.

Things I was happy with ? not being too precious with anything and being open to discovering things as they happen; it's not an approach that works for every film, but I was happy to explore this style of working because it lead me to discover a lot of new ways to see and approach my work in the future. I was happy to be pushing myself into more and more underexposure; I'd never call the film dark, but I enjoyed letting go of always having to see people, even in key moments. I used much more hard light than I usually do, which was fun ? I'm still trying to figure out how exactly to use it and I'm enjoying the process of discovery. Trusting a good crew was invaluable; on low budgets you often get use to having to double check everything and to think of everything just to be certain ? once I realized that everyone was on top of their jobs and was able to really let go and delegate, I realized how much energy it freed up to focus on MY job! I also discovered the joker HMI ? even though I'm not a big fan of HMI's, Emily introduced me to this unit and I'm going to insist on having one every time I take out an HMI package; very small, powerful, and very versatile; it was the last-minute life saver all of week one. I'm also grateful I learned how to use/read printer lights when I was just starting out - no matter the budget, when I shoot on 35mm I'm going to insist on printing SOMETHING just so I can check the lights and make sure everything is as it should be.

Things to do differently next time ? INSIST on better prep; quantity doesn't equal quality and while on paper we had a fair amount of time, the actual usefulness was largely wasted. Time and (I believe) significant money could have been saved with just a few more days of preparation and discussion. As accommodating as I am with everyone on a production (I roll with a lot of punches) I think I need to learn to put my foot down and insist on certain things that I KNOW will come back to haunt the production. I won't use a Moviecam in the future; I like everything about the camera except for the viewfinder ? far too dark for my liking. I make it a point to keep a light set and am generally quite jovial on set ? I sometimes feel like that is mistaken for being a push over; I don't ride my crew or bark at anyone because what's the point? However, I had one department on this show that was often stomping on my last nerve and often times would drop a ball that I'd have to pick up and make work. I understand mistakes happen and sometimes things are either just innocent blunders or unavoidable issues (especially in low budgets), but when it happens again and again??in the future I may need to decide that enough is enough and demand that people step up more to their responsibilities. I also need to insist on watching dailies in a better environment with my director; with everyone spread out across the city and being on an odd schedule it was tough to convince everyone that we needed to sit together and screen dailies in a controlled environment of some kind. What ended up happening was Peter would watch DVD dailies on a laptop while I was lighting at the start of the day (arguably the worst way to screen dailies). How it could have been avoided on this show, I'm not sure, but I intend to try to prevent it from happening again in the future.

Oh, and a good Boom Operator is worth double whatever they're paying him/her. =)

While I can't post any stills (either frame grabs or from my own camera), I'll try to post some lighting diagrams as soon as I get a moment to scan them in.

Now for a little rest and then off to my next shoot; a 35mm Anamorphic B&W film noir! I love this job???.
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#2 Mike Williamson

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Posted 11 September 2007 - 02:26 PM

Congrats on finishing up Jason! Sounds like a great experience, hopefully everything goes smoothly for them in post. Thanks for posting about the show, always lots of valuable info to be gleaned, I personally plan on stealing the Litepanel hoodmount gag.

Good luck on your next project, very jealous of a chance to shoot B&W anamorphic!
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#3 Barry Cheong

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Posted 11 September 2007 - 03:27 PM

Really insightful and interesting information and accounts of your experience. I hope you can do something very similar with your next production! Best of luck!
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#4 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 01:31 AM

Good stuff Jayson, I've been following your MySpace version of this. Sounds like a fantastic experience that you're really quite proud of.

I wish the film success upon its release!
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#5 Patrick Neary

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Posted 14 September 2007 - 10:36 AM

Hi-

What a great read!

Did you ever pin down the focus problem with the moviecam?
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#6 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 15 September 2007 - 06:10 AM

It's still being debated; even after looking at the neg it seems nobody can agree on what the cause was. I suppose it's interesting to have so many intelligent people saying "That's a first", but I'd much rather find the reason.

If/when I get to the bottom of it, I'll let everyone know.
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#7 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 20 September 2007 - 03:57 AM

While I'm not allowed to post stills from the film, lighting plots are fine.

These were done by our camera intern; I grabbed a few on my way out the door, so these are in no particular order. As you'll see, some information is missing and every once in a while things were noted incorrectly (to his credit though, he always caught the mistakes and made note of it, so we were able to use these religously to help maintain continuity over the shoot).

On this first one (Scene 31) we had about 50+ 8' daylight fluroescents in the ceiling that served as our base ambience.

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  • Scene_31_Scan.jpg

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#8 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 20 September 2007 - 04:04 AM

The lens for this (Scene 44) was actually a 50mm and not a 35mm as listed. Since we were moving so quickly, Scotty didn't have time to re-sketch things, so typically he drew in most of the camera positions on one overhead (as seen here) and then made notes for each shot on a separate sheet. It takes a second to decipher it all, but it proved to be very useful in terms of seeing how all the camera positions came together to build the scene.

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  • Scene_44_Scan.jpg

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#9 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 20 September 2007 - 04:12 AM

Scene 55 was one of the tougher scenes to light. As you can see, the camera is inside an apartment living room and pans with our actress who is coming up to the door from outside. She comes into the room, wakes up her grandmother, then sits down. The apartment was suppose to be somewhat dark, but both actresses are African American and the walls were stark white! The large space outside proved challenging because we see so much and I didn't have the time to really light them properly, but I didn't want them to just vanish. Ultimately I'm happy, but it was a result of a fast crew and a couple of happy accidents.

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  • Scene_55_Scan.jpg

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#10 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 20 September 2007 - 04:19 AM

Scene 83 was one of our night exteriors - again, there are a few shots listed on one sheet. There's also a 10K with a 1/2 CTS + Yellow gel pack to the left of the dumpter on the left side; the unit didn't play for the first part of the scene but was eventually used to give a subtle rake to a long dark building in the deep, deep, deep background.

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  • Scene_83_Scan.jpg

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#11 Richard Boddington

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Posted 20 September 2007 - 10:38 PM

"Oh, and a good Boom Operator is worth double whatever they're paying him/her. =)"

HOLY SMOKES!! Did I ever learn that the HARD way!!

Yes you are 100% right on that. They should get an above the line credit!

R,
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#12 Aaron Lavinsky

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Posted 16 October 2007 - 07:24 AM

great as always Jayson
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#13 Matt Workman

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Posted 18 October 2007 - 05:17 AM

Really enjoying reading your posts. Thanks. :lol:
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#14 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 05:16 PM

Considering how rare it seems that anything I shoot makes it out into the world, I thought I'd share some good news.

"Leaving Barstow" won the Audience Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival about two weeks ago - I'm very proud of the film and had the best experience working on it.
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#15 Mike Williamson

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 01:16 AM

Congratulations Jayson, I'm sure that's a great feeling, winning an audience award has to be nice. I believe my thesis film was shown at Newport but unfortunately I couldn't make it down there, it looked like there were some interesting films screening.
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