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HDSLR

Stéphane Dirschauer, writer/director of A DISPLAY OF EMOTION, contacted me in September 09 with his latest script VOL DE NUIT. With the NFB and Ontario Arts Council already on board, we got prep underway early – a full year before going to camera. It was so early, in fact, that the 7D was still just a rumour, but I had a feeling that this would be a better system for us than film or the RED (the other options we were seriously considering and pricing out) because we needed something we could use under low light with minimal noise and artifacting and, especially, something small. I started looking at Philip Bloom’s 7D samples, specifically the now-iconic Dublin’s People video, and thought that this might be our best option for the night-heavy story, much of which also includes the characters talking in a moving taxi cab through the city.

See DUBLIN’S PEOPLE by Philip Bloom:

Stéphane saw the link and brought up a good point: he didn’t want the lushness of the shallow depth of field and the vibrancy of the colours and bokeh to distract viewers from the performances on screen. Not having heard much criticism of the HDSLR “look” that people had otherwise already started falling in love with I thought that this, from a directorial standpoint, was a very valid concern. Agreeing that the practical benefits of the 7D were otherwise perfectly suited to our needs, I spent the year shooting as much as I could on DSLRs to see what the differences in the visual and technical approach would actually prove to be.

For the most part, many of the commercials and shorts I’ve done on DSLRs so far have called for the loose, improvised style that is now the quintessential 7D aesthetic: breathing focus, shallow depth of field and handheld. But none of this suited the style we had in mind for Vol de Nuit. We didn’t want to date the film or equate it with a look that is too current and overly reminiscent of the format we would be capturing it on. We wanted a very controlled look – classical, stark and precise. As we all now know, pulling focus and achieving pin sharp accuracy on DSLR still photography lenses is extremely difficult. So back in August I began talking to my friend Mike Reid about his new 7D, modified with a PL mount by Illya Friedman in LA at Hot Rod Cameras. The 7DPL with 35mm cine lenses was the system we went with and it worked beautifully.

VOL DE NUIT is the story about Karine (played by the brilliant Montreal-based actress Marilyn Castonguay), a young woman working for a catering company at an upscale reception and finding out that her father is in critical condition following a car accident. Karine gets caught stealing a guest’s purse in an attempt to find some fast cash for a trip home to her family in Quebec. Gauthier (Bernard Arène) sympathizes with Karine and helps her flee the scene.

This project had some amazing challenges. For one, we needed to light a two-level reception hall encased by 25′ windows at night (the Assembly Hall venue in Etobicoke – a tricky location technically but the most beautiful one we saw). The scene involved 35 extras, a wipe-out of champagne flutes and some indoor/outdoor window action. I needed to tie all of this visually with the dingy hallway and industrial kitchen of another location. To give the two worlds a very different feel, I used 1/4 Warm Black Pro Mist filters on the reception scene and very soft, warm light. We abandoned our filters for the bowels of the reception hall, shooting under our own overhead daylight fluorescent tubes and 3200K on the camera for the hallway and kitchen sequences. You can see the difference in these screen grabs, taken straight off of the raw footage:

I ended up grabbing a small set of Zeiss Super Speeds from Complete (25mm, 50mm and 85mm, as well as a 14mm that was used on some tracking shots in the narrow hallway, as seen in the garbage bag shot above). All interiors were shot ISO 100, and night car interiors/exteriors were shot at ISO 400. Here are some shots from our night car scenes, lit with the help of some soft tungsten and HMI lighting in the stationary scenes and a 9″ Mini Flo kit in the moving shots:

ISO 400, 85mm Zeiss Super Speed, f2

Much thanks goes out to 1st AC Alex Leung (who, like me and the guys at Complete, was also loving the ARRI follow focus and cine lenses on the 7D), Misha Petrenko for his care and his eye with our lighting, Jason McKendry and Cliff Ramnauth.

Can’t wait to see the finished product (and hear the score!) of what is bound to be a beautiful and elegant piece. Post-production will be completed at Technicolor in Toronto in February 2011.

Joyce Wong put together this sequence of out takes from our homemade hot air balloon shoot – we got what we needed so we let the thing burn and continued shooting in slo mo as it happened…

Come see the film, called HOW TO PARTY AND MAKE GOOD BALLOON (which features the balloon actually in flight!) screening as part of the 7-part omnibus feature SUITE SUITE CHINATOWN with live foley and score by an orchestra of high school music students alongside the Exercisers this Friday, November 13 at the Royal in Toronto.

See the official website for Suite Suite Chinatown here!

Shot off the screen. From my upcoming bootleg video.

I have begun shooting a short film called HAEDO with writer/director Darby MacInnis. A South American priest’s story is pieced together through flashback sequences, the first of which we shot in a custom-built confessional (made by production designer Jeannette Nguyen) on the Canon 550D (see my review here). So far I have nothing but good things to say about the workflow. I can shoot up to 48 minutes in 1080p and the small size of the camera allowed me to squeeze into our confessional easily, grabbing some beautifully abstract shots through the faux wrought iron window in our very low-key lit set.

S16mm footage will be shot to illustrate the story being told by the Padre in this scene- we’ll be playing with light leaks, flares, overexposure and overcranking to help depict his experience of these memories.

For now, check out some of the 550D screen grabs from day one:

 

I just wrapped writer/director Mark Allen Wilson’s short “Be Still” on the Canon 7D and am really happy with the loose aesthetic we achieved over the course of our  four-day shoot. The spontaneity behind our rough, moving, handheld coverage reads like the fragmented and meandering state of mind of the teenaged characters depicted in the film. We shot the project in Toronto’s Chinatown East, and our ability to grab discreet and genuine moments with our young cast in both very tight and very crowded public locations (the subway, grocery stores, weaving through floor-to-ceiling aquariums in a pet store, jaywalking through rush hour traffic) is proof that the size and portability of these little HDSLR cameras makes for a fantastic way to shoot in the city.

Screen Grab from the 7D footage of "Be Still"

Mark Allen Wilson came to Toronto from Los Angeles to shoot his short because he was intrigued by the energy of Toronto’s Chinatown on Spadina Avenue. When locations there did not correspond with the atmosphere we had in mind for the film, Joyce Wong, producer on the project and a native of Toronto’s East end, suggested we scout the Broadview and Gerrard area. This proved to have a much more local and intimate feel of an urban neighbourhood with a stronger sense of community.

The dynamism of the editing (Mark had an assembly going as we were shooting) combined with the fluidity of the camerawork creates a tone that allows the viewer to enter the headspace of our 15-year-old protagonist, who is feeling both alienated and apathetic in the bustle of his vibrant but aggressive surroundings. The story is simple, and the minimal dialogue creates an unsettling sparsity to the environment. In the film, the boy is to deliver a package from his father’s shop to another local business owner. On his way he is distracted by a couple of wayward girls who tempt him into an evening of procrastination and listless loitering that, in turn, changes the lives of his entire family. As the majority of the scenes are covered through moving close ups and pans between characters, the shallow depth of field achievable with the 7D makes for an incredibly claustrophobic and intimate feel in the footage- it works really well for a story about a boy living entirely in his head.

“Be Still” was captured in 1080p and I dialed in custom settings lowering the contrast to -2 while keeping all of my other picture settings neutral at 0. I wanted to retain as much detail in the blacks as possible, especially since many of our interior locations were dimly lit and our exteriors (all nights) were exclusively lit by fluorescents from store signs, store windows and overhead street lamps. On these night exteriors I set my ISO to 800 and shot wide open at F2. Subway scenes were shot at ISO 640, and our interiors varied between ISO 200 and 500 (I found in testing the 7D and T2i that anything over ISO 1000 tends to exhibit too much digital noise for my liking). You can see some screen grabs in an album I’ve created on my website. I used the Red Rock shoulder mount, but I must admit that the exceptionally light weight of the 7D made it more difficult for me to operate in a truly intuitive way; I prefer having more weight to the camera so that I can operate by moving into and out of shots with more force. Next time I would add weight to the camera either by attaching an onboard monitor, a large matte box or by simply using a heavier shoulder mount to give the camera that extra presence when operating.

I’m eager to see what Mark does with his cut and particularly with his sound design on this very visually-explored story. The film will be finished in Los Angeles by December this year.