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Assassination of a High School President


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 October 2009 - 04:32 PM

This movie was just released this week on DVD. I shot it two Falls ago in New Jersey for Yari Entertainment Group, which then went belly-up a year later just before the theatrical release was supposed to happen. I was a bit worried about the quality of the prints since the movie went through an HDCAM-SR D.I. in the end to save money. Anyway, that's all moot because now the movie has been sold to Sony Home Video and been released, so at least some of you can see it.

It was shot in 3-perf Super-35 on Fuji Eterna 500T and 250D using Arricams and Zeiss Ultra Primes.

There's a review here:
http://screenrant.co...iew-kofi-29547/
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#2 Tim Holtermann

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Posted 10 October 2009 - 07:06 PM

Thanks for the heads up David. Just added it to my queue on NetFlix. :)
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#3 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 11 October 2009 - 03:48 AM

This movie was just released this week on DVD. I shot it two Falls ago in New Jersey for Yari Entertainment Group, which then went belly-up a year later just before the theatrical release was supposed to happen. I was a bit worried about the quality of the prints since the movie went through an HDCAM-SR D.I. in the end to save money. Anyway, that's all moot because now the movie has been sold to Sony Home Video and been released, so at least some of you can see it.

It was shot in 3-perf Super-35 on Fuji Eterna 500T and 250D using Arricams and Zeiss Ultra Primes.

There's a review here:
http://screenrant.co...iew-kofi-29547/

Wasn't that the one with Bruce Willis in it? If so, I wouldda figured that alone woulda gotten it a theatrical release. If it is that one, your stills were beautiful and actually inspired me. I've been wondering what happened to it and wanted to see it. I'm glad to see it's getting some kind of release. I hope I do get a chance to see it. It sounded interesting. B)
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#4 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 11 October 2009 - 04:08 AM

Just read the link, that is it and Amazon even has some used copies already so This is one I'll pick up. Brick was one of my favorite all time films and Noir, one of my favorite genres so this is gonna be a must see for me! :D
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#5 K Borowski

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 12:07 PM

I was a bit worried about the quality of the prints since the movie went through an HDCAM-SR D.I. in the end to save money. Anyway, that's all moot because now the movie has been sold to Sony Home Video and been released, so at least some of you can see it.


I'll definitely be checking this one out.

I haven't seen it yet, but have to wonder how a movie like this goes straight-to-video. Looks like it was more deserving of a big-screen treatment than "Jennifer's Body."


Do the politics of filmmaking become too much to bear at times, David? I am frustrated not getting to see this one on the big screen, just knowing that you did it. Must be very hard to see a movie that you have personally put a great deal of your time into get the plug pulled on it for financial reasons when many many many undeserving movies get releaseed each week.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 06:45 PM

I'll definitely be checking this one out.

I haven't seen it yet, but have to wonder how a movie like this goes straight-to-video. Looks like it was more deserving of a big-screen treatment than "Jennifer's Body."


Do the politics of filmmaking become too much to bear at times, David? I am frustrated not getting to see this one on the big screen, just knowing that you did it. Must be very hard to see a movie that you have personally put a great deal of your time into get the plug pulled on it for financial reasons when many many many undeserving movies get releaseed each week.


It's been getting harder and harder for small theatrical releases to earn money because the P&A costs go up and up, but the profits have been flat. So I understand when a distributor basically ends up deciding that it's not worth the cost of a theatrical release, though disappointed. It doesn't help that the DVD is poorly mastered in terms of bit rate, edge enhancement, and noise (same goes for "Akeelah and the Bee" -- why is it so expensive to make a good DVD master? Why do small DVD releases have to made at really poor-quality bit rates?) And no Blu-Ray release as far as I know of. But I think it's the directors and producers I work for that bear more of the brunt of the politics of filmmaking than I do as a cinematographer.

This DVD also seems to rather limited in release -- I've bought the only copy in two stores that I've run into it at, and I haven't seen it at some of the major chains like Best Buy.
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#7 Tim Carroll

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Posted 18 October 2009 - 09:42 AM

Just ordered it from Amazon. Can't wait to see it. Want to see how you handled the "film-noir-lite" I've been reading about.

Best,
-Tim
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#8 Tim Carroll

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Posted 21 October 2009 - 07:44 AM

David,

Great job. Watched the movie last night and really enjoyed it, was quite fun. Want to watch it a few more times and really study the lighting.

I was struck with the "film noir lite" concept, which I thought you guys handled really well. Definitely had that film noir flavor, but it wasn't overpowering, and was sort of blended into an Ameician Pie type high school movie flavor. Well done.

Could you touch a little on how that was handled? When you were brought on board as DP, did they tell you they wanted a blend of film noir and high school comedy, or did that evolve over the pre-production stage?

Thanks,
-Tim
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 October 2009 - 12:47 AM

The director and I discussed the look in prep, he showed me some art photography he was inspired by, stuff by Bill Henson, Todd Hido -- more for the night exterior scenes, but that soft, low-key look for night scenes suggested we had to also take a naturalistic approach for the day stuff, so we decided to use a lot of available light when possible, but shooting into the windows and whatnot for more mood to keep the noir feeling. A phrase that Brett used a lot was "defamiliarize" -- he wanted the high school to be transformed visually away from a typical high school look, avoiding bright fluorescent-lit hallways, etc. This was another reason also why we shot in 2.40, with a lot of short-sided framing of close-ups, etc.
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#10 Richard Boddington

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Posted 22 October 2009 - 02:38 PM

This DVD also seems to rather limited in release -- I've bought the only copy in two stores that I've run into it at, and I haven't seen it at some of the major chains like Best Buy.


It can take a while to roll out to all the stores. Some chains will do web sales only as shelf space is very limited and the retailers tend to reserve this space for Hollywood blockbuster stuff first.

I see that this movie is for sale on the Best Buy website though.

R,
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#11 Michael Nash

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Posted 22 October 2009 - 09:36 PM

It's playing downtown LA tomorrow night, as part of a traveling series: http://www.rangelifeentertainment.com/
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#12 Mark Dunn

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Posted 23 October 2009 - 03:41 AM

Here's hoping you got your cheque before they went bust.
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#13 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 23 October 2009 - 09:41 PM

Too bad ... Seemed like it would be a pretty good film when we were shooting it.
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#14 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 09:20 AM

I saw a trailer for this on youtube, and what with the combination of my respect for David's work and a penchant for Mischa Barton i couldn't help but get a DVD shipped over to me here, with the hope it would play on my DVD player.

Watching it genuinely knocked my socks off, not only is it a visually brilliant film but its an incredibly well crafted, intelligent and funny film in its own right.

The use of what resembles found light or single source light is brilliantly applied to create these moody, shadowy spaces particularly around the school. One of my favourite shots is the first time we see Funke, looking in bags in a corridor, lit mostly behind with daylight and with warm old looking corridor lights, he's almost completely silhouetted until he walks forward for his V.O. introduction stepping into a pool of light, showing his face.

Filming a film-noir in a high-school it would be easy to fall into hard low-key lighting, but here the light is generally wrapping around the character more which retains classic moody lighting but in a far more natural way - I like this comment that its about 'de-familiarising' the high-school which it certainly does, everything feels very shadowy and more dangerous than the actual trivial lives of high-school, but its appropriate because when you are there it feels dangerous and threatening .

I really like the lighting of the basket ball court (which are usually bland and high-key), with this slightly warm top-lighting, gives a place a more safe and secure even cozy feel than the dark and shady corridors. Even the scenes played directly outside the corridor is almost in silhouette against the light from the court.

The prom scene is again, beautifully realised, the blue back lighting is sytlised in a very romantic way but its not completly overblown like in many high school tv shows and films.

As well as the lighting i really adored much of the framing and staging as well. The edgy profile shots of funkey walking down the corridor, the deep focus shot when an exchange is taking place and something funny is going on in the background. I did feel a little uncomfortable in the first private exchange between Funke and the paper editor when they are framed with the empty-space away from their faces, but I can see the psychological reasoning and it purveys the correct feeling.

One of my favourite pieces of staging is the camera tracking of Funke in the detention yard where he hears the phone ringing and then walks over to pick it up and proceeds to receive advice/exposition while one of the other prisoner's is being teased jumping for a chocolate bar dangling on a string, who thinks this up!

David, how much of a challenge was it to light Barton using the style of the piece? natural soft light is quite flattering but considering that previously we've only really seen her in The OC which is as 'glamour' as lighting gets with soft key, strong backlights etc - did you have to break your own rules for her? she always looked great but more jaded and shadowy like the character.

Anyway the whole film was a pleasure, and the DVD was very much worth getting, I only wish people had had the chance to see it on an anamorphic 35mm print where the play of shadows would have looked great - its a tragedy what happened to this film.
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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 11:17 AM

Thanks for the nice comments.

Barton is a pretty young women so I didn't have to do much, I just had the soft key light be a bit more frontal on her. There is only one scene where I used a very light diffusion filter (1/8 Classic Soft) -- the love scene in the bedroom -- and that was more to soften the pimples on the male lead than for Barton!

I did use the Smoque #1 for a couple of scenes though, when I couldn't use real smoke.
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#16 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 11:44 AM

Thanks for the nice comments.

Barton is a pretty young women so I didn't have to do much, I just had the soft key light be a bit more frontal on her. There is only one scene where I used a very light diffusion filter (1/8 Classic Soft) -- the love scene in the bedroom -- and that was more to soften the pimples on the male lead than for Barton!

I did use the Smoque #1 for a couple of scenes though, when I couldn't use real smoke.


Hi David

Yes I noticed he had some very subtle acne, which was actually very much part of his character.

When shooting with a 'found' or available light principle (like the director mentions in the commentary) for example with the exchange on the stairway - how much do you actually let yourself light? Are you supplementing or are you lighting it artificially but to look like it would a certain at a certain time of day, or are you actually using the available light and shaping it? I know films like Children of Men went with found light and that's obviously an extremely different look.

Cheers,
Andy
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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 12:00 PM

It would have been hard to light the stairwell anyway because the windows are on the second and third floors of the building, so I used available light other than changing a tube out in the ceiling of the lower level from Cool White to a Kino 55. On the close-ups, I used a single 4' 4-bank fixture through a 4x4 diffusion frame to wrap the light around the faces better -- particularly her side because she actually was more backlit by the real window, he was standing facing the window better.

We created a photo storyboard for all the school scenes, shot in available light on location, so I had a good sense of how much natural light I had to work with. The main problem is that I'd be fine most of the day in the classrooms with just a few bounced lights and Kinos, but at the end of the day, if we hadn't finished the scene, I was dragging all the big guns out to recreate daylight, which took so long that the natural light was nearly gone -- if I had been lighting the day scenes with the big HMI's from the start, then as the daylight faded, I'd still be able to keep shooting with minimal adjustment. There is always this issue as you're losing the light: do I just work like hell, keep shooting until the light is gone, and call it a day? Because the moment I commit to bringing out some big lights, the time it takes will eat into the last minutes of available light, so I'm basically blowing-off shooting in natural light while I light the scene. But if I don't bring out the big lights, I'll be lighting the remaining shots at night, from scratch. Which is a pain if you only have one or two shots left but they take 45 minutes to light and a ton of grip work building big white frames outside of windows, etc. -- you end up pulling a lot of equipment off of the truck for the last two shots of the day and then wrapping.

Here was my snapshot of the stairwell that I took during prep for the photo storyboards:

Posted Image
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#18 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 12:58 PM

Thanks David this is all really interesting,

Yes I can imagine, so really its relies on covering the scene in the time when there is guaranteed daylight and hope you don't experience sudden cloud, and if you latter rely on supplementing the light, get it ready beforehand so there is a smooth transition.

Cheers, Andy
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#19 John Holland

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 01:11 PM

You used Fuji Eterna on this production ? i havent seen it unlike Andy !! its a by the way have you seen/used Eterna Vivid 500 wow !!!!! stunning , almost like 5254 ! but two and half stops faster !! Kodak i hope may at last see where they have been going wrong for a long time !!
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#20 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 01:25 PM

You used Fuji Eterna on this production ? i havent seen it unlike Andy !! its a by the way have you seen/used Eterna Vivid 500 wow !!!!! stunning , almost like 5254 ! but two and half stops faster !! Kodak i hope may at last see where they have been going wrong for a long time !!


Yes, we used Fuji Eterna 500T and 250D. The softer colors worked better for this movie, we wanted to get away from a typical "high school comedy" look. I'm looking forward to seeing the Vivid 500T demo, could be a way of getting back to that punchy 80's Storaro look with rich blacks.
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