I believe cinematography stands to serve the story in every aspect. Taking into consideration all the production variables to make the best choices for best completing the project. It´s not only about delivering a very high quality picture that supports the narrative , it´s about making the right decisions for the project you are embracing. Its not only about being an artist, but about being well aware of production and budget decisions, and finding a way to make everything work.
I recently finished shooting the film “Tetushki” produced by Forma Pro Films filmed in Riga, Latvia. It was an amazing experience, it always is when shooting a film. I will like to share the adventure of prepping the project, in general terms how we approached a 15 days shooting schedule and how we managed to solve some challenges throughout the completion of the film. Let´s face it now days everyone wants something good, fast and cheap and as cinematographer you must be flexible and creative about how to face the challenge.
One of the first decisions I made when starting pre production and visual design is which camera/lenses we are shooting on. This will determine not only the look of the film but how fast you can be in every other aspect in cinematography and how fast the shooting will go in general terms. Also will determine how many crew, light and equipment you need for filming. The challenge was to shoot a 90 min comedy film in 15 days with sometimes 10+ actors playing on set, and almost 6 days of shooting ( Day/Night sec.) in -20c temperature exteriors.
Having two cameras on set limits the image in terms of beauty for the film, you have to lit two fields of view and sometimes they tend to flatten each other. But for this story it was more important to embrace more possibilities. Shooting two or more actors at the same time capturing performance every second, having more angles for dynamics in editing and help sculpting the story with more possibilities was the way to go. Mainly because of the number of actors playing in scene at the same time, and the amount of script pages we needed to shoot each day.
My camera choice for this project was the Canon C300, as I needed a camera that could help me with some important aspects we needed to address:
- Instant backup. A camera that could give me instant backup of media on board because of low temperatures possible failure. For the project was very important to secure media at all times, its my responsibility if anything was to happen.
-Low light capabilities for budget and speed. This is paramount, a camera that could make me and my team work faster with smaller lights and help me tighten the overall budget.
- Best Hi Def out there. I like to be faithful to the story Im shooting, and there was no reason not to give this story and excellent, clean and gentle quality. Viewers must focus on the performances and script, its a comedy. For me, giving the best quality for this project was crucial.
-Light weight. This is very important as i wanted to be fast, each operator took care of their camera without any problem, they could manage to prep themselves.
-Easy media. As you know backup drives could be really expensive when shooting a film. I helped production budget by narrowing the amount of data that was needed to be managed, keeping it compact, cheap and simple. While retaining excellent quality.
-Creative purposes. I love the possibility of modifying shutter angle, crank up the ISO, print different WB on camera and make some crazy personal effects to empower narrative and drive the story.
Overall I think this is the best budget vs. quality camera out there. I was really amazed by how it performed and how it helped me as cinematographer to never say “no we can’t”. Its about getting the story and performance so its important to have tools that help you out, not restrain you for getting the shot.
Lighting for a 15 days film schedule had some challenges. I believe my work should never interrupt actors or get in their way. I think performance is the most important part in the story, it is what drives the narrative and I like to support that as a cinematographer. I really like to have freedom with the camera and follow the actors freely as possible. Its really liberating for them and for me, it empowers creation.
In my experience, the less amount of set that is getting in the actors’ way, the less there will be to distract them from creating memorable performances. In some ways that is the advantage of lower budget productions, where you don’t have the time or money for more lighting and more gear. Scouting good is one of the most important decisions you make as a cinematographer. Im very natural with light I don´t like it to appear to be lit or fake, I love to embrace what locations give me as a start. That helps me be faster and also empowers me to just fine tune light and be ready to shoot.
There were some challenges, as sometimes we needed to shoot night scenes during day, and day scenes during night. Plus adding that its a comedy, so it must look comfortable to the eye, so we needed a bit more light in some scenes.
In the Film there was a main location which happend most of the story. In this apartment I had 21 Kino flo 4 and 2 bank mixed all hanged from wall spreaders and autopoles for performance freedom. Almost the entire film was lit from above, we tried to shoot by fields as much as we can so we just turned on and off kinos to be as fast as possible.
Having a good team is paramount to have a smooth shooting. You are only as good as your own team and I like having guys that know the craft so well they can actually switch positions if needed and support other team members as lights, grip or camera dept if needed. I was lucky enough to have Paco Serrano and Denis Sorogin with me on shooting. This elite guys are worth by 4! Not only know how to operate camera, operate steadycam, expose/ configure their cameras and pull their own focus. But support electrical, grip and camera department if needed. I will also like to thank Eduards Stefanovics and his team. This guys are like US Marines, there is always a positive answer and energy to solve every situation.
Ultimately Director of Photography is responsible of knowing what equipment is needed, how it works and how to embrace costs in order to capture the scenes. Good cinema today is a mixing of art, technology and budget. Doing cinema for me refers a family that joins and lives together for a specific amount of time to make art. Understanding the team, supporting every aspect inside and outside your department and working as a whole is what defines a good result. In the end everyone that is involved wants the film to be the best it can be.