Somewhere between the last weeks of July, I received a phone call from the much loved Larry "the Lamb" Cowan from Lamb Films. Now, those that know of Larry and his work, will already understand why I described him as Loved. But for those that don't, he is the nicest, most helpful and notoriously down to earth producer in the Northern Irish Indie scene.
Anyway, he briefed me on a small indie project with possibly the most attractive story I've came across yet. A stark contrast to most of my previous work, usually involving dark and gritty themes and problem inflicted characters. So it was quite a relief to receive a screenplay with a simple story that was quite heartwarming in a way.
It follows the tale of a young Dad, facing some financial difficulties; whom shows his son his love, not by showering him with toys or expensive gadgets. But with the gift of fantasy and adventure. Something quite priceless to any modern childhood. The both travel to see what is known as "the royal apple tree."
I soon signed on as cinematographer.
The brains behind the screenplay was a screenwriter from Finland named Leevi Ikonen and set to direct the short film was Finnish Director, Ida-Marie Olva. They flew over to Northern Ireland for the locations it offers.
One challenge that I faced straight on from the very beginning, was the language barrier. It was difficult for us to communicate ideas and intentions for the story. I believe it is essential for the Director and Cinematographer to be on the same page when it comes down to how we will tell the story. So although it took a little longer. It was worth the extra time for longer chats.
Right off the bat, I knew this story needed to be bright, soft and cheery with deeply saturated colour. But of course, what happened in both days of scheduled production? The heavens opened above us and we were caught in what seemed to be the heaviest rain showers I have ever seen. Typical.
We were able to creatively work this into our story. As long as it's clear and sunny during the scene in which the boy's imagination really runs away with himself, ie. on the grounds of the Orchard, then it would actually work in our favour. It provides a natural contrast between the reality of the characters life, to the paradise in which they escape.
For this production. I opted for the c300. Being restricted with budget, this seemed the smartest camera to utilize. I've spoke before of my thoughts on it's image quality, and I'm still as impressed. The best thing about it was the camera could run 12 hours on just three batteries. Which was ideal for us since we had no available power supply on location. It isn't exactly media-hungry either! Even at it's internal 1080p 50mb/s format. Once again, I made good use of Canon's cLog gamma to retain the most detail and dynamic range. We shot for a 16x9 aspect ratio. We agreed that any other more widescreen format would simply be overkill.
Lighting was simple. It had to be; the production called for it. I didn't have the option of pulling power from a genie and sparking some HMI's through diffusion to fill faces and add rims. All I had was a piece of poly. And it was fine. I tried to stage most of the action and the camera so that the sun would back-light the subjects. Then I would use the poly to lift the levels where I needed it. So unfortunately, there's not much more I can say there! I was reliant on utilizing what the sun could give me.
Apart from the c300's internal ND's (so handy) to maintain a shooting stop at 2.8. I used a Pola 4x4 in the mattebox religiously. Not just to bring out the blue when I could in the sky, but for the skin tones I wanted. It was nice to give the characters this smooth complexion by canceling reflections. I believe this look is almost dreamy in a way, which I wanted to reflect on the boy's imagination. Check out an example below, shot at 70mm f2.8, lit with one piece of polyboard and a pola in front of the lens.
The images you see are only rough pre-grades corrected in Adobe Photoshop. But it reflects what I aim to do in Post with Davinci Resolve once picture is locked. Simply pushing warm, vibrant colours and rich soft skin tones.
I had a very small yet amazing team of two on this one. My usual go-to Focus Puller: Matthew Rogan and a newcomer whom showed great ability as a 2nd AC; Benny Steinbeck. I owe them a lot for putting up with the miserable weather and keeping the equipment dry and functional. Also props to the amazing cast Sean Hegarty and his son James.
I think I've yammered on just about enough. But stay tuned to the social media where more info on this one will be released soon. Any question you can ask in the comments below!
Thanks for reading,