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The Astronaut Farmer


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 August 2005 - 11:35 PM

I am leaving for New Mexico for the prep and shoot in two days. In the meanwhile, I did a basic film stock / camera test at Panavision last Friday and saw it projected today.

We shot on Fuji F-64D, F-250D, and F-500T Eterna in 35mm anamorphic (Primos & E-Series). I rated all of the stocks 2/3's of a stop slower. I also then tested F-500T underexposed by one stop and push-processed by one stop (since my base rating was 320 ASA, that meant I rated it at 640 ASA for the push test.)

I had everything printed three times, on Kodak 2383, Kodak Premier 2393, and Fuji Hi-Con 3513 D.I. Technicolor did the lab work.

Everything looked good, basically. Even with the 2/3 of a stop overexposure, everything was printing in the high 20's, near 30, instead of the mid 30's like I would have expected. But the odd thing was that the new Eterna stock printed in the low 20's even with the 2/3's of a stop overexposure. It looked fine though, not thin. Fuji warned me to expect odd printer lights with Eterna since they had lowered the density of the color mask significantly. I guess with a less dense mask, the printer lights need to be lower (or don't have to be as high.)

I was wondering whether the new F-500T was so close to the quality of the 250 ASA stocks that I could drop F-250D stock and just use F-500T with the 85B filter instead when shooting low-light day scenes. My tests showed the grain of the new 500 ASA stock to be similar to that of the older 250 ASA stock. However, the F-500T also looks lower in contrast (and therefore softer), and I'm afraid it may look too flat in smoked day interior scenes, so I'll probably keep using the F-250D for most of those scenes. However, the F-500T Eterna is such a close match, grain-wise, that I'm not worried about doing some day int. scenes on that and others on F-250D. Outside, I'll use as much of the F-64D as I can.

Vignetting with the mattebox, filter trays, sunshade, and Pola ring with the 40mm Primo anamorphic was a major issue, even with the 6x6 mattebox, which we had to hold manually tight against the lens while rolling to get it out of the picture, so prep later will be partially devoted to assembling the right matteboxes for anamorphic.

I tested warming filters (this movie will look rather golden) versus just timing the print warm and saw no real reason to use warming filters. To get a warm-timed print, I shot the gray scale with an 82C Blue filter on the lens and then pulled it. The scene came out rather warm. On "Akeelah" I got good results shooting the gray scale through a piece of 1/4 CTB gel, so I calculated that the 82B Blue filter was the closest match, but at the time, Panavision only had the 82C and 82A. The 82C, which is what I used for that test, loses about 9/10th's of a stop. A Half CTB gel loses half a stop, which is about what an 82B loses, so I think that's the filter I want to get.

The pushed Eterna 500T looked really good, so I feel confident I can get away with pushing one stop as needed for a few low-light scenes.

I also tested some diffusion filters in heavy backlight, which always tends to wow people in dailies... I compared a GlimmerGlass 2 to a Classic Soft 1/2 to a Soft-FX 1, which are all rather similar in strengths. The halation was the most subtle with the Soft-FX; the Classic Soft sort of produced a fuzzy fringe whereas the GlimmerGlass produced a ProMist-type glow. I might use a lighter Classic Soft for smoked scenes (because it holds contrast better) and then the GlimmerGlass in a few unsmoked scenes (because it lowers contrast a little). But generally, we'll probably shoot clean.

The Vision and Vision Premier prints weren't as far apart as I expected -- maybe Kodak has tweaked Vision 2383 over the years to make it more contrasty. The blacks were still better with the Premier and the Fuji Hi-Con compared to the Vision 2383. I also felt that those two stocks helped make the image look sharper.

I also shot some wide-angle tests to simulate a reflection in a chromed helmet for a title sequence. The new 20mm anamorphic created for Michael Bay on "Pearl Harbor" is a pretty cool lens (and doesn't have the fall-off problem of the C-Series 40mm.) But I didn't think it was fish-eye enough, so I tried a 6mm spherical that they have (pretty sharp!) and let it get stretched horizontally by the scope projection (I'm just shooting landscapes with it anyway, not people.) Looked like the effect I wanted.
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#2 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 09 August 2005 - 05:00 AM

Interesting, David.

Are you sticking with C-series all the way through?
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 August 2005 - 09:24 AM

No, I'm only taking a 40mm & 60mm C-Series for Steadicam & 2nd Unit. The bulk will be Primo anamorphics with the 135mm & 180mm E-Series, plus the Primo zoom. More or less the same package I used on "Akeelah and the Bee."

I really should have a complete set of prime lenses for 2nd Unit but there's no way we can afford that, so it will be tricky sharing some lenses when they go off and shoot elsewhere. I'm trying to add an additional 50mm E-Series for them.
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#4 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 09 August 2005 - 10:41 AM

I really should have a complete set of prime lenses for 2nd Unit but there's no way we can afford that, so it will be tricky sharing some lenses when they go off and shoot elsewhere. I'm trying to add an additional 50mm E-Series for them.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Selection is for sissies, anyway :D . Savides used just three lenses on his latest - give the 2nd unit the ones you don't need :P . Personally, If faced with option to only have 3 lenses in anamorphic I'd go for a 50mm, 75mm and a 150mm (or a 135mm perhaps).
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#5 Travis Cline

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Posted 09 August 2005 - 09:46 PM

Hey David

Just curious why you are so anxious to shoot the 64D over the 250D outside? I ask because I am doing a film in a couple of weeks and I think I am going to shoot the 250D only, but I have not had alot of experience with Fuji and don't really know the difference between the two. Would you mind elaborating on those two stocks and the prints you saw of them.

Thanks
Travis
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 August 2005 - 12:06 AM

I'm just a fan of slow-speed stocks for shooting landscapes -- if I weren't using Fuji F-64D, I'd be using Kodak 5245 for this one. F-250D rated at 160 ASA is so close in terms of grain & sharpness to F-64D that I'm only getting a marginal improvement with F-64D.

But every little bit helps...
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#7 Travis Cline

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Posted 10 August 2005 - 04:26 PM

So true David, so true. Thanks

Travis
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#8 Mike Williamson

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 04:56 PM

David, why did you decide to use Fuji stock on this film? I know you've used their stocks in the past, just curious about your decision for this project.

I just finished a project using the same stocks, I think the Eterna 500T has a really interesting texture to it. The grain is similar to the 250D but it feels softer, I don't quite know how to describe it, I'm curioius if you saw anything like that in your tests. Sadly I haven't seen any work print since I shot pre-production tests, been looking at Mini-DV dailies ever since.

Good luck with the project, I'm looking forwards to seeing it!
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 06:43 PM

The two other Polish Bros. features that I shot in 35mm used Fuji, so it's become somewhat of a tradition for us. We're always looking for a somewhat painterly effect to the colors and contrast, slightly away from the more realistic look that Kodak gives you.

The Eterna looks like a cross between 5218 and Expression 5229; somewhat softer & lower-con than 5218 and the other Fuji stocks (except the low-con F-400T). It has a "creamy" look, somewhat pastel. This is one reason why I still using F-250D even though the grain of Eterna 500T is similar; I like the snappier contrast of the F-250D, especially since I plan on adding a light haze to some day interiors.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 August 2005 - 01:00 AM

Nothing very exciting to report; just wanted to give you an idea of what prep is often like.

This is the last week of prep before we shoot. I've been spending most mornings meeting with the director to talk thrrough the script. After three weeks, we're about 2/3's through the script, which shows you how long it can take to talk through ideas for every scene. I've been taking notes and creating simple shot descriptions. On my spare time, I've been sketching these as rough storyboards and faxing them to a storyboard artist in Los Angeles, who sends the final boards back as PDF's (he draws them, scans them, and then touches them up in Photoshop.)

In terms of drawing, we're about halfway through the script, so I'm a little behind. Today I've started working on storyboards in schedule order rather than script order to stay ahead of the shoot.

Last week we had three days of tech scouting with all the department heads. Instead of a couple of vans, they rented us a bus. We spent 11 hours scouting on the first day, eight hours on the second, and four hours on the third, after which we had a four hour production meeting. Our locations are quite spread out from Santa Fe, including Albuquerque, Las Vegas (New Mexico), Espanola, Moriarty. There are still some locations yet to be finalized.

On Wednesday I shoot some wardrobe / make-up tests of some of the actors, then on Thursday there is a plan to charter a small plane and fly some of us to White Sands (over six hours away by car I've heard) to shoot the opening of the movie. Then we start the main shooting for real about five days later.

I've been lucky to have a wealth of experienced people living in New Mexico willing to work for less than they normally earn, including one of the top 2nd Unit DP/Directors in the industry, Phil Pfeiffer, who normally works for Robert Richardson and just did "The Aviator" and "XXX: State of the Union". It's been great just chatting with him about shoots like "Snow Falling on Cedars." I just hope he's OK with the minimal amount of equipment, crew, and time I can give to him.

Our production designer is great too, Clark Hunter, who did "All the Pretty Horses" out here. By coincidence, we both last worked together on my second feature back in 1993 (and one of his early credits too), a straight-to-video thriller called "The Lipstick Camera". Since that film, his career took off faster than mine did.

By another coincidence, the gaffer Steve Litecky, who does many of the big shows that come to New Mexico, had just moved a few years ago from Philadelphia -- I had interviewed him for "Shadowboxer" but found out he had moved away from Philly by then.

I'm bringing my Key Grip Brad Heiner from LA, plus my operator Theo Pingarelli and my 1st AC Keith Eisberg, and B-cam 1st AC Marcus Lopez, both of whom did the same work on "Northfork". All the rest of grip, electric, and camera are New Mexico locals.

The look of the film has kept evolving slightly as we see new locations. Generally it will be a warm-toned film, with the rare cool-toned scene now & then. I may use the lightest of diffusion filters (GlimmerGlass or Classic Softs) now & then, especially when shooting the silver Mercury-era spacesuit that the main character sometimes wears. Some light smoke for day interiors, but subtle. 35mm anamorphic, classic widescreen compositions.

Budget and schedule is very tight and complex, which is a bit daunting when we went through the schedule in the final production meeting -- one of those films that has to go like clockwork everyday despite the potential for bad weather. We have about 33 days to shoot a 121 page script, and this movie includes a few days of big crowds, stunt work, explosions, and visual effects shooting. Because of the ambitious nature of the script, money is tight for ordinary things like cameras, lights, etc.

I also have a short chase scene between two cars driving at night in some vast prairies that I've decided should be done dusk-for-night with post sky replacement, etc. because I can't physically light that much space at night and the script calls for seeing "the vast landscape in the moonlight", etc. so it can't be that pitch-black look with just headlights as in "Fargo".

Since our main character builds an Atlas missile with a Mercury capsule in his barn and tries to launch himself into space, I've been studying movies and documentary footage about the Mercury program. In particular, how the capsule has been lit in movies. I used to wonder why the capsule scenes in "The Right Stuff" looked a little grainy and now I know why. The capsule looks best when lit with just a few tiny fluorescent work lights and lit buttons on the panel, like the pod in "2001" was lit too. The movies that used more light in the capsule look ridiculously overlit. I will probably have to push the Eterna 500T one-stop for those scenes in order to get more exposure from the existing panel lights, etc. and underexpose the faces a little, and then occasionally have a really bright light representing sunlight sweep through. "The Right Stuff" used rear-projection for the view through the porthole, which is right above the astronaut's head and is clearly reflected in the helmet. Worked great for that since whatever appears in the window is naturally reflected in the helmet. But since we won't have any efx footage available by the time we shoot, we'll have to add the reflections in post.

Our shoot in White Sands will use a double wearing the spacesuit (the character is out ranching on horseback in his spacesuit and finds a lost calf in what looks like a lunar surface in the daytime). I've suggested shooting a pick-up later of our lead wearing the helmet (Billy Bob Thornton) in close-up at night (so there's a minimum amount of reflections in the visor) and lighting his face with a point source and then shooting a reflection efx element at White Sands with a fish-eye lens and mapping this over his face as a reflection in the glass visor of the helmet. Hopefully we'll come back with a lot of nice footage for our first shoot.
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#11 Timothy Brown

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Posted 28 August 2005 - 02:39 PM

Thanks for sharing your progress as always. Sounds intriguing and challenging. I'm sure the end result will look fantastic!
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#12 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 28 August 2005 - 04:39 PM

Good luck with this project, David.

Some time ago you talked about shooting Super 35 and finishing the film with a D.I., but I don't remember if you were talking about this particular project. If so, can you tell us what was the reason behind ending up choosing anamorphic?
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 August 2005 - 06:37 PM

Here's the problem with D.I.'s -- most indie films only budget as far as a print. They don't plan on spending the money of home video deliverables until they make a sale. If you can count the costs of delivering an HD master for home video, that's like a third of the costs of a D.I. right there.

So this is my third feature funded by a studio. The first was "D.E.B.S." (Screen Gems) but that was shot in HD, so a D.I. wasn't an issue. The second was "Akeelah and the Bee" (Lions Gate) and this one is Warner Brothers (Warner Independent.) So now that getting a distributor isn't an issue, I thought I could make the argument for a D.I. on the basis that they have to pay for mastering to HD anyway, and if I combine those costs with the cost savings of shooting in 3-perf, I could pay for a good chunk of the D.I.

Well, it turns out that the costs of home video deliberables come from another department and another budget and cannot be factored into the budget to finish a studio movie!

So while the studio complained that it would cost more money to shoot in anamorphic (which is not true compared to shooting in 4-perf Super-35 and even doing an optical blow-up) they wouldn't let me consider 3-perf either because they would not guarantee a D.I. to blow it up to anamorphic. And I didn't buy the argument that 4-perf Super-35 was cheaper other than in the initial camera rental.

With the 3-perf / D.I. approach, we would have also saved some money on visual efx because they wouldn't have had to film them out, but could deliver the digital files to be added to the D.I.

So I was stuck... I could shoot in 4-perf Super-35, but with no guarantee of a D.I. for the blow-up -- so it may have ultimately been blown-up in an optical printer. Since the only point of considering 3-perf Super-35 was to save money to pay for a D.I., we reverted to shooting the movie in anamorphic as a way of protecting ourselves, because at least if we ended up doing a traditional photochemical finish, we'd get more picture quality with anamorphic and it would be all contact-printed. And if for some reason, we were allowed to do a D.I., you can do that with an anamorphic negative as well. So it just seemed smarter to stick to anamorphic and deal with the higher rental costs on the lenses.
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#14 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 28 August 2005 - 06:59 PM

Sounds like a wise decision. I mean, quality-wise, a straight contact print from the neg would blow most things away - there's worse places to be. I look forward to seeing it in all its crisp glory!
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#15 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 28 August 2005 - 07:49 PM

Thank you for your elaborate answer, David :)

I believed that the possibility of shooting in 3-perf Super 35 would make the D.I. more affordable, but I see that I was wrong. Anyway, I'll be very happy to see your images on the big screen, specially if they come from a big anamorphic negative.
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#16 Michael Most

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Posted 03 September 2005 - 07:12 PM

Sounds like a wise decision. I mean, quality-wise, a straight contact print from the neg would blow most things away - there's worse places to be. I look forward to seeing it in all its crisp glory!


This would never be the case for release prints on a studio movie. I think what David was referring to was the fact that with an anamorphic original, there wouldn't need to be an optical step for anamorphosing the image. The normal path of original negative->IP->IN->release print will still be followed, but all of those steps would involve contact printing rather than optical printing. No glass involved. The only "direct contact print from the negative" would be the answer print, and of course any film dailies.
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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 September 2005 - 02:03 PM

This would never be the case for release prints on a studio movie. I think what David was referring to was the fact that with an anamorphic original, there wouldn't need to be an optical step for anamorphosing the image. The normal path of original negative->IP->IN->release print will still be followed, but all of those steps would involve contact printing rather than optical printing. No glass involved. The only "direct contact print from the negative" would be the answer print, and of course any film dailies.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Yes, in terms of release prints, there is the same number of generations with Super-35 versus anamorphic; it's just that with Super-35, one of the steps is an enlargement / squeeze using an optical printer. Unless you do a D.I., but even then, the taller negative of anamorphic may give you some advantages in resolution for scanning & recording (compared to cropping a 2K file of a Super-35 frame to 2.39 before film recording), offset by the optical issues of anamorphic versus spherical lenses.

However, lately I've seen some great D.I. work of Super-35 photography, which to me closes a lot of the basic quality gap between anamorphic and Super-35. On the other hand, I've also seen some crappy D.I. work of crappy Super-35 photography...
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