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The Naked Eye


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#1 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 09 October 2007 - 08:43 PM

I?m in Guymon, OK finishing up my prep for a new feature I?m shooting called ?The Naked Eye?. It?s a noir-inspired story about a womanwho?s on the run from a combination of the mob, her lover, and a mysterious man who?s following her. It?s a combination of modern day environments and situations with characters and dialogue straight from a noir crime story ? the dialogue is fast and sharp, the woman is a tough gun-toting dame, etc.

We?re shooting on 4-perf Super 35 in Black & White (one of the biggest appeals to me for the film) ? the visual language of the film is interesting because there are so few rules and the influences are so wildly varied ? Fellini has been a influence in terms of tone, as well as Antonioni?s ?L?Avventura?. The director sees the film as mostly done as one-shots (a wildly different approach than my last film). The film lacks any sense of a linear timeline and scenes often run in consecutive order and then jump ahead to different days to continue a conversation ? in many ways the film places more importance on each individual scene and together they form the story, versus each scene being there to serve the entire story. It?s difficult to understand and discussing this film with everyone on the production is a very abstract exercise. I?d say it?s a film more about mood, tone, and atmosphere more than it?s a film about a particular story.

The budget is very low and the crew is very small, but the director (who also wrote it and is starring in it) was adamant about wanting to shoot on 35mm ? it?s making every other department very strapped, but I won?t ever complain about getting to shoot Super 35.

I?d done some tests earlier this year for a B&W short that explored 7222 versus 7217 turned into B&W in telecine. For that short I chose to go with the 7212 because I liked the absence of grain and the wider latitude ? but there was (in my opinion) a marked difference between actual B&W stock and color stock that?s made into B&W later on. For this film (and especially since my director is very much a purist) I felt an actual B&W stock was a better call. I use to love Ilford?s motion picture stock, but since they?re discontinued, that left me with just 5222 or 5231. I only got a few hours, but I was able to do some rudimentary tests of 5222 (basic exposure tests and some color filters) and found the film to be much grainier than I?d expected. I really want a cleaner look for this film, but we don?t have the resources to shoot with only a 64 asa stock, so I settled on 5222 (my colorist at Technicolor is working with me to possibly use noise reduction to clean up some of the grain).

After looking at a print of the tests, I also observed that I have certain habits that die hard ? I learned Cinematography primarily from an old-school foreign Cinematographer who was very traditional and very hard-nosed; it was beaten into my head day after day that you always shoot a thick negative, so I became accustomed to shooting very thick negatives with very high printer lights. On my last film, (where I felt like I did a lot of underexposure with my neg), my lights were what most people would consider normal (I typically find my lights in the low to mid 40?s). We printed my tests to color stock (purely a budget reason and they have a red tint that I?m not a fan of ? I recall Wally Pfister having the same complaint for the B&W sequences in ?Memento?) and they came in around the mid-40?s. B&W has been a big learning curve for me in terms of latitude ? there?s considerably less and it?s pretty counter-intuitive to what I?m use to with today?s color stocks. About 3 - 3 ½ under and things go to muck and about 2 over and they?re really burning up.

Technicolor has been great ? they were telling me about a really interesting lab process they?re currently using to make all the prints of ?American Gangster? ? it?s called the ?Oz? process and it?s their answer to ENR.

I?m shooting on a BL 4 that?s provided by Hollywood Camera again; zeiss super speeds with an Angeniuex Zoom thrown in for a handful of day exteriors and one planned zooming shot.

We chose to shoot 2:35 center mostly because the director said she?d prefer to not have to think about two compositions at once, and that this was a festival film in her mind, so she didn?t want to have to consider protecting for TV as well; it?s a bit of an odd spot for me because I?m use to always protecting for different deliverables (a feature I short last year had me protecting for four different aspect ratios), but I?m happy to not have to compromise compositions for once! Since I didn?t have time to test the idea, I went with the logic that the center of the lens is optically superior to the edges, and since I wasn?t protecting for anything else, there was no reason to use a common top-line, and in turn an ?inferior? part of the lens.

We?d given serious consideration to anamorphic (it was the plan we started with actually), but our budget is really low and getting deals on decent anamorphics was a real challenge. Clairmont gave a very generous bid that involved their Clairmont Anamorphics; I went and looked at them and while they have a look that I found really interesting (wide open they truthfully stop looking like film and start looking like a water-color painting- the focus takes on a liquid quality, very intriguing), they needed to be around a T5.6 to look right for this film, plus there were only 5 focal lengths available (32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 75mm, 100mm). Combined with the fact that we?re so far away from any type of production hub or resources (and Hollywood Camera?s bid included a back-up body and duplicates of many items), I couldn?t in good faith pursue Anamorphic as the best choice given our limited resources and distant location.

The locations are a mixed bag of really spectacular and terribly mundane; some of them only require me to point a camera at them and they do most of the work for me, while others were selected based on the director knowing she could get them. Gratefully the look of the film specifically calls for an abstract approach and look, so with the less-than-ideal locations I can take some pretty big liberties in how I shoot them. Oklahoma and Kansas are beautiful (vast and barren, but beautiful) ? the sunsets make me wish (briefly) that we could shoot in color.

I also want to say thank you to David Mullen for a few clarifications he helped make for me and Mike Williamson for offering some advice from his B&W experience.
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 October 2007 - 09:29 PM

Are you going to shoot any 5231 as well? Any color filters for contrast outdoors?

Will you be doing a D.I. to convert to anamorphic for printing?

Why not shoot 3-perf if you are composing for 2.35 and you're on a budget?
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#3 Michael Nash

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Posted 09 October 2007 - 10:11 PM

I always question the choice of tradeoffs when the budget is really low. In this case you prefer the look of "real" B&W neg (which I understand), yet it sounds like it's really going to place a burden on your lighting and grip (time & money on set) to make conditions right for the B&W stock. Compare that to shooting color neg and fine-tuning the contrast in post -- assuming a DI, and not an optical blowup. With three color layers, more dynamic range and less grain, it seems like you could get the look you want in post from a rich color neg.

I'm not suggesting you've made the wrong choice, just wondering why you've chosen to go that route.
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#4 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 10 October 2007 - 01:18 AM

We're only shooting 5222; this is largely because the budget is low enough that I was concerned about carrying two stocks and finding myself in a situation where I didn't have enough of one stock left to shoot a scene or having to shoot a scene on a "wrong" stock. I also like the simplicity of having one stock (when it's realistic to do this) - I can get familiar with one stock and work a bit more freely once I have a good handle on it.

I'm carrying a full assortment of color filters - the Red 25 is a VERY dramatic look and while I like it, I feel like it may be too heavy for much of the film. I tested a Green filter that may serve us well for a large day forest scene, and of course a Yellow 8 will almost be a given for our day exteriors. I'm also carrying a few other odd colors as well, but after looking at the tests I'm not sure exactly where I'd find an application for them.

A DI down the line has been discussed, but at the moment nothing is final. My feeling is that everyone is expecting this to not go back to print, but it's still a lingering question.

When we chose to go with Super 35 over Anamorphic, I immediately suggested 3-Perf, but the best deal we could get on the camera was for a 4 perf package only. I was finding that 3 perf cameras were tough to come by. When we compared the cost of a 4 perf package to the higher cost of a 3 perf package with the savings on film stock, it wasn't much of a savings (we don't have a lot of film and the cost of the film is quite low to begin with). For a bigger shoot I'd push harder for it, but in this case it wasn't a big enough difference to go to bat for.

Part of the choice to shoot B&W over color was aesthetics and part was budget; aesthetically there's a difference that the director really reacted to. I preferred B&W over color, but ultimately it was the director calling for it. Budget-wise it was a substantial savings; we paid about 1/2 the cost for B&W stock as opposed to a color stock - THAT was a substantial enough savings that I pushed for it.

The only benefit to shooting color would have been more speed (I could have gone with a 500 asa stock over the 200 asa of 5222) and grain, but the 200 asa isn't a major headache given our locations and lighting package, and the grain is a trade-off that I can live with. The film calls for very dramatic hard light; if this was a film with a more natural look, I would have looked harder at shooting on color and doing the B&W in post, but given it's visual style, the higher contrast of B&W serves us very well.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 October 2007 - 10:48 AM

I find orange filters to be useful outdoors -- not as dramatic as the red but not as subtle as the yellow. I sometimes would switch to the yellow on close-ups though.

Even though b&w film is contrasty, contrast is vital to good b&w images, so look for opportunities to have more of it -- shoot in silhouette, backlight, strong side light, etc. The other thing, when dealing with high-contrast images, is conversely, don't be afraid to put spotlights on areas in a frame that you want to stand out -- if you want to see it clearly, put light on it (or silhouette it). You have to direct the eye to what's important in the frame through the use of highlights and shadows (and composition.)

Make sure you test the 5222 outdoors though, especially in flat weather -- you may prefer 5231 instead, maybe even pushed one-stop. 5222 can get a sooty, muddy look in overcast weather.

Personally, I've never had a problem dealing with two stocks even on a low-budget feature. You just identify scenes where you can use either stock if needed, in case of a misbalance -- outdoor scenes where you can use 5222 and indoor scenes where you can light enough for 5231. How often in life are you going to get to shoot on 35mm b&w? Seems like a good opportunity to try both stocks out.
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#6 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 10 October 2007 - 02:33 PM

A few months ago I asked if anyone had ever tried shooting interior scenes with red gels on their key light...or any light for that matter, to really cancel out skin blemishes.

Is this something you considered doing, Jayson?

:)

Edited by Jonathan Bowerbank, 10 October 2007 - 02:33 PM.

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#7 Mike Williamson

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Posted 10 October 2007 - 09:24 PM

Hey Jason, I don't know if you'll have a chance to try this, but you might want to look at shooting more tests rating 5222 at higher ASA's. I shot a spec on 5231 where I was overexposing one stop and I came back with lights in the low 40's. I was told by Stephen Lighthill that having a denser negative lights added grain to the image, unlike with color negative. I talked to Ralph Woolsey, ASC about it and he said that cinematographers used to shoot a thin B&W negative to minimize grain through the different printing stages, he mentioned Arthur Miller specifically.

You could also try to have your tests reprinted at lower lights and see if that had any effect on grain structure, though that introduces a lot of shift in the tonal values that could make it less meaningful.

Good luck with the film, sounds like an interesting project that could be a lot of fun to shoot. David is right that you won't get too many chances to shoot B&W film, so make it count!
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#8 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 30 October 2007 - 02:07 AM

So I'm finally back and am about to post my blogs (a lousy internet connection in the Panhandle made the 5 weeks there pretty tough) - I wanted to answer a few of the questions posted here first.

David - Your advice about silhouette and more contrast was invaluable; it seems like half the film was in silhouette and it was the best way to go. It's a wildly unnatural way to light, but vital for B&W. I had one day scene in overcast weather and sure enough the 5222 would have been muddy in it - I exposed for the sky and made our actors a little more of a silhouette against the endless gray, so that helped. I agree that carrying 2 stocks isn't usually an issue, but in this case it would have been trouble - the director would often change her mind about a scene ("Let's make this a night scene now", or "Let's stage this outside instead") and her shooting ratios were wildly varied through-out the shoot - after we wrapped I compared my inital breakdowns to what we actually shot and had I carried 2 stocks I would have run into a problem at the end of week 2. But you're right in that it's not usually an issue and this was just an isolated case. And the 85 filter was a great compromise when I wanted more snap than a Yellow 8 (very subtle) but less punch than a Red 25 (very pronounced).

John - I did a B&W short when I was about 19 where I lit all of our actors with red lights and then used a Red 29 filter - an interesting look to say the least, but it's not very practical to gel all of the lights with such a heavy gel. I would have been fighting to get an exposure of any kind (though it IS a unique look).

Mike - Underexposure was key, so again, thanks for the advice! To minimize grain, it was about contrast (faces were usually about 1/2-1 stop over key, their fill was around 3 to 3 1/2 stops under, and edge-lights were anywhere from 1 to 2 1/2 stops over). I usually shot at a T4 when I'd normally shoot at a T2.8; that extra underexposure helped a lot to bring down grain.
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#9 Christian Tanner

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Posted 27 January 2008 - 07:33 AM

Mike - Underexposure was key, so again, thanks for the advice! To minimize grain, it was about contrast (faces were usually about 1/2-1 stop over key, their fill was around 3 to 3 1/2 stops under, and edge-lights were anywhere from 1 to 2 1/2 stops over). I usually shot at a T4 when I'd normally shoot at a T2.8; that extra underexposure helped a lot to bring down grain.


hey jason!

would you mind explaining a little more about that last bit you said about underexposure/thin neg/less grain - because that DID make me slightly confused.
i was under the impression that over-exposing (around 2/3 of a stop) reduced grain on low key scenes as grain usualy doesn't like the toe bit of the curve of the common stock...

plus: a "thick" or "thin" neg as i thought refers to a negs exposure in terms of how much information there is in the highlights and shadows. (so a "thick" neg refering to "no lost info" in the shadows and highlights). that's why your comment on just using a brighter light-level to achieve a thicker neg slightly confused me. "

so i was hoping you could shed some light on this - same goes for everyone else of course, if you care to help.

many thanx!

cary
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 January 2008 - 01:33 PM

Exposure gains silver halide grains to become developable into silver. So more exposure, more grains of silver are created. In color film, these silver grains are removed in the bleach/fixer/wash steps after the color dye clouds are created during development. But in b&w photography, there is only silver, so yes, more exposure creates more grain.

However, too much underexposure and then you're printing up a thin negative and getting less blacks. Plus underexposure, just as in color negative film, does mean that only the larger faster grains are getting exposed.

However, b&w film does not have the multiple layers of slow and fast emulsions so you don't get the benefit of overexposure where you expose a slower, smaller layer of grains along with the faster, larger grains.

So it's tricky to figure out the best exposure method, but often you want to expose b&w negative (rate) normally and use lighting to create the brighter highlights rather than overexpose overall to create them. Test, test, test...
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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 January 2008 - 01:40 PM

Hally's "Naked Eye" movie has a website:

http://web.mac.com/h...om/Welcome.html
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#12 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 27 January 2008 - 03:30 PM

David pretty much summed it up. =)

I should have clarified that underexposure helped minimize or hide grain in terms of relativity - as David pointed out, if the entire scene is underexposed then you're going to print it up and exaggerate the grain. It's more about contrast; I found that having less fill than I might normally use helped minimize grain by hiding it in the darkness, but I also had a number of overexposed highlights and some elements exposing at key.

Having a thin negative is going to leave you with a muddy/grainy print (provided you're printing up to get the image back) - B&W isn't about a thin negative, but higher contrast lighting certainly helps it look its best.
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#13 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 27 January 2008 - 03:45 PM

I just saw the website for the film (that'll teach me to get sick and fall behind on my email).

There's a teaser scene of about 6 minutes - I spoke to Hally because it's such an odd edit and she mentioned that the editor only had a portion of the footage to use (I've no idea why though). There's a day exterior poor-man's process shot of the "car crash", the lead looking at signs at the edge of our fake city before she walks to the bar, and a number of other shots in the bar. Apparently there's a new editor who's going to start next week from scratch.

One thing that I do find worth mentioning is the subject of lighting continuity. In the first bar scene we shot the wide shot looking at the bar in profile, then came in for other shots of everyone. Once we came in for coverage, Hally (she's playing the lead) decided she wanted to change her blocking from the wide shot; in the wide shot she was leaning back out of the light and only leans in at a few key moments, whereas in the close up she wanted to always lean forward. We debated about how it wouldn't match and in the end we shot it anyways - the trouble is that Hally's face doesn't look good in top-light; it would have been fine if she matched the wide shot because it only would have been 2 moments where she's under the direct light, but for the whole scene I had to change it up to make her look her best. The area behind and around the bar was small, so we had virtually no room to do any rigging and in the end I lit her brighter and flatter than I would have liked with the intention of later printing it down to match the wide shot as best I could. I should have fought harder about matching the action, but in the end, what are we to do?

After the new editor puts together something, I'll post more.
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#14 Edgar Dubrovskiy

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Posted 27 January 2008 - 04:25 PM

Looks good. Looks engaging.
Didn't want to switch it off. Sometimes its hard to finish someone's reel. But six minutes of a very good filmmaking did not make me click on that cross in the corner.
And this is good.

Love the contrast.
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#15 Mike Williamson

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Posted 27 January 2008 - 04:31 PM

The teaser looks great, Jason, really impressive. The lighting continuity felt fine to me, her side could be a touch darker but it works and she looks good. I can't wait to see more, great job!
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#16 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 January 2008 - 05:37 PM

Really looks great, it's nice to see real b&w emulsion halation effects, like when she is drinking and you get that big glint on the glass. The lighting is wonderful.
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#17 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 27 January 2008 - 07:20 PM

Thank you for the compliments.

"Really looks great, it's nice to see real b&w emulsion halation effects, like when she is drinking and you get that big glint on the glass."

I'm glad those weren't lost on everyone David! Truth be told, I never thought of them until almost a week into the show - I saw something on the dailies from Day 2 or 3 and we all thought it was it really interesting. As we moved away from exteriors and into more controlled sets, I started playing more and more with creating that effecton purpose. When we got to the bar we swapped out all of our prop glasses for the ones you see in the teaser because they gave off better glares.

I love those happy accidents!
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Glidecam

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Aerial Filmworks

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The Slider

Broadcast Solutions Inc

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Wooden Camera

Opal

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Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

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