DP Denson Baker on location with the Sony F65 in Australia.
The filmmakers were very familiar with the camera, having used it previously on another independent movie project.
After a successful experience shooting the New Zealand-based independent feature film “The Dark Horse,” with a Sony F65 4K CineAlta camera, cinematographer Denson Baker, ACS, shot his latest project, working with director Jim Loach, with the same camera on Loach’s next movie in Australia.
“I shot ‘The Dark Horse’ on the F65 and had a great experience with the camera on that film,” Baker explained. “I wasn’t the only one who was really happy with the look we achieved. Park Road Post Production had also been really enthusiastic about working with the F65 images. I was fortunate on The Dark Horse to do extensive comparison tests in pre-production with three other cameras and a variety of lenses and filters. The F65 stood out above the other cameras and that, followed by 33 days of principal photography, meant I knew the camera very well and what it was capable of by the time it came to talk cameras for Jim's picture.”
When Loach and Baker started discussing the approach they agreed that shooting on film was out of the question. The pair had shot their previous feature on 35mm film. For the new movie, not having access to a lab in Australia and the fact that they were shooting in remote locations with a fast turnaround made film unfeasible.
“Jim, like myself, is a film purist,” Baker continued. “Production flew me to Sydney to shoot a series of camera tests that I could screen for Jim when he arrived in Australia. I knew the F65 was the way to go, so for me it was about looking at lens and filter combinations. I tested pretty much every lens set that I could get my hands on and I shot tests that I knew would reflect the lighting style, framing and lensing that would excite Jim.“I then took the tests to South Australia where Marty Pepper from Kojo put a juicy grade on all the tests and we put them up on the big screen in 4K at the SAFC. When Jim walked in we had a nice frame up on the screen and he immediately said, “Whoa! That looks great doesn’t it!” and with that he was convinced that the F65 was going to deliver cinematic, big screen-worthy images. We chose to shoot with a set of Leica Summicron-C T2.0 lenses and also a set of Kowa Anamorphics for flashback sequences. I also used a variety of filters to achieve a subtle warming, textured feel which also added a bit of filmic halation to the highlights.”
DP Denson Baker used the F65 in a variety of set-ups and sometimes used different camera bodies with specialist camera mounts for hand held shooting and for POV shots inside tight car interiors.
Having read the script, Baker knew that the greatest challenge on this movie would be dealing with the amount of night scenes, particularly in the desert. As a result Baker and Loach chose to shoot most of these scenes with a day-for-night technique that uses the light of the sun to emulate that of the moon and then replace the skies with stars, creating a night look in broad daylight.
“This worked well until we had some tough weather and a fly plague to contend with which made the shoot very challenging,” Baker added. “To achieve the day-for-night in the Flinders Ranges and in open desert plains, I needed a format that would capture a very wide latitude of exposure. I wanted to be able to control the shadow detail in the harsh Australian sun and the day-for-night was never going to work if we had blown out highlights. That’s where the F65 came in as it gave me the ability to capture a lot of detail in a wide range of exposure, darker skin tones, dark and moody interiors, hot backlit exteriors, and some big night exterior set-ups.
“Production designer Felicity Abbott and I had talked at great length about textures and a subtle color palette throughout the film. This meant we needed a camera that would capture those textures in a pleasant way with lots of clean detail but still have a softness and non-digital quality to it. It is something that is hard to put into words but you really feel it when you see the images from the F65 projected on a 40-foot screen. I am also a fan of the mechanical shutter on the F65 as it gives a much more smooth and natural motion blur, particularly with fast motion action or a hand held shot.”
The shoot was fast paced and very involved, two factors that Baker not only had to deal with but to embrace if he was going to get the look and feel he wanted. Again Baker used the F65 to its full capacity to help him with the speed of the shoot.
Director Jim Loach (left) and DP Denson Baker, ACS chose to shoot many of the scenes with a day-for-night technique that uses the light of the sun to emulate that of the moon and then replace the skies with stars, creating a night look in broad daylight.
“A big plus for me is the integrated ND filter wheel,” he added. “It allows for incredibly quick changes if I want to adjust for exposure between takes or want to quickly alter the depth of field of a shot. When the actors are primed and ready to shoot, the last thing you want to do is halt production while you swap out a filter. The F65 lets you do it with the tap of a button and a flick of the jog wheel. I also used the iPad app which allowed for very quick changes to camera settings and remote operation.”
In pre-production Kojo’s Marty Pepper and the “A camera” team of Jules Wurm and Maxx Corkindale set up two separate LUTs for the production. One was a general LUT which Baker determined would best reflect the look of the final grade and the other was a DAY 4 NITE LUT. The latter was very useful, enabling Baker to shoot a number of tests before arriving at the best way to achieve the look he wanted.
Baker tested the F65 camera in both RAW SQ and RAW Lite. When Kojo put both images side-by-side, zoomed in and were able to pull a clean key of blue skies equally with both, he knew they could shoot the film in RAW Lite, which is nearly a quarter of the file size of RAW SQ with a negligible visual difference. The movie was then shot in 4K with DIT Ian Routledge creating rushes for editorial, Loach, Baker and the producers all with the same LUT.
Baker said the uniqueness of the movie dictated the use of the Sony F65 camera. “This film is different to Jim’s and my previous work, it has a lot going on visually and thematically,” he said. “We have moody, intimate interiors, epic big scope exteriors, crane shots, hand held action, delicate and subtle camera moves, a number of VFX sequences, deserts, vineyards, car rigs, go-cart rigs and helicopters. We got to use the F65 on all set-ups and sometimes found ourselves using different camera bodies with specialist camera mounts when we went hand held or for tight car interiors.”
The crew shot with two F65 cameras (Miles Rowland was the B-Camera/2nd Unit DP) and the cameras performed faultlessly.
“We shot a wide variety of locations, under a wide variety of conditions starting in the Barrosa Valley, in vineyards and on dirt roads, and then we spent two weeks in the Adelaide Studios shooting interiors,” he said. “From there we moved to the Flinders Ranges for day and night exteriors where we had some big set-ups and some long drives into gorges and open plains. When we started our day-for-night shooting in Parachilna we encountered what many were calling the worse fly plague in over 20 years.“It became near impossible to shoot as the cast would have so many flies on their faces and up their noses during a take. So to overcome them we built a makeshift studio in a marquee at the Prairie Hotel and shot our mid shots and close-ups in a contained environment and our wide shots on location with a bit of fly removal in post. This part of the shoot was pretty grueling but great fun and the landscape out there is absolutely stunning. All in all, this was a great shoot and although intense at times that didn’t stop our F65s performing brilliantly, giving us amazing images.”
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