SKUNKY DOG - A Big Fish to Fry

Noticed lately that I had completely forgotten I had a blog site. What can I say, with film school and outside AC work; I've been busy. 

But alas, I will find time to write about my journey through production on SKUNKY DOG. A National Film School graduate short film written & directed by James Fitzgerald and produced by Paddy Slattery. 

In January 2014, when writer-director James Fitzgerald asked me to come on board as DOP, I was a little blown away. This was a Fourth year Graduate film, and I was only a second year student. Needless to say, there was a lot of doubt from the lecturers and even some of my peers. But James was very firm that I was capable for the role. 

I read the script that night; I was very impressed by it's structure and it tug a string or two on the ole heart of mine. Of course I wasn't going to turn down such a great opportunity. Pre-production started immediately.

Set modern day in the rural town of Dunmore East, Ireland. James was motivated in capturing the loneliness of the world around our main character, Seamus Doyle. Large, barren, yet scenic landscapes and shabby local pubs were to play a major role in our story. After recce's we opted for principle photography to shoot in the beautiful West of Ireland, Co. Galway.

Although we are both huge fans of shooting on film, James and I both agreed to shoot digitally for budgeting and scheduling reasons. This introduced a massive challenge for me to craft and mould our digital format into the most organic, cinematic look possible; as per request of the director.

I elected to shoot the film on the RED Scarlet X provided by Film Equipment Hire Ireland. This, by any means was not solely for the 4k resolution the camera captures. But rather the 14 stops of dynamic range the camera is capable of imaging. We shot ar 4k 16:9 framed for an aspect ratio of the cinema standard 2:35:1 for a final resolution of 4096 x 1714 and that 35mm field of view. This was decided best to capture the large landscapes of Connemara and I wanted to also add an extra sense of loneliness to Seamus' character by having that extra empty space present in the frame. We shot handheld on a Zacuto shoulder rig for that extra sense of social realism.

I used Black Pro-mist filtration in my scheme to achieve a cinematic look. Usually opting for a 1/4BPM & 1/2BPM to capture that subtle glowing falloff of highlights. It also helped to diffuse that harsh digital sharpness of the Scarlet. One of James' fears was a razor sharp digital image.

Lense wise, I had a major decision to make. And only with the helping consultation of my amazing 1st AC Matthew Rogan, I finally decided on a set of Canon CN-E Primes. Their speed on average at T1.3 was the decider. It would help me out in a pickle when shooting Night Exteriors on the fly and still wanting to shoot natively at 800ASA. My preferred stop was T2.8, giving just the right amount of shallow depth of field and also giving my focus puller a fighting chance!

In pre-pro, I sat down with my experienced gaffer, Hugh Mulhern and went through every location and how we would light each one. I wanted the Pub Day Interiors, where our character spends most of his days, to be lit entirely from the windows. As if this location is a dark, dreary, unforgiving place. Almost as if it is where Seamus comes to hide from the light, or artistly - reality. I used two HMI's, a 1.2k compact and a 2.5k Fresnal with a 1 stop Net in front to shine directly through both windows. The Lamps where at low levels to simulate morning time. I filled the location with a light haze, so the rays would become visible in camera. 

The pub interiors night, had a different approach. I top lit everything tungsten with a 1/4 or 1/8 CTO to match our already existing practicals. I wanted the top light to be noticeably unpleasant when illuminating faces and usually with a subtle 251 diffusion. This was all to give the impression that the pub comes alive at nights, and has an almost, but not entirely welcoming warmth. 

I used chinaballs with 100w bulbs religiously for eyelights bringing the life into our characters and maintaining the 2:1 lighting ratio I sought after.

Day exteriors were lit naturally with poly bounce boards and reflectors. We were lucky to maintain an overcast sky throughout production. This was conveniently soft on faces and kept the surroundings looking dull and grey. Something we had originally set out to achieve for the story. 

Night Exteriors were to be lit with only a 2k genie... Challenge. But we ended up with some nice natural 3 point lighting setups utilizing 2x redheads and a 300w fresnal. This was okay when our subjects were stationary!

The rushes were transcoded to 1080p DNxHD by our DIT wizard Dylan Knapp, (seriously, this man is a genius) for the edit in Avid Media Composer by Editor Oisin Bickley. I graded the 4k rawcode r3d files myself in Da Vinci Resolve 9. I overlayed a real 4k scan of 35mm gorilla grain for an added final touch. The film was down-scaled for a final 1080p Prores 10bit 422 master.

I was very fortunate to be given this great opportunity to advance as a cinematographer, I've learnt so much in the process and I believe I have created a look that is both cinematic and true to the story of Skunky Dog. 

A shoutout to my unbelievably talented  Camera & Lighting Team whom I would have been lost without; 

  • Kyllian Nichol: Camera/Steadicam Operator
  • Matthew Rogan: Focus Puller
  • Joey Ingersoll: 2nd AC/Stills Photographer
  • Dylan Knapp: DIT
  • Hugh Mulhern: Gaffer

The film will receive it's Irish premiere at the 2014 Galway Film Fleadh, Wednesday 9th July. You can view the trailer here!

'Skunky Dog' is a short contemporary drama set in a small fishing town in rural Ireland. Written and Directed by Waterford man James Fitzgerald (OIC Media) and Produced by Paddy Slattery (Stand Mantra Productions) and shot around the west coast of Galway in places like Spiddal, Barna and Connemara.

More on production and BTS stills here:

Thanks for reading, more to come soon!


BTS stills by Joey Ingersoll