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"Gweilo" 35mm, short


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#1 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 04:42 AM

Hi everyone,

I'm shooting my first short in 35mm in a few weeks, and getting ready to do film tests this week. The story's a gentle coming of age tale about a young man trying to find his place in the world. It takes place in a Hong Kong of an unspecified and indeterminate era (art dept. is mixing old and new props and decor), and it's all interiors on sets. We have three locations: Jerome's cramped apartment, the hallway outside (which looks in on four disparate apartments across the way), and the busy indoor marketplace on the ground floor of his building. Some of the artwork can be seen here: http://www.distantth...lms.com/gweilo/

The director's reference films are: "In the Mood for Love" (for its hallway and architectural framing, lighting contrast, sense of loneliness and yearning, camera movement, slow motion); "Chungking Express" (again, use of cramped apartments, saturated colors, lively handheld for the later Fay Wang scenes); "Blade Runner" (for the market atmosphere and use of practical flouros and neons in the Chinatown set); and "Lost in Translation" (for the handheld camera work, subtle tonal scale, and rendering of practical lights in the Tokyo night exteriors). I added "Last Life in the Universe" for its "dead" stifling atmosphere of the opening scene, and "Yi Yi" for its balanced color/contrast palette and compositions.

So, I basically have to meld all those influences into a unified style-stew (yikes!) and also create the feeling that the film was actually shot in Hong Kong. After talking with the director, we decided that we wanted a contrast and color rendering somewhere in between the extremes of "Lost in Translation" and "Blade Runner." We definitely wanted to avoid the super hi-con looks of films like "Bringing out the Dead" and "City of God", which we felt were too harsh and gritty for this story. We also didn't like the "unlit" look of some scenes in "Chungking Express", where the apartment looks to be lit entirely with available light, creating some unpleasant modeling on the actors' faces. We're going to try to key our actors from soft sidey or 3/4 wrapping light for mediums and CUs unless they need to be lit otherwise for a specific reason.

The lighting plot I came up with for the film calls for a gradual shift from neutral toppy fluorescents ("dead", unnatural, monochromatic) in the apartment, toward a greater variety of color temps from tungsten lamps, neon and mercury/sodium vapor streetlights outside the window ("alive", unnatural, saturated), to ambient daylight, and finally full sunlight shifting into dusk toward the end of the film ("alive", natural, saturated). I suggested a scene where the power goes out at night in the building - the fluoros snap off, and suddenly the room is bathed in red neon and cyan/yellow street lamps from the room's single barred window, which the fluoros have hitherto overpowered. Jerome decides he actually prefers the light that way, and when the power comes back on he turns the fluoros off and decorates his room with tungsten table lamps instead. From the moment he decides to "let life in", we begin to see more color in his room. Art will also transition the room from bare and monochromatic in the beginning to full of color at the end.

In contrast, the market is always unnatural, saturated, with a full range of color temperatures. And the hallway has pools of soft, warm, tungsten light and soft shadow (sort of a dream-like womb). The hallway is where Jerome encounters the love interest. In addition, the camera movement in the market will be "alive" with handheld and steadicam camera movement, as well as a lot of movement in the frame. The camera will follow the actors naturally and freely, almost documentary-like. In contrast, the camera in the apartment will slowly transition from "dead" static framing with the actors moving freely in and out of frame, or dolly moves without motivation from within the frame, leading the actors) to the more natural "alive" style of the market.

Since we will print and project the film at some point, we will be shooting 4-perf regular 1.85. One of my first decisions was to test Fuji negative stock, since I have only shot Kodak in the past (except for one disappointing test I shot with the Fuji Vivid 160T). I wanted to see if Fuji stock was indeed better at capturing Asian skin tones than Kodak, as has been suggested.

Since we'll be shooting a lot of practicals and we want subtle contrast overall, I decided to test two low-con stocks, and one normal-con stock as a control: Fuji 400T, Kodak 500T Expression, and Fuji 500T Eterna. I want to shoot a basic latitude test with each to see where I should rate each stock, and also to see the difference in color rendering. I expect I'll end up wanted to overrate each stock by 2/3 stop to get denser blacks but we'll see. I plan to compensate somewhat for the low-con stock by lighting high-contrast in the foreground. A lot of the art in the film is highly color saturated, so I'm hoping that'll balance the low saturation qualities of the stock as well. We'll be shooting with Cooke S4s. We may also try using a black net (behind the lens?) to degrade the image and get some highlight halation. We'll shoot a test for that as well. I'm a little worried that it'll milk the blacks out too much with the low-con stock, so I may try light diffusion filters instead (Smoke, Glimmerglass, Promist, Classic Soft?). Or just go with smoke on set.

Anyway, when I go to print the tests, I need to decide which print stock to finish on. Since I've only shot and printed 16mm before, I've only had one choice of print stock, the regular Kodak Vision. So I'm curious how the Kodak and Fuji print stocks compare. I know the Kodak Premier stock is higher saturation, higher contrast than the regular Vision stock. Are the two Fuji stocks similar in attributes? Does Fuji neg only print well on Fuji print stock? How does Fuji print on Kodak - is there some "Kodak" color shift that would alter the pure "Fuji look"? What have you guys done in the past when printing from Fuji, and how did it work out? I guess I'll have to test all this as well, but I'd like to have some experienced opinions going in so I don't spend too much money testing (the budget belt continues to tighten even as we speak).

As an aside, every Kodak print I've seen from Fuji negative in 16mm has been greenish with weak blacks. But that can't be the norm or no feature DP would every shoot Fuji. So I'm thinking this must have something to do with the lab work - maybe printing from Fuji stock requires retrimming the printer lights if the lab is usually set up to print from Kodak? Maybe the labs whose prints I've seen just don't care or aren't able to do this for small student orders? It's worrisome. Our lab is Monaco Labs in San Francisco.
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#2 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 11:15 AM

That's a lot to digest.

2 suggestions: 1: Hire an operator!

2: Since they'll be playing a big role in the film, I would definitely set aside some time to prep the practicals: Stock up on different wattage bulbs, make zip cord extensions, pre-cut ND gel for lampshades, and build a bunch of hand dimmers. One nice trick is to cap the top of a lampshade with light-board.

Good luck!
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#3 Matt Irwin

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 02:43 PM

This sounds like a great project- I'm jealous!

Definitely test netting the lens-- and pay attention to the prismatic flares and bokeh. (You can see what I mean in the first half of Atonement) It's subtle and a personal preference thing- you may like it, or it may be bothersome.

I've used Fuji's 400T on a few projects (in S16) and it sounds like it would be a great stock for this-- it handles strong colors, especially orange and red, very well and gives a lot of room in grading to punch up colors if need be.


Best of luck,
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#4 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 04:41 PM

Cool, thanks guys!

Jon, good call on the operator. Especially since we'll be shooting on the BL4 for most of the film. We talked about possibly renting a Moviecam Compact, but it was just too expensive and we're getting the BL for free. So, yeah - good idea. We are stocking up on practicals at the moment. Mole Richardson gave us a bunch of 2' Optimo 32 tubes and some 4' super-blue tubes which we're planning to make "neon" => signs with. Apparently in Hong Kong, the => symbol often refers to a brothel! We're stocking up on photofloods and worklight practicals that you see in Hong Kong markets also. We're going to gel the tungsten worklights yellow and cyan to make 'em look like sodium/mercury vapor and build them into the market stalls.

When you say "cap the top of the lampshade with light-board", do you mean a white board like foamcore (to flag the light coming out the top of the shade), or do you mean some diffusion material to just soften it? I actually like the semi-circle of light coming out of the top of a lampshade, especially on as an accent on dark walls. The walls in the apartment are going to have a lot of water damage texture added to them, so those accents should help bring it out. Kaminski used lampshades a lot on "Munich", if I remember correctly - looked great.

Matt, thanks I'm definitely excited. I've never had the chance to work with a production designer on a project of this scale before, so I'm trying to take advantage of it as much as possible. I've used a net in front of the lens on 16mm before and liked the texture but the image was pretty soft. I'm hoping the combination of 35mm and the Cookes plus a lighter denier net will help it from getting too mushy. I like the idea of degrading the image overall, but since a lot of folks here think the S4s are soft lenses to begin with, I'll have to test with and without.

Any advice for testing a net? I was planning to set up a little scene with an actor, a practical, and maybe some charts with wide medium and close lenses, and then shooting each with/without the net. I'm most worried about the wide lenses, I don't want them to get too soft. We'll probably be shooting the whole film in the T2/2.8 range. One of the films I looked at for reference was "Bringing out the Dead" and it certainly doesn't look mushy, but I think the ski-bleach processing and high contrast lighting helped a great deal there. Guess I'll just have to see.
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#5 Matt Irwin

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 05:33 PM

Light the test the way you're thinking, and then maybe try a very hot backlight on the actor. Might be useful to hang some white christmas lights in the frame to see some points of light, then frame through them or shoot them with a long lens so you can see out-of-focus points of light. Could also wag a bright flashlight into the lens to see how the net combines with barrel flare.
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#6 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 08:30 PM

Light board is white, opaque, about 3/16" thick. It's kind of like the foam inside foam core. It's a thick, but malleable diffusion. It's good if you want to use the light from the top of a lampshade, but not get a horror movie effect. It's really flimsy, and a little expensive.
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#7 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 06:17 AM

Nice Sats! Let me know if you need a hand :)

I imagine you've been watching a lot of Doyle's work and getting some ideas. I wouldn't think the black diffusion filters would give you the halation look you're going for, but it doesn't take much diffusion to get that effect. So maybe a light diff. filter would suffice and you'll still get a good amount of contrast on your low con stock.

Incidentally, Chungking Express in Bluray form is next on my Netflix. Can't wait!
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#8 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 07 January 2009 - 02:53 AM

Ok, thanks guys.

Matt, thanks I'll try some of that during our test. I didn't even think about looking at the long lens bokeh. Now I'm beginning to wonder if with the primes it'd be too much hassle to do the net behind the lens. Maybe I'll make a 4x4 frame to put in the matte box instead... I wish there was something like the i-Ring for PL mount lenses.

Jon R., thanks for the heads up on the light board. I don't know if we'll need it since the lamps will be probably be against the walls but I'll ask my gaffer if we can find some scrap pieces just in case.

Jon B., will do sir. Bought some ultra sheer black nylons yesterday. I tried to find silk stockings, but none of the big department stores downtown had 'em. It only cost me about $7, so if it doesn't work out it's no big deal. You may be right about going with light glass diffusion filters instead, we'll just have to see. I kinda hate to use the Promists since they get used so often on other films, but I have to admit I like what they do. I like Classic Softs as well, but the "polka dot" bokeh is a deal breaker for me. Incidentally, the hosiery ladies were so helpful - maybe they're just happy someone's taken an interest or something, seems like a slow department in general.

Update: the stock test may get pushed 'til next week depending on when the test rolls get delivered. We're now investigating other labs and weighing the pros and cons of doing the lab work in town (where we could potentially get film dailies every day or every other day, at a higher cost per ft.) against shipping to LA where we'd probably only get the film dailies back once we wrapped, but for a killer price).
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#9 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 08 January 2009 - 11:46 PM

Jon B., will do sir. Bought some ultra sheer black nylons yesterday. I tried to find silk stockings, but none of the big department stores downtown had 'em.


Did you try Britex? They're usually pretty good at carrying exotic materials like silk stocking fabric, perhaps they have something for ya. Incidentially, there's another thread that just came up about glimmer glass. D. Mullen mentioned something interesting that perhaps you may be going for as well: http://www.cinematog...mp;#entry267360
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#10 Sing Howe Yam

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Posted 09 January 2009 - 05:31 AM

Seems like haze/smoke on set wouldn't hurt considering the climate conditions of actual HK. I've been there three times and the smog level for one is terrible but also throughout the city there is a lot of little "ports" of smoke that churn out throughout that city. There is a natural haze to the city, I remember having photos I've taken there and could definitely see a difference from just natural diffusion from the climate there.

I too am a fan of the pro-mist. Maybe you could use a 1/4 for standard to wide lenses and a 1/8 when you go telephoto and regulate the rest with on set haze. Just throwing out another opinion, could be a better choice so you're not stuck on relying on filters to give you your halation. Plus you could use the smoke or whatever in the frame to help create more depth. Chinese markets in HK always have little shops that are cooking up something that provide steam and what not too.

This sounds like you're going to have a great time with this. Anytime Doyle becomes a look sample for your films you know it's going to be visually stunning. Best of luck with the shoot and post stuff once you get the chance!
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#11 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 11 January 2009 - 04:04 AM

Thanks again guys.

Britex, good call Jon. I'll check them out. Glimmerglass would be fun to try, I'll ask Utterbach if they have those.

We definitely want smoke or haze on set. Any advice for what we can use for little smoke effects in the market stalls? There's a wok shop which could use a bit of that.

Update: Kodak is sending us 400' of 5229 and Fuji is is sending us 200' each of 8583 400T low-con and 8573 Eterna. We haven't received the stock yet which is pushing our stock tests back until next week. That makes it really close to our shooting date, yikes! Does anyone have any advice about Fuji print stocks vs. Kodak print stocks?

Our lab is now Deluxe in LA, based on the great deal they offered us and also the fact that Monaco Labs no longer does printing.
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#12 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 04:36 AM

Our lab is now Deluxe in LA, based on the great deal they offered us and also the fact that Monaco Labs no longer does printing.


I thought Monaco only stopped doing 16mm prints. Don't tell me they've stopped doing 35mm prints too!
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#13 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 03:20 PM

Yes. Jim Moye told me that Monaco no longer does any printing, 35 or 16mm.

So, we shot the tests yesterday. Jon Bowerbank was nice enough to come out and help us with the setup. We shot 150' each of 8573 Fuji 400T, 8583 Fuji 500T, and 5229 Kodak 500T for our stock test. The lens was a 50mm Cooke S4. We lit a grey card, MacBeth color chart, two actors with dark and light skin tones in costume and makeup, and a white background with several party gels for our mercury vapor and sodium vapor looks. Lit to an f/5.6, we then shot progressively underexposed and overexposed takes ranging from -3 to +3 stops. Deluxe Labs will print two versions of each roll, a one-light printed to the first properly exposed grey card on each roll, and then a timed print that corrects each misexposed take back to normal.

We then shot about 200' of diffusion tests (on our remaining 5229), shooting an actor from the same camera position with a range of focal lengths. First we used a black net, a Berkshire ultra sheer 100% nylon. We tried mounting it with snot tape into a 6x6 filter frame before we figured out the best way to do it - stretch it over the front of the mattebox's bellows and screw in the 138mm retaining ring to hold the net in place. This made it very easy to switch lenses quickly and use the net without the matte box for the wider lenses. In the latter case, we just taped the bellows to the front of the lens. We shot with the 18, 25, 32, and 50mm S4s, both with and without the net to see how the sharpness would hold up on the wide lenses. Surprisingly, even with a point source in the frame the net caused very little flare and effect was rather subtle (at least thru the viewfinder). We also tested black promists (1/8, 1/4, 1/2) on the 18mm and the 50mm. The 1/2 BPM actually looked much stronger in effect than the net.

Now for the bad news. We were told the Cookes might not be available to us because a big commercial shoot now wants them for the same dates (they're getting a package, while we were just looking to get the lenses). Furthermore, the producer has told me that they need to start slashing the camera budget because art department needs more resources - it's either the Cookes and short ends (which we don't have time to clip test), or Superspeeds and fresh stock. Then we found out the the 35mm camera package we thought we were getting for free is actually going to cost us $2000 (plus we have to hire their 2nd AC with the package). The possibility of shooting Super 16 instead of 35mm has come up. We're seriously looking into it. Needless to say, I'm a bit depressed right now - I said half jokingly that by the time we actually get to shoot the film, we'll be using a hand-crank camera and dried leaves instead of emulsion.

Stay tuned...
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#14 Mike Simpson

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 03:43 PM

sorry to hear that. Ive been in that boat a few times and it is really depressing =(

But the fact that they want to redirect money to the art department isnt so bad really right?
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#15 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 04:35 PM

Thanks Mike.

But the fact that they want to redirect money to the art department isnt so bad really right?

No, that's true. At least the money's going to end up in front of the lens (or maybe a coke bottle?). :)

Here are a few digital stills I took of the setup with a Pentax K10D and a 50mm f/1.4 @ f/5.6 and 1/50th sec.: http://www.flickr.co...ith/3197735600/

One is with Fluorescent 5700k gel in the background (Lee 241) and other is with Peacock Blue (Lee 115), two options for the cyan mercury vapor look. We had to deal with ambient daylight from overhead skylights at the rental house, so the shadows are bluer than they normally would be. Since we're testing low-con stocks, I did a low-con corrected version of the stills as well (they're labeled).
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#16 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 15 January 2009 - 02:54 AM

Nice, I like how the peacock shows up in those pics. But I also like how the fluorescent gel seemed a bit more natural and didn't call as much attention to itself.

I know you took a few snaps of me as well, feel free to pass'em along :)
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#17 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 15 January 2009 - 03:57 AM

I know you took a few snaps of me as well, feel free to pass'em along :)

Your wish is my command: http://www.flickr.co...s/18675976@N03/

Also, some good news: We are getting the 35mm cameras, yay! The owner is sending a camera technician with the package - apparently the gear is not in the best condition and needs some love... I'll do a prep of the most critical functions down in LA on Monday before bringing the package up for a full prep on Tuesday in the bay area. Dunno what's going on with the Cookes yet, but we will have Superspeeds as a backup.

Talked to the guys at Deluxe dailies and caught them just before they started printing the film. We didn't make clear in our cover letter that one of our four rolls was not an over-under test but a simple diffusion test and thus did not need to be printed twice. So we saved some money there.

I also asked about printing to Fuji versus Kodak stocks but they had already pulled the regular Kodak Vision stock for our prints so we couldn't change it. Good to know for the future though. Turns out they have both Kodak and both Fuji print stocks available. I asked what the difference was and was told that, among other differences, the stocks have increasingly richer blacks in this order: 2383 Kodak Vision, 3513DI Fuji Eterna, 3521XD Fuji Eterna, 2393 Kodak Vision Premier. They print everything on 2383 unless specified otherwise. Rule of thumb for them is for Fuji stocks should print with Fuji, and Kodak with Kodak. However, there's no problem with mixing them and many films end up doing this all the time. You will see subtle variations with side by side comparison testing, so test, test, test.

Also, Kodak offered us a generous deal on the 5229 stock so it looks like we're going with them regardless of the test results. At least it will be fresh stock and not recans and short ends.
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#18 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 15 January 2009 - 04:09 AM

Sounds like a fun project Satsuki. Good luck.
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#19 Serge Teulon

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Posted 15 January 2009 - 07:09 AM

I've been enjoying reading your blog Satsuki. Sounds like you are having fun, even though anxiety levels are up and down regularly! ;)
Bt hey, that's part of fun!!

Good luck!
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#20 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 15 January 2009 - 04:05 PM

Excellent! Glad to hear they're sticking to the 35 plan :)
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