A while ago, I wrote a short blog about the making of a teaser trailer as part of a submission to RTE storyland. Well, turns out it was selected for funding and for the past two weeks I've been shooting this project in Belfast.
The run up to principle photography was short. In fact, the turn around on production of this series was incredibly and impressively fast. Due to production on another project and my unavailability, pre-production for me consisted of a series of many emails to the director.
Usually, with the luxury of more time; I like to have a considerable amount of one-on-one sessions with the Director regarding his notes and a collaborative process of sculpting the best suited look for the story. Alas, we did not possess this luxury! Though I did have my time each day on set to sink my teeth into Director Aidan Largeys extensive notes and visual references for each scene. He had a whole storyboard comprised of frames from other films that influenced him! Awesome.
I arrived in Belfast a day before production began with a clear idea of how I intended to shoot the series. I opted for the Canon c300 on this one after really getting to know the ins ands outs of the camera in the past few months. I knew it was the ideal tool for the job because the majority of shooting was in a guerrilla style, playing with mostly practical lights to illuminate scenes.
Ideally, I like to choose an ASA best suited as a base for the look. But I knew because of the budget and scheduling limitations, I wouldn't get the chance to extensively light each scene as I would like to. And thus, I wouldn't get the desired stop to shoot. I was quite confident in riding the ASA on the c300, because I know what it can handle in low light situations. I could pump the gain as far 6400 in Night Exteriors and have confidence in the noise levels.
As usual I shot flat in cLog at 1080p25 422 for maximum amount of breathing space in post. Shooting with the view assist on the c300 is not quite a rec709 LUT, but it beats showing the director a flat image on set.
I paired the camera with a set of Zeiss CP.2 cinema lenses. I found their sharpness ideal for the story; a dark and edgy cop drama like this one. The focal range was 18,25,35,50,85. We also had a Canon L-series 70-200 f2.8 zoom.
My lighting package was very small, and was only really there to create a look, not so much to light locations - but to mould light around a character to convey an emotion. I would mostly look at the practical lamps in a room at the start of the day and work from there. I had a Blonde, a 650 fresnal and a Panalite LED panel. Siné!
For the most part I would request to stage the action near windows for Day Interiors and simply rotate actors and subject camera angles to favour the sun in Day Exteriors.
I'd like to say we had the controlled environments needed to maintain a desired shooting stop. But we simply didn't. Most of the time I shot wide open at t2.1 for Interiors, simply because I had to. I had a total 9 stops in Internals ND's, so Exteriors were mostly shot at t4.
I did what I could to entice the drama of sequences with what I had. For example, with night interiors in which intense dialogue scenes would play out; I tried to keep it as simple as possible. One scene, I lit with just a 650 fresnal black-wrapped to spot a desk in which the character was seated. This created a soft, warm bounce on the face with a satisfying eye-light. Ocassionaly I would introduce a rim light to seperate the fore-ground from the back.
One scene I am most proud of whilst reviewing the rushes, portrays a dramatic argument and emotional table turning moment of one of our characters. Because the nature of the location, it made sense for the characters to have lights in order to see. So I brought some 400w halogen work lamps into the scene. I did this so that I could introduce flare into the shots, where I wanted them. It was a very strong scene performance wise, so I didn't want to lose any valuable expressions on faces. I left the matte-box on, so that while operating handheld, I allowed myself to weave in and out of flare. Bringing it in during dialogue that would heighten what was just said, or even implied by the character.
One thing I am most greatful for is the time in which we shot. There is something so crisp about that low angled winter sun that I believe is just amazing when given the right weather. It's brilliant for contrast and shaping faces, unlike the nasty top lighting that summer brings. Unless ofcourse if that is what you desire!
For aspect ratio, we chose a final 1.85:1 crop in post while shooting 16x9. Personally, the director and I believe the story called for a cinemascope of 2.39:1. But, the medium in which it will be viewed by audiences, drew us towards a more home-monitor friendly frame.
The stills you see in this post are only freeze-framed pre-grade and touched up in photoshop. I plan on giving the series the same pass as I did on the teaser trailer. Pushing dark greens into shadows and utilising golden highlights. For the most part anyway. Colour plays a big part of the frame for me. So where it is called for, I like to tweak the pallete to portray a characters emotion, Psyche or even the general tone of a scene. For exmple, playing with cool teals and cyans on some scenes.
Even playing the cinematography very bold with red keys and blue fills in some scenes to enhance the drama. I like to do this to add something to scenes and if there is also a practical reason for it being there. Such as these, where I was trying to convey locations for what they were supposed to be.
I feel like I've gabbled on a tad too much so I'll wrap it up. Given the limitations, it still was a really great production and story to to be involved in telling. Major props to the Director Aidan Largey, whom I very much enjoy working with. My Camera team Mike Lockhart, focus puller and Neil Clerkan, 2nd AC and at times gaffer too. For there was none!
As always, thanks for reading,