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"Coward"


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#1 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 07 January 2012 - 05:04 AM

I'm in pre-production on a short film set during World War 1 entitled "Coward". The film is a character piece set in the front line trenches at Ypres, Belgium that deals with shellshock and how that trauma was misinterpreted as cowardice until very recently.

I've been speaking with the director about this project for almost 18 months so we've both had quite a long time to talk about a visual approach. We both wanted to take a more classical and painterly approach for this piece rather then the handheld/docu-realism style thats been popular in more recent War/action movies. We've talked a lot about David Lean's movies and how he used the width and depth of the anamorphic frame to stage scenes, using sustained master shots that develop into tighter coverage and generally minimising close ups. We've also talked about more contempory movies like Snow Falling on Cedars for its colour palette and it's visual treatment of the weather, as thats a key character in our story.

For my own research I've been looking at Richardson's work on Snow Falling on Cedars for its quality of light and the use of contrast within the frame; William Fraker's work on the desert sequence in Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Owen Roizmans lush compositions in Wyatt Earp, and finally John Toll's work on The Thin Red Line and Captain Corelli's Mandolin. I'm shooting on Fuji Stock using their older Eterna 500T which I intend to PULL process 1 stop to soften the colour palette. We're shooting on Panavision Anamorphic lenses using their older HS series of lenses some of which even date back to David Leans projects. The lenses will be netted on the back with some vintage Dior Black Silk stockings and finally in the DI I'll use a light application of a digital ENR process to add density to our blacks and enhance the texture of the film grain a little bit.

Producton has begun keeping a blog with plenty of BTS photos of the main location which I'll continue to try and share here and this time around I promise to take more photos of the lighting setups in action and share them here. And frame grabs will eventually follow as and when they become available.

The shoot itself begins Jan 16th for 7 days.

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#2 John Holland

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Posted 08 January 2012 - 01:55 PM

Stephen why Frakers desert scenes on Close Encounters ? John .
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#3 rob spence

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Posted 09 January 2012 - 06:58 AM

Hi Stephen
on an aesthetic point , won't you run into trouble shooting wide in a trench situation
ala David Lean...most of his films were huge vistas ?
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#4 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 09 January 2012 - 01:28 PM

John - I just really like the way that sequence in Mexico looks in terms of its contrast, quality of light and I think the camera blocking is superb (Spielberg I know). Lovely composition throughout too.
Rob - Our trench is pretty wide so i think we can create some nice wide vistas within the confines of the trench using it's natural depth for some interesting blocking. There should be some room for traditional vistas too, hopefully, not quite a wide as David Lean's. We'll have to wait and see how succesful we are at that. These references are just a starting point - im not trying to literally copy one particular style but I am allowing myself to be influenced by them.


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#5 John Holland

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Posted 09 January 2012 - 01:36 PM

Have you booked any split diopters ? . If you can get them i think they would be useful .
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#6 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 09 January 2012 - 01:59 PM

Have you booked any split diopters ? . If you can get them i think they would be useful .


Not Splits just full Diopters. Managed to avoid all diopters on my last few anamorphic jobs but yeah they do prove useful.



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#7 rob spence

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Posted 10 January 2012 - 06:30 AM

Looks like a great project...can't wait to see the progress.
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#8 John Holland

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Posted 13 January 2012 - 01:17 PM

Stephen i wish you all the best for this shoot its a Min Epic i think the weather is going to be just about right for what you need, good luck John .
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#9 Adrian Samuals

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Posted 19 January 2012 - 07:39 AM

Very interesting subject matter. A grave misjustice for all those men executed for "cowardice"
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#10 Brian Hulnick

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 06:52 AM

I could never imagine what it must have felt like being stuck in those trenches for days, weeks or even months with bullets whizzing above your head and watching your friends dies. A harrowing, heartbreaking experience.
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#11 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 01:30 PM

So it's been a few days since we wrapped the initial shoot and what an incredible experience it was. Quite a learning curve too.

As it turns out the weather, and its impact upon the location, became the biggest influence on our visual approach. In typical movie making fashion when we wanted sun we got overcast weather and when we needed cloud we got blazing sun. Thankfully we had measures in place that allowed us to work with the weather we were given and make it work for our story and visual style. Key to this was the placement of the trench within the location. I was fortunate to have been involved at a very early stage in prep so I was able to have the set built so that for the majority of our work we would always be shooting into the Sun. This became absolutely crucial when we found ourselves in blazing sunshine for the first 3 days of the shoot. When the sun was out we used primarily natural light, occasionally using a 575 HMI cinepar bounced into Poly to fill in some eyes, and if i needed to replicate the look of sun in overcast conditions I brought in 2 x 12K HMI Cinepars as back light for the far background with 2 x 6K Cinepars as backlight for the foreground, occasionally using a Light amber gel to match the warmth of the low angle sun. In back light I usually kept the skin tones about a stop under key and in cloud I'd expose the skin tones at key.

For the overcast conditions I'd use a 12K cinepar bounced off of an 8x or 12x Ultrabounce as a 3/4 soft back light with a matching bounce from another 12K par as a 3/4 soft fill diagonally opposite the back light. I avoided a traditional "key" light for most of this project preferring instead to use natural light, working with a larger fill source to add a glint to the eyes of the cast. This source would usually give me enough spread to cover at least 4 to 5 cast members in a medium-wide shot spread across the width of the trench (approx 10-12 feet). In the morning, if the clouds hadn't quite lifted enough, I'd occasionally use a second 12K cinepar bounced into the deep background of the trench to lift the levels a little bit.

For the few scenes we had off the trench I once again relied primarily on natural light, again using a location allowing us to shoot into the sun for most of the day, which I would augment with a book light using a 4K or 6K cinepar bounced off an 8 x ultrabounce and through another 8 x with full grid cloth.

Our original visual style was inspired by an older style of coverage, using sustained master shots filled with cast, and background extras and a minimal amount of coverage. We had hoped to have each master shot on the dolly to allow us to develop from a mid to a medium or vice versa but the difficulty of tracking in the trench location forced us to adapt to a slightly different style. While we managed to incorporate a handful of simple dolly moves down in the trench, we eventually settled on a simpler approach, keeping the camera on sticks and using careful compositions, to sustain our coverage. For scenes above the Trench, in No mans land, the terrain was either completely sodden or totally frozen, forcing us to use an excavator to carve a path for our dolly track. Needless to say we planned those few moves carefully. Given the difficulties we encountered I'm quite proud of the fact that we never once resorted to handheld or Steadicam.

Most of the shoot was shot on wider lenses, the 35mm being our favourite, and at a stop usually around T5.6/8. The script starts in early morning light and gradually shifts through the day ending at night, so shooting on Fuji Eterna 500T with a 1 stop pull I was using a combination of Blue Grey filters for early morning, transitioning to 85 filters for the day, then towards 81EF filters for the evening and finally using a chocolate filter instead of an 85 for 1 scene off the trench set towards the end of the day. I had planned to rear net the lenses with Dior stockings but decided against that once I saw how much sunlight we would be up against in the advanced weather forecast. No diffusion was used. The 1 stop pull was to soften the colours and contrast and the plan is to use a light application of ENR in the DI to restore our blacks and desaturate colours a little further.

We always knew that filming inside the Trench itself, and to a lesser degree on No Mans Land, was going to be logistically difficult because of the terrain, the mud and the rain we were planning on introducing. What none of us anticipated fully was just how difficult and gruelling it would be to work in those conditions day after day. Even the most basic of tasks, like changing a mag or a lens, took twice as long simply because of the hostile environment. As a key part of our visual approach both the Director and I wanted to incorporate extreme weather conditions to show just how difficult it was for these men, out there for several years. Part of that meant working with movie rain, and because we used movie rain on the first day, ALL day, that meant from that point on we were working in 2 feet of water sitting on top of 2 feet of sodden liquid mud:-) Add a crew of 80 people stomping through that all day and you quickly find that your set has literally become a liquefied mess of mud, and in our particular case a very clay like mud that would literally stick to everything it splashed on.

I consider it a testament to the quality of the gear we were using that despite all these obstacles and all the mud, dirt and snow flying through the air the kit continued to perform flawlessly. I cannot imagine bringing any HD camera package into that environment and having it perform as well as our 35mm Package did, so for that I owe a big thank you to Panavision and Panalux.

Needless to say that in conditions like this, as a cinematographer, you are entirely dependent upon the experience of the camera, grip and electrical crew and thankfully the team I had with me performed minor miracles under lots of pressure always with a smile on their faces.

One of the pleasures of this particular project was working with one of the finest FX crews in the world, led by Steve Warner, who on our larger days was running a crew of approx 50 Fx technicians. Allowing me the option to rain/snow/frost/smoke several acres of land at anytime so in this case I used more smoke to control the light then grip gear, a luxury usually reserved only for larger budget features.

I've included more stills from the set on my blog, rather then clog up the site here, that show the kind of conditions we were working in, I hope to have more lighting specific photos in a week or so and as soon as I have some material to post from the rushes I'll add them here too.

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#12 Freya Black

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 02:28 PM

Glad to see you are still alive and you completed the shoot! :)
I was starting to worry.

You look in great condition, in that photo, compared to others I've seen out there!
The shots I've seen you looked more war worn than the actors!!!

I'm all for realism but that looked grim! Cold, muddy, wet and real explosions! Yowch!

I'm guessing you will have learnt loads from the experience tho! I recently signed up to shoot a short with a stupidly short deadline and got it into my head to shoot in a subway, on a saturday night, in a northern city. To be fair I've been pissed on from a great height before, just not quite so literally. People staggering through my set so far gone that they literally couldn't tell one end of the camera from t'other. My best takes ruined by all manner of obscenities and I only had just over an hour of shooting time! I learnt so much from it all tho that I don't regret it for a moment! In fact it was the only thing last year that sticks in my mind as worthwhile!

Hope you got loads out of it and you make a speedy recovery!

love

Freya
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#13 rob spence

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 11:02 AM

Great point about the toghness of 35mm gear...I sincerely wonder how Coppola
would have shot Apocalypse Now with all electronic equipment...
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#14 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 18 March 2012 - 01:55 PM

Teaser Trailer has gone online. 61 whole seconds :-)



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#15 Kieran Scannell

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Posted 18 March 2012 - 03:23 PM

A different look for you Stephen! Beautiful photography! as always. You really nailed the look.
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#16 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 12:17 PM

A different look for you Stephen! Beautiful photography! as always. You really nailed the look.


Thanks Kieran. Final piece should be finished mid-summer so i should have more to show then. Hoping to have some more cinematography centric BTS photos to post within the next few weks.
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#17 Kieran Scannell

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 01:19 PM

Thanks Kieran. Final piece should be finished mid-summer so i should have more to show then. Hoping to have some more cinematography centric BTS photos to post within the next few weks.


It's a story not often told this one. I remember reading Sebastian Barry's "A Long Long Way" And being shocked that I new so little about what these boy's went through, and the dilemma
they found themselves in. Fighting in the same army that was killing there people back home.
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#18 Vedran Rapo

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 05:35 PM

Looking forward seeing the movie. Trailer looks amazing!
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#19 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 01 April 2012 - 02:55 PM

Some Behind the scenes video




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#20 Bruce Southerland

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 05:43 PM

Just received the March ed. Of AC. Congratulations on the write up Stephen!
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