Josh Negrin has produced another cool HDSLR short called “Cover” they shot on Canon EOS 5D Mark II (reviews) and Canon EOS 7D (reviews) cameras – we've gotten some good behind the scenes materials from Josh and his DP Joseph Hendrickson to share with you.
I color corrected it using Magic Bullet Looks, and I can't speak more highly of the Technicolor Cinestyle Profile, I'm a huge fan. We shot all three cameras using the Cinestyle Profile.
I'm including some production stills, and some before and after shots (color graded and original)
Chris Tilton, the composer of the t.v. show “Fringe” wrote and produced an amazing score for us, and even recorded live instruments. I was blown away.
Joseph Hendrickson DP
When Josh Negrin came to me with what we were calling at the time “the untitled action/comedy short” I was excited by the opportunity to make a stylized well polished short that incorporated both Josh's skills as a director/editor and my keen eye for visuals.
Working with Josh on previous shorts we've really developed a short hand which allows us to get very specific with the images and how they best express the characters emotional states/ obstacles.
When you’re working with talented actors it makes it very easy to intuitively find a frame where the external landscape reflects the internal life of the character. Which is why we decided on filming in Korea town and downtown LA. Josh is an ambitious filmmaker and I know when I work with him that we are going to be pushing the envelope and getting shots that are risky. The 5D’s form factor and size certainly plays a key role when shooting guerilla films.
BTS of “Cover”
Our productions are guerilla in nature. Driving through Korea town with a 5D, mounted via a suction cup, on the back passenger window, monitoring the shot by looking over your shoulder at the on-camera LCD, while keeping the running actors in the frame by maintaining a steady speed, on a road with other cars and pedestrians, you start to get a little nervous that you might draw some unnecessary attention and get shut down. Those were the first shots of our two-day production and I remember turning to Josh and saying “you’re crazy!”
I'm really happy with the first shots of the film because we got very close to replicating big budget process/driving shoots on no budget! We’re able to do this because the whole team is focused and when it’s the right time we all spring into action and get the shot. Also, a stripped down (no battery grip, etc.) Canon DSLR is so light, you can pretty much throw it onto a $40 suction cup mount and not worry about it.
Guerilla shooting is really all about the timing and being patient because you don't have control of your locations, so you get it when you can. Sometimes you’re really surprised by the little gems of background action that's realistic and enhances the film. For example in one of the slow mo shots, when our spook is chasing the couple, pigeons flew up as the actor’s face came into focus and really made the shot! You can't plan for those things you just have to always be ready to roll and hope to get lucky.
Being that the bulk of our story took place in a couple of alleys we were able, for the most part, to own our locations. We would start shooting early on Saturday in an industrial part of LA hoping the location would be quiet. This is when scouting is essential especially when you plan to line up half a dozen cars for a shoot out scene with replica automatic weapons.
In LA, technically, you are required to have a police officer on duty when filming with prop guns. With guerilla filmmaking (no permits, no cops) choosing a very low traffic area is crucial, and even then there's always the chance you could get shut down, fined heavily and have to go someplace else. Josh tells a pretty funny story about actually being detained by police, as he was shooting a scene, in the middle of Beverly Hills, in which a pretty blonde girl gets shoved (at gunpoint) into a car by two mobsters. He now makes sure that a camera is visible (to anyone walking by) anytime a prop gun is out.
With this style of shooting, there is no time to light. Even though we had some reflectors and light discs on set, we rarely used them because there simply isn't enough hands for them or the time. With that in mind, we chose the best spots to stage our action in available light and let the realism of the high contrast or shade work for the story. Keeping the Sun’s movements in mind is crucial and planning the heavy dialogue scenes for time of day with optimal light is really all we could do. Most cinematographers would find this frustrating and I'm not going to lie it is, but once you embrace this style of shooting you free yourself up to make creative choices on framing and camera movement.
With lighting in mind, our raw footage was very low contrast and de-saturated. This is a product of Technicolor’s Cine-style picture profile that we used on the 5D's. Josh color corrected the film and is a huge fan of how much latitude Technicolor’s profile allowed him. In a nutshell it allows you to expose an image with the most dynamic range or latitude for the 5D’s 35mm sensor thus preserving your highlights, midtones and shadows for creative color grading in post. One of the challenges with monitoring that profile on the 5D LCD is that its easy to overexpose or underexpose to compensate for what looks flat and not as snappy, contrast-wise as the usual standard profile.
Another choice that benefited our production is that we shot with two, sometimes three, cameras (two 5D Mark II’s and a 7D). This can really aid you because you can cover a scene with a wide and two medium shots. Jared Ward and Jolene Kay (our two leads) are strong actors and it was nice to have the ability to get all the necessary coverage, during one take, especially since Josh likes to have the actors improvise.
As a cinematographer, I'm hesitant to take on no budget short with young, sometimes overly ambitious director/writers. The post flow is rarely fully thought out; especially when there are CGI elements you need to account for. Being that Josh is an extremely talented editor and knows the ropes when it comes to after effects he knows what he needs to make it work. The reason we are able to create shorts with this amount of production value is solely on the dedication and talents of Josh and his producing team’s (Dan Goldwasser and Drew Cohn) skill in the editing bay. That in mind, I trust Josh's vision and am confident that whatever we shoot will be given the time and creative energy to craft a well-polished piece. As the DP I was consulted on multiple occasions as to the look of the film. A lot of Josh's inspiration came from the film noir genre and he did a lot of research as to how to create that in color grading so I more or less helped him to integrate the look without it becoming all about the look. We maintained a balance when matching shots and knowing when in the story to give it a creative punch visually so those moments stand out and make an impact.
For the climax of the story Josh wanted to do a shoot out scene where four people are taken out. Josh and I spent a good amount of time blocking and rehearsing this shot because we knew we wanted to get it in one long hand held shot. The timing on the henchmen for when they would pop up and fire was all specifically coordinated. We knew we would be adding stray bullet hits from the bad guys and their kill shots so I had to insure a believable “muzzle line” all while running and ducking with the character. When doing a complicated shot like this that entails multiple lighting scenarios you really use your rehearsals to find the exposure for tighter more important moments of the character while also exposing for the wide moments with the background action. In an ideal world you'd have a 1st Ac for slightly adjusting exposure during the shot but being a one man band and pulling my own focus, adjusting aperture would have been to many things to do while I stayed in tune with the actors movement, so I found a happy medium.
Making films is all about the people and when you have a tight nit crew of talented people that can wear multiple hats you can get away with a low impact skeleton crew and accomplish a larger scope of production.
(cover photo credit: snap from the movie)