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WA Country Health Service “WACHS” enlisted our services to create two three to five minute corporate documentary videos. However to protect the identity of the main characters, scripts were written based off interviews with real people and actors were cast in their place (with names changed).
WACHS had already heavily developed the scripts before we came on board. Before prepping the shoots Shane and I just spent some time collaborating with WACHS editing the scripts without making an overhaul. These were after all based on real peoples experiences and actual conversations (pre-interviews).
Pre – Production
This involved auditioning and casting actors. Locating sourcing and scouting in Perth and regional WA, organising the schedules for three days of filming and planning filming for the videos. We do a lot of documentary work and it was interesting shooting in a ‘documentary style’ but knowing exactly what everyone was going to say, who our characters would be, where we would film them etc.
On a lesser planned run-n-gun documentary you don’t have the opportunity to pre-plan your B-roll, the footage you will edit in with your interview(s). Sometimes because of the location you’re in and the limited amount of on screen people you have to work with you can be pulling your hair out trying to shoot sequences that will help tell the story, add a deeper layer of meaning or just make it more visually interesting.
For this project we didn’t draw storyboards and go into that level of detail (we didn’t have the time/budget and it would perhaps have been overkill in most instances as we were moving very fast between locations and making quick decisions on coverage), nor did we do precise shot lists. The scripts were written in a two column corporate video/TV Commercial format with our dialogue on the left side and visuals on the right. These weren’t broken down into close ups, Mids and explanations of camera movement or required gear. It was just an explanation of what was happening on screen (not how we it was covered). So it was very accessible for anyone to read and understand but required us to know in our heads what we wanted to do (or make fast choices).
What Shane and I did do is discuss the approach to how we would cover all the B-roll footage and the interviews. We opted for a two camera setup for the interviews with the Red Scarlet as our A camera and the Sony A7s as our B camera and after roaming the internet for inspiration we came up with the angles we wanted. See below. Close ups A7s, Mid shots Red Scarlet.
We predominantly lit everything with 2ft kinoflo lights, but also had a generic florescent soft-box on hand which we used sparingly an 800w red head kit with full CTB’s (blue gels to match the daylight colour temperature of the kino’s and daylight coming in through windows). We decided to shoot predominantly handheld for two reasons. First, Speed and second to imitate shooting in a documentary style.
However we were of course able to get a little closer to the on camera talent without fear of getting in the way as we would if it were an actual documentary. We liked the idea of (when it served the story) shooting close ups of our main characters at a focal length of around 35 with the camera up close to them, rather than on a longer lens from further back (which is how we covered the medical professionals). 35mm was a sweet spot. It doesn’t have the distortion of say a 28mm lens, but it isn’t as overly normal (mundane?) in its angle of view and perspective as a 50mm lens. It was a simple way of just drawing the audience a little closer to our main characters and making them subtly stand out.
After a location scout at York hospital and realising there would be a lot of shifting from room to room and not a lot of time to light each short scene we decided to shoot that location with the A7s as it is a really great low light camera and we could shoot it all on the 24 – 70mm Sony Zeiss lens. Most of that we shot on a cinegamma 1 (or 4?) as although it doesn’t have the slog2 dynamic range, slog2 seems to have a bit of a green shift in the image which we wanted to avoid because we were already having to shoot a great deal of footage under florescent lights (which can tint a bit green and be disastrous with skintones). There was also quite a few bare grey/beige and light pink walls which were quite prone to banding post grade in our location scout.
For the home locations, two of which were in Perth and one in Northam we shot on the Red Scarlet. The A7s sharpness is blowing me away at 1080p but the Red Scarlet has a more organic look and a creamy slight softness and naturalness to it that is much more appealing to my eye. Coupled with the fact that it’s shooting compressed raw and plays so well with Filmconvert and allows a lot of room for post colour grading work. Although on this project there was little time for extensive grading.
Joining us for the first time on the three day shoot was the multitalented Gerard Ward on sound, Vikki Aldridge makeup artist and Kerida from WACHS. It was an enjoyable and effective three day shoot in which we were able to execute the pre-production plan more or less without any major hick-ups.
It was quite enjoyable and at the same time a bit of a challenge (but that’s where the fun is) not having an exact shot list. It reminded me of how Shane and I would shoot short films as high school students. We knew what we wanted to shoot but figured out our sequences of shots as we went along. This formed the foundation of us learning good film grammar.
Shane directed Bob and Maudes video and I directed Jan’s. Although I didn’t write a shot list I did spend time going through the vision (on the script) and visualising how the sequences would work, what angles I would get and what I wanted the actors to be doing. So on the day I was clear on what I wanted but at the same time, pretty loose and able to go with the flow in terms of what was working well and what wasn’t.
The first drafts came together quite quickly but it never ceases to amaze me how it’s all the tweaking, the little adjustments, subtle timing changes, finding music that takes up most of the time (rather than the core edit).
One of the new things for us which took a bit of work was matching the Red Scarlet and Sony A7s for the interviews. The Red is higher resolution, but even with sharpness turned down on the A7s it’s very sharp whilst the Red Scarlet has good detail without looking too sharp in my opinion. In the future I’d recommend using some diffusion like a soft fx 1/4 or 1/2 or a digital diffusion 1/4 to to take a little bit of the edge off the A7s. (I think a 1/2 diffusor on the Sony and a 1/4 on the Red may do the trick… or a 1/8 and 1/4, yet to test).
There was also a bit of work to do matching the two shots to get the exposure and colours to match. The “rules” for exposure on these to cameras are vastly different (explained in a blog to come). With the A7s being 8-bit you really have to expose as close as exact as possible to how it’s going to finish. For us we were over just a touch (not clipping, but too hot) and are so used to exposing to the right on the Red. Exposing to the right? (explained below)
Because the Red Scarlet / Epic is a (compressed) raw camera it retains a lot more colour information. The ideal way to expose for that camera (in very simple terms in our experience) is to expose it as hot (bright) as possible without clipping the highlights as you can then bring the exposure down in post and it results in a nice clean image. Because the A7s shoots with a compressed codec the colour information just isn’t there to bring it back and keep nice tones etc. And it’s exposure and colour is baked in.
With redcode you can change the iso and white balance in post without image degradation (sort of, and a lot more). You can move it a bit, but not like the Red. Even though the A7s probably has slightly wider dynamic range in Slog2 than the Red Scarlet it doesn’t have the same latitude (not the same thing, latitude is how many stops under or over you can expose and bring the image back cleanly/use-ably, dynamic range is more how many stops from darkest to brightest a camera (in this case, or eye) can record. Blog on that difference and how it relates to 8 bit compressed, 10 bit and raw workflows to come. Okay I’ve gone way off the main topic now and into other blog territory (sorry)!