Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nightfire: Filming in Verona, Italy

While many of you may have either seen the trailer, or even the full film, Nightfire is probably a talking point you've heard about when hanging out in the Park School. I was lucky enough to travel to Verona, Italy this past January to work as the 1st Camera Assistant for this thesis film. It was a great opportunity to work on a professional run set with amazing actors, crew, and of course gear. Oh, how I miss that gear.

Now as demonstrated in the trailer above there were some quite intricate scenes that occurred throughout the film. From bike chase scenes to explosions, every day was an adventure to say the least. But you must know that this film wasn't made over night, well yes we constantly shot through the night, however, the production lasted 3 weeks and most days we worked for 16 hours with the occasional all nighter shoot. Well choreographed shots and blocking was the name of the game, because when explosions and special effects come into play there are only so many takes you get before you must move to the next shot.

(16mm ARRI Ultra Prime used with the Red Dragon.)

As 1st AC I was in charge of everything from making sure batteries were charged before we went on set(or right before the next big explosion), calibrating our DJI Ronin, even making sure the DP was out of bed in the morning. Now while I look back fondly on this trip, there were some serious road bumps we ran into across the way. 

(View from the watchtower located on the set of the military base.)

First off, the weather. We were filming in the middle of winter in northern Italy, seeing the Alps as we drove to set became a normal part of our day and it was a clear reminder of the winter cold. Not only did you have to bundle up before venturing to set, but we had to make sure the electronics would work properly. 
(Director of Photography, Garret Nicholson, preparing a shot on the Jib)

The entire film was shot on the Red Dragon which had quirks we constantly had to deal with. The first thing to know about Red cameras is that to have a clean image at higher ISOs you must perform what is called "Black shading". Black shading is the process of obtaining the functioning temperature of the Red. Typically this rests around a 45/65 split. There are two temperatures of the camera as you can see in the picture below.

To perform a black shade you will wrap the camera in a sound blanket or jacket, whatever is around really, and ensure that no light is getting to the sensor. It takes about 20 minutes but this will eliminate any grain obtained through high ISOs. However, after the one black shade is run, the camera needs to stay at that temperature of 65/45 (a few degrees off doesn't hurt). With the cold affecting the camera we would always have to have the Red otherwise the camera would drop below operating temp and the grain would trickle back into the shot.

Battery life was short lived and like most sets we needed a charging station. Sometimes it was a room indoors located on set, other times it was out of the back of a van or running off a generator.

(DJI Ronin)

Due to the calibration needed for the DJI Ronin's 3-axis gimbal we were forced to used RED volt batteries. To ensure smooth movement from the rig we had to have perfect balance and the larger batteries would not cut it. These RED volt bricks only last about 30 minutes when the weather is warm,  so when the cold was added it was cut down to 15 minutes at best. To keep the volts warm we resorted to holding onto batteries beneath our long johns and armpits. 

When using a tripod the larger Anton Bauer V-mount batteries were able to be used, but the majority of the film was shot on the Ronin so we had to troubleshoot this problem. When we were constantly running around I would carry the V-mount adapter. After we completed a shot we would set the Ronin on it's stand and plug the AC power adapter in and prepare for the next shot. This was a huge stressor of the trip, since the responsibility of battery master fell upon myself. However, having the AC power truly helped our situation.

Another issue we ran into was difficulties with the wireless follow focus. Due to the cold and issues with the receiver the follow focus would not deliver it's signal. We tried everyday to get the follow focus to work but still struggled to find the solution. In the end we had to just close our iris, cross our fingers, and keep our distance. The follow focus would have been an extreme help, especially for the long tracking shots the movie had. It just goes to show you never know what will happen on set, but you better be damn ready to work around anything that gets in your way. 

(Paul Wolter getting Wild)

Overall, I had the time of my life. Being able to travel across the world for film is something I want to continue to do for the rest of my life. I met amazing people, learned so much about the filmmaking process and how to become a better DP, and the wine made up for any sort of mishaps we had on set during the day. There is so much that I took away from this project but I'd have to write a book to do explain it all, so until then this will suffice. Until next time.

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