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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 May 2008 - 12:19 AM

I arrived back in town on Saturday from shooting “Jennifer’s Body” for nine weeks and began my five days of prep before I begin shooting “Manure” for the Polish Brothers next week.

This is a moderately small union shoot with a very ambitious multi-character script to be shot in only 25 days. And if that wasn’t hard enough, with dozens of scenes on the call sheet each day, all but a few shots will be shot on stages, including a lot of day “exterior” scenes. I’m dealing with a lot of sets to be lit with a minimal amount of lights and crew people to do it (but then, Clark Hunter, our production designer, is dealing with building a lot of sets in a minimal amount of space and turning them around day after day). This is in stark comparison to my last movie where I had more or less the correct size crew, equipment package, and schedule to pull it off. So I expect this shoot to be a tough one -- but creatively exciting.

Being a comedic tale about the struggles of old-time manure salesmen competing with new aggressive modern fertilizer salesmen, set in the early 1960’s, the Polish Brothers, in a twist on the all-grey color scheme of “Northfork”, have imagined this movie as being only in brown tones. And I mean literally, down to skies and plants and food, etc. being painted in shades of brown.

The movie will star Billy Bob Thornton as the lead manure salesman and Tea Leoni as the woman who inherits the ailing manure company from her father. Kyle MacLachlan will play the lead fertilizer salesman.

We are shooting at Melody Ranch in Santa Clarita, just down the street from the stages where “Big Love” is beginning their third season of production, a job I turned down out of loyalty to the Polish Brothers.

The other twist is that the Polish Brothers have gotten independent financing for both this movie and a second one, to begin shooting only two weeks after this one wraps. That one is called “Stay Cool” and is a throwback to a 1980’s John Hughes comedy, about a high school reunion. To be shot mostly on location.

So I plan on being very tired for the next three months…

Having enjoyed shooting on the F900 for “Jackpot” back in 2000, the Polish Brothers felt that these two small indie features would be a good opportunity to shoot digitally again. They asked me for a rundown on current digital choices. I sort of narrowed the list down to what I’d like to try out these days, from the new Panasonic HPX3000, to the Sony F23, the Panavision Genesis, and the RED ONE. I listed the pros and cons of each. They decided to go with the RED ONE, based partly on the ability to buy the cameras outright for the production company they are forming with their investor/co-producer, an expense that doesn’t have to be part of the movie’s budget. I warned them that the workflow was a bit new and under development, and there were stories that they heard about various bugs that I couldn’t deny, but they were willing to take a risk with me. This is one of the advantages of working with the Polish Brothers, that they trust me and they are willing to take risks with me, technically and creatively. On other productions, I’d be more likely to push a tried-and-true method just in order to not be blamed if things went wrong. With them, I can propose shooting in anamorphic, doing a skip-bleach process, whatever seems right for the movie or interesting artistically, visually. And being an independent production, there’s no studio that has to sign-off on everything we do.

So the big downside to this is basically that I’ve only had a few hours with the RED ONE in prep to get to know it, on top of the general lack of prep I’ve had on this movie. Knowing that a lot of important decisions would have to be made in advance while I was shooting up in Vancouver, especially since we are buying a lot of the camera gear, I suggested that the production hire DP Jim Mathers (founder of the Digital Cinema Society) to prep the movie for me, and then serve as 2nd Unit DP once we start shooting. Jim has already shot two RED features and owns a RED camera. Jim, in turn, suggested hiring Conrad Hunziker as a B-camera operator – Conrad has experience with the RED and will help the rest of us get familiar with the camera.

We are renting the rest of the camera gear, including Zeiss Ultra Primes and Angenieux Optimo zooms, from The Camera House. Theo Pingarelli will be A-cam operator and Marcus Lopez will be A-cam 1st AC. We have a 2-camera RED package (with a back-up third body) but, due to budget, there won’t be a B-camera 2nd AC, just a Camera PA.

The tight budget has made a lot of things harder than they really should be, starting with lighting the sets. We have a huge day exterior set inside a soundstage, somewhat bigger than the backyard set in “Big Love”. As a form of comparison, that set on “Big Love” took three weeks of rigging to hang 150 spacelights, plus put up cyc lights, four Dinos, four 20K’s, four 9-lights, and a lot of sky pans. Well, everything I proposed to light this larger set was struck down as too expensive or too time-consuming, manpower-intensive to rig – like hanging 250 spacelights. It was frustrating because it wasn’t my decision to make the space so big, I just was trying to light it for a daytime look. My demands were all reasonable, just beyond the budget, which had seriously underestimated the amount of lighting that all these sets would need. For example, we have a second soundstage with another day exterior set that is half the size of the large one. We ended up lighting the main stage with about 20 Kino Blanket Lights, plus lighting balloons along the perimeter to light the cyc. Since the RED prefers daylight-balance over tungsten, I decided, since I was not using spacelights anyway, to use daylight Kino tubes and HMI balloons. For my hard sunlight effects, I have tungsten 12-lights (for a warm sun effect) and 18K HMI’s hung near the corners of the set and some more 18K’s in the middle of the long stretch of the stage. The stage doesn’t really have greenbeds, just a few catwalks and a lot of ceiling beams & rafters, so my lights are hanging a bit lower than I wanted, limited by the rafters, cutting into the cyc painting area, to the dismay of the production designer. The balloons also cut into the top of the cyc a little – but they were cheaper to get a deal on than hanging Lumapanels or more Kinos. But at least those would have been more flush to the ceiling.

I am rating the RED ONE at 320 ASA. Even with Light Grid covering each individual Blanket Light, I am getting nearly an f/4 from all the Kinos above, which is great. I can switch them to low-output mode or switch off individual tubes when I want less from the overhead softlight.

Kino Blanket lites:
Posted Image

HMI balloon:
Posted Image

We are shooting with Build 15 loaded in the cameras (Build 16 comes too late for this production but maybe the next one in July will use it). 4K RAW 2:1 mode, framed for cropping to 2.40 : 1. Since everything is painted in shades of brown, and all the clothing is also brown, I don’t have to do much in-camera or post manipulation to the colors to get this desaturated brown effect, it happens naturally (i.e. it already looks manipulated.) We are going for a softer look, so I will be using some diffusion. In this case, I am trying out the new Schneider Classic Blacks, a combination of Classic Softs and the #1/8 Black Frost. We may also do some digital diffusion in post. Right now, Plaster City in Hollywood is handling our dailies workflow.

We shot a test on the main stage this Thursday. Because we were still finalizing the equipment deals, I only had the big lights hung above to light the test, plus a few small lights on the floor that Jim Mathers loaned us. I tested both the warm strong backlit effect and just the soft Kino overheads alone for a cloudy-day look. The set is somewhat stylized (and not quite finished being dressed here), so I have some flexibility to stylize the lighting, which is necessary anyway since I have to be creative with less, essentially. I took this Nikon still photo (this is not a RED frame) of Mark Polish in costume under just the overhead soft Kinos (this shows you the normal colors of the set):

Posted Image

I did a little post softening using my crude Photoshop Elements skills; it’s somewhat indicative of the general look we’re going for:

Posted Image

Sorry that the stills are so compressed-looking.

We looked at the RED test footage over at PlasterCity, in 2K projection in a D.I. theater. It looked great, I thought, though the conversion to Rec 709 for viewing caused some red channel noise to appear in the shadows if you weren't careful while color-correcting. The dynamic range was nice; it handled some bright backlighting I was doing. Seems better in that regards than any HD camera I've used so far. The resolution was great, even with the Classic Black diffusion. We also looked at some 3K slow-motion footage that seemed to match the 4K stuff pretty well.

Obviously this is not going to be a normal-looking movie so don't expect it to show-off just how sharp or richly-colored a RED image can be... maybe on the next RED movie that follows this one, I don't have that look locked down yet, but it's a contemporary story in real locations.
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#2 Michael Nash

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Posted 24 May 2008 - 03:01 AM

Thanks for the notes David, and best of luck with the next project.

Keep us updated. I've been offered B-camera/2nd unit DP on an eight-week feature in Vancouver using the RED, so I'm interested in hearing about the quirks and limitations you encounter. I worked with Conrad a few years ago on a feature I gaffed and he was 1st AC.
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#3 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 24 May 2008 - 03:41 AM

Welcome back David! With all this stage work you are going to need to work on your tan when its all said and done.

It sounds like a really cool show. When you were telling me about it I was wondering how you were going to light all these sets, then the food came and I forgot to ask you about it ;) the Kinos were a great idea.

Good luck with it all, I have no idea how you have the energy to do all these back to back, one hell of a mental exercise.

Kevin Zanit
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#4 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 24 May 2008 - 04:34 AM

Really interesting. When you said "all brown", I was pretty skeptical, I mean a movie called Manure? with a color scheme of nothing but browns....quite frankly it sounded a little gross and somewhat in poor tastes....especially the brown food part, BUT after seeing the pics, I find it sort of mesmerizing in a way. The stylized look of the shots you took is really unlike anything I've ever seen before. I don't know why but for some reason the first thing I thought of was "One From the Heart" I guess because of the high stylization of the realistic. It's like looking into a world if it were in some other dimension or something. I'm really looking forward to seeing how this thing comes out.
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#5 Richard Boddington

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Posted 24 May 2008 - 09:02 AM

Thanks for the notes David, and best of luck with the next project.

Keep us updated. I've been offered B-camera/2nd unit DP on an eight-week feature in Vancouver using the RED, so I'm interested in hearing about the quirks and limitations you encounter. I worked with Conrad a few years ago on a feature I gaffed and he was 1st AC.


Holy cow you guys keep coming to Canada, I guess my only option is to look for work in LA :blink:

R,
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#6 Mitch Gross

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Posted 24 May 2008 - 02:12 PM

Looks pretty -- no need for Chocolate filters on the lens.

Good luck with using the RED One; i"m sure you'll make it sing. And if you need any hign speed footage I know the perfect companion camera...
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#7 Chayse Irvin

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Posted 24 May 2008 - 05:17 PM

Looks wicked david! I love the painterly style!
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#8 Mike Williamson

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Posted 24 May 2008 - 05:36 PM

Looks great, David, I love the stills. I'm curious to hear your impressions of the Red camera as the shoot progresses and you finish the film, it will be interesting to get your take on it. Good luck!
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#9 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 12:56 AM

Wow, those are some amazing images. It looks like you're breaking new ground with this camera.

The tight budget has made a lot of things harder than they really should be, starting with lighting the sets. We have a huge day exterior set inside a soundstage, somewhat bigger than the backyard set in ?Big Love?. As a form of comparison, that set on ?Big Love? took three weeks of rigging to hang 150 spacelights, plus put up cyc lights, four Dinos, four 20K?s, four 9-lights, and a lot of sky pans. Well, everything I proposed to light this larger set was struck down as too expensive or too time-consuming, manpower-intensive to rig ? like hanging 250 spacelights. It was frustrating because it wasn?t my decision to make the space so big, I just was trying to light it for a daytime look. My demands were all reasonable, just beyond the budget, which had seriously underestimated the amount of lighting that all these sets would need. For example, we have a second soundstage with another day exterior set that is half the size of the large one. We ended up lighting the main stage with about 20 Kino Blanket Lights, plus lighting balloons along the perimeter to light the cyc. Since the RED prefers daylight-balance over tungsten, I decided, since I was not using spacelights anyway, to use daylight Kino tubes and HMI balloons. For my hard sunlight effects, I have tungsten 12-lights (for a warm sun effect) and 18K HMI?s hung near the corners of the set and some more 18K?s in the middle of the long stretch of the stage. The stage doesn?t really have greenbeds, just a few catwalks and a lot of ceiling beams & rafters, so my lights are hanging a bit lower than I wanted, limited by the rafters, cutting into the cyc painting area, to the dismay of the production designer. The balloons also cut into the top of the cyc a little ? but they were cheaper to get a deal on than hanging Lumapanels or more Kinos. But at least those would have been more flush to the ceiling.



I'm doing some calculating here and, being not one who works on bigger productions, I'm impressed at the scope of the equipment. I believe that spacelights typically are 6K (unless they have some lamps shut off.) Would you ever have all 150 spacelights on at once or is that rigged that way for shooting in different parts of the set?

If you had 150 spacelights on at once, that would be 900,000 watts? WOW! Plus, if you used some of the other lights, you'd have over a million watts?


When you rate the RED ONE at 320 ASA, do you find that it stays consistent to that speed throughout the spectrum of light levels and stops? I use way, way
less expensive cameras so it may be different but I find that even when a video (or digital cinema as people like to call it!) camera can be rated fairly reliably
at a given speed, it is often not consistently linear in its response like film stock across the whole range of stops and will often get "slower" at the more open end of the lens. I use my Spectra a lot but because I know that the cameras I use are going to vary in "speed" between the response to the light levels for an 8 as compared to a 2.8, I measure footcandles and find that a good way for me to work. Then at some point I'll go to the waveform monitor (on the occasions that I actually have the use of one) or else the good old zebras.

Good luck David and take care of yourself. You're working pretty hard!
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 01:56 AM

On "Big Love" we only had the spacelights rigged for three globes on. That gave me about an f/5.6 at 400 ASA, which I needed when I was inside looking out the windows and wanted an overexposed view. When I was actually shooting in the backyard, I had them dimmed to about an f/4.
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#11 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 03:24 AM

On "Big Love" we only had the spacelights rigged for three globes on. That gave me about an f/5.6 at 400 ASA, which I needed when I was inside looking out the windows and wanted an overexposed view. When I was actually shooting in the backyard, I had them dimmed to about an f/4.



Cool. When you dimmed them, did you actually bring them down with a lighting board or did you shut some off or do something else, as I imagine that
using a dimmer would lower the color temp.?
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 12:16 PM

Cool. When you dimmed them, did you actually bring them down with a lighting board or did you shut some off or do something else, as I imagine that
using a dimmer would lower the color temp.?


We usually dimmed them on a board. It didn't get too warm, every fifth spacelight was gelled with 1/2-CTB to give the sky a cool bias anyway. I sometimes shut off individual spacelights, though more the other way, at night, I'd turn on one of the blue-gelled ones for some soft top ambience.
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#13 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 06:05 PM

I'm about to do a feature on the Red as well as "B" camera/steadicam and 2nd Unit DP, so I'll be interested to hear how things go. The shooting conditions will be very different on my feature though. We're shooting in the Bahamas and doing a lot of water work. I'll be interested to see how the cameras handle the heat, humidity, sand, and water. We don't have the luxury of a backup body, so I really hope the cameras hold up well! If not, I guess I'll spend a lot of downtime drinking Mai Tai's on the beach while we wait for another camera to be shipped to us.
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#14 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 06:59 PM

Such a small world David - I was just on your set last Thursday. I was scouting Melody Ranch for an upcoming production and the person giving us the tour was showing us both your day exterior stage and a smaller stage where there was some furious building going on. I was speaking with your gaffer very briefly and he mentioned you were going to have 8 balloon lights to light the perimeter - looked like a blast.

I feel a bit dumb that I never thought to ask who the Cinematographer was. That'll teach me to get more sleep and drink less coffee. =)

I just finished a feature on the RED (hopefully I can get something on it posted soon with some stills) - you should have a great time with it; the 12-1 Optimo makes that little camera a beast!

Hope you have a great time with the shoot.
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#15 Alex Worster

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 07:13 PM

It's interesting to hear that Red is getting a tried out on bigger things. I really look forward to seeing these films down the road to see what top notch talent can get out of these cameras. I've been ACing a 1 camera feature with one for the last couple weeks and we're on our 3rd body and 2nd hard drive. There has definitely been some down time while trouble shooting this camera. Not to sound like too much of a bummer Brad but it might be a good idea to have a 1st call up Red Tech Support and get to know one of their senior techs or make sure they have a good contact number for someone at the rental house the cameras are coming from just so if stuff starts going down your show can get good personalized service. For all the headaches the camera has caused me over the last couple weeks the Red techs have been very nice and helpful which definitely counts for something. Good luck to the both of you.
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#16 Chris Cooke

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 05:27 PM

Hi David, I'm looking forward to seeing this film. You do great work with the Polish Brothers.
Are you concerned about multiple light reflections on reflective surfaces such as the car in the sample frame you showed us? I'm sure that a DI could solve that problem but it's probably not an ideal use of budget to go that route. Will you just let the lens diffusion soften these reflections?
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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 06:28 PM

When possible, I will turn off a particularly obvious Kino reflected in the windshield, but otherwise, my choices are to plan on some digital removal in wide shots, and in close-ups, fly a sky painting over the car and light that to get a reflection in the glass of the painting. I thought about a big silk, but I realized that the sky should be brown, not white, to match the cyc.
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#18 Billy Furnett

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 06:38 PM

I like this a lot.

It feels like visual metaphor for ?The world isn?t as simple as black and white and shades of grey as shady as ever, its really all just bullshit we?re selling anyways?.
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#19 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 06:46 PM

"I thought about a big silk, but I realized that the sky should be brown, not white, to match the cyc."

How about a big unbleached muslin?
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#20 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 08:32 PM

"How about a big unbleached muslin?"

Could work, but would probably suck up too much light.
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