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A True Story feature film


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#1 Richard Vialet

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Posted 29 May 2009 - 04:37 AM

I very recently wrapped a new feature entitled A TRUE STORY: BASED ON THINGS THAT NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENED...AND SOME THAT DID (or A True Story for short)

It’s a comedy based on an independent play, Hollywood Dreams, about two screenwriters in Hollywood struggling to sell their new script and about the girl that enters their life and nearly ruins everything. It’s a running joke that it is a love story about two guys... The movie is the feature directorial debut of actor Malcolm Goodwin (American Gangster, Leatherheads). It is produced by Brandy Jones and starring Tyler McGee and Cameron Fife (who are also the writers) with Katrina Bowden (plays Cerie on 30 Rock), Jon Gries (Jackpot, Napolean Dynamite), and Malcolm as the supporting cast.

I’m super excited to have another feature shoot under my belt (I co-DP’d a horror feature in Sept/Oct). The shoot was EXTREMELY low budget (at a little over $40,000. We shot with a donated RED One camera package (yea I know...the RED again...) at 4K 2:1, framed for 2.39:1. We used the BNCR mount on the RED with Canon K35 BNCR-mount primes (18, 25, 35, 50, 85mm). I was very pleased with the look of these lenses. They were sharp but still felt organic and held up surprising well wide open (most of the lenses were at a t1.3, although I didn’t use them wide open a lot). I did some research and it seems that they were introduced in the late 70’s as rehoused still lenses and have a similar look to the SuperSpeeds. Mechanically they could be better though.

The movie, being based on a play, is EXTREMELY dialogue driven, and I thought it would be a great challenge as a cinematographer with keeping scenes that ran for 10 pages of dialogue visually interesting. I watched alot of movies that were either based on plays (like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Glengarry Glen Ross) or very talky comedies, like Woody Allen’s movies and realized that the cinematographers never had any distracting visual flourishes to try to keep the scene moving, but they seemed to trust the actors and the script to keep the momentum and just used the photography simply to support it. Because most of the story contains very fast dialogue between two characters who are very close best friends, and whom the director wanted to keep in the same frame as much as possible, I decided to frame in 2.39:1 in order to have a wide enough frame for them to play in without the necessity of cutting a lot. I used alot of what I learned from David Mullen when I interned for him on STAY COOL last summer, and I implemented alot of what I learned in this shoot. So I must thank him again for that opportunity.

We had a 3-ton grip truck with a house power tungsten lighting package (2K’s on down to Inkies), two 1.2K HMI’s, a 575w HMI Par and a 575w HMI Fresnel, and a small 42 amp putt-putt generator. We also had a handful of Chimeras with medium base sockets that we used ALOT, and a homemade batten softbox.

5 days out of our first week was spent shoot both day and night scenes that take place in and around the house of the main characters, on location in East LA. For the day interiors we used the 575w Par alot through diffusion as a key, For the night interiors, we used small chimeras alot as keylights with either 250w Photofloods or these units that my gaffer Kris Carrillo owned that he called SparkPlugs (not sure if these are well known and I just wasn;t in the loop lol). They’re supposedly like clear 500w pin-based bulbs in medium base adapters to fit in the Chimeras to get more of a punch.

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In the first day interior still above, we used the 575w Par through to layers of 4x4 diffusion (Opal and 250 I think) from camera right as a key with nets cutting the light down on the two fairer skinned actors in the foreground. We also used a 4x4 beadboard for a little fill from camera left.

Katrina Bowden was a real trooper and was great to work with. She's also a great actress! She plays a simple, ditsy character on 30 Rock so you don't really get to see much variety in her acting chops but she really has some talent!

For the stills on the couch, we had a x-small chimera with a 250w bulb on a dimmer hanging directly above the practical giving Katrina her 3/4 key. We then filled them both in from below camera left with a larger chimera with a smaller blb on a dimmer as well. Outside the window we had this gigantic tree that proved to be an issue. We had a 1.2K Par with 1/2 CTO bounced off of a 6x6 griff hanging high over the window (you can feel the light on the couch), as well as a 1K Parcan with 1/2 CTB blasting onto the leaves outside. But the tree was cutting down so much of the light from the bounce that right before the take we added the 575w Fresnel from window left with 1/2 CTO to backlight them. For this scene we shot the wider two shot and the CU of the the guy, Mike, with an 1/8 Classic Soft on the lens. And for Katrina’s CU we used a 1/4 CS on the 50mm. She is Mike’s ex-girlfriend and he sees her as the greatest girl in the universe.

In the 3rd night still, the main character Mike, just rejected Katrina’s character Deanna. We had a practical lamp with a 100w bulb on a dimmer on the banister hitting the papers on camera right, and used that to motivate our key which is coming from a chimera from camera right. We had two 4x4 Kinos with a dayight/tungsten mix coming through some windows from camera left hitting the background, providing a contrast of color temperature that would make the surprise entrance of another character in the background pop more when he exits his room. He is being rimmed by a 4x4 KinoFlo with tungsten bulbs. We also had a very small Mini LED litpanel dimmed down as a rim in her hair. It was shot with the 35mm with no diffusion.

The following 6 days we spent jumping from location to location getting the other scenes that take place around LA in the script. One location was for the climactic scene in the office of the legendary producer Richard Simpkins, who our heroes have been anxiously waiting to meet with about their script. He is played by character actor Jon Gries who is well known for his role as Uncle Rico in Napolean Dynamite and his work in many Polish Brothers movies (he had nothing but great stuff to say about David Mullen too!) he was super supportive and helpful (maybe because he just finished directing his own independent feature on the RED. He even came back in another day just to have the back of his head in one shot!

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The first shot is a two shot showing the two main characters, Mike and Matt, on their way to see Richard Simpkins. A secret has just previously been revealed and their has been an awkward silence between them for a while. We shot this with the 18mm slightly above them in a working elevator that we stopped and propped the door open. Their key is from a Source Four that we put on a board on the floor of the elevator and shot it straight into the metallic ceiling above them. The metal reflected back this sort of hard bounce onto their faces.

In the script the office location was just a regular office, but when we scouted this location and saw this conference room, we decided to make this his “office” just so we can stage the action at the far ends of this gigantic table, and show the distance between them and Richard. We used alot of the natural lighting from the windows and taped four 4’ KinoFlo tubes to the ceiling over him, which is also creating the specular highlight on the table. We brought in another KinoFlo to fill in for the closer shots. My favorite thing about this scene are the hilarious, Andy Warhol-type depictions of himself on the back wall that the art department designed and put up. We shot the scene with mostly wide lenses (18mm for the wide and 24mm for the closer stuff).

We shot a full night at this house in Brentwood that stood in for Deanna’s house which is seen in all flashbacks. In one of the flashbacks, Mike meets Deanna for the first time at a house party she’s having and they share a romantic tryst in her pool. For this scene, we shot a two shot on the 85mm with an 1/8 Classic Soft and then moved the camera physically closer to get the tighter two shot. Art department put Xmas lights and candles in the background and we gave the two actors a key/rimlight with a 1K Mickey through a frame of 216 from camera right. We then took a 575w Par from camera left slightly behind them and slammed the light into the bottom of the pool to light the white floor of the pool, which we discovers worked well as feeling as if the pool is lit. We also took a Source 4 with 1/2 CTB that was right to the left of the camera and skipped it off the water to fill in and create water ripples on the camera side of their faces.

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#2 Richard Vialet

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Posted 29 May 2009 - 04:40 AM

...continued:



We had another day shooting at a coffee shop location in East LA. At this location, we show shot a flashback that our main character Mike describes of him meeting Deanna again after two years. This is the first time we see Katrina in the movie and he vividly describes her in a voice over as being the most beautiful girl ever. To quote the script: “She looks like the kinda girl that pees bunnies...” The director wanted me to go all out with her entrance so I was like, “All out...? OKAY!” So I shot the entrance on an 85mm with the 1/4 Classic Soft and we had her walk into a close-up. We put an 8x8 Ultrabounce up from camera left to key her from the side in her walk and then we added a 1.2K HMI Par through 250 over the lens to fill her in. We then took two shiny boards and used one for hard backlight at the start of her walk and then one on the ground below camera (actually just in frame blasting it into the lens.So the frame starts white and then she turns the corner from camera right and blocks the flare, and it becomes her huge backlight. We shot it at 60 fps. I was really excited for this because I’ve always wanted to do a shot like this. Below is a series of stills showing the shot:

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We shot most of the night stuff around a t2 and a t2.8 and we shot most of the day stuff around a t4/5.6.

I really enjoyed shooting this and alot of that needs to be credited to Malcolm the director, because he knew exactly what he wanted and was willing to go out there with confidence and made the vibe onset fun and relaxed.

Here are some more screengrabs from the movie. The first one is part of a Steadicam walk and talk outside a pizza shop, the next one is from a big Steadicam one-er that follows our heroes as they visit a music video shoot for fictional rapper Skinny Pete. Fun day where all of the crew got to have a cameo in the scene...all of my G&E crew is in there and the art director and a PA are playing the camera crew. Yours truly is actually playing the random hype man in the hoodie behind the rapper in the background! The last still is from the credit sequence of the movie which features the cast and all of the crew departments dancing in the actual Skinny Pete video. The still shown is of the production department and the rapper. Now THAT was fun!

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Edited by Richard Vialet, 29 May 2009 - 04:42 AM.

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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 May 2009 - 10:59 AM

Looks great, a lot of nice production value. I liked that shot with the bright flare in the beginning.

How many days were scheduled for this movie?
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#4 Richard Vialet

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Posted 29 May 2009 - 02:06 PM

Looks great, a lot of nice production value. I liked that shot with the bright flare in the beginning.

How many days were scheduled for this movie?



Thanks alot David!

12 days was scheduled and thats what we shot for. The script was 112 pages. At first when that schedule was given to me I was very concerned about getting it done. But it turned out that we moved very fast and got through almost everything. We averaged about 11 pages per day with some days doing 16-17 pages and one day we did 18 pages! We only significantly went over 12 hours maybe three days and each time it was about at the most an hour over. We missed a really tiny flashback scene, and we still have "B-unit" type shots to get, which the director is trying to schedule right now.

I think we were able to shoot so fast because the two main actors were also the writers and the stars of the play, which had two theatre runs locally I think. Katrina Bowden also did the play with them in New York and so all three of them were already very off-book and were totally comfortable with the characters so there was no waiting on performance. Also the director and I were on the same page with everything and we had blocked out many of the scenes with the actors in prep. Also, even though I had a 4-man G&E crew, they moved very quickly led by my gaffer Kris Carrillo and key grip David Tayar. I also had an operator which made the camera department move very quickly too. I'm sure many people on this forum know this already but it's so great having a separate camera operator. Especially one you work well with. I saw even more evidence of this when I interned for you David.

Edited by Richard Vialet, 29 May 2009 - 02:07 PM.

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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 May 2009 - 02:18 PM

Wow, a 12-day feature with a 4-man G&E crew -- it looks a lot richer than that, congrats.
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#6 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 29 May 2009 - 02:50 PM

Wow, a 12-day feature with a 4-man G&E crew -- it looks a lot richer than that, congrats.


Looks great dude well done!
S
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#7 Ram Shani

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Posted 30 May 2009 - 03:54 AM

hi
it looks good

i am about to shoot next month feature with 108 page for 14 day of shooting

we plan to shoot with the red

what tip can you give for fast shooting with the red?

i plan to work with available light and use as many practicals as i can.

i decided to work with a few film lighting as possible

did you make compromise on cam movement or anything like that because time/budget?( I am shore you did but how much?)
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#8 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 31 May 2009 - 03:17 AM

Looks great Richard, congrats!

I really want to see that flare shot in full motion now. How did you get the flare to be magenta? Looks gorgeous...
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#9 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 01 June 2009 - 06:23 AM

I really like those flare shots too, but think generally it has a great look - especially the night scenes and in particular those swimming pool shots.

Regards,
Andy
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#10 Richard Vialet

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Posted 02 June 2009 - 01:05 PM

Thanks for the kind words everyone!

Satsuki- I was really pleasantly surprised by the magenta flaring too. I think its a product of the lenses. We did some some other flare stuff in the movie as well and whenever the lenses flared it had this magenta look. My color temperature was set a little warmer in that scene as well. it was maybe set at 6500ºK to make that scene warmer. Maybe that affected it too.

Ram- Make sure to do extensive prep with all the camera equipment and make sure it has been well-maintained with up-to-date software. It turned out our donated package wasn't and that slowed us down a bit. We could have moved even faster without some of the RED camera software problems like freezing during the record and stuff like that. The RED battery charger we had kept screwing up...I would suggest getting one of those separate simultaneous quad chargers that can charge four batteries at the same time. I would say the biggest tip would be too be very prepared with the director and being on the exact same page as him...to the point where you don't even really have to talk that much on set. On other projects I've done and sets that I've worked, one of the biggest things that slows the production down is the department heads not being on the same page as the director. If everyone is making the same movie on the set, everything should be great. In terms of working with mainly practicals, I suggest really prepping all of that with the designer, because if you'll mainly be lighting with them, you guys should get VERY specific on what they are and where they go. I do think a well-chosen/well-placed practicals can do wonders with lighting.

I don't really think we compromised things like camera movement. But I think alot of that was affected by the type of script. If we were make a horror movie or action thriller, i don't think we would have had the time to do all the crazy camera movements we would have wanted to do with a movie like that. But with this movie we planned some simple moving dolly masters and steadicam moves that we were able to get.
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#11 Ram Shani

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 11:49 PM

thanks for the tips
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