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The Astronaut Farmer Wk. 7


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 October 2005 - 01:59 PM

This was to be our last full week, but now we just have today off and will work five days next week. The last two days will probably be spent getting non-actor pieces and pick-ups, inserts, and efx plates.

We have so many tiny pieces of scenes held over that the schedule is a bit complicated and changes moment by moment, especially trying to shoot the shots owed of the kids. This has meant that the departments have to be prepared to shoot any number of scenes or sets at any time, and we have equipment shuttling between different locations and between first and second unit.

We spent the second day of the week on a stage (warehouse) containing the sets for the upstairs rooms of our location ranch house. The real house was originally built for a commercial and was hollow; we added the first floor rooms, but no second floor. Unfortunately the design of the real house dictated that the upstair room sets have low, sloping ceilings (almost more like attic rooms) with small windows insert deeply in boxes, and not always at the optimal placement for the scene. I decided to shoot everything on the sets, day interior scenes included, on Eterna 500T so that we only had to drag the tungsten package into the stages. A 10K provided our sunlight effects through the windows, soft window light was done by shining 9-lights through large frames of grid cloth. I sometimes had the soft window light gelled with 1/4 Blue and the hard sunlight gelled various strengths of CTS (Straw) depending on the time of day of the scene. We smoked the day scenes.

What's so nice about being on a stage is being able to pull walls out when needed, or drill holes in walls, add nail-on plates, etc. I could avoid shooting rooms with the widest-angle anamorphic lenses; generally the wide shots were on a 50mm Primo anamorphic. Closer shots, as usual, had the #1 GlimmerGlass.

I had one nice shot where I shot someone waking up in bed in profile against the small window, where I had the 10K outside of the window just pointing right into the lens, the flare blocked by the person when they sat up. I used no light inside the room, but the light smoke / haze actually filled in some of the shadow detail, even though I wanted more or less a silhouette. The Eterna 500T has pretty amazing low-end information.

Had one night scene where I had to dreaded "room switches (twice) between moonlight and lamps being on" gag. I hate that because you can't play the moonlit scene too dark if actors are talking and emoting, yet you don't want the moonlight to look too bright once the room lights turn on. My trick has been to put all the moonlight on a dimmer so that when the room lights pop on, the moonlight fades about 50% darker. The other problem is that only one bedside lamp is turned on and it's behind the person, so even when the light switches on, technically their face wouldn't be lit much by it. So I cheated by hanging a Chinese Lantern above the middle of the bed, skirted off the walls, so that it comes on with the lamp and gives the person a soft top light, since in real life, the light from a lamp sort of shoots up through the hole at the top of the shade and bounces off of the ceiling. Probably the "room lights on" effect looked more natural than the "room in moonlight" effect because I had to use more moonlight than would realistically come through the small windows. Generally the "moonlight" is 1/2 Blue.

The next day we started back in the barn containing the aluminum rocket, plus another set containing the base of the rocket as if it were in a cement silo in the basement. From my previous attempts to light this tall rocket, I've learned that a few Kino tubes well placed and light most of the reflective surface.

We then decided to go back out to this empty roadway and field for the third time to shoot the ending of the movie where the capsule lands and he is picked-up by his family driving their car. The two other times the sky was too bald; this time we had hazy, wispy clouds that were building up into something semi-overcast. So at least we had a mysterious sky and we suspected that it would make a nice sunset. We were rushed however to get all the shots done in time before the sun set. We only only had two takes of a close-up on a 180mm E-Series lens as the astronaut pops open the hatch, steps out, and stands up into a close-up. We were at an T/5.6 and unfortunately the first take had focus problems throughout and the second take was only sharp at the end (on his face fortunately) but with an operating bobble in the middle. But I had to move on because the sun was dropping like a rock and hope the editor will use the wider coverage for some of that. We then had our B-camera on a crane with a 40mm, rising up slowly as the actor walks away from the capsule. Then we rushed to the roadway with A-camera and shot the family car pulling alongside the main character astronaut walking along the road. I had hoped to run a tighter angle as well but we had no time to get the B-camera off of the crane and over to the road, and we had no time to change lenses and get a tighter take -- too many focus marks to get and I doubted we would have gotten a usable take in that low-light. By this point, I had switched from F-64D to F-250D because I knew we would be finishing the scene in dusk. So we moved the camera down a hillside now shooting a wide shot of the car in profile pulling up alongside the astronaut, him climbing in, and the car driving away. This may be the last shot of the movie. Well, we were blessed with the most spectacular flaming red Gone-With-The-Wind sunset that many locals say they haven't seen in years. In fact, no doubt people will think we added it digitally when the movie comes out! So it was nice for that scene to work out, even though now I have to fake some close-ups of the family in the car, and much harder, and a reverse CU of the astronaut's face against the sunset somehow.

We spent the rest of the week back at the ranch house shooting more domestic scenes, both interior and exterior. We keep ending up outside trying to cover a scene as the light is dying, which is a nightmare but someone's going to thing we deliberately shot many scenes at magic hour. So I had sunset light on one person's face with some lovely fall yellow-leaved cottonwood trees and a red barn in the b.g., and then on the reverse, I had to add an orange-gelled 18K HMI to recreate in twilight the look of the sun setting. Hopefully since it is a tight shot, it won't look too obvious a cheat.

I'll tell you, though, having to shoot the rehearsals, not being able to block with the actors sometimes and lining up shots with stand-ins, then shooting actors doing something different... even though I'm often lighting to an f/4 or f/5.6, either I need to stop using anamorphic and shoot Super-35 instead, or light to deeper stops, or find focus-pullers that can handle actors not being on their marks because I'm getting tired of the focus slop and buzzes during shots when the actors are moving around, especially when they walk from far to near quickly. When you start working with big-name actors, you don't get to shoot another take because of focus problems if the performance was good. A few months ago I was talking to Alfonso Beato about "Dark Waters" and he said he shot it all at f/2.8 on the Primo anamorphics. I just can't imagine getting away with that level of depth of field. He must have had a kick-ass focus-puller. It's funny because lately I seem to be alternating between HD cropped to 2.35 and 35mm anamorphic, which are at two extremes in terms of depth of field.
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#2 fstop

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Posted 23 October 2005 - 03:01 PM

I'll tell you, though, having to shoot the rehearsals, not being able to block with the actors sometimes and lining up shots with stand-ins, then shooting actors doing something different... even though I'm often lighting to an f/4 or f/5.6, either I need to stop using anamorphic and shoot Super-35 instead, or light to deeper stops, or find focus-pullers that can handle actors not being on their marks because I'm getting tired of the focus slop and buzzes during shots when the actors are moving around, especially when they walk from far to near quickly. When you start working with big-name actors, you don't get to shoot another take because of focus problems if the performance was good. A few months ago I was talking to Alfonso Beato about "Dark Waters" and he said he shot it all at f/2.8 on the Primo anamorphics. I just can't imagine getting away with that level of depth of field. He must have had a kick-ass focus-puller.


Would you ever light mundane/dialogue action to higher f-stops, f/8 or f/11 given the chance? Does anyone still work like that out there in "name" territory? Even with HD and CCD chips offering greater depth, it seems it's always going to be flat out uncool creating (or taking advantage of) deeper DOF for the bulk of shots.

I've never seen what's so cool about shallow DOF myself.
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#3 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 23 October 2005 - 05:16 PM

?. . . find better focus pullers . . . "

A tuff job for any 1st, but a few names come to mind ;)

- Trevor Loomis
- Greg Irwin
- Peter Green
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 October 2005 - 06:15 PM

Most of my day interior scenes are lit to an f/5.6, prompting Billy Bob Thornton to joke the other day (upon hearing me call out the stop) "don't you have any lenses that go to an f/2.8?"

Even Tim Blake Nelson, who has some photography knowledge, was surprised by some of the deep stops I've been using. For his scenes in his lawyer's office in the daytime, overlooking the town main street, I lit to an f/8-11 split in order to hold the background town in focus better plus not have it blown-out (I hate ND gelling windows unless absolutely necessary.) But on a medium focal length anamorphic lens, even an f/8 is not particularly deep in focus.

What's nice about lighting a day interior to f/5.6 on 250D stock is that the background (if sunny) is maybe three or four stops over but holds detail without having to ND gel the room. At wider apertures, you get more blown-out daytime windows with some flaring from them.

I had one "dusk" dinner scene in the house which was a nightmare because we had to shoot it in the middle of the day and the house is surrounded by windows. I doubled ND.6 on the windows (so ND.12 really) plus put a double net over the windows to make it look dim outside. Luckily as I moved around the dinner table, ending on the coverage of the person with the biggest window right behind them, as opposed to windows in the far background, it got overcast and I didn't have to add the double net, plus looked like real twilight outside. But it was a nightmare getting the grips to cover (neatly) that many windows with ND gel. The slightest breeze combined with any reflections in the gel looked all rippling. Luckily I had a few sheets of ND.6 hard acrylic that I had cut for the nearer shots. This scene was shot on Eterna 500T (rated at 320 ASA) and lit with an overhead tungsten soft box to about an f/4. Now I would have been able to use less ND gel if I had lit the table to a higher stop, but all the softboxes installed over the tables in the house were designed to give me an f/4 at 320 ASA, so I would have had to change them to get more stop.

I've had to shoot my night exteriors at f/2.8 though, plus those scenes in the space capsule just lit by the tiny flos and instrument lights.

Personally, unless I am balancing with light emitting objects of a limited brightness, I don't have a problem lighting to higher stops. To me, if you're going to key someone in a rooom at night by shining a light through a 4x4 frame of diffusion, with a practical next to them, why not use a 2K behind the frame and use a 100 watt bulb in the practical, rather than use a tweenie behind the frame and a 60 watt bulb in the practical? The shot would look the same either way except in the first case, at least you'd be shooting at an f/4 instead of an f/2.8 let's say.

Now of course when I'm shooting in HD, I'm almost always at an f/2.8 because that looks like an f/5.6...
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#5 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 24 October 2005 - 05:56 AM

I'll tell you, though, having to shoot the rehearsals, not being able to block with the actors sometimes and lining up shots with stand-ins, then shooting actors doing something different... even though I'm often lighting to an f/4 or f/5.6, either I need to stop using anamorphic and shoot Super-35 instead, or light to deeper stops, or find focus-pullers that can handle actors not being on their marks because I'm getting tired of the focus slop and buzzes during shots when the actors are moving around, especially when they walk from far to near quickly. When you start working with big-name actors, you don't get to shoot another take because of focus problems if the performance was good. A few months ago I was talking to Alfonso Beato about "Dark Waters" and he said he shot it all at f/2.8 on the Primo anamorphics. I just can't imagine getting away with that level of depth of field. He must have had a kick-ass focus-puller.


The other day I was watching again The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (1974), which I believe was Owen Roizman's first anamorphic film, and it seems that he shot it with the same philosophy that he brought to The French Connection and The Exorcist; heavy use of the available light in the real locations, push developing and very wide apertures. Of course, the depth of field is so shallow that a few times parts of the actor's faces seem to be a little out of focus, but I noticed that in spite of the film being a thriller, there's little (if any) camera movement in the form of travellings and tracking shots, only handheld shots with the actors and cameras keeping the same focal distance. But Roizman worked it out by staging most of it with only one actor per shot, because the depth of field is so shallow that the few times that there's some action or dialogue in the background the focus racking becomes a bit distracting. Perhaps adopting that style is the only way to do it...

David, have you tried to use some Split-Diopters? (I've read all your posts about this shooting, but I don't remember about it). I love the look of anamorphic films shot at extreme apertures (both wide-open and stopped-down), though I understand that both styles are very hard to achieve.
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#6 Jonathan Spear

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Posted 24 October 2005 - 06:57 AM

"I've never seen what's so cool about shallow DOF myself."

Hey,

When I'm casually shooting the $h-t with someone face to face I tend to see the "whole picture"; their body gestures and anything happening in the background. Shallow DOF kind of reminds me of when I'm speaking to someone intimately or paying close attention, where what they have to say really sinks in word for word. Suddenly, the background "goes out of focus" and the person standing in front of me is all that matters.

"Blah blah blah blah (f/11)... your dog was just hit by a semi-trailer (f/0.7)... blah blah blah (f/8)."

Shallow DOF sort of mimics this in my opinion, not merely to isolate the character from the background but to give him/her more intimacy with the audience - as one human being (or alien) to another.

Of course, sometimes you'd go for the opposite effect, like when someone's going off about a bad day at work, a failed relationship, George W. Bush's foreign policies, etc.

Much like vertigo/matrix-esque 'slice of life'/ECU shots, there's a fine line between what's necessary and what's cliche. And the fact that you're a DoP makes you more vulnerable to noticing cliches even in the midst of a good story. That's the price you pay for seeing the world through a filmmaker's eye.

-Jonathan
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#7 Rolfe Klement

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Posted 24 October 2005 - 09:31 AM

what about Panatape or Cinetape?

I was at Arri GB checkout recently and almost every kit going out had a cinetape on it....

thanks

Rolfe
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 12:00 AM

Here are some images from the shoot that I took.

The first was from our pre-production shoot with a small crew in White Sands:

Posted Image

This is a scene in a judge's chambers, backlit with a 4K Xenon and keyed from the side with a Kino Wall-O-Lite:

Posted Image

This is from a hilltop funeral scene shot in Las Vegas, NM:

Posted Image

This one is from the FAA hearing in a gym scene. I had 18K HMI's coming through the windows, a 6K HMI backlight, then a soft side key through a frame of grid cloth; fill came from putting a frame of UltraBounce opposite the key:

Posted Image
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#9 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 03:24 AM

Wow, those shots look great!

Can?t wait to see the finished work.


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#10 Rolfe Klement

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 06:43 AM

great looking shots!
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#11 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 06:43 AM

Posted Image


David,

This is just beautiful.....

If the rest of the film looks just half as nice...

Brilliant!
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#12 Jonathan Spear

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 07:39 AM

Awesome shots, David!

B)

If you don't mind me asking, were the backgrounds in shots 1 & 3 manipulated in post or just perfect exposures at the right time of day?

Thanks,
Jonathan

Edited by TSM, 25 October 2005 - 07:46 AM.

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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 07:56 AM

They are digital stills from my Canon Powershot A80. I warmed them up in Photoshop to match how I will time the real footage in post. The film versions have a little more shadow detail but otherwise, the final version will probably look similar. Exposure-wise, I probably exposed the film a little brighter but plan on printing down for more of a silhouette. I basically exposed the ground about two to three stops under to hold detail in the sky better.
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#14 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 08:22 AM

Impressive. This is going to be a gorgeus looking film!

Shot number three reminds me of The Right Stuff.
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#15 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 02:27 PM

what about Panatape or Cinetape?

Rolfe

I was thinking the same thing, but even with a Panatape it's very hard for a focus puller to hold an actor in focus throughout a scene when they haven't seen a real rehearsal. I think the really great focus pullers are all very intuitive and instinctive, but in order to do this they need to understand the flow of the scene. With no rehearsal a focus puller is just guessing, and with anamorphic guessing isn't going to cut it most of the time.
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#16 Chris Keth

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 11:52 PM

Wow, David. Those shots are stunning. I really can't wait to see the finished film. Any idea on an approximate release date?


P.S.- I finally got to see Northfork and I have to congratulate you on that. Photography like that is quite an accomplishment and you should be very happy with your skills. B)
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#17 Patrick Neary

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Posted 26 October 2005 - 08:30 AM

Hi- I was curious about what kind of coverage you shot for the judges chamber scene (in the second photo) and the changes you made to the lighting (if any) for the different angles- Also for the FAA scene in the gymnasium-

thanks for posting these!
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#18 Fran Kuhn

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Posted 26 October 2005 - 10:22 AM

Here are some images from the shoot that I took.

The first was from our pre-production shoot with a small crew in White Sands:

Posted Image

This is a scene in a judge's chambers, backlit with a 4K Xenon and keyed from the side with a Kino Wall-O-Lite:

Posted Image

This is from a hilltop funeral scene shot in Las Vegas, NM:

Posted Image

This one is from the FAA hearing in a gym scene. I had 18K HMI's coming through the windows, a 6K HMI backlight, then a soft side key through a frame of grid cloth; fill came from putting a frame of UltraBounce opposite the key:

Posted Image


\
These frames are just lovely. What else can I say? Fantastic work, David. And thanks for staying up late to send these front-line reports.
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#19 John Holland

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Posted 26 October 2005 - 10:43 AM

David , who is doing your neg develop and rushes and sre you seeing them projected or dvd ? john holland .
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#20 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 October 2005 - 12:22 PM

Technicolor LA is doing the neg development; Post Group is doing the telecine and DVD dailies. No prints except from our prep shoot at White Sands, and my camera / stock tests.

The wide shot of the judge's chambers was at a profile angle with the judge on the left and the windows along the left side of frame. We were on the third floor of the building so all the lights outside were on condor cranes.

I had soft light coming straight through the window behind the judge with an 18K HMI going through a large frame of light grid cloth. I had a 4K Xenon slightly upstage shining through the same window on a diagonal coming back to lens, for a shaft of light through smoke, with 1/4 CTS gel. I had a diffused 4-bank Kino (K55) behind camera for some slight fill.

When I came around on the judge's close-up, I moved the lights outside the window behind them so that the soft HMI was just sort of lighting the smoke behind him -- it couldn't really reach him and be out of the shot. The 4K Xenon was backlighting him. To key his face, I brought in a Kino Wall-O-Light with 216 diffusion from the side, up against the wall, and underexposed his face about a stop so that he felt mostly just backlit. On tighter close-ups I had a faint soft edge on the opposite side of the key from a vertical Kino tube, but I couldn't put it there for the looser angles.

For the reverse on the two guys facing the judge, they would have been front-lit naturally, so to break that up, had them lit frontally from the chest down by the hard Xenon light, then had soft light from the Wall-O-Lite coming more from the side.

This was a 4-page scene. Coverage was an extreme wide master in profile, side-lit, a tighter submaster of the same angle. Then both overs & singles on the judge, but with one angle where the judge was framed between the two heads, crossing the line for one set of looks. But we also did an over where the judge stayed on frame left. Same for the reverse; we did an over where the two guys are always on frame right of the judge, and then we did one where the judge's head split the two guys. Singles on the guys. Fairly standard other than the odd symetrical framing I just described. But I also shot some odd inserts after the actors were gone of the antiques in the room, like an ECU of a stuffed deer's eyeball looking down, old portraits on the wall, etc. I also had second unit shoot a shot of an empty wooden courtroom that was just outside of the judge's chambers.
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