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The Astronaut Farmer Wk. 3


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 September 2005 - 12:11 AM

The entire week was spent in the area around the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, mainly for Highway 104, a small highway through vast rolling plains -- scenery different from the rocky hills around Santa Fe.

During the weekend break, our original 2nd AC was replaced and we promoted the B-camera 2nd AC to A-camera's unit. The mood in the camera department lightened considerably. Unfortunately, the new 2nd AC got a job offer in Los Angeles, which he took. His replacement in mid-week was also a very pleasant young man that everyone is happy with now. The 1st AC is now less flustered and things are moving more efficiently.

We spent the first two days of the week out around the highway east of the town. Some simple day exterior scenes in fields, plus a lot of camera car / process trailer work of people talking & driving.

After a month of spectacular cloud formations during prep in August, we have been somewhat cursed with a lot of blank blue skies. although Mother Nature came through for us this week: we ended the first day shooting a hilltop funeral scene and the sunset sky was sufficiently dramatic. I underexposed the ground about three stops and framed against the sky, although the dailies came back a little too bright, with the exposure looking evenly split between sky & ground rather than the silhouette I wanted. Showed me what a wide exposure range the Fuji F-64D has. Should time down nicely though.

Most of the car interiors was lit by covering the windshield (off-camera) with 1000H paper and shining a 6K HMI through that. To my eyes, this produces a realistic soft-light look.

The script had a chase scene at night through the vast landscapes, and knowing that I would never get enough lights or time to shoot all of that space at night, I suggested that we shoot the chase piecemeal over a couple of twilights. This has turned out to be harder than I thought because twilight is so short in New Mexico, so it's been hard to get enough pieces. The extreme wide shots have been shot day-for-night with the idea of digitally adding in the car headlights, night sky, etc.

On the second day, we went to a small rocky cliff / hillside to shoot a scene where a space capsule crashes halfway down the slope. We had to shoot some background plates for a digital efx crash, but then dragged the crashed capsule up the hillside to shoot it for real on location. It was not an easy or safe location, and to check two camera positions, one on the top of the small cliff looking down and one downhill looking up. I found myself doing a lot of rock climbing, banging up my shin at one point. But someone important on this shoot broke their ankle stepping the wrong way on a rock.

On the third day, we moved into town and shot a historic old building where we built a second floor lawyer's office, plus went up to the third floor of an old Masonic building to shoot a judge's chambers scene. Turns out that Billy Bob Thornton and the same production designer as ours had used these same rooms for "All the Pretty Horses".

I had to use condor cranes outside of the windows to light the rooms, an 18K HMI on one, a 6K HMI on the other, and for the judge's chambers, a third condor with a 4K Xenon to create a beam of light slashing through the room.

Generally I have been at a f/5.6 at 160 ASA (Fuji F-250D) for most of these scenes, but a couple of times I went up to an f/8 in order to balance better with the windows (I hate gelling windows with ND unless I really have to.)

The fourth and fifth day were spent between the lawyer's office and a bank manager's tiny office. What was really nice about the lawyer's office is that the exterior 19th century brick building looks like a Hopper painting. And the corner office as a bay window on both walls so you get a great view of the downtown. A night scene mainly involved lighting the background, partly done by putting 1K PAR64's on the rooftops. I gelled the experior lights a sodium-vapor orange-yellow color to match the real streetlamps. The interior was lit mainly by bouncing a spot of light made by an overhead Source-4 or Leko off of the desk. I was shooting around an f/2.8 at 320 ASA (Fuji F-500T). The background seemed to read nicely.

My Key Grip Brad Heiner and my Gaffer Steve Litecky have done incredible work all week. I remember walking into a bathroom location with windows visible at the top of frame for a day scene that had to be shot at night. I realized I could get away with just putting white outside the bottom quarter of the windows, so I started thinking that a 4'x8' foamcore would do the trick when I hear down the corridoor Brad calling for a 4'x8' foamcore over the walkies. It was eerie because I had just had the thought in my mind only and now I was hearing it repeated.

We had a simple scene this afternoon outside of the small bank of the main street, but it was like shooting in a hall of mirrors because the glass store fronts were reflecting the whole block.

Ended the last day of the week shooting a small scene outside of a church, a reshoot of a scene started by 2nd Unit that failed because they lost the light on the day. Now we were in a new town, so the director and I spent the morning finding a local church as a substitute. I switched to F-250D even while the sun was up because I knew I'd be shooting into dusk to finish. Exposure dropped from f/11 to f/2.8 is just twenty minutes.
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#2 Dimitrios Koukas

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Posted 25 September 2005 - 03:14 AM

The entire week was spent in the area around the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, mainly for Highway 104, a small highway through vast rolling plains -- scenery different from the rocky hills around Santa Fe.

During the weekend break, our original 2nd AC was replaced and we promoted the B-camera 2nd AC to A-camera's unit.  The mood in the camera department lightened considerably. Unfortunately, the new 2nd AC got a job offer in Los Angeles, which he took.  His replacement in mid-week was also a very pleasant young man that everyone is happy with now. The 1st AC is now less flustered and things are moving more efficiently.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


David,
I am very glad that you have finally have found a solution with your camera crew,
And thank you for keeping us informed with your posts.
For me that I have some idle moments here, it makes me feel that I am on the shoot with you.
Very nice posts.
Dimitrios Koukas
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#3 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 25 September 2005 - 01:57 PM

"On the second day, we went to a small rocky cliff / hillside to shoot a scene where a space capsule crashes halfway down the slope. We had to shoot some background plates for a digital efx crash, but then dragged the crashed capsule up the hillside to shoot it for real on location. It was not an easy or safe location, and to check two camera positions, one on the top of the small cliff looking down and one downhill looking up. I found myself doing a lot of rock climbing, banging up my shin at one point. But someone important on this shoot broke their ankle stepping the wrong way on a rock."

I met a 600 member who lives out there named Tom Zane (Zanes??), who has done a lot of shooting/ spelunking/ rock-climbing. He might be of some help if you do more of this kind of stuff. (Weird co-incidence, Brad Heiner replaced me on a job on which I broke my ankle.)

"I underexposed the ground about three stops and framed against the sky, although the dailies came back a little too bright, with the exposure looking evenly split between sky & ground rather than the silhouette I wanted."

How do you feel about using nd grads, especially for non-static shots?
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 September 2005 - 03:00 PM

I use ND grads now & then if I feel they will help. I used them a lot on "Northfork" to augment the stormy skies but I have had less of that kind of weather on this one.

On the wider anamorphic lenses, I used an ND attentuator on one shot.

For the hilltop funeral, I had some light Coral Grads, nothing too heavy. But since I wanted more of a silhouette effect, I didn't really need to ND grad the sky -- just expose for it -- because I wanted the ground to go dark.
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#5 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 05 April 2007 - 11:01 PM

"I met a 600 member who lives out there named Tom Zane (Zanes??), who has done a lot of shooting/ spelunking/ rock-climbing. He might be of some help if you do more of this kind of stuff. (Weird co-incidence, Brad Heiner replaced me on a job on which I broke my ankle.)"

Unfortunately, Tom Zanes is no longer with us. He passed away last year after a very brief but intense battle with a sudden and deadly brain tumor that did away with a great cameraman and mentor. On a May 05 shoot in Ruidoso NM, he kept complaining of a nasty head ache that wouldn't go away. He visited the doctor after we came back to Albuquerque and he found out then. They gave him only a month but he lasted until 06. He was very fit and healthy, which made all the weirder. I guess if it's in you, no matter how healthy you are, it'll get you. May he rest in peace.
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