This is the bizarre tale of a watercooler in a far away wasteland, and those who drink from it.
It is a most unusual film, its closer to anime than any drama. Thanks to Fergus’s crazy mind, its a bizarre tale, we are not entirely sure of the location, or who the oddly dressed characters are.
This film has no script, instead a series of very detailed story boards, which we say we worked on and tweaked for weeks before the shoot, but really we just spent the evenings talking shit and drinking Sapporo.
The storyboards for this film were like an Anime comic book. An unusual theme and colourful images. We felt the movement in the film should replicate the Anime films that Fergus loves; the camera is mostly on sticks, using the movement of a zoom instead of a dolly.
Like Anime, parts of the film are split screen. We shot a number of crash zooms and our closeups were closer than we would shoot a conventional drama. The camera height changes as the male warrior character of the film becomes exhausted and the female warrior overpowers him. Anime often exaggerates the props in scenes, so our pickups are shot on the longer side of the zoom. The composition mimics the anime too, characters are usually centred in frames, over the shoulder shots only show a tiny amount of the other character in the frame. We used a gas burner under the matte box to create heat waves, similar to anime. Its a weird effect, and somehow we managed not to burn anyone or melt the matte box.
Fergus wanted the visual style to feel “psychedelic”. We both felt that although this is a super low budget short, this film should be shot on celluloid. Fergus wanted the sky to blow out as we progress into the story, he wanted the geography to be established in a way that this was some kind of futuristic climate which was humid and possibly polluted. We were hunting for genuine grain, Fergus really wanted to push the colour and latitude of film in the primary grade, all of these things we just couldn’t create by shooting digital. I looked at a lot of tests with Arriraw which I love, but I couldn’t find a test that blew out an entire sky in a convincing way, for the amount that we are shooting, Super 16mm is not only the most suitable option for this film, but also the most affordable format. Film is the best thing.
To make shooting on film work, Fergus and I payed for the stock, finding the perfect stock is really important to me, I looked through tests of;
Kodak Vision 3 50D/5203
Kodak Vision 3 250D/5207
Kodak Vision 3 500T/5219
Fujifilm ETERNA Vivid 160
Fujifilm ETERNA Vivid 250D
Fujifilm ETERNA Vivid 500
I was really looking for a saturated film stock with grain and versatile highlight latitude. It basically came to a showdown between the Fuji Vivid 250D and Kodak Vision 3 250D. Both have amazing highlight latitude, the grain in both stocks is similar, but the Fujifilm colours are saturated, which is exactly what we needed. Without the budget to run our own tests, and a combination of an antique lens, and a director who wants to go ape shit with the highlights and colours in the grade, I didn’t want to run the risk of having the colours in the negative over saturated. So we went with the Kodak Vision 3 250D. I think you would be surprised at how affordable film can be.
I think I find comfort in the 250D, because if I fuck up the exposure, it would be salvageable. Thank god I didn’t. Even though we had no money, I still wanted Fergus to have all of the footage he needed in the edit room (Kerri’s lounge), so we still shot 5 rolls, (55 minutes). Fergus loves shooting off speed (which makes me secretly nervous), god knows how we made it through with a short end to spare!
We wanted to shoot this short on old glass. Which is great for our tiny budget. To start with I was looking for primes and zoom lenses. I wanted an old, grainy, soft lens. I looked at older Arri super speeds, rehoused cooke panchros and considered finding a PL mount adaptor for old Leica stills lenses from the 50’s. In the end, the display cabinet at Panavision provided the answer. The Angenieux 25-250 T3.9. It is the funkiest lens under T8, so much so that no primes will match it, for the first time I shot a film only on this crazy Angenieux zoom. Panavision don’t usually send it out, because its so fucked up. It’s the weirdest lens, I’m not really sure how anyone ever used it without their film looking odd. The colour of the lens changes between focal lengths. I found at around 50mm the film came out more magenta than at 100mm. The lens breathes as you shift focus like nothing I have ever seen; it is ridiculously soft and the highlights are brighter than the rest of the image, its really strange but perfect for the look Fergus and I wanted for this story. We shot with the trusty Arri SR3. Its such a wonderful camera, Thank you Panavision!
I looked through a number of filters, and considered shooting with an enhancer, but again, without the ability to run tests, we shot the image clean and let the crazy Angenieux zoom and Fergus go nuts in post. I looked into underexposing the film by 1 stop and pushing it a stop in post, but again, I thought it would be best to shoot clean and add the grain in post. I looked at a bleach bypass in processing, but the consistency is hard to control and I think the film already looks funky. Hopefully its not too odd. Hat off to Tom Neunzerling who somehow wrangled that antique Angenieux into focus.
The wide landscapes called for a 1.85 aspect ratio; 2.35 feels too enclosed for this story and 4.3 didn’t feel right since Fergus intends for this film to be played in a cinema. The 2 Anime films I have seen are 1.85.
We wanted to keep the lighting true to the location so our Gaffer Matt Koefed used a 10x bounce and 10x silk to control the harsh New Zealand autumn sunlight. We used a poly in some of the close ups, really just to match the wides. We looked at using a large HMI with the bounce. But that would get expensive. The fast stock and plenty of sun saved our shit. Daylight control is a real challenge in a country with extreme sun and fast moving cloud, especially when matching the previous days close ups. Its definitely something I need to practice way more. Matt did the best job. Next time I will definitely hire more lighting assistants as using a 10x in a desert with strong wind calls for human sandbags. The wind almost killed the cast with the giant bounce. Then there would have been no film.
This film was different for me because we had rehearsals and prep work. Its a little more relaxed on the day when you know what your shooting that day. I love creating a world and a look, as well as choosing a format which suits the story. I think this shows that film negative absolutely does have a place in modern cinema, just not all stories suit celluloid. I do love shooting film, I like some digital cameras too. Fergus and I love taking away monitors, going on our gut feeling through the viewfinder. The format really depends on the script, and I love that.
God knows where this video started. One minute Jordan Dodson and I were talking about our love of late night dining establishments. For the next 10 hours we find ourselves frequenting every greasy spoon in Auckland… which sounds normal, except we had a camera and a bunch of film. Heres how we did it…
We didn’t have any prep time to be honest, this was a spontaneous project that would begin a trilogy of similar styled projects.
Jordan and I worked on the concept together, which was great because it combined our two favourite things, eating and shooting. The spontaneous nature of the project meant we couldn’t light anything… so we shot on film.
We literally started shooting at 11pm on a weekday, it was just one car, with the camera already built, Jordan, Randa (the artist) and I. This meant I had to be well prepared, I preloaded my film, and pulled focus myself, which made us just like a documentary crew, it was perfect, I love small crews and I think it benefited the performance by just hanging out, talking shit, eating greasy food, but also shooing the thing.
I shot on expired Kodak Vision 2 250D. We didn’t have the time for tests. I actually didn’t even have a changing tent or dark room, so I improvised one from bed sheets, towels, and a bunch of gaffer tape. I crossed my fingers (much to Jordan’s amusement). I had no idea how the film would come out! I think it was actually the perfect stock in a way, Vision 2 is quite dated, but it made sense to use it for this project, since Randa dresses like she’s from the 90s.
The film was scratch-tested by Park Road, who told us it wasn’t suitable to be used, but we knew it had been well looked after and so we figured it would just be extra grainy. We wanted the grain, I think grain adds character and texture to the video that we wouldn’t have found with new stock.
The camera was provided by Paul and Manfred at Panavision, who are just the coolest guys. There are not too many choices when shooting 16mm in Auckland, both big rental houses stock only Arri 16mm cameras, so we shot on an SR3 - which is a great piece of kit, (although since this project was all handheld I would have much rather had an Aaton XTR). But the SR3, with just a viewfinder and a 400ft mag (without a matte box) is lightweight and easy to thread - which is perfect for a documentary-type project. We shot 800ft which gives a comfortable shooting ratio of 10:1. Lucky us. 16mm is great.
The only 16mm lenses we could get our mits on were Ziess Mk3 Superspeeds - which is great because we really needed the stop. I shot most of the video somewhere between f1.3 & f2 and I only used the 12mm
We shot without permits and only did one take per location. We wanted this video to look natural and totally spontaneous. I didn’t light anything, I didn’t use a poly.
We processed normally at Park Road in Wellington. Gareth Evans transferred the film, and did a pretty flat one light grade. In the final grade we crushed the blacks. We wanted the video to feel like 16mm.
One thing I was nervous about was the fact I didn’t have a light meter. Our backup was downloading the free light meter for iPhone app on the way to the first location. I guess it came out a dream. Since then we have actually tested against my Sekonic meter and it is actually pretty accurate, thank god for that.
Randa is a pleasure to work with, we had the best time making the video, I also learned the crews personalities are just as important as their quality of work. I love the work we are doing, we have the greatest lives! You can see the video below…
Directing duo THUNDERLIPS (Jordan Dodson & Sean Wallace) made the decision to treat Randa’s Frankenstein as a US-city-apartment style sitcom.
I was lucky enough to be brought on as the cinematographer early on in the project, I worked with Jordan and Sean through the treatment stage over a number of weeks then gave myself 2 weeks straight for prep.
I started by looking at popular sitcoms made in the 80’s and 90s both from the UK and the US. Basically, making this film means I got to say I was working when really I was just watching hours of Friends, Seinfeld, Taxi, Frasier, Home Improvement, Married With Children, Arrested Development, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air among many others.
It became clear very early on that the majority of these shows were 35mm. With an enormous lighting package. I looked at every aspect of the show in terms of the look and made a decision that to authentically recreate the show we had to shoot 2 cameras 4 perf 35mm.
I began to look around at the sort of stocks, filters and lenses these shows shot with.
Stock choice is really important to me, I did a lot of research and looked at 5 stocks:
Fuji Eterna Vivid 160T/8547
Fuji Eterna 400T/8583
Fuji Eterna Vivid 500T/8547
I wanted to avoid grain, which is unusual for me since I love the grain of film, but I needed a high ASA stock to still get the stop I needed. I also needed a tungsten stock, one with saturated and warm colours, since its a sitcom, we don’t really need a film suitable to shadows or harsh sunlight, at the same time the most important thing is to keep the skin tones natural and a little warm. We also wanted to keep as close to the style of the 90s sitcom shows by shooting with 2000ft mags. We couldn’t get ahold film in 2000ft rolls and settled with 1000ft loads. I found everything that I had wanted in Fuji Vivid 500.
I looked at articles from Michael Slovis, ASC who shoots Breaking Bad, he uses 500T for all of the studio shoots and 50D for New Mexico . Fuji came out a lot warmer in the tests I saw compared to Kodak, so it made sense along with our tight budget to shoot Fuji - which was a fucking pleasure. We shot 3200ft which gives us around a 7:1 shooting ratio.
My next challenge was to find a camera similar to that used in Friends. The dream has always been to shoot with a Panaflex and it would have been perfect for this project! We wanted to shoot 2 Panaflex cameras with primo zooms. The only problem is that neither Panavison in New Zealand nor Australia stocks Panaflex cameras! Dream over. I began research on Arri cameras. We don’t have the budget for Arricams and we couldn’t get ahold of 2 Arriflex BL’s, so I made the decision that although we are recording sound, we had to shoot with 2 MOS cameras. Andy, William and Ryan at Metro Film here in Auckland came to the rescue with 2 Arri 435s. We needed our lenses to match so we shot with Cooke 18 -100mm T3 zooms. The 1000ft Mags were provided by Panavision New Zealand.
The 435s were incredible to work with and never missed a beat. The image through to the monitors were really good considering it comes from a video tap. Why the fuck would anyone ever shoot digitally for this kind of project?
Movement & Composition
Sitcoms, especially studio sitcoms of the 90s are framed, covered and composed in a totally different way to most feature films, they are for the most part shot 4:3. They are all shot from one side, always on a dolly, they always cross shoot. These shows always allow enormous headroom, and never feature the sort of close up we are used to in a feature film. Eion O’Liddigh was my A Camera Operator with Alex Campbell and Tom Neunzerling on Focus, I operated B camera and had Finn McGowan as my focus puller. Eion and I spent a few days watching references, which again was the best time. We set out some rules, which included dolly drops as characters sit down, tracking with characters, shooting diagonally to the set to make it feel larger than it is, to always look down on characters and allow an unnatural amount of headroom - which Eion and I had to keep reminding each other whilst shooting. We shot 1.33 (4:3) which again was totally different to framing anamorphic or 1.85 but also a lot of fun.
We could only afford a single Elemac Dolly with Roan our Key Grip on A Cam. Roan and I talked about how the dolly often will only crab through dialogue scenes, and this is something we replicated, slow dolly moves combined with slow zooms. B camera was restricted to movement through the cooke zoom. Sexy times.
After watching all of Friends, I read a lot about sitcom lighting and had some great advice from cinematographer Rob Marsh and from Gordon at Flashlight. I decided that we’d use the back cross keys method which means having a VERY strong fill and harsh backlights.
We used mostly Arri tungsten lamps from Flashlight, Drew shared role as Gaffer with Matt Kofed, who is just the hardest working, coolest dude around. Basically we looked to achieve a constant ambient soft light level across the entire set with just a kiss of soft backlight on the actors’ heads. We also needed to light to the same stop across the entire set - which was T4.
We had small package with 4 x 2k Fresnels, 4 x 2k Arri Blondes 8 x 650s, 2 Selecon 1200w Pacifics a Mole Richardson 1k and a 1200w Selecon spot - as well as poly boards, muslin, cutters, and 1 stop nets. We wired all our lamps to a control desk through 3 x 32 amp dimmer packs.
Friends has a 5 day pre light, we had a just 1 and half days which was fast but also the best time, it meant that I was able to focus on lighting and camera separately, which was relaxing and a lot of fun. I’ve attached a lighting diagram below.
Friends uses practical lights to sell the sets. Lyn Bergquist the production designer was really kind and creative when it came to finding these. We used a chinese symbol neon screwed to the wall and a desk lamp which I added a 75w tungsten bulb to, closer to the the front of the set, both on hand dimmers. We also added heavily diffused 650W lamps for details on the wall such as paintings and giant fish, again, on dimmers.
Grade and Colour
The grade of this show is another important element to recreate the style of the 90s sitcoms. Obviously we are very lucky with the DI stages available to us compared with the telecine of the 90s. The shows we used as references are all very warm. I ensured we shot tungsten film under tungsten lamps. I looked into adding a 1/4 CTO gel to all of the lamps, but I left them clean in the end since the walls and furnishings of the set were all very warm. I looked at adding a coral filter in camera. The only problems with shooting a coral filter is that we would loose an entire stop, which would mean we need to run bigger lamps which we simply couldn’t afford. We looked at a 1/4 coral filter on the day under the light and it would have become too orange considering we are shooting saturated film and an orange set. We couldn’t afford tests so we shot clean and will replicate something like a coral filter in the transfer at Park Road in Wellington. In the transfer there will be little need for shot matching since we shot the entire music video at T4.
Honestly, I thought the last Randa shoot was the greatest time ever. This was the hardest thing I have shot to date, pre production was hard but with the greatest young directors THUNDERLIPS and producers Alix Whittaker and Anna Duckworth around it was a blast and I had the fucking greatest time. I love making movies, I love the challenges of making stuff we believe in. I am so amped for all of the projects to come… Shoot film.