A couple of months ago, I was flown to Olympia, Washington to shoot a short film for the Faith-Based 168 hour film festival. As the name alludes, 168 hours is the amount of time given for the production teams to film-edit-and deliver the final film. Needless to say, it was a tough and challenging endeavor, but successful and rewarding in the end.
Breaking, directed by Gary Volker (Experience Studios) and Produced by my fellow film-school alum Paula Wood (Crazy LuLu Productions), went on to garner 8 nominations at the awards; the third most nominations out of 90+ films.
As of now, only low resolution images of Breaking can be found on my website (under demo-reel, narrative), but the Directors cut has just been released on YouTube, and as of the time of this writing, can be found here:
The film had a wonderful cast and crew. We worked with an old, but operational grip & lighting truck, while the camera-package was flown out with me from sunny Los Angeles. We shot RedOneMX and some wonderful new Cooke Panchro/i prime lenses. The 18mm had just been released and I can't imagine having to shoot this film without it!
Gary and I wanted very controlled camera movement for most of the film. When the main character's memory is most effected or out-of-reality we opted to go handheld. My tripod/dolly operating was classic in style, smooth and mainly motivated. My handheld operating was intuitive and occasionally, on purpose, counter intuitive to give a feeling of anxiety and conflict. Meaning, at times the camera would sway or tilt in the opposite direction that felt natural. Thus creating a strange and disorienting feeling, similar to that going on inside the main characters thoughts. Similarly, the use of fog, smoke and atmosphere is used as to give a personified characteristic to the world reflecting what is going on in the main characters mind. His memory is foggy and a mystery, the heavy amount of atmosphere/haze in the room when he wakes up and searches for clues to his memory is quite appropriate.
Lighting wise, I went motivated and natural for the most part. We desaturated and tweaked the response curve of the MXchip in camera because of our time restraints and because I work as much as I can in camera, using the RAW function of the RedOne, as a contingency plan. I tried to get the entire exposure tight, thus no pure white whites, or true black blacks. The result is a dull and miserable world, probably most stylized in the approach to the abandoned house and the subsequent discovery of the picture frame inside, although the interior was lended an even bluer, cold feeling.
During his flashbacks, we warmed up the image, let the whites bloom a little, and introduced natural and man-made flares into the lens for beauty and distortion. The memories are of a happier time, so the images reflect that. When they are taking a photo of each other, that was natural flares through the tree branches. But during the flashback where he is carrying her to the house, that was an unfiltered, 650w fresnel on the end of a gobo arm, being spiked from above the camera as we pushed-in toward the house. It created a very warm wash of flare which was just beautiful.
The lighting during the flash-back argument scene was 100% artificial. We shot the entire interior-day scene during the pitch of night. Special thanks to my lighting guys for skinning all the windows with diffusion and running all that power around the dark (and wet) house. It wasn't much for a normal show, (lots and lots of 1k pars, fresnels, and etc) but for 168 hour film festival type productions, it was an undertaking of paramount importance to time, and they did it. The light pool on the island is for a small under-return for the actors faces. The fruit is replaced with a 'pizzabox' reflector whenever it's not in the shot. We had the wife with her face initially in the key light, because she is aggressive and confronting. Chris's face, is initially in shadow and remains so, most of the time, because he is the one who is hiding a secret and is withdrawing from the relationship.
The car scene, was completely man-made as well. In fact, the entire crew had a part in it. We had everyone swinging lamps, dimming the bulbs, and splashing the car to mimic car movement through street lamps, and other vehicles passing by. The couple of seconds in the film, where the main character is driving right before the crash, is all done inside of a garage. The streetlamps, headlights, and tail-lights were all controlled and operated by the entire crew. It was a wonderful and orchestrated effort that was really fun to shoot, and worked out very well in the end.
There are many many stories I could tell, but the last one that comes to mind, would be the final image of the film. The ECU of a letter, which pulls out to reveal a big pile of letters. Instead of taking a high resolution still image and pulling out from it in post (which most would have done) Jeff, the production designer, stuck them all on a wall and we pushed back on a dolly with a 25mm lens from 8 inches to about 6' away. Pulling focus on that shot was a nightmare, but we got it within the first 12 takes. If you pull focus, you'll know how insane a focus pull from close-focus can be!
All photos taken by set-photographer Sherie Suter