Director: Michael Minard
Director of Photography: Jordan T. Parrott
Last month I had a great production with Producer Miro Macala and Director Mike Minard at the Helm. This marked my first time shooting for Mike and it was a blast. The production was over a long 3 day weekend with an extra day of shooting two weeks later. My crew was killer as usual. Gaffer Teresa Rhinehart came through in every aspect. 1st AC Justin Hawkins freed up all my worries with camera department. Andrew Fagan, Key Grip, was once again a pleasure to have on set. Omar Addasi filled in as additional Gaffer for a day and my good friend Jeff Melanson came onboard for a day to do additional camera op work.
The story revolves around Sam, a 50 something year old man who is in his second body. In this script, society is able to transfer your emotions, memories, etc into a new young body. The story starts off with Sam carrying his wife home, who just got a transference done. They were advised to do a transference together as it is more likely for a married couple to stay together, however, due to finances they were unable to do so. This sparks jealousy and doubts in Sam as new hints evolve that Sara might be cheating on him with a “younger” man.
Once I read the script, I fell in love with the fact that it is purely a drama that has small Science Fiction elements. Those elements will need to be done in post, but never does the technology interfere with the story. Mike wanted to approach the cinematography purely from a character driven side. So the psychology had to play into the camera as much as we could afford. We spoke in detail about our shot selections as we both wanted to let long shots play out and get the performance down without additional coverage.
We quickly came to the conclusion to shoot 2.35 aspect ratio seeing that it fit to expand the frame as it fits the Sci Fi genre but also realizing it helped with our separation between characters. 2.35 did cause us a problem here and there with opposing characters at different heights. Especially when a lot of scenes didn’t get standard coverage. Mike was a wizard with implementing blocking to fit my frame. Every time I came over to make a suggestion for blocking, he was already doing what I was thinking.
I own a set of Lomo Ekran lenses that worked very well for this project. It provides a softer quality then most, which was nice on the Epic. My only issue occasionally was the Bokeh. I found on certain shots and moments, it was too harsh and sometimes gave the out of focus elements a doubling effect. I shot mostly between a T2.8 and T4. The aperture blades on the lenses do not form a near circle when stopped down like most lenses. The blades form a V between each other creating more of a flower pattern, or a star pattern. It is definitely a unique look and it wasn’t an issue on wider lenses, just occasionally with the 50mm. They open up to a T1.6 but don’t get their sharpest until a T2.8.
We compiled overhead diagrams for each other which assured we were on the same page. Mike told me to rewatch Rosemary’s Baby for ideas on composition; losing actors within the frame intentionally. We definitely used some of those elements in our framing but I also wanted to use its harsh lighting on the faces. It intrigued me and very rarely do you see that kind of lighting nowadays. Although, I was strongly held at the mercy of our main location, having east and north facing windows everywhere on the 8th floor. Sometimes I had to go available light for time sakes. And of course all the walls were white but the location was perfect for the story so that is what counts. For some reason I went more flat with my daylight lighting. The use of negative fill was tough since we played out whole scenes in a slow wide dolly shot. It came down to logistics. All nighttime shots definitely had more appropriate contrast.
In the above shot, we dolly out of a transition into our Sara getting up from out of bed as we follow her to this frame. It is the only shot in the whole scene. And the scene plays out to about a page if I recall correctly. Initially, I wanted Sara to fill the frame more so she would land in a CU. But the location didn’t allow it. And now that I look back at it, it fits the story better as we get to see more of her “new” body. Later in the shot, Sam approaches Sara and it becomes a beautiful medium two shot. As for lighting, it was an extremely simple set up. Teresa set me up a ring light (40w bulbs, not this LED crap) for Sara. In the shot she is looking into a mirror admiring her body so i just faked a lamp near by out of frame. I like the look of tungsten bulbs so the ring light worked perfectly. Furthermore, the ring light gave me a nice fall off to the background to give me an appropriate exposure level. On the right for Sam, I just used a 650w into a chimera with a light tools grid attached. This narrowed my beam so I didn’t have to worry about spill on the walls. It was setup on the quick this way. Originally I wanted to use it to light his face as well, but seeing it in frame it made sense to me to leave him in the dark as he looks at his wife from a distance. The practical was a 100w bulb on a dimmer. And thats it for lighting. Kept it warm by using a higher kelvin.
I always like to be heavily involved in pre production. I must make a plug to a friend of mines App that I fell in love with. Clayton Combe created a lighting plot application called Lighting Deisgner made for the iPad that allows you to import your background, set your subject, and pick your units to create an overhead of your lighting and camera positions. Knowing that I would be under staffed for this short, I plotted out nearly every scene before hand to make communication with my crew more efficient. Of course units were changed or repositioned as usual, but just having a plan on such an easy interface made my life easier.
This shot above was a long take that spread out all through out the kitchen. I was battling an established mirror in the background, tight spaces, and a damn chandelier that I couldn’t take down. The shot started more panned left but then we land in this for a bit; I liked the fact of losing Sam for a brief moment. It is not for too long however, since Mike never wanted focus to stray away from our main character. For this particular frame, I had a joker bug 125w frosted fresnel with Opal on the barn doors placed in the top right above the kitchen cabinets. The main point of this light was to give an element of separation in our dark space. In the first half of the scene it acts as their Back Light and towards this part of the scene, it plays as her Key. The background mirror area was actually a 575w book light that was built for Sara’s first mark when she leans against the middle divider. It was boxed in but the source still provided me a nice background light from spill. For frontal fill, I had a window and facing east (shot happened around 12 noon) that I put the blinds 3/4 closed. It gave me a hint of fill which is all I needed.
The shot after this is a reverse from the other side of the kitchen. So I went dark in both shots but I switched it up. In this above frame, we just see a well lit background but no windows. In the reverse, I see a little bit of a window with the blinds a third of the way down. For that reverse, I played it darker in our background leaving the foreground (hallway with mirror) to be our motivation. So technically this shot above should be more lit from camera side since I establish a window in the background in the reverse. But that is technically speaking; those are continuous elements I throw away immediately in my work. I didn’t want to motivate from the window. For some reason I styled it this way in my head and went with it. I didn’t like the idea of seeing the whole window in the reverse. Only seeing a third of it was more pleasing to my eye.
The last day was a run and gun operation. We only had 4 hours in our first location and 3 hours in our second location with a company move in-between. This forced me to go mostly available light with mix matching units. The grab directly below was on that day. I had Omar rig an overhead Leko while we were shooting available light elsewhere. Overall the production went extremely smooth and I had a blast in the process of making the film. I hope to do a lot more with this group.