Plugged In – Introduction to Ashaya

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.


PREP

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 DEBATE

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.


REFERENCES

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.


THE RESULT

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!


PLUGGED IN

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

 

 

Learning Sources!

Off the top of my head, here are a lot of the sources I’ve been learning from in the past 2 years.
TITLES ARE LINKED

FREE

1) Cinematography Database – Matt Workman
Follow commercial cinematographer, owner of 3D Revisualization Company Cine Designer, and ultimately a Modern Hipster (Matt Workman has swaggers) on Production Breakdowns, Lighting & Camera Theory, Cinematography Tutorials, and some vlogs at trade shows that you and I should really attend.

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Link
https://www.youtube.com/user/cinematographydb

2) Wandering DP – Patrick O’Sullivan
I may have an attraction towards learning from hipsters, actually let’s say “down-to-earth” instead. Patrick is a Commercial Cinematographer who started off in Australia but has worked all over the world, and now primarily based in LA.

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Patrick currently has over 100 free podcast episodes on Production Breakdown,
Interviews with other Industry Professionals, and Lighting & Camera Theory.

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On top of an almost weekly podcast episode, he compiles gorgeous show notes  with a ton of detailed information. For further information, he also hosts a Patreon podcast based on donations.

 

If you want to start making things look good, start with Wandering DP

Link
http://wanderingdp.com

3) Cooke Optics TV
Cooke manufactures some of the most well-regarded lenses in today’s industry. To top this off, they are an awesome source for information.

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Well-known BSC Cinematographers have frequent appearances on the show, bringing the working professional’s point of view on an abundance of questions you may have.

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Their guests include (for simplicity, I’ve included their most popular/recent film):
John Mathieson, Cinematographer of Logan
Sean Bobbitt, Cinematographer of 12 Years a Slave
Phil Meheux, Cinematographer of Casino Royale

Fabian Wagner, Cinematographer of Justice League, multiple episodes on Sherlock, and Game of Thrones.
Bradford Young, Cinematographer of Arrival

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Also, this is on YouTube, everyone likes YouTube.

Link
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-Ya9gBlwOhRwtloTn1hvbA

4) Roger Deakins
Waiiiiiiiiiiit what????

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Yea, Mr. Roger Deakins has a website where he gladly answers questions you may have about his work.

If you just got so excited an passed out, well, come back to life and ask Roger something.

Um, I still need to watch Bladerunner 2049

Link
https://www.rogerdeakins.com

5) Hurlbut Visuals
Hosted by Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, ASC.
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The content here contains a mixture of information regarding aspects a Cinematographer would be concerned with.

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Their newly updated website separates articles in:
CAMERA
LENSES
LIGHTING
FILMMAKING
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I am enrolled in Shane’s other paid program, Shane’s Inner Circle. However, looking at the hurlblog today, there are a lot of quality free content outside of the subscription to go through. I better get on this! xD

Link
http://www.thehurlblog.com

6) Matt Scott Visuals
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Young DP breaking down notable work on a microscopic level. This is a great source for analytical content! I only heard about this from an Inner Circle Chat recently, so still need to look deeper in!

Link
http://mattscottvisuals.com/blog

7) Sharegrid
A rental company pushing out diverse articles and extensive LENS TESTS.
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Do you know how Lomo Anomorphics Flare?
Or how sharp Master Primes are?
What about the differences in the Bokeh between Zeiss Superspeeds and well… any anamorphics?
Okay… You probably know the different perceptions of depth between Leica Summicrons and Cooke S4s (jokes I don’t think the Vintage Lens Testings include these haha)?

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I don’t have the best answers to these yet, and the results would be very expensive to obtain. Thankfully, share grid has posted a lot of these findings in video format, a chance for you to make you own judgement.

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Link
https://blog.sharegrid.com/?

8) Rule Boston Camera
Props to rental houses for pushing gear education. This is another side that does both rental and teachings!

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Link
http://www.rule.com/learn/

9) Evan E. Richards
Awesome site to obtain stills of notable films.

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Link
http://evanerichards.com/posts

PAID

1) MZed
Pioneered by photographer Monter Zucker, MZed gives access to some of the best educational content there is.

With an Annual Subscription fee of $299 USD, you gain access 11 courses that ranges from 4 hours to 80+ hours

I don’t intend to finish all the courses. The select few I am currently working on are:

  • The Illumination Experience — Shane Hurlbut, ASC
  • The Art of Visual Storytelling — Alex Buono
  • The Art of Visual Storytelling 2 — Alex Buono

Each of which costs around $200 USD Standalone. Opposed to many other sources I’ve recommended, these are actual courses. They are designed with a cohesive navigation of content similar to University Courses.

Link
https://www.mzed.com/courses

2) Shane’s Inner Circle
I am evidently a huge fan of Shane Hurlbut, ASC. The SIC is a monthly subscription-based community at the cost of $17.95 USD/Mo.

One of the highlights of this source is the engaging Teachings of a Hollywood Cinematographer. Shane shows us the ins and outs of working on the budgetary scale an ASC Cinematographer gets hired for, how to achieve the same look with low budget, DIY equipment, and a huge variety of content listed below.

  • On Set with Shane — In which Shane breaks down BTS, Prep Documents, Production Workflow, as well as showing us the Final Image.
  • SIC Podcast — A monthly podcast in which Shane and Lydia Hurlbut answers questions from SIC Members. Topics extends lifestyle, people management, career path, family relations, and any technical aspect you can think of.
  • Technician Series — This is actually a collection of series. Content include Camera Technician, DIT Technician, Move Technician, Camera Assistant Technician and more.
  • Commercial Series — Breaking down the commercial workflow, case study, and much more.
  • Dedicated Lighting Articles — Shane has an existing series on lighting for Green Screen, Lighting for Day Interior, Exterior, Night Interior, Night Exterior, lighting gags.
  • Gripology and Electricity — This covers power distribution, equipment etiquette, and many important knowledge to help you succeed on set.
  • Well, there are more types, but I’ll cut the list here.

The Inner Circle also has a dedicated member-only Facebook group, in which members connect for learning and work opportunities.

One thing to keep in mind is that upon enrolment, you do get a number of available articles, every upcoming article as well as a dedicated Beginner or Advanced Cinematography course. However, some content published prior to your enrolment are sometimes only available for purchase. This was a bummer for me at first, but after my first year of subscribing, the SIC pushes new content basically every week. So the arsenal grows quite quickly.

Link
https://www.hurlbutvisuals.com/blog/member-home/?tm=ic

3) The ASC
The American’s Society of Cinematographers has a monthly magazine as well as podcasts.

Good place to stay up-to-date.

Link
https://theasc.com/ac_magazine/digital_edition.html

4) Cine Summit
An organization that gathers filmmakers to make short-form online courses. The guests range from Feature Cinematographers to YouTubers.

Come here for variety levels of information.

Link
http://vip.cinesummit.com/oops-this-content-is-members-on…/…

Cinematic Habitat 001-The Board Operator

WHAT UP

During my first Visualcabulary post, I mentioned the importance of storing images from our lives for future application. Noting down the emotions & qualities of light, as well as factors contributing to a Natural Cinematic Habitat .

In our blog today, we are dissecting a BTS Still that was practically lit with a look that I’ve been wanting to achieve for a very long time.

Cover 1.jpg

 

The Setting

My friends and I were invited to be lighting crew on a local production of Beauty and The Beast.

We set up on the bleachers of our school gym, which has magenta and white walls that melt into rich blacks as the house lights fade down.

During the production, we only had a desk lamp to illuminate our cue sheet from the darkness.

Which was too bright, so we gelled it.

 

The Breakdown

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Contrast
The scene has a very high key:background ratio. Examining the False Color Render, Zuzanna’s skin tones are peaking at around 70% IRE while everything in the background is basically 0% IRE.

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Background
However, the background is much more than just darkness. There are what Shane calls “pockets of light” created by reflections on railings as well as the light leaks from Source Fours.

By opening up my 85mm wide to F1.4, it was able to capture these light sources as bokeh. Enhancing the feel of depth without drawing too much attention.

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Practical
Going back to our middle ground, the desk lamp is completely blown out, peaking at 100% IRE.

However, this balances out the general darkness in our frame and creates a clear motivation of where the soft, bounced key light comes from.

Foreground

Foreground
I did not notice the foreground objects until this very second. They serve a very important role as well!

I can’t really paint this with/without render, but these foreground objects are blocking a majority of the table. Which is receiving light from the practical and bouncing it as a softer source.

If the table was completely exposed, it would’ve tipped off the exposure balance in our frame by introducing too much light.

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Conclusion

Not all ambient/practical-lit situations are flat and high-key. And a believable low-key set-up is much more than lighting a subject in pitch-black. Look for pockets of light, and indicate objects on different focal planes!

Thanks for the attention, shoot more & store more!

Discovery: 2. Commercial Cinematography with Federico Cantini

This discovery is based on Federico Cantini’s Presentation at Cine Summit 2017

Link to the event

FEDERICO’S BACKGROUND

  • Studied cinematography in Argentina 15 years ago
  • Interested since 12 years old
  • Started off shooting Music Videos
  • Working in the commercial market with short 2-3 week production periods

“ADVERTISING CINEMATOGRAPHY IS NOT ABOUT LIGHTING A BOTTLE”
Commercials are like little stories about human emotions, not just the products.

Federico Reel.png

IMPORTANT POINTS

  1. Director Needs
  2. Visual Storytelling
  3. Agency and Client Needs
  4. Collaboration with other departments
  5. Technical Approach

DIRECTOR’S NEEDS

  • Establish what assistance your director expects.
  • Might know more about cinematography than the cinematographer
  • Might be weaker on visuals
  • Might want to operate
  • Might want to light

PRE-PRODUCTION

  • Brainstorm possible camera movements
  • Determine gear in the end
  • Federico’s golden rule for car commercial if the story is about people, handheld

AGENCY & CLIENTS

  • We are artists but also professionals
  • Find out selling specs
  • Study client’s past work
  • Find a beautiful way to show what the client wants to show

COLLABORATION

  • Prioritize communication & positivity
  • We are not alone
  • Other collaborators have ideas, problems, great days, and awful days
  • “We need to deal with it”
  • Tech Scout is too late for opinions
  • It’s our job to be totally on top of everything way before the tech scout
  • Sometimes we are involved in the last minute
  • Do less & focus more

QUOTES

“You have to be involved in decision making right from the beginning to help your filming and help the production look as good as possible, because these decisions can make your work a lot easier or a lot harder.”

“In every single department could be something that could make our job much more easier, or much more difficult”

TECHNICAL

  • When we know what, when, how, and who, determine gear
  • Base your decision on camera movement, then budget
  • Archive everything!

CASE STUDY 

Coca Cola – Holidays (Human Emotions)

View it here

Coke 2

Pre-production
* They attended location scouts then adapted ideas to storyboards
* Be on location scouts, so you can have an influence on decisions
* Certain locations drove new ideas
* Experienced directors know how to adapt while keeping the same story

Coke 1

Production
* Shot on Alexa Mini & Leica Summilux
* 90% Handheld (Shows human emotion)
* Light for freedom
* Lighting interior through windows
* Frederico tried to be the invisible cinematographer
* All CUs with 25mm low aperture, physically close
* Shoots with 1 camera but fast between set-ups
* Frame Rates between 48 & 96

“When I need to shoot emotions, and do close-ups, I like to use 25mm lens – to use a wide lens and be close to the actor.”

Coke 3

This scene was shot at night, lit with arrimax lights

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Due to mis-communication with Coca Cola, the girl could no longer grab a bottle as planned. So Federico & the director completely changed the choreography of the scene.

Coke 8

The next sequence was shot with mainly practicals with some help from the RGB Arri Skypanels

Coke 9

Lots of pre-production with art department

Coke 10
Light for the green window was gelled for color separation

Town scene was lit by a 4K HMI in a Helium Balloon

Coke 13

Hire magicians, balloon men to make kids laugh!

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Federico shot this child’s CU with telephoto, to remove distractions from his performance
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The red wash was created by an Arri Skypanel

Tip: Put practicals on dimmers, so they dim to be contained. This was forgotten and required the team to re-patch.

Preference

  • Shoots handheld without easy rig
  • Prefers to have camera in bare hands, as close as possible
  • To capture emotion, he prepares to move around freely

Visualcabulary

Breaking into Emotion

Working as Cole Peterson’s first-time Gaffer on Home, and Zero Avenue last year opened my eyes about the power of naturalistic lighting.

His images never seem to come from an obvious 3-point lighting set-up in a hot, stale studio. But rather engage me in the romantic moonlit night where Zach earns Zoey’s trust, or in Grayson’s dark art studio, where he paints precious memories.

This approach gave his visuals a sense of location, time, and emotion.

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BTS of “Hello” Directed by Kate Kanariov, Cinematography by Cole Peterson

Learning through Application

With growing interest in the look of new naturalism—a cinematic style that utilizes the familiarity of natural light and intimate camera operation to engage an audience—I actively pursue motivated lighting as a cinematographer.

In Attic in the Basement, I focused on motivating the placement of lights. Chucking the concept of having key, fill, back light for every shot to the back of my mind; I lit scenes as if I was a part of the production design. In order to make this fantastical experience seem like real life, every light was motivated by location, realistic or not.

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Few months later, I got the opportunity to shoot Just Imagine, and Solus. Both of which had a certain degree of hyperrealistic perspective. This time around, I focused more on motivating the color, intensity, and quality of light. Comparing to Attic in the Basement, these two films called for much softer lighting, in order to bring out the idealistic worlds of Tom and Lana. We motivated window light, ambient bounce of a room, as well as the soft, magic hour feel.

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Importance of Visualcabulary

The experimental process of light motivation on these 3 shorts helped me to accumulate a small collection of cinematic settings.

I’ve witnessed and can now replicate

1) The soft direction of a mid-day window light
2) The beautiful golden contrast of a morning sun painting shadows on walls
3) The color contrast of someone being backlit by warm, sodium vapors while keyed by neutral ambient feel
4) The authentic candle flicker that add an subconcious sense of unease or romance
5) The soft computer light in a dark room as someone absorbs new found information
6) The beautiful canvas of setting sun as a background to silhouette subjects
7) The strong rays of sunlight travelling into a dusty room
8) The lamp on a plain wall accentuating patterns of its sconce
9) Beautiful reflections of a computer desk lit by practicals
and the list goes on..

Capture theses moments
It is so important to capture these natural cinematic moments, because one day, they will either be perfect for the story you tell, or the basis to build upon what is to come.

#visualcabulary

Discovery: 1.Being Spontaneous with Crescenzo Notarile

This week’s discovery is based on the 75th Episode of the ASC Podcasts, with Cinematographer Crescendo Notarile, ASC, AIC, and host Ian Marcks.

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Snapshot of Crescenzo’s Instagram

75. Gotham with Crescenzo Notarile

In this podcast, Crescenzo Notarile highlights the importance of being spontaneous on set.

Link to the podcast

History

  • Worked on Michael Jackson’s Moon Walker
  • Shot CSI for its last 5 years
  • Father is an art director
  • Mother is a sculptor
  • Started from camera assistant
  • Photography is in his bones

 

Quotes

“He (Michael Jackson) was an introverted, shy person. But on stage, doing his job, as a performer, he came to life.”

“When you learn what you are planning to do for the rest of your life, you come to life for the opportunity.

 

Career Growth

  • Music videos have freedom
  • Music video and commercial for about 10 years
  • Hard to step off the TV genre
  • Partner for Gotham: Christopher Nore collaborates without ego

 

Gotham’s Look

Having a story derived from the graphic novel world, the cinematographers have freedom to stretch the realism of colors and camera movements, and composition.

When Crescenzo shot CSI, close-ups are genrally in the 150mm-200mm range.

However, 21mm-32mm is more commonly used for Gotham’s close ups.

The wider angle close-ups bring sphericality to faces, and subconsciously help viewers get into the skulls of characters. Additionally enhance depth on a 2D screen.

Crescendo loves to juxtapose the overall cyan, monochromatic tones with warm sconce and practicals.


Workflow

  • Highly precise in preproduction
  • Previsualize
  • Prep to plant seeds in his head so he can think beyond them on set
  • Relies on spontaneous creativity
  • DP Tonino Nelniconi of Once upon a time in America doesn’t check light meter until everything is set.
  • Light from the heart.
  • Putting technicality aside allows one to open the mind.
  • Cinematography becomes instinctual, innate

Just Imagine: Scene 2, INT. DINER-DAY

Looking forward to sharing more stills from Just Imagine as I navigate my way back to our set ups!

m-of-tom-day-1

 

This is a second master that my 1st AC/B Cam Operator Ryan Ding has framed up! With a bit of an adjustment, he was able to frame in both characters as they sit, as well as a gorgeous table top even after the 2:35 crop!

Tom notices the stranger for the very first time, as our waiter Matt Woods readies his table.

post-shoot
Floor Plan with Camera & Lighting Plot created using Shot Designer

 

Set up:
A7sii with Nikkor 35mm at F2.8 ISO400

Keyed by a redhead with Full CTB bounced into a 4×4 Floppy Ultrabounce. Enhanced by Arri Fresnel 650 with Full CTB outside restaurant windows.

The ambient day light from windows helped our key to wrap around Tom’s face beautifully.

Edged by another redhead with Full CTB from the back window of Little Billy’s Steakhouse.

Also had a bare 650 creating specular highlights on the glasses for tables in the background.

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Shot list for the Production Day