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The Astronaut Farmer Wk. 2


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 September 2005 - 03:44 PM

Our first week was only two days, not counting the trip to White Sands during prep to get the opening shots. We then had three days off in order to get into a Tuesday thru Saturday work week schedule, mainly because some locations are only available on weekends.

On the three-day break, I worked one afternoon evening with two AC's and the director to shoot some B-roll of a carnival that came into town and set-up at the local fairgrounds. It's not easy doing these sorts of "run-n-gun" shoots with a Panaflex and Primo anamorphic lenses. Even though there was plenty of light at first, I knew I was going to shoot through sunset into night because the scene that these shots will go with also takes place in that period. So I decided to just take two stocks, also because I didn't want to deal with three stocks with just two AC's and one magliner cart in the middle of a fairground. We started on Fuji F-250D (rated at 160 ASA), which I shot through twilight on. When the lights came on, I added a #1 GlimmerGlass diffusion (similar to a #1/8 ProMist) to make the neons & flos halate. Then when it got dark, I switched to Fuji Eterna 500T, pushed one-stop & rated at 640 ASA with the push (320 ASA normally.) I was shooting either wide-open at T/2.0 or sometimes at T/2.8, except when doing shots under the lights of the game area, which was around a T/4.0. For the day scenes when I had plenty of stop due to the F-250D speed, I used the Primo zoom and a Pola filter, shooting around a T/11 or T/8 usually, except in the shade where I was wide-open sometimes.

It was a good trial run for when I shoot the actual scene at the fairgrounds because I could see that I don't need to add too much light at night actually.

Then we began Week Two at an old gym in Espanola, NM, shooting a big 6-page sequence where the main character has to go to a hearing with the FAA to get approval to launch his homemade rocket. There were windows on both sides of the gym, up high, six on one side and three on the other. I decided to light everything from one side with no overhead sources, other than the fact that the row of government officials sat higher on an old stage so I had some backlights on them from the stage grid in the early scenes. For the reverse looking into the big empty space, the main character sat in the middle of the gym floor at a table with his lawyer. Besides the soft side lighting from the windows, the early scenes had a strong backlight as if a beam of sunlight was falling into the room.

Even though there were six big windows on one side and three on the other, and I'd be shooting from pre-dawn til after sunset for "day" scenes, I had to make due with four 18K HMI's to cover the six windows. On the other side, the fill side I guess, I had a single Dino tungsten light with Full Blue, although most of the time the fill came from just parking a 12'x12' UltraBounce along the wall to reflect the main window light back into the shadows a little. I wanted to keep a strong sense of window light in this main room.

The midday scenes involved turning off all the backlights and just having a single soft side key light. Then for the late afternoon scenes, I changed screen direction and keyed with the smaller three windows on the opposite side with an ungelled tungsten Dino. Since I was shooting on Fuji F-250D (at 160 ASA), this Dino light was very warm & golden. For closer shots at sunset, I had a 10K tungsten on the floor of the gym that I could move around more easily.

In general, I was at a F/4.0 to f/5.6 split in there.

This sequence was scheduled for one day with some of the next day set aside to finish up, but we ended up taking most of the second day as well to cover everything with the three lighting set-ups (which were fast to switch between). But we had ten people on stage interrogating two people in the room, so there was a lot of coverage to get with two cameras.

I've been smoking all of these day interior scenes but people are starting to complain about working in smoke everyday. Billy Bob Thornton joked to me "The film's gonna look great -- but we'll all be dead by the end."

A major bit of luck was at the last minute, we cast Bruce Willis to come in an play Thornton's ex-boss in the Air Force, a former astronaut. Willis, as with all the actors, was very mellow, low-key, and uncomplaining. I also got to work with actor/director Tim Blake Nelson again (playing the lawyer) who I worked with on "A Foreign Affair" in Russia two years ago.

Since the row of government officials were sitting at a long table at the head of the old school stage, we talked with the production designer about what sort of old backdrop would be left behind on the stage. Someone joked that we should put the same background as in DaVinci's "The Last Supper" and we basically went for that idea. Looked great behind their heads -- when you see a DaVinci recreated on a large canvas like that, you really appreciate his ability to create these misty mountainous backgrounds that fade into blue. It's not TOO obvious a joke since it is a somewhat faded backdrop, but it added a painterly touch to the image literally, especially when I was keying them with the single warm sunset sidelight.

We finished the second day of Week Two by moving to a local grocery store, which I really didn't light except for a few Kinos for fill when needed. I had to do something to get through the scene quickly, so I kept it simple. We even shot cross-coverage (looking opposite directions at once with two cameras) just to cover the scene quickly. I shot Fuji Eterna 500T with an 81EF, shooting a gray scale under the Cool White flos so the lab would time the green out.

The next day was spent at a local bar, which we dressed with red Christmas tree lights and red-gelled flos (the place was called "Red's" afterall). We had red lampshades on tiny table lamps. I keyed with a small warm tungsten on the faces from a low direction, as if it were the bounce from the lamp off of the table, although not that low. I used a Chimera on a 2K with 1/4 CTS, with the light on the floor practically, shining slightly up at the people sitting in the booths. I used Fuji Eterna 500T pushed one stop, rated at 640 ASA, and shot at an T/2.8. This allowed all the bar lights to read naturally bright. But it's very tough to pull focus on a Primo anamorphic at T/2.8. Even at T/4.0 the depth of field is more like a spherical lens at T/2.0. We ended that day by moving to a nurse's office set at our production offices, lit through the windows with a soft source (18K HMI through a 8'x8' frame of Grid Cloth). I was getting about a T/5.6 at 160 ASA (Fuji F-250D again.)

I've been shooting these smoked scenes clean, no diffusion on the lens, except for the close-ups where I've been adding the #1 GlimmerGlass. Sometimes a #1/4 Classic Soft instead.

For the last two days of the week, we moved south to Moriarity, NM to shoot at their local high school. Again, I mainly lit through the windows, but also had overhead flos with Chroma 50 tubes in them. Most of the time I was at an T/5.6 with the HMI lighting, but I had one Steadicam shot to do in a dark long hallway that was not really bright enough, so I switched from the 250D stock to unfiltered 500T pushed one stop in order to get an T/4.0 for the E-Series lens on the Steadicam.

I had originally asked for two C-Series lenses for our few Steadicam/handheld work, but my AC had switched them to E-Series during prep without telling me because they were sharper, sort of missing the point, which is that I needed smaller, lighter lenses. The E-Series are sort of halfway between C and Primo in size and weight. Since I had heard of people doing Steadicam with E-Series (even Primo anamorphics!) I decided to give them a try, but the 75mm E-Series for the tighter shots nearly broke the back of my Steadicam operator after several takes. I thought he was going to have a heart attack, and he's a young guy. On the other hand, the director noticed how much barrel distortion there was on the 40mm E-series, so perhaps he would have been unhappy had I brought in the C-Series 40mm, which is even worse.

Luckily that was our only Steadicam scene planned for the movie.

My grip & electric crew have been working great through this. The camera crew has been somewhat less efficient due to a severe disliking between my 1st AC and the local 2nd AC, who in many ways is more experienced than the 1st AC and he clearly resents working with people he feels better than. I think he thinks we're a bunch of amateurs since he only has worked on huge shows. But on the other hand, he's always been nice to me. But the crew as a whole is not gelling, and the 1st AC has become flustered by this and he's been making some mistakes too. So I've been losing some sleep trying to decide what to do about how the camera department is organized. The B-camera/2nd Unit crew has been going well, but they all knew each other before. But I can't really switch B-camera people into A-camera because why screw up a Second Unit that is working well? Do I get a 2nd AC who will support his 1st AC, or do I get a 1st AC that my 2nd AC can respect? Now my operator (and former 1st AC) is getting annoyed by this war between the 1st and the 2nd AC. The production company is practically ready to get rid of both of them but I feel some emotional connection for the 1st AC since he did the other features for the Polish Brothers, for very little pay and very hard work. He loves being out here; he's said he'd work for free practically for me and this director. But he's not perfect and some of his mistakes I can justify (buzzing focus on a long-lens anamorphic shot) and some I cannot (taking way too long to reload a Panaflex as the sun is going down.) On the other hand, the 2nd AC is over-qualified, super experienced, but if he's not doing his job well because he dislikes the 1st AC, who's to say he'd behave any better with a new 1st AC? I suspect what he really wants is to be moved up to 1st AC.

I really probably shouldn't be airing these problems publically, but one of the points of these posts is to inform younger people of what a DP has to deal with on a film set. As the shoots get bigger, managerial issues become a bigger part of the job, and you have to keep in mind that I'm someone who is self-taught and came from working on my own films where I did everything myself so I wouldn't have to rely on other people.

On the plus side, the dailies coming in are looking good. The gym interior has that painterly look I wanted, the red-lit bar looks great, and we're generally on schedule. I'm really enjoying this collaboration with the Polish Brothers, the actors are wonderful, the locations nice, the script is really strong, and I feel lucky.
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#2 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 18 September 2005 - 04:20 PM

Very interesting, David.

I hope the crew situation can be resolved - it's a grating thing that gets the whole company down if it can't be worked out. John Milius always refers to filmmaking as a battle - and he's the general. I suppose your the general here. Me personally, I hate conflict. So unless everyone is happy, I simply can't do my job properly. Therefore happy sets are good sets, at least for me.

It's good to hear that the images are coming out the way you want despite all this trouble.
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#3 Mike Williamson

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Posted 18 September 2005 - 07:37 PM

Thanks for taking the time to post this journal, David, it is incredibly helpful and informative. Please let us know how the crew situation resolves itself, though I appreciate your hesitance to talk about it publicly. The managerial aspects are a very important part of the DP's job and your posts provide a great view into what kind of issues arise on professional sets and how you deal with them. Glad to hear that the dailies are looking good, best of luck with the rest of it!
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#4 J. Lamar King

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 01:58 AM

Hi David, just curious if you were using diffusion on the 18K's, Dino and 10K you used in the gym. If so what kind?

Thanks for being candid about the crew situation. I think it is good information for everybody. Probably shouldn't comment on the situation because I'm not involved but I've seen and heard stories similar and it seems to me the 2nd should be acting in a more profesional manner. If a person takes a job as a second he/she should do the seconds job and support the first even if the first is less experienced.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 02:15 AM

The windows were slightly frosted, not clear, so in the wide shots, I just pointed the Dino or 18K directly through and let the window slightly spread the light. For close-ups, I put a light on the floor through an 8'x8' Light Grid Cloth. The naturally frosted windows sort of saved me when the sun went down because you couldn't tell it was dark outside once the lights hit the window. To get a strong backlight for the earlier scenes, I had to rig a 6K HMI PAR with a narrow lens inside of the room to the rafter just above one of the windows to make it look like it was coming through the window.
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#6 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 12:24 PM

With respect to the crew: Your second AC needs a good talking-to. His job is to back up the 1st. There are plenty of ways to impart your experience without being insulting, that's one of the marks of a true professional. On a student film I shot, I was lucky enough to get an AC who worked w/ Gordon Willis for ten years, and he never once lorded his experience over me. If he had a suggestion, the tone was always "You might want to try this ..." If your 2nd has really worked on huge shows, he should know that the shoot is not about him.

Last week I worked a bit of 2nd unit on a big show. One shot involved some animal talent. 2 cameras were shooting on the floor with the animal. To avoid camera shadows, the cameras didn't have their matteboxes. The DP put a sharp backlight on the animal, which hit both lenses. Early on, I told one of the AC's that there was no way to set a flag to kill the flare, they'd have to put tape hoods on the lenses. Then I watched my coworkers - grips, AC's, operators, even the DP - attempt to set a flag for half an hour, until they decided to just put tape on the lenses. What was I going to say? It was not my place to tell everyone they were wasting their time, so I just kept quiet (and calculated the OT!).
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#7 tylerhawes

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 04:37 PM

Ditto here. It is very often that a more-experienced person will have to work under a newbie. I've worked with a lot of new directors who found seasoned 1st ADs to back them up that could run circles around them in running the crew and knowing how things are done, yet they respected the director and helped keep them looking good. I'd imagine the same professionalism should apply to ACs, though I don't have the personal exerience in that.

With respect to the crew: Your second AC needs a good talking-to. His job is to back up the 1st. There are plenty of ways to impart your experience without being insulting, that's one of the marks of a true professional.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


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#8 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 09:26 PM

If I was you David, I'd get rid of the 2nd AC and keep the first. If the 2nd AC cannot get along with anyone less experianced than him, then you have 3 options: #1: Just let them battle it out the rest of the shoot, #2: fire the 2nd AC and hire one that can get along with the 1st or #3: Get rid of the first AC, and hire a new one. Which really makes little since to me, since the 2nd AC cant get along with someone less experianced than him in a higher possition.

I'd 100% for sure at least talk to the guy about it. At work, I'm smarter than 9/10 of the managers, yet I respect the choices they make and dont fight with them.
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#9 Max Jacoby

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Posted 23 September 2005 - 05:17 PM

Since I had heard of people doing Steadicam with E-Series (even Primo anamorphics!) I decided to give them a try, but the 75mm E-Series for the tighter shots nearly broke the back of my Steadicam operator after several takes. I thought he was going to have a heart attack, and he's a young guy.


David

What camera was used for steadicam? An E-Series lens really shouldn't be a problem for the steadicam operator, provided of course that he has a lightweight camera.

On the other hand the 75mm E-Series is quoted by Panavision as having a close-focus of 5 feet, which is something that personally I would have trouble working with.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 September 2005 - 01:26 AM

On the other hand, unless you're Polanski, Gilliam, or Jeunet, you wouldn't want to get much closer than 5' on a face with a 75mm anamorphic in a Steadicam shot, plus that would be very difficult to maintain focus on as the actor walked, since with every step, they would be closer and farther from the lens. In fact, I just saw the dailies and even though I was at an f/4, there are a lot of soft moments in the Steadicam move since we never maintained a consistent distance when we were tight, and the focus-puller got out-of-sync with the actor in terms of dealing with the surges forward and back.

It was a Millenium by the way, which I like to carry as my A-camera because it can quickly be converted to Steadicam and handheld mode. Of course, a Millenium XL would be even better for that but I would rather use a regular Millenium for everything else.

I do use a 75mm Primo anamorphic for those Spielbergian dolly-in to a close-up to the 4' minimum, but otherwise, I think that looks too distorted on a face.
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#11 Max Jacoby

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Posted 24 September 2005 - 03:52 AM

On my last project we followed an actor from behind through a corridor and down some stairs on steadicam with a 75mm V-Series lens. The stop was T4 and the focus-puller, who didn't always see the action kept it all sharp. I was very impressed by that, since he had to pull as close as 2 1/2 feet at times.

That's one aspect I really like about the Hawks, their ability to close-focus like spherical lenses. The 75mm goes down to 2 feet. We shot a couple of moving close-ups at that distance. I wouldn't normally go that close on a face either, but that actor's face could take anything. You could use any type of lighting and any lens and he would still look good.
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#12 fstop

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Posted 24 September 2005 - 06:41 AM

I really probably shouldn't be airing these problems publically,

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Reading the thread these were my thoughts entirely, as the ACs mentioned or even someone high up from the production could easily read this public forum (especially as your name linked particularly with this website has got such a grand reputation). However in many ways I think if you were to present this argument to both men, both seated with you at a table in an empty room, then you might get some understanding.

I found this on-line, perhaps the three of you could go do some bonding?:NEW MEXICO PROBLEM SOLVER (They might get the hint from the desperation ;) )


Last week I worked a bit of 2nd unit on a big show. One shot involved some animal talent. 2 cameras were shooting on the floor with the animal. To avoid camera shadows, the cameras didn't have their matteboxes. The DP put a sharp backlight on the animal, which hit both lenses. Early on, I told one of the AC's that there was no way to set a flag to kill the flare, they'd have to put tape hoods on the lenses. Then I watched my coworkers - grips, AC's, operators, even the DP - attempt to set a flag for half an hour, until they decided to just put tape on the lenses. What was I going to say? It was not my place to tell everyone they were wasting their time, so I just kept quiet (and calculated the OT!).

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I found it really frustrating the first time I had a similar experience to yours, J. Still, like yourself I just remained humble and did as I was told, and the second time onwards I found these situations to be real learning experiences. #1 because you can take advantage of the downtime in order to learn more stuff you don't know from anyone who isnt doing anything and #2 you can learn from these camera people how to shut up concerned directors/ADs/producers who are rightfully scared that set ups are taking too long!
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#13 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 24 September 2005 - 11:40 AM

I found it really frustrating the first time I had a similar experience to yours, J. Still, like yourself I just remained humble and did as I was told, and the second time onwards I found these situations to be real learning experiences.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


"The first time"?? How about the 5oth time! I've found the best approach is to go your superior, put your hand on his shoulder and whisper your suggestion. I often start by saying "Am I crazy, but could we just ... " Of course, you get only so many chances to do that in a given day.

Also, that's one of things I love about shooting student films. I (usually) don't have to convince people to do things my way.
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#14 Dimitrios Koukas

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Posted 24 September 2005 - 12:11 PM

Anotherthing you can do,
is to remind him politely that he is hired for 2AC job and he has to support the 1 Ac, like someone said.

Many times in the airline business Crews are made from 2 captains, But always it's one that gives the orders.Many times the 1st officer is a Captain with much more hours in the same aircraft , but he stays there, and doing the job.

Honestly, when my cameraman or even first AC is a D.o.P. too, I feel better.

If he won't comply with your demands, ask for another one.
Simple but very difficult as a decision, I know.
Dimitrios Koukas
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