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The Fourth Horseman


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#1 Tom Banks

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Posted 20 January 2009 - 02:41 AM

Hello everybody!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted in the “In Production” forum, but hopefully this will be a fairly comprehensive report from start to finish of a film that is starting to get working.

The film is a Chapman University thesis film for director Joe Dietsch. Joe and I have had a long working history, having already shot few narratives and several music videos (some of which are posted on this forum). We are about 3 weeks away from shooting, with everything moving along more smoothly than expected. After coming off several “professional” jobs I am excited to get back to a well run student set. I’ve found the good ones are always highly organized, and usually include a very talented and devoted crew. Joe and I have worked together enough that we have a pretty good handle on how our sets run and what to expect and plan for. This is also a bit more of a pet project for me which is always more rewarding. I’ve been involving myself in more aspects than usual (costume, locations, casting) which I find good to start a dialogue with Joe and wrap my head around everything possible I can expect on set.

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From Joe’s plot summary. I tried to whittle it down, but there were too many good things to leave out –
“In a subversive take of the classic western, The Fourth Horseman tells the story of the drifter, a bandaged gunman on a desperate quest to survive the nuclear ravaged remains of 1950’s America. He is taken under the wing of the reverend Jake Aldridge, a sociopathic preacher, the leader of a dangerous array of men on a holy quest through the wasteland, their destination unknown.

Their journey takes them across a twisted desert where they encounter a horde of cannibals and we first see the reverend’s true psychotic nature. With the drifter’s life in balance, he is forced to remain with the gang as they near their final destination.

The goal of the journey is revealed to be a bomb shelter, containing a 1950’s family – straight out of a bad sitcom – a surrealistic juxtaposition to the horrifying nuclear wasteland that thrives on the surface. It is here that the drifter’s basic morality takes over and his conflict with the murderous reverend comes to a head, leading to an unexpected conclusion…”
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#2 Tom Banks

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 03:48 PM

We have locked all locations for the film, which is unusually early on from my experience. The film commissions were extremely friendly and easy to work with. We will be filming one weekend in Trona, CA and another weekend in the Salton Sea. We scouted Trona about a week ago and although we initially came to see the Salt Flats, we found several other locations that worked well. Unfortunately all the salt flats in that town are owned by a refinery. The next closest flats are about 5 hours from LA. But with some grading we should be able to get comparable results with the Trona locations. What I think might be one of the more interesting locations is where the group stumbles upon a makeshift cannibal camp. At Trona we looked at the Trona Pinnacles for this scene. They've fairly recognizable from Star Trek and Planet of the Apes, but it provides a hostile backdrop to the scene. It also works logistically when the Drifter and Aldridge have a great dialogue moment as they watch the cannibals tear apart a corpse below them.

As far as camera specs, we are shooting S16 on an SR2. We will be shooting 50D for all daytime scenes (80% of the film). And as I mentioned earlier, we will be cropping to 2.35. We have looked a bit at some of the old Sergio Leone films for framing references, like the opening scene from Once Upon a Time in the West. At the same time, we are going for a 70's exploitation vibe - which is why we specifically chose 16mm over something like RED or even 35. But with the 50D it should hold up very well on the big screen.

Here are some stills I shot on 35 and cropped to 2.35.

This place is located just outside of Trona and called Poison Canyon. It will probably replace the Salt Flats look. The sands aren't quite white, but they can be desaturated in post to help the effect. In this still I desaturated them slightly.
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This is another location on the way to the Pinnacles that could serve as a Salt Flats replacement. Or as a backdrop to one of several traveling shots we will need to cram into our day.
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And finally the Pinnacles. While this may not be the frame, the idea is to place the cannibals in one of the low points. The characters come from over a hill and briefly spy on the camp before confronting them.
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#3 Ralph Keyser

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Posted 02 February 2009 - 11:47 AM

The locations look great. I'm looking forward to finding out how the shoot goes!
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#4 Tom Banks

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Posted 24 February 2009 - 12:42 PM

So we've just wrapped filming and the shoot went quite smoothly. That might make for little to talk about on here but I figured I'd tryn and break down a few things.

A few technical considerations:
Although shooting on the 50D, I still wanted to knock the ISO down so I could get a somewhat shallow depth of field. I figure the grain will give us the "gritty" end of things to promote the 70's style content. But I still wanted it to look somewhat large scale and "glossy" so I tried to shoot around a f2.8 most of the time. This typically involved using a Pola and an ND9. One thing I did that might not be kosher in the film world was for the wide shots I pulled the ND and stopped around an f8 or f11. I guess its more of a tradition for still photography, but I'm unconcerned of the discontinuity of f-stop... I'd rather have a sharp landscape.

Landscapes and traveling shots were also a major part of this film and something I have never really done before. Its basically the same as finding a frame in photography. I also used a good deal of Grad NDs for all of the wides where the talent did not appear in the top half of frame. Unfortunately the mattebox we were given did not have filter trays that were vertically adjustable so that was a bit of annoyance for framing. The hardest part of shooting the traveling shots was time and distance. There wasn't really any easy way of doing it. We would shoot coverage during the day and when the light became unusable then the camera crew would break off with the talent while GE wrapped the truck. This actually made for a more efficient wrap out each day. With the camera guys it was just some hiking with the camera, filters, and lenses. Some scenics we did were accessible by car, but most involved a good 15min. walk up some kind of terrain. Then the AD would stay with talent on a walkie to direct them for framing. All in all, these were probably some of the more enjoyable shots to get.

GE was considerably trimmed down for the entirety of the shoot. Our ext. package consisted of 2 shiny boards, 1 mirror board, a 4x4 bead board, a 6x6 BW Grif, and a few floppies. My initial approach was to use minimal hard lighting and avoid the unmotivated contrasty look that a lot of desert films have. For the first weekend I used the shinys primarily to add a little fill. We were often shooting towards the sun so I either gave a soft edge on the talent or a little bit of fronty fill. One of the lighting challenges we found ourselves dealing with was filling in some light underneath the brim of the cowboy hats. Both lead characters wore cowboy hats, which lead to almost always a muddy area around their eyes. We usually had to take the shinys off the combos and bounce from the ground to get the proper angle. And the idea with this was just to get a little definition and contrast on the characters' faces, nothing too crazy. On the second weekend with some of the more "epic" looking locations I found myself using a little bit more backlight and having an altogether more lit approach. I'm interested in seeing if the slight inconsistencies in lighting will read on a large scale, I have a feeling not. I think the change in location, while still outside, can be a stronger motivator, as well as the content of the scene.

Here are some stills from the second weekend that are by NO means how I intend to treat the coloring or any final color scheme. I just thought I'd have fun with a few production stills I snagged with a camera. They are quite a bit more contrasty than my approach for the actual film.

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One of the traveling shots
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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 24 February 2009 - 07:20 PM

Wow, sounds like an awesome experience Tom, congrats! I've always wanted to shoot a western too, locations look fantastic. What did you have in terms of glass? It's great when student shoots are well organized and the creative HODs can actually just concentrate on shooting the film. What a concept, right?

Your stills look great, let us know when the set stills go up.
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#6 Andrew Brinkhaus

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Posted 25 February 2009 - 12:10 AM

That's a killer location, Tom! Where did you guys shoot? I just worked on a short (also set in the desert) and we shot out in a dry lake bed in Ridgecrest, right near the China Lake military base.... Lots of cool flyovers that weekend. :)
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#7 A. Whitehouse

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Posted 25 February 2009 - 03:10 AM

Looks great Tom, very Fallout. Always interested to read posts in the in production forum. Thanks for making the time.
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#8 Mark Dunn

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Posted 25 February 2009 - 02:30 PM

Looks great Tom, very Fallout. Always interested to read posts in the in production forum. Thanks for making the time.

Too late to correct the spelling to apocAlyptic, I suppose.
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#9 Tom Banks

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Posted 25 February 2009 - 09:10 PM

Too late to correct the spelling to apocAlyptic, I suppose.


Good catch mark :huh: somehow I missed that but that doesn't surprise me. I'll gladly forward the correction on.

Andrew - the location was pretty epic, and the BLM (bureau of land management) was pretty easy to work with if you can endure a 45 min. meeting at 5am about protecting the Desert Turtle :blink: We stayed in Ridgecrest as well. The flat location is called Poison Canyon which is on the 178 on the road from Ridgecrest to Trona. We also shot at the Pininacles which down a 7 mile dirt road off the 178 a little closer to Trona. I just saw the Pinnacles in the trailer for a new Will Ferrell movie "Land of the Lost" so that was kinda funny.

Satsuki - we shot on Zeiss Superspeeds and while we didn't really need superspeeds, I found myself in a pinch shooting once scene when I shot wide open. There was one campfire scene we had planned to shoot during dusk but we found ourselves wrapped with all the daytime shots earlier than expected and had an hour of waiting for light. The put-put geni had been acting up and the production was pushing to just shoot the campfire scene in the daylight rather than wait over an hour on a geni that might not even turn over. I was very hesitant to so quickly abandon the original plan and thankfully on our last try the geni fired up. We had a small put-put and a basic mole kit (2 650's, 2 300's) Because it was slightly overcast, the sky was more illuminated for a longer period after the sun had gone below the horizon. Originally we had anticipated a clear day in which we could start shooting the dusk/night campfire scene once we we were under ambient light. The moles would then flicker to reproduce firelight. I finally realized we could start shooting the closeups that didn't involve shooting the sky. We managed to get the campfire lights 2 stops above the ambient light and that was good enough for me. Luckily we started when we did because by the time we got to the wide shot the sky was just about black. We had grabbed stills of the location earlier that could be used to re-insert the sky to match with the previous shots. There will obviously be minor continuity errors in that scene but I value getting a good campfire scene rather than coping out for an afternoon campfire.

Here are some stills from that scene that might illustrate what was going on:
This was the first shot. I tried to use the DSLR to get a vague idea of how the ambient light would read compared to the fire light. I also played around in photoshop with levels and one "power window", this coloring should be fairly easy to achieve during timing.

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Sorry for the image quality on this one, a little blurry
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And here is a setup for one of the shots. 2 650w's with 1/2 CTO and Opal on either side of the fire. Both were on hand squeezers with some minor flickering. Obviously this photo is a little more exposed than it even appeared to the human eye
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#10 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 26 February 2009 - 03:17 AM

Nice, looks like that campfire scene is going to cut well. Did you have any problems with the tweenies reflecting in the guy's glasses?
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#11 Jeff Locke

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Posted 26 February 2009 - 11:32 AM

Very nice quality! I prefer the first still where the background can be seen. To me the shot emphasizes the desolation of their location, as opposed to the second shot where they could be anywhere. One point though, in the first shot there is a shadow on the left from what looks like a board. At first I thought it might be a rock formation, but it's obviously a 90 degree angle.

My 2 cents...
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#12 David Rosenblum

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Posted 26 February 2009 - 04:50 PM

Is it true that you guys did 53 set-ups in a 12 hour day?
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#13 Tom Banks

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Posted 26 February 2009 - 11:32 PM

Is it true that you guys did 53 set-ups in a 12 hour day?


Haha I guess you could say that is true. Although I'm not sure how accurate or meaningful that statistic is... It always seems silly when people brag about how many shots they get off or when directors divulge some exorbitant number of films they've directed like it makes them more mature, I guess its the whole quantity vs quality thing. I guess its something for our AD to be proud of. But basically the whole idea behind that day was we could only afford the location for one day (the only interiors of the film) so we better get our shots off! I managed to convince the production to pay for a half day prerig and set dressing so we could arrive on our shoot day and not have to wait for that. The context of the scene worked towards our advantage as well. The initial look of that location was to flood it with rows of fluorescent worklights. Leading up to the scene, the characters reach the waters edge and the whole "X marks the spot" type of story as they find a hatch sunken in sand. They pull the hatch off and climb down into a dark hallway. As they walk through the hallway they come into a brightly lit 1950's bomb shelter that has been unaware of the outside world for several generations, like Blast from the Past but not so much. Thematically I thought it'd be cool to bring the audience into the typical darkness and low key tungsten and then introduce them to this artificially over lit fluorescent environment. As time got closer and we realized there wasn't any way we could afford to dress an entire warehouse basement, we became clear on keeping very isolated views and a more realistic approach. For that day's plan we basically had 3 major setups to do: the hallway, the look towards the drifters as they came into the family's bunker, and the reverse look on the family at the dinner table. Each look in the bunker required no more than 3 4' work banks (2 tubes each) spaced about 7' apart which provided ample light for the scene. We then used a 4' 4bank kino to get the light looking a bit more fronty. All of the tubes were cool white and we shot the color chart under Tungsten so the florescent would read greenish. But once the lights were rigged, there was just dancing around a kino. So from my end, looking at a bunch of setups wasn't anything overwhelming. Another thing important in having the day move as fast as it did was that Joe had already cut the scene in his head and had a clear idea of which part of each shot he needed. We didn't waste any time on getting coverage we didn't need and although they tell you not to do that, Joe and I have always worked this way and have found it to be a more efficient use of our time in a crunched day.

This is our hallway setup. This was almost completely prerigged the previous night. At the end of the hallway we had a 1.2k HMI with 1/4 CTO hitting a 2' mirror board at a 45degree angle, all of which was rigged to the ceiling. The mirror board was taped off to create a circular cast on the floor. The idea behind this light was to emulate a shaft of sunlight penetrating the bunker. Down the hallway we had 2 650w lights casting pools of light onto the floor. We dropped practicals just in front of the light to sell as the source, although I'm not entirely sure if they made the frame. At the opposite end of the hall was another practical (I think they call them china hats?) with a 150w bulb that played on its own. Once we started shooting I brought in a divalight to fill in the characters and try to get some separation with their very dark costumes.
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Here's a prod. still on the left and a film still I took on the right of the whole ladder concept.
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Here is a look toward the doorway they enter. 2 4' banks above and the Kino camera left
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And a still on film:
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So the reverse was the same lighting setup, fairly simple. Also I think its important to mention I had some really top notch Chapman guys who volunteered their time to work on the film, Allen Liu and Nick Erickson as gaffer and Key grip. Also David Libertella and Connor Hartnett as my 1st and 2nd ACs. So many thanks to them!

Satsuki - the glasses reflection didn't appear to be an issue while we were shooting. We had fire dancing in the foreground of the actual shot so I think that might help distract from the reflection. Otherwise we were on such a tight schedule there's not much I could've done in a pinch if they were in fact presenting a problem.

Jeff - the right angle you are seeing is one of the tents at the camp they've come upon. You can see another tent more clearly behind the guys in the other prod. still. But you've got a good point about seeing the background, I guess it'll be a matter of finding a happy medium.

Edited by Tom Banks, 26 February 2009 - 11:33 PM.

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#14 DS Williams

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Posted 02 March 2009 - 08:36 PM

Amazing inspiring work Tom!



One question,
How did the Divalights read on film in comparison to the 4' 4Banks? I've heard their quality of light is more towards the magenta
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#15 Tom Banks

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 01:11 AM

Amazing inspiring work Tom!



One question,
How did the Divalights read on film in comparison to the 4' 4Banks? I've heard their quality of light is more towards the magenta


I wasn't entirely impressed with the divalight, although we weren't using it in the same setup as the 4' banks (those had normal cool white bulbs in them) so matching wasn't a problem. The divalights seemed fairly tungsten accurate when at 100 percent, but when dimmed down they did turn quite pinkish. We ended up just keeping them at full power and walking it offrather than trying to correct the color temp with plus Green, which would've just been a guess.
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#16 Allen Liu

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 11:33 PM

Looking good Tom! I'm very glad I was able to help out when I could. It was a pleasure!
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#17 Tom Banks

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 11:20 AM

So the film is finally done. There are still a few sound elements that need to be tweaked and the color on the FX shots doesn't quite match either, so I will be going back and doing a bit of recoloring.

I put the flash file up on a page, nothing fancy.

www.banksfilm.com/fourthhorseman

Its about 18min. long, but I'd like to hear any comments/criticism you might have.

Tom

Edited by Tom Banks, 16 May 2009 - 11:22 AM.

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#18 Tom Jensen

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 12:01 PM

Didn't have time to watch it all but what I saw looked great.
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