DARK MODE | REACTIVE PHASE
Scene 1 & 7 (no longer sc9 as of latest revision of the script) feature Ashaya alone with her tablet, viewing the world through an artificial screen.
During the pre-production process I had the previlege to refer to Morgan Cooper & Patrick O’Sullivan’s prep documents from Patreon. They both offered stylistic suggestions through reference photos, but what stuck with me was all the writing Patrick had embedded in his document.
Patrick breaks down how his screenplay read like a “memory retold.”
Furthermore he investigated how a momery would manifest itself on screen and eventually what technicalities / controllable elements can help accomplish the effect.
I began my breakdown process with brief script annotations, and a few 40 minute brainstorm sessions in the car recording my thoughts on the film aloud. Instead of presenting a very polished document, I started on/off discussion with the Director & Production Designer. We had a very intimate 24/7 group chat for immediate feedback. 1-2 Weeks later I had enough material to create a Cine Breakdown document, of which I attached above.
THE KEY WORDS
With my initial brain storming sessions, I had associated these scenes with disorientation, reactivity and passivity. I’ve spent way too many nights looking at screens in the dark. Drowning in endless scrolls & clicks. I’d crank the screen brightness as low as it goes and it still ends up bothering me. I even bought blue screen-protection glasses recently, but that’s another story. Kathryn had agreed that she also keeps ambient light off when she works on her computer. This setting is relatable for the both of us. Taylor Swift and her blue globe is one of Kathryn’s references that perfectly captures what an “energized” screen would feel like.
For the story, having no ambient light in these scenes serves to energize the screens. Ashaya’s whole world is dependant on it, we want her to drown in the light of this technology. Additionally, the energy of this screen mirrors the progression of how A71 takes over the space. He brings in naturalistic sources, because he is so advanced that his presence removes the artificialty of technology. In terms of an Arc, these scenes directly contrast with the end when we finally see the invasion of daylight in the apartment. The ultimate natural source overpowering the little emmision tablets can have. Artificial reality is the new reality for Ashaya.
The creative team was happy with our progress. We’ve agreed to proceed. However, by default the screenplay had the first 6-7 scenes set during day time. In the story blinds are closed so a miniscule amount of daylight would leak through. We found a reference photo of Bradford Young’s work on Arrival. A heavily underexposed day interior.
However I was worried sick. Due to Capilano restrictions (school & gear provider) we need to shoot on the Canon C100. At the time I hadn’t done much testing with its highlight latitude, but knowing that we have limited access to gear and lights, I knew balancing daylight and still having a powerful screen would be a huge challenge.
The persuasion of turning day scenes into night scenes for the story was an on-going debate we had until the week of shooting.
Aside from the day / night discussion, we still had to find some representation of the mood we wanted to achive.
Arrival & Her were two films that immediately popped into my mind. Bradford Young is famous for his underexposure & Hoyte van Hoytema had created this mood for Theo, who has a lot of similarities with our Ashaya.
Instead of processing through false color, finding stops and looking at waveforms, I tried to be more general with the analysis. This mood is much about recreating the feeling than a look. Being generalize facilated my collaboration with Aislinn the Production Designer. If I had purely focused on the technicals, I’d have given uncomprehensible demands that is completely not in line with what tools she wanted to use to tell the story.
The consensus is this “invisible” fill source that you can “feel” but not “see.” Patrick amoung others have also mentioend this Room Tone technique where you introduce a soft toplight that just gives everything a little bit of dimension that the audience has to squint to be able to see. Our team was wary about going this dark and not being able to identify the on screen elements that they so carefully placed. But knowing that we’d see them in later scenes once the lights come on helped reassure their support.
We shot scene 7 on day 2 of 4. That day had a challenging start as the morning was the biggest argument scene in the film (scene 8). A71 comes out of the closet and corners Ashaya next to the fridge. We spent the whole morning in the least ideal corner of the house for lighting. This meant our longest lighting set-ups and spent some time after lunch to catch up on a coverage.
Once scene 8 has wrapped we are onto the first time actually shooting dark mode. The entirety of the shoot had been with interior sources.
Josse the Gaffer prepped some 2’ 2Bank and a 2’ 4 Bank Kino that flew in right after we had blocked.
2 bulb, nope. High power, nope. Single bulb, lower power. Hmm. Let’s skinny the doors up.
We ended up with an inch of a light sliver with a 2 bank kino, single bulb, low, into the ceiling. The light was orignally camera left for an attempt to have the bounced source more backy, but it showed up in reflections. So we turned that off and came from camera right instead.
The level needed to create this definition was much lower than I had imagined.
Moving on to the screen we switched to a 50mm with 1/2 BPM to exaggerate the vaporization of this screen. An effect we decided was desirable from the Taylor Swift reference.
That day finished off on a good note as the set up for scene 7 took almost no time.
We revisted the look in sc1 on day 4 of 4. The last day had its own challenges in that we had 3 scenes to shoot, with completely different looks. The ambient fill is a little more “visible” in this one and the tablet isn’t as strong due to playback content and having to do this scene as a one shot deal. Lisa the Key Grip stepped in on the dolly that day and camera team as matured soo much. So this scene 1 does have a pretty awesome dolly to bring us into the space.
That’s it for now thanks for reading!
Ashaya: Ketrice Anderson
A71: Brandon Moon
Mel: Jillian Zavazal
Director: Kathryn Bons
Producer: Jeremy Sorrensen
Writer: Crystal Zhang
1st AD: Manan Sachdeva
2nd AD: Javier Escobar
Cinematographer: Olly Bian
Operator: Alex Couturier
1st AC: Maddy Chuk
2nd AC: Liam Meredith
Production Designer: Aislinn Boyle
Props: William Choi
H/MU: Elena Miller & Nicole Dreyer
Gaffer: Josse Arnott
Best Boy LX: Ben McGregor
Lamp Op: Jason Arkell-Boles
Key Grip: Lisa Mundry
Dolly Grip: Isaac Mocharski
Sound Recordist: Alex Klein
Boom: Faraz Parsa
Script Super: Ruby Godard
Playback & Graphics: Dawson Heistat & Josse Arnott
Talented Drivers: Spencer Zimmerman & Dawson Heistat