Each year at AFI, cinematography fellows have to produce and shoot a (roughly) 3 minute MOS project. Many cinematographers opt to find a director and/or a producer to collaborate with. This year, I faced a pretty heavy time constraint and chose to write/produce/direct/shoot my own. Last years piece: Dance
This was my first time fully directing a narrative piece from beginning to end by myself. And it was unbelievably rewarding. My roommate, Matt, and his girlfriend, bore their souls in front of the lens, and I couldn’t have been more impressed with their performances.
It’s ultimately a story about a guy who wants something (in this case: a girl) but the obstacle that stands in his way is something internal—and he’s keenly aware of it. On the surface the short film deals with a small event, but this event fleshes out something much larger. It’s an expression of frustration.
I shot it on Kodak 35mm 5219 500T and 5212 100T with an Arri 435 on Kowa Anamorphic Prominar Lenses. And what a treat that was. 35mm Anamorphic is the king of all formats for a reason. It’s simply the greatest format I have ever shot on. Sadly, I have a hard time imagining when I’ll ever get the chance again.
I had many people help and support me to make this possible. They are all credited in the end and I’m thankful for all of them—not just their contribution to this short, but their hand in my life as well. Thanks.
I’m excited to announce one of the most intriguing and powerful projects I’ve had the chance to work on, 24 After. It’s a mind-bending story set in the 24 hours after death. Our character must choose what he will hold onto as his life’s relationships and memories are purged.
This is my AFI Thesis film. I’ll be shooting it on 35mm Kodak 5212 and 5260—thanks to a generous donation from Kodak. It will go into production in March of 2013. We are currently developing it and raising funds.
This project has incredible personal value to me. Not only is it the cumulation of my time at AFI, but it also has a story that resonates deeply with me. The visuals are going to be an immense task to create, but if we are successful, it will be immensely powerful short film.
In order to make this short with the level of production value and story-telling typical of AFI short films, we’ve set out to raise a lot of money—$50,000 to be exact. And that doesn’t come from some magical place. It comes from friends and family. Visit 24after.com/support to find out how you can help.
This is my second post in a series I’m doing called DP Decisions. It’s intended to break down the choices I made and why I made them. This time, I’m dissecting a project I shot for AFI with choreographer Arlene Yuan. This is great place to dig into something cinematographers must always work under: limitations.
You will never get the time, equipment, and manpower to do the job the easy way, and that was certainly the case on our 16mm MOS assignment. For this project, Dance, we had to use our own money (or loans) to self-produce a short film. It had to tell a story and work within a few parameters:
• 200′ of 16mm film
• Photographed in chronological order
• No sound
• Cannot leave campus
• 5 working hours
Usually the starting point for any project is the story, but sometimes, I’ve found that the real starting point for DPs is in knowing the limitations. Instead of asking, “What do I need to tell the story?”, you must ask, “What story can I tell with what I have to work with?”
As I always have a few ideas that I can’t get out my head, that’s where I started the creative process for this short. And at the time, I was mulling over the concepts of:
• Black and white
• Light transitions
So, I built a story around those ideas.
INT. EMPTY VOID
In a white space, a ballerina warms up. She stretches her feet. Her back as well. Her muscles flex and ripple before disappearing into her beauty.
She bursts into movement. Powerful and abrupt motion. She is practicing. Attempting to physically and mentally find her stage.
With each stance, she relaxes more and more. And we are sucked into her world...
With concepts like this, the rules are out. You can do anything. I decided to tie the lighting of the world to the psychological state of the dancer. As she got into “the zone” the lights would slowly fade into stage lighting.
While I pushed the limits of the lighting, I did the opposite with the camera. I decided to limit it. It would always stay frontal and only move on the z-axis. The ballerina and lights would move in front of it.
This was partially due to my location limitations and partially a creative choice. I only had a small part of my soundstage to build on and limited time in which to do so. Logistically, the stage wasn’t big enough for me to move the camera around a lot. Creatively, I believed that practical limitations actually made space for creative freedom. Because my brain was free from having to conceptualize camera movements, it was free to conceptualize lighting changes. And given that I only had 5 hours to shoot, fewer decisions meant better decisions.
I designed my lighting to create 4 looks: two “practice” looks and two “stage” looks. The two practice looks were soft, overhead lighting that could fade from back to front. So, either the ballerina was dark and the background was white—or the opposite. I used a row of China Balls behind her for back light. And a row in the front for front light.
The two stage looks were hard, stage lighting that could also fade from front to back. The front light was done with a simple Source4 with an operator using it like a follow spot. The back light was a row of Tweenies flaring the lens.
The following video is a previs I did using Cinema4D. It very quickly moves through the lighting setups: practice-back, practice-front, stage-front, stage-back. Apologies in advance for the crude attempt at simulating dance…
Because every light was in place and just had to be dimmed up or down, we never had to relight. This allowed for a nice workflow on each shot: block the dancer, set the lens, set the initial lighting setup, set the end, set the duration, rehearse, and shoot.
Before the shoot, the choreographer and I came up with a general flow of how the dance would go. We decided when major lighting changes would happen and shifts in the style of dance. The rest was crafted on set.
Despite the fact that we were limited to a 5-hour shoot and had only 5 minutes of film, we got nearly 20 shots and had time to discuss each shot…all because we worked with the limitations instead of fighting them.
I’m back, and new stuff is on it’s way. I do apologize for the total disapearance. Since starting in August, I’ve been completely consumed in work at AFI. They have the cinematographers moving non-stop shooting and crewing. To further isolate us, everything we shoot the first year is sort of a trial. We aren’t allowed to publicly show any of the short films we make. One project is an exception to that rule: our 16MM MOS projects.
In these cinematographer-produced 16MM projects, we showcase our ability to visually tell a story without dialog. We can collaborate with anyone of our choosing, but its completion and quality are solely our responsibility.
I chose to work with an outside director and choreographer, Arlene Yuan, from Beats and Feet. She brought with her an incredible dancer and a great vision.
Currently, the project is in post-production getting a score. For now, here are some stills.