Alan Griswold of Monkey Deux.
The Jordan Hembrough-hosted digital series Our Star Wars Stories now uses remote phosphor Pipeline Reporters lights.
The series, for Lucasfilm and StarWars.com and produced by Monkey Deux, features Hembrough chatting with fans as they unravel their true-life tales that are a result of their Star Wars bond.
After completing 8 episodes pre-COVID, this up close and personal interview-style show opted to continue production despite the new reality of safe filming restrictions. Monkey Deux, headed by Alan Griswold, was tasked with working out a new workflow.
Unlike the first successful season shot on location, there would be no Pacer van stuffed with gear along with him and DP John Lizzio traveling to the various subject’s locations. This time everyone would be safely at home. But it had to still look Star Wars-good.
His goal shifted to developing a new remote workflow and putting together five production kits, each in a single case weighing 32 pounds. One would go to Hembrough in New Jersey, who is also a producer and lines up many of the subjects for the stories. The other four went to the various interviewees who would each have to set up their own gear, soup to nuts.
Lighting was a good place to start. Toby Sali at BB&S encouraged Griswold to try out the remote phosphor Pipeline Reporters. He chose two each of the 1’ Reporters per kit, on desktop stands. With an inline dimmer, they would keep it neat and simple to adjust while looking cooler than most practicals that find their way into frame. He also added Pipeline Free versions without stands to go to the host’s home studio.
His criterion was that someone who didn’t know much about cameras or lighting could set it up. “It was a juggle between what’s best, compared to what’s simple,” he adds. He came up with a simple yet dynamic two-camera position setup, one wide and one close. He would get on a Zoom and explain how to set it up complete with cables and lighting, test it, and eventually how to pack up into the case and ship back to him.
The participants would receive a kit that had been fully sanitized at the Monkey Deux office. The first item they would pull out was a MacBook Pro laptop, preprogrammed with TeamViewer. That would get them online with step-by-step instructions led by Griswold. Next was the Canon EOS R camera that would always be set at “face detect autofocus” to avoid complications. Ditto with the Sigma 24mm prime lens. “Before going remote, I usually use cine prime lenses, but primes were even more important on this project,” says Griswold, “It cuts out the variables and the setups were at their desktops, so a prime made sense.”
The second camera was an iPhone on a travel tripod that worked out fine for the over-the-shoulder shot of the interviewees. Griswold did the settings from his office. They recorded to Atomos Ninja due to its capacity to record in a 10-bit color space.
Regarding the lighting, Griswold says, “With their simplicity, size and color reliability the Reporter lights really helped me reduce the number of variables. What you see remotely is not super accurate. You need to trust and you need dimmers. With the Reporter it was easy to say: ‘take the light on the right up and dim the left down’. They are fun lights and look cool. When you are dealing with people who don’t do it for a living, the cool factor counts, and I’m officially over ring lights.”
Set up took between 1 and 2 hours each. Griswold says he “helped set up in my office with the subjects watching and setting up remotely.” John Harper, Lucasfilm producer overseeing production, would also weigh from his desk in northern California to tweak the lighting or the shot composition. “I have a whole new respect for people who do tech support,” adds Griswold.
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