by Charlie Balch
In-Camera Settings for Two 7Ds
The in-camera settings closely resembled the popular “cinestyle” look in which we pulled a more neutral image. By desaturating and bringing down the contrast in our image it allowed us to have much more to work with in post color correction wise. This style was very necessary due to the very run and gun style of filmmaking we had to do on a daily basis. All this to say the look would appear very flat out of camera but was much more forgiving in post.
ISO Settings and Consistency
Most of the film was shot using just one 7D, but when we lined both up it was important to keep a level of consistency between the apertures and shutter speeds while letting the ISO levels differentiate between the lighting and lens differences for the different cameras. Regarding the ISOs we kept them within a two stop range of each other in order to not have inconsistencies with the grain levels and would in turn open up or close down the aperture to be exposed properly. We also tuned the color profiles between the two cameras to a very neutral look.
We used our neutral look and low ISOs to keep a very manageable look for working in post. The color profile on the cameras makes a world of difference for the look and flexibility of the footage.
It is a common misconception that video DSLRs need less light in order to be able to shoot. We found this to be the opposite! The latitude for these cameras is a small window in which everything needs to be within 4 stops in order to not clip. As much as we wanted a 20×20 1/4 grid flown from a condor overhead to ensure softness, we had the challenge of working with a large amount of available light. That being said we needed to work with available light for the majority of our roaming scenes and had to keep our fingers crossed for overcast skies to diffuse our actors from the harsh sunlight. The lighting inconsistencies between the sun and clouds proved to be one of our biggest challenges for our roaming shots. All we would carry on these days was a foam-core bounce and a folding 48” 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser. Matt Hanson, the gaffer, had his share of bouncing experience by the end of the shoot. For our controlled indoor scenes we had access to a basic ARRI fresnel kit along with a limited portable grip kit. We also had a small LED light panel that was battery powered and ended up coming in handy in several situations.
How Two Different Scenes Were Lit
The first scene that comes to mind turned out to be much more of a challenge then what would be anticipated from watching the short. This is the scene in which Hien is confronted by the pastor on the steps of the train station. We had to open up on the lenses all the way and bump the ISO settings in order to get proper exposure. From the lighting world, we got quite lucky and had a fluorescent advertisement fixture behind the priest from which were able to reflect light with the roscoe side of our bounce to act as a rim for the father and a kiss of fill for Hien. The wall acted as a nice negative fill and the LED light panel added a little for the pastor. This all created a nice contrast for the scene. Looking back the depth of field was a little too shallow and was hard to work with given the motion in the scene. The challenge presented itself because we were shooting at the base of a busy train station stairwell and would have to time our takes in between trains and crowds passing through. On a couple takes we used the crowd passing through as a nice foreground element that gave the shot some depth. The problem with this arose when Ian, the cam op, was confronted by a rather distraught German man who wanted to know why he was taking his picture. (Again why the low profile fit our filming style for this piece.)
The realism of the story was a dramatic element in the actual production of our film. One of our locations for instance was a small, one-bedroom apartment in which 9 Vietnamese men were living together in order to keep living costs low because they were all illegal immigrants and it was difficult to find honest work. This kind of environment created an incredible scene for our production designer, Julia Rothenbuhler, to work with. We ended up shooting in this apartment and included the bathroom as one of our scenes. This was another area where it greatly helped having such a compact camera such as the 7D. The only weakness is the camera could not help cut down the smell of the place. We lit this scene using our light panel hanging over the mirror with a diffusion and plus green gel inserts. This created the gritty contrasty look we were going for while allowing the viewer to be a part of this tiny claustrophobic space. Our ISO is noticeably higher in this scene to try and capture some of the bathroom atmosphere. The inserts of the scene were actually added later in a school bathroom back in California. We lit the inserts with Kinos and it seemed to match just fine.
DSLR Camera Movement and Support Systems
Every piece of equipment we carried existed for a purpose. Having mobility in mind, we started from the ground up. Our primary rig, which was the main camera for the entire short, sat on either a monopod or tripod which was mounted to a rod and follow focus support system. Attached to the rail system was a small 6” monitor that served as our only window into what we were shooting so there was often a small crowd of our crew looming behind Ian Mayta and Daniel Viramontes, the camera operator and first AC respectively.
The second camera would only have one operator and was often used to pick off inserts while the primary camera did the heavy lifting story shots. We used monopods primarily for two reasons: To capture a more handheld look and to keep a lower profile. We thought it would be wise to not include the matte-box and just use screw mount filters as an alternative. The idea in doing this was to make the camera look as much like a stills camera as possible. We actually got quite lucky because video DSLRs had only been out for about 8 months up to this point and the general public regarded them mostly as unobtrusive. In order to get the illusion of having very small dolly moves we used an indiSLIDERmini to grab small tripod mounted moves where we saw fit. The only way to achieve this look properly was to have some kind of foreground element in play. We also got to use a steadicam-like Glidecam, which we primarily used for the running shots through the crowd. The counterweights and stabilizer attached to an arm and vest rig. This was our most conspicuous setup. Most of our camera support was rented in Berlin.
In order to make the run and gun nature of the short work, we carried a set of ND filters so we could open up our lenses in some of the bright situations to achieve a more shallow depth of field. We also carried a Polarizer filter to bring the blues out of the sky and cut reflections.
Having a monitor was an essential piece to allowing the director, director of photography, and cam op to all see the image clearly. Because of our portability we had the monitor mounted to the DSLR rig and connected through HDMI. It’s good to note that the on camera preview screen shuts off when the camera is connected to HDMI. In order to have multiple monitors there has to be a splitter for the HDMI or the camera can additionally output through the USB connection making way for a laptop to be a makeshift external monitor.
Ever since taking a trip to Japan at an early age, Charlie Balch has been fascinated by the art of telling stories through a camera. This fascination led him through the Biola University film program in which he has been blessed with the opportunity to shoot multiple short films. Charlie now resides in Los Angeles where he only continues to grow his passion for Cinematography.