My friend James Minchin III and I recently collaborated on a music video for the Australian group John Butler Trio. The idea was to originally present a large series of portraits illustrating a wide cross section of humanity, hoping to illustrate the point that beneath our skin we're all really just the same; we all seek happiness, prosperity, truth, peace, etc.
John Butler had been inspired by a series of Irving Penn portraits. While Penn is known for his fashion photography it was his portrait work with 'characters' against an often gray backdrop that served as the visual inspiration for the video.
It appeared that Penn often shot in an attic, studio space, or courtyard with only natural light. From the start I knew that I was going to need a lot of daylight not only because were were going to shoot some 48fps, and because we liked the quality of daylight on digital formats, but because I wanted to keep the ISO low. We had decided that the only way to shoot this video in one day was to be shooting a lot, e.g. 5 cameras rolling all the time.
We had decided to shoot on 3 Canon 5D Mark II's and 2 RED's, mainly because we had personal access to those cameras, and it would allow us to keep the budget in check. The setup we settled on was three cameras in the 'front of house' position, the straight on portrait shots. They were stacked on top of each other so that the sight line between the three wouldn't vary. The WIDE, 'behind the curtain' shot we called it because it revealed the edges of our backdrop and a little bit of the space in homage to Penn, was the RED A with RED 18-50mm shooting around 28mm. The MEDIUM, 'fill frame' that always kept our subjects on the backdrop, not revealing any of the space, was a 5D with one of the new Zeiss ZE 50mm primes. The PORTRAIT, the straight down the barrel tight portrait shot, was RED B with a 50-150mm shooting at 150mm.
Then off a few degrees on the side were the POKE + PLAY cameras, one 5D Mark II with a 300mm Canon L series lens, and one 5D with a 70-200mm Canon L series lens that was on a slider.
Photo 1: The 'front of house' position.
Photo 2: The slider with the 70-200mm would occasionally go on the ground for some of the feet and performance shots.
Photo 3: Giant 'soft box'
Photo 4: Film Tools grid and Image 80's
For my KEY I used 2 4K HMI's knocked down with some unbleached muslin and a 12x12 film tools grid. I'm a personal fan of single source lighting and while this was a lot of light we were still shooting the 5D's at 200 ISO around f/5.1. I was hoping to get down to 100 ISO on the 5D's only because in recognizing the limitations of the Quicktime codec, we weren't going to do any color correction on the 5D's. But because there was so much movement with our extras and with the band performance I didn't want to shoot wide open at f/2.8 just to give the AC's some room with the focus. So through some tests I had created a scene file setting for the 3 5D's where by we shot monochrome in camera eliminating any need for any post color timing changes. I managed to run this idea by Shane Hurlburt ASC as he had advised my friend Mark Pellington to do the same. The RED's weren't an issue as I knew that I had some latitude in post. When we shot the 48fps we were underexposed a stop on the RED's which we fixed in post.
In addition to the giant soft box I also had two Image 80's hung overhead just to provide some slight separation from the backdrop, and also to create a slight pooling effect on the ground and around the person. It's a subtle look and while I broke with my single source intentions it did look good.
Our shooting process was a little tricky because we recognized in order to present the idea of we are all different but all the same we needed to have some strength in the resolution of the video. The way we did this was by rolling secretly on all our extras as they walked on and found their mark. We would let them stand there awkwardly and nervously without any direction while we talked and subtly rolled on their insecurities. The majority of the video is made up of these moments. We would then key the AD to step in and call everything together. And then we would shoot the powerful to camera portrait moments that are at the end of the video.
The shoot was powerful and brought out the best in our extras and our 'movers'. The 'movers' danced to music that they typically wouldn't be dancing to yet this illustrated the point in the song that humanity can in fact move as one.
John Butler Trio 'Revolution' on VIMEO or YouTube
Director | James Minchin III
DP | Rod Blackhurst
John Butler Trio 'Revolution'
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