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Anything for Now - prep & week 1


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#1 Michael Morlan

Michael Morlan
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Posted 16 December 2007 - 01:01 PM

Prep & Week 1

I?m Michael Morlan, a working D.P. (full time since January 2006) focusing on narrative projects with a smattering of music video, commercial, and industrial projects in my reel.

(This series of logs is late in being posted but I?ll leave the use of tense intact from the original writing.)

The independent full-length project ?Anything for Now? is an apartment drama with the addition of some nice settings to make a D.P. happy including ice skating rink, underwater fantasy sequence, and conspiracy theorist?s warren. H.R. McDonald is the first-time director and Robin Blesch produces. Shot in Austin and surrounding areas.

We?re shooting ATFN on the director?s HVX-200/P2 with Brevis DoF adapter and my Nikon f1.4 AI-S primes and f2.8 AF-D zooms. An interesting thing about the standard ground glass that comes with the Brevis is that it actually adds a stop of light under certain circumstances ? namely WFO to around f4 on the 35mm glass. Even more interesting, the Brevis focusing screen starts to vignette as you close the 35mm iris past f5.6. I suspect this has something to do with acceptance angles between the 35mm lens and the ground glass.


atfn_week1_pic002.jpg
HVX-200 camera with Cinevate Brevis (note the focal plane marked with tape)
Nikon AF-D f2.8 80-200mm lens, and CAVision follow focus and matte box.


I am rating this camera rig, after my creative settings on the camera, at 400asa. I?m asking my gaffer, Iskra Valtcheva for f2.8-4.0 and dialing back the camera?s iris when I want to open the 35mm iris to compress DoF. While we are usually metering during initial lighting setups and when ahead of the camera team, final tweaks are being made by eye and camera monitor ? generally protecting for highlights. I am generally operating but pass that to my 1st A.C., Scott Weatherford, when we are shooting so fast my time is needed lighting the next set.

My one-ton tungsten package plus FAY?s, Kinos, doorway dolly w/Modern skateboard wheels, and Porta-jib Traveller round out the kit.

Pre-pro

Without the budget to hire me full time for a couple weeks preceding principal photography (and because I was on another out-of-town shoot) I contracted to pre-pro on disparate days as needed for location scouting and pre-viz with the director and art director, Marco Noyola. Marco did a bit of conceptualizing the unique settings like the underwater sequence, sterile, white bathroom (our one built set) and club/coffee bar. He has taken the lead on significance of color and I?ve offered my opinions and refinements.

Location scouts primarily consisted of the director and my reviewing his camera angles and determining best time of day for each scene. Some property owners have been very accommodating with my request to paint white walls to better suit the mood of some scenes. The director?s thumbnails serve when he has very specific compositions in mind.

Day 01 ? ice skating rink


We actually shot this scene a few days early because the rink and enclosing mall are close to being demoed and rebuilt. Most of the surrounding store fronts are boarded up and the only real mall customers are retirees enjoying their morning mall walks. We chose to shoot our shorter nighttime scenes before sunrise followed by the day scenes. The space is illuminated by a flat wash of mercury vapor lamps over the rink (with their purplish cast) and sodium vapor cans (yellowish) over the surrounding walkways, which actually creates a nice complimentary palette.

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scouting shot showing mix of mercury and sodium vapor practicals


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my crew rigging a double net over the talent


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Kim (Kristen Malko) in a frame from the HVX-200


I enjoy and employ mixed color lighting and was looking forward to using the practicals for effect.

My greater concern was the incredible flatness of the rink lighting ? not unlike sky pans over a white cyc ? very unflattering for an actress. I considered duvatene on the floor and kino?s on our dolly but opted for some creative makeup adjustments to imply shading and a single 4x8 negative fill on the close-ups. Another creative choice we had was whether to have the rink operators Zamboni the ice before we started, resulting in a glossy, slick surface, or to keep the frost accumulated since the previous day. Since I was most concerned with the burn from overheads reflecting in the glossier ice, I recommended we stay with the frost. That more matte surface also resulted in less floor reflection and gave our crew a firm foothold.


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We set up a shot of our hero?s first kiss.


Of note are the doorway dolly ice skate attachments I had key grip, Nick Dearman, weld up for me while I was out of town. With an edge ground up by our kind host at the rink, the skates gave us the freedom to perform smooth and predictable dolly moves on the ice. Interesting to note: An ice skate dolly is only as smooth as the ice itself! We had some issues around the edges of the rink where the ice is most used and abused by skaters.

Day 02/03 ? flashback field & car int/ext

We start the day in a field dominated by high-tension towers for the flashback of our young protagonist and his best friend. Clear skies on this November day in Texas allow us to keep the lighting simple employing only 4x4 and 12x12 bounces for shadow fill. (In the end, the 12x12 doesn?t play because I have plenty of fill from the sky dome. I opt for a slightly warm white balance to imply the way our protagonist remembers his childhood versus the colder perception of his adult life. (The final sequence of the film, where he has resolved the discrepancy between desire and reality, will also be cast in this similar warmth.)

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The rest of day two and all of day three are consumed by moving car shots - mostly interior handheld from second seat with some hostess tray and hood rigs. The camera rig is fairly light and I can usually manage to triangulate my hands/arms/knees/legs against some support in the vehicle as we roll. Lacking the time/budget to tow the car on a trailer and light it, we carefully chose sun angles for best effect. An optional white muslin on the actor?s laps fills deeper shadows.

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Nighttime car interiors are lit by a single home flouro fixture in the dash plus ND to taste. Since we?re shooting WFO at 400asa, it?s fairly easy to get pleasing levels inside the car and still read details in the world outside. A final hood mount on a chase car driven by me and we have some nice exterior freeway driving shots.

atfn_week1_pic016.jpg


Day 04 ? film school classroom

While we had planned for a stadium style classroom with projector and screen, due to a failure in scouting, we had no idea what our location actually looked like before arriving. But, I?m used to working ad-hoc so wasn?t too worried. Set in the picturesque theater school building at Texas State University (formerly Southwest Texas) we discovered a room well suited to the needs of the scene including; huge projection screen dominating the front of the room, curved stadium seating, and a second-story platform off to the left where our student advisor character has set up a small bedroom and from which he conducts his classes.

atfn_week1_pica.jpg


Upon examining the practicals ? a mix of flouros and par downlights ? I chose two practical pars cross-lighting the ?stage? as our main keys. Two Baby?s plus Lee 251 on hi-hi rollers supported the existing cross-lighting and brought our levels up. Simply rotating them towards seating or stage served most of our turnaround needs. The projector, itself, cast a flat green field on the project and our protagonist. Hair lights on audience member close-ups helped wrap some of that greenish projection around their cheeks. I originally had a Baby through 3x4 soft box pointed at the audience to provide some fill into the nether regions of the seating but that proved unnecessary and I simply let the light fall off on the back rows.


atfn_week1_picb.jpg


A later scene set between classes was lit by one of the practical flouro banks with our Baby?s providing some modeling as needed.

Day 05 ? party

One of four scenes planned for a steadi-cam, this evening was dedicated entirely to one shot following our heroine as she winds her way through the din the a party to find a quiet place to talk on her phone. Steadi-cam operator, Joseph Kentspeth and I worked with the director to visualize the shot before the crew arrived. We added some background performer crosses to motivate some moves that the director wanted. With that settled, I drew a light plot for my gaffer and two hours later we?re ready to walk through with camera.

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We approached this shot by first, rehearsing with principals, adding background performers who had movement cues, and then filling in the picture with the rest of our extras. We had to use most of our crew to fill out the crowd (as happens in these low budget projects) but fortunately, since we?re moving pretty fast through the scene, we will be able to use most of them again. Shooting a one-shot scene with its many layered elements all having to time perfectly could be a huge exercise in frustration for this semi-pro team but ten takes later we have it in the can. Every day, I am impressed by the professionalism and passion of my crew and surrounding production staff.

Day 06 ? cafe

One of the few scenes concepted by our art director, Marco had built a lot of set pieces to serve as focal points and framing elements. Having chosen orange as our heroin?s signature color, Marco includes it as accent on the mannequin band that commands the first-floor stage and in the Chinese lanterns that adorn the ceiling. I add a green as counter-point and edge various elements in the room including railings, corrugated steel walls, and exposed ductwork.

atfn_week1_pic018.jpg

Art director, Marco Noyola?s concept for the cafe

The camera lived on my Porta-jib traveler this night. I like the freedom a jib provides for instant reframing and small moves. It?s particularly useful when an actor misses a mark and a simple nudge lets me re-frame. More creatively, I enjoy opening up the depth of a scene with a little, controlled movement. Mounting that atop the doorway dolly really lets me cover a room.

atfn_week1_pic020.jpg

The café scene as shot

Upon review, I wish I had lit our two characters just a bit hotter but, on the set, I felt that was selling it a bit too much. The manniquin band, visible from the first floor, competes for the eye a bit too much.

All in all, a very good first week for a low-budget picture. My camera and lighting crews are dedicated and focused and my director knows his story and possesses a light touch. I'm looking forward to the coming weeks.

Michael
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 December 2007 - 01:11 PM

Did the Steadicam operator manage to get a remote focus attachment on your Nikons?

Looks good -- I actually think it's more realistic to have the band brighter than the people at the table. Maybe a little table lamp or snooted down-spot on the table would have been enough to redirect the eye but it looks fine to me.
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#3 Michael Morlan

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Posted 19 December 2007 - 12:45 AM

Hi David. Thanks for your comments.

re: steadycam focus - While the Nikons are all geared (done very nicely by Jerry at JBKCine) we didn't have the funds for a remote focus controller so we blocked the scene so Joe, the Steadycam op, stayed within the DoF over most of the shot, with a bit of fudging during sweeping moves. (Joe had recently bought the rig from a retiring operator and hasn't had a chance to buy his own focus motor setup.) On a shot later in the month, I actually reached in and pulled the lens to a new focus as the steadi rig settled to a new mark. I feathered my fingers off the barrel so Joe could gradually regain his balance of the rig with minimal movement of the frame. Certainly not ideal but we made it work.

re: the cafe scene lighting - Yeah, I felt it was right at the time. I plays even better in motion. I'm only second guessing myself now. I tried to use some of the elements (line of china ball practicals and banister lighting) to point at the couple as well.

Best,

Michael
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