I recently had the opportunity to meet a young, passionate filmmaker who is following his dream of creating a full feature film he wrote, shot and directed. Hardland details how two brothers endure the collapse of modern society and the loss of their parents caused by an epic global power grid failure. Samuel Jacob’s dream is partially funded by his Kickstarter campaign which ends in 10 days and I felt this was a perfect opportunity to discuss how Sam shot this feature.
“Hardland” by Samuel Jacob
MB: Sam, you’re young and never went to Film School yet you have a great looking full feature almost completed. How did you start this endeavor and accomplish this large task?
SJ: Oh boy. Honestly, I never liked learning the ‘arts’ from schools- I felt that I needed to search what that even meant to me, ‘art’ or even ‘film’ in general. It has to have purpose and a reason behind the art, otherwise it doesn’t connect with me. What I wish to see is the value in films and stories that impact me in someway.
The rest was just watching a lot of films from the greats, listening to conversations with film makers such as Christopher Nolan or cinematographers like Emmanuel Lubezki. Doing a lot of reading helps too. You really gotta go after it yourself if it’s your passion. One thing I’ve learned recently: we all have our own ‘color-pallets’ within us; it’s for us to discover what they are by inspiration of those who came before us.
MB: Very true. Now, you wrote, directed, shot, edited AND color graded this feature right? Where did you learn all the aspects? Any tips?
SJ: Yes! Kind of crazy. I guess when you’re in the midst of creating (the hurricane, I call it) you’re so wrapped up in whats going on, you need to take a step back and see whats going on… Am I really doing all of this? It’s not easy. I used to be in a band, I wrote lyrics a lot and was very much into story-telling as a kid. I even grew up making my own movies on tape.
I’m still learning how to color-grade. When I got my hands on the BMCC I forced myself to use Davinci Resolve even though I never touched it before. I think the photography from my past helped me with color grading images. Watching films and comparing to the images the Blackmagic produces helped me too. I was awestruck by how close it is to film. It’s not film, but it’s film-like. I’ve actually shot 35mm as a photographer, so I can tell you there’s good amounts of similarities in this camera.
If I were to give a tip: take your time. Knowing how to craft an image from your mind to reality takes time, you need to study a lot, try a lot. From the writing, to the editing. Here’s a good quote from my favorite actor/director, Jon Cassavetes:
“As an artist, I feel that we must try many things – but above all we must dare to fail.”
MB: Before dive into camera stuff, how did you handle on-set audio? I find this to be so vital with filmmaking.
SJ: Honestly, it was the hardest thing ever. Especially for my demands on set. I was working with the actors in a very real way, giving them the flexibility to move WHEREVER they wanted on screen, and we would just follow.
Our first Boom operator just stopped dead center when we were going through the forest moving through tight spots surrounded by trees. I didn’t notice our audio guy was a quarter of a mile away until 5 minutes in- I looked behind us and saw him! Apparently he was tripping on poison oak and we we’re moving too fast.
A lot of audio work is being done in post though, with our funds from our Kickstarter campaign we’re trying to get better audio equipment as well when we finish the film.
MB: Tell us about the camera set-up. The images in the trailer look superb. I noticed right away the anamorphic look you have going on.
SJ: Anamorphic yes. Well, I’ve been using this Kowa Bell & Howell 2x, which is just beautiful, all it’s characteristic flaws are exactly what I wanted for this story. My main lenses are vintage Nikons, such as the 50mm 1.2, and 28mm 2.8. For the spherical shots, I used a Tokina 11-16mm. I knew going into this story, I wanted various aspect ratios.
The rig is a DSLR shoulder rig. It’s been good to me so far! The monitor I’ve been using is wonderful! It’s a SmallHD, love it.
MB: How did the Blackmagic Cinema camera handle your demanding workload? What was it’s greatest strength? Did you run into any problems?
SJ: Coming from being a Canon 5DMKII user, there is a HUGE difference for me now. You know all that time you spend using the Flat PictureStyles on the 5D, then editing/coloring the image to become more ‘film-like’? With the BMCC, I felt like it truly lifted me out of that limited BOX and gave the ability to create the image that I was actually trying to capture. I did shoot some 5D mkII raw footage (Magic-Lantern plugin) with the anamorphic rig (Stretched it back out to 2k). I’m sure you’ll see the differences, but hopefully I do a good enough job in hiding the 5D flaws so the story keeps you involved.
BMCC greatest strength: Between shooting RAW Footage, 13 stops of Latitude and 2k Res? I’m really grateful of the latitude. The others are just pluses in my opinion. Of course with a great camera, you’re going to run into problems, I had a few. Missing-frames were a problem but I have that worked out. Just make sure you get a SansDisk Extreme and always reformat before shooting again.
MB: Give us some tips with Davinci Resolve and how you achieved the look you did.
SJ: Trial and error… for months! Months! Yes, while I was still filming, I was doing color tests. I couldn’t achieve the look I wanted that was in my head. I didn’t necessarily want the ‘Teal & Orange’ look, or whatever they call that. Though, I wanted colors to pop in that manner but I still wanted a more ‘warmer’ tone, bringing out the natural colors and creating an atmosphere that felt ‘BIG’.
So, I watched a lot of films and compared stills from other Major Motion-Pictures to my Indie Motion-Picture footage. (Keep in mind I don’t have a professional monitor, I’m using a Sony 1080p 32inch TV). Comparing is all I could do. I’m not a professional colorist. I found that it’s all in the Blacks within the image, I started correcting the blacks and exposure before coloring the rest. Sometimes to really control the black depth and to keep latitude, you need a darker image in general, so comparing the exposure of my footage to actual 35mm exposure helped. Then I found the color-temperature I wanted, set that ‘mood’ and really set the environment feel. Ask yourself, “what do you want the audience to feel?”
I brought out the skin tone, selecting the yellow, red range and boosting the warmth (Which left the blues and magenta’s cooler), that helped some contrast. I moved on towards highlights 5 nodes later and spent around 3 nodes on perfecting highlights to match old film stock like The Thin Red Line. I wanted that off-white magenta color for the highlights. It’s amazing how beautiful film highlights roll. I did mimicked some skin tonality from Inception too.
Like I said, just pick a look you want and work at it. I think I ended up with around 10-15 nodes; I tweak them all individually to match. I’m currently working on a special grade for the ending sequence.
MB: So you shot this on a low or zero budget? Explain to us what you need to complete funding and how to go about doing that.
SJ: Yes, we shot this ultra low to the point where we can’t shoot anymore until we literally have the proper funds to go back out and finish this film. Currently we have a Kickstarter running, it has two trailers posted up and a great length of information about the story and production. We’re hoping that we meet our goal, or else we won’t receive any of the donations from our beloved backers. It’s really simple to donate, you just need to setup an amazon account and dive into our page and click “Back This Project”.
MB: Well I certainly hope you get all of your funding. Do you have any advice for other aspiring filmmakers?
SJ: Keep falling in-love with this passion, if it is your passion. Everyone has a message in their own life, the most real thing you can do is live that through your films and art. Write and create what you know. If you don’t know something, learn it.
It’s not easy. If it was, everyone would do it.
Thank you so much for this interview, I appreciate the value of your time Matt!
(cover photo credit: snap from the video)