Updated: May 2, 2022
Hello friends, it has been a long time since I have updated the blog here. For a while I wondered if it was worth contributing my thoughts and company updates here, as I am sure, no one reads this thing. But I do see some benefit of talking about what we learn and grow as we take on new clients, jobs, and challenges. As 2021 comes to a close, I cannot help but look back at the past year of Ground Work Productions and some of the projects we have been so lucky to help create.
One project in particular, is a short film I produced and filmed in Cincinnati, Ohio. I went to college in the Cincinnati area and It felt really good to come back and take on this very unique, narrative project. The film (yet to be titled) is a horror short film directed by one of my best friends, Brian Level. Brian first came to me with this concept and script this summer and I immediately pressured him to have me be the cinematographer. It was a new challenge for me to work in the narrative space, since most of my work is either documentary or commercial. Brian is a first time director but makes his living tattooing. He also is a very accomplished illustrator for graphic novels. You can see some of Brian’s work here: https://www.marvel.com/comics/creators/12918/brian_level
In my opinion, nothing is worse than a director that doesn’t know what they want or cannot articulate what they want. I knew Brian would be dedicated enough to this to put in the hard work in prep and he has a unique skill set in being able to create bad ass storyboards.
The storyboards were instrumental in our process and being able to bring this story to life visually. The plus of having a professional illustrator as your director is that the storyboards are going to be top notch and a lot of fun to look at. It was such a help as the cinematographer to use the boards as a guide to get us in the right direction and get this thing lensed right. It was almost a catchphrase of mine on set when there would be a question or as we moved from set up to set up, “Let’s consult the boards…!” We struck such a good balance with our plan too, on our last day of shooting we pretty much threw the storyboards out he window and walked through the location and had to rethink what we had planned due to location and lensing limitations. So on the day, we just cooked up some new boards and went from there.
In preparation for this film, I took a lot of inspiration visually from John Carpenter and his cinematographer, Dean Cundy. I found an old article in ASC Magazine of Cundy talking about his and Carpenter’s process. I liked how he talked about going into scenes with a plan and story boards, but also not being afraid to cook something new up on the spot. It was a relief that these two filmmakers that I have a lot of respect for operated in the same way we did on this project. More often than not, I have found that this is a go with your gut situation. Should you show up prepared? Of course! But also, if the plan isn’t working or certain real life limitations keep you from sticking with the plank, should you trust your instincts and make it work a different way? Absolutely. I feel more than ever that my instincts are good and if I just stick with them, we will be heading in the right direction.
Another decision that Brian and I made, very much in the shadow of Carpenter and Cundy, was to shoot this film with anamorphic lenses. This was my first time shooting anamorphic and it was a fun element to bring this very other-worldly story to life. Just the way the lenses render the image, create such a rich cinematic image and have such a rich texture to them. I decided to rent a set of Kowa Prominar 2x Anamorphic lenses. The Kowa’s being older have so much character and have weird characteristics, that is was the perfect choice for this weird and wacky film. The lenses did bring certain limitations, I certainly was not able to get a very sharp image when I shot these lenses wide open. I mostly shot more at a 2.8-4 split in order to have a clear image, which added to the challenge of working with a small crew, no budget and limited lights. Secondly, the widest lens in the set is a 40mm. With the horizontal 2x squeeze, this works out to a 20mm. But being in a small location, it was very hard/ impossible to get a solid head to toe composition of our main character. Like I said, things don’t always work out the way you plan, so improvisation had to guide us through these limitations. All in all, I feel like the Kowa’s were the exact right choice for this project. SIDE NOTE: I must give a shout out to the amazing service of The Camera Department in Cincinnati, the rental house I got the lenses from. The team there took such good care of me and I had to say it, these guys are amazing and I am very grateful to them
( https://www.thecameradept.com/). Also, big thanks to Greg and Bob at Noun Photography for helping me light this film and taking some awesome behind the scenes photos of the process. Check them out at, https://nouncommercialphotography.com/.
All in all, I am very excited to see how this film comes together. It is currently in the hands of our editor and is being put together as I type this. It was certainly a project that pushed me out of my comfort zone and I hope grew me as a cinematographer. I will have more updates where you can see the film once it has been completed. Well I hope I wasn’t just sharing this in a vacuum and it hopefully brought some helpful insight to the filmmaking process. Until next time, much love to the Abyss!
Ground Work Productions