Home Cinematography Prepping Deadfall

Prepping Deadfall

written by Shane Hurlbut, ASC

One week ago I was slated to do two amazing car commercials for the Bandito Brothers, one for Yokohama and the other for Hot Wheels. The spots both had a very unique style and approach. One would be shot with our hybrid 35mm motion picture film and Canon 5D, the other with Fox Sports HD video 1/3rd chip cameras.  I went out to the San Bernardino Airport on Jan 25th to scout with the Elite Team – Dave Knudson, Brooks Shoemaker and Mikey Svitak.  We looked at the huge asphalt area and discussed our shooting style and time of day for each shot.  The spot would have a huge rotoscoping VFX element to it, the cars would be cut out of the background and the background would become white.  Very interesting concept by the creative team as well as Cantina VFX’s house which is Bandito’s VFX wing.  Mike “Mouse” McCoy was to direct.  While on the scout I got a phone call from my feature agent.  The film that I had interviewed for via Skype in Montreal was a go – they wanted me to shoot it. One small problem: I had to leave as soon as possible.  I knew I had to tell Mouse right away and offered to stay and shoot the commercials that I had committed to do. He was so happy for me and told me that he would make it work without me.  I am very grateful that Mouse was so gracious.

Me (with Marc Margulies pulling focus) at the AAA shoot that we were in the middle of when we took a break to go tech scout Yokohama.

Me (with Marc Margulies pulling focus) at the AAA shoot that we were in the middle of when we took a break to go tech scout Yokohama.

Careful prepping of a feature allows you to put it all on the big screen.  Every person has their own style and way of going about it but here is what works for me.  I feel it is important to get inside the director’s head as soon as possible to be able to orchestrate his vision. The director on this project is Stefan Ruzowitzky.  He had done a film called “The  Counterfeiters,” which won 2007 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 80th Academy Awards, as well as Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Devid Striesow at the 2007 German Film Awards. He had already storyboarded the whole movie before my arrival  which is something that I had never experienced before.  I quickly got the boards and started to do a breakdown along with the schedule of what we would need to pull this off. This is a small budget film set at 15 million.  It stars Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, and Charlie Hunnam, and is set in the snow covered hills of Michigan.  We are cheating Montreal for Michigan with its amazing production facilities and crew base. I shot “The Greatest Game Ever Played” up here and found it to be an amazing experience. The crews are unbelievable – they are all filmmakers first.

As a cinematographer, it is my job to help production by presenting them with necessary gear lists and specific costs of what it will take to achieve the vision in a given budget. I knew we would have a very limited camera budget so I kept that tight. Stefan wanted the show to be single camera.  This was new to me and one of the many reasons for taking this film.  I love new challenges. Previously,  I always have been asked to light for two and three cameras on all features. This was going to be awesome, lighting for one camera, because there are lighting sacrifices and choices to be made when shooting for two cameras, as well as compromises in composition.  Stefan wanted to shoot Anamorphic which was a new skill for me as well.

Farm House in southern Montreal

I set out in my first days of prep seeing the farm house where the ending took place and putting together a bid for three camera lists:  Panavision Anamorphic, Panavision Spherical, Arricam Spherical. The reason for three lists was to get an idea of price. Could we afford to go anamorphic on this limited budget? Was it the right choice for the movie? On day three we went up into the hills of Montreal about two and a half hours north to scout the deep snow locations.

Our winter wonderland location, only accessible by snowmobile

Our winter wonderland location, only accessible by snowmobile

Marking our camera positions in the snow covered wilderness

Director, Producers, Assistant Director, Stunts, and DP discuss this location for snowmobile chase scene, mine is the white one and it was so fast.

All of us discussing fight scene with special effects on how he is going to get his big fans to blow the snow up to this location

Finding an amazing twisted tree out in the middle of the forest. This would be a location for sure.

I quickly surmised that anamorphic and our schedule were not going to mix.  The lenses are limited in focal lengths and very heavy.  We only could reach these locations by snowmobile and we had five days to do 20 pages.  Now add in one more piece of information; all the wide shots have to be done first from far away and then you have to move in because we cannot reveal the crews tracks.  So, we have special effects on the ready once the set is dressed, we launch a snow bomb which goes up in the air and puts a fresh dusting of snow on everything in the frame.  Here are the three camera lists that I put together to do the job as well as a specialty list of other cameras, cranes, etc.

List 1

List 2

List 3

Stay tuned for more behind the film “Deadfall” in the coming weeks.

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Alex Walker February 9, 2011 at 11:53 PM

This is great stuff. I just got an agent for features so this is great timing. I’m looking forward to more of your insight on this production.

Shane February 10, 2011 at 12:11 AM

Alex Walker, that is great news, congrats. This movie is going to rock.

Kirk LaSalle February 10, 2011 at 1:01 AM

You are one of the few that I see posting BTS stuff like this and I love it. I love the work too.

Always a great read. Thanks.

Shane February 10, 2011 at 10:55 PM

Kirk LaSalle, thank you so much for those kind words, it is your support that inspires me to give back to this amazing community. You are very welcome.

Shane February 11, 2011 at 3:24 PM

Kirk LaSalle, you are so welcome and thank you so much for your kind words and support.

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rod hardinge February 10, 2011 at 3:33 AM

you are the man shane, sitting here in australia, shoot my first “official” short narrative film in two weeks, with a director etc, so much of what I have seen on your blog will be there on the day! thanks rod Hardinge

Shane February 10, 2011 at 10:54 PM

rod hardinge, these are the comments that inspire me to keep giving back and creating. Thank you. Rock On!!!

Charles February 10, 2011 at 6:25 AM

Thanks for the story! You started your own American Cinematographer …
The first AC that I read was about Close Encounters of the Third Kind (33 years ago, I still got it). One of my first film was the making of A Bridge Too Far in Holland in the summer of 1976. To stay motivated for the work it’s always interesting and fun to read about the work of others. And sometimes it’s the only way to stay motivated 🙂

Shane February 10, 2011 at 10:53 PM

Charles, The Hurlblog is here to educate and inspire. I try to pull from my real life moments and pass that onto all of you. Next week is Into the Blue lighting.

Luis E. February 10, 2011 at 8:21 AM

Thank you always!!!!

Shane February 10, 2011 at 10:52 PM

Luis E., you are very welcome and thank you for your continued support.

Alex February 10, 2011 at 8:29 AM

Thanks for sharing, Shane! Great stuff!
Love to read your posts.

Shane February 10, 2011 at 10:51 PM

Alex, you are so welcome. Thank you for support the Hurlblog.

Oli Kember February 10, 2011 at 1:44 PM

Very interesting as ever, thank you Shane. I wonder whether you settled on the Arri or Panavision sphericals ultimately? They’re both great systems undoubtedly but something must have swung it. Or did it just boil down to economics? Can’t wait for the next lighting series!

Shane February 10, 2011 at 10:47 PM

Oli Kember, I am going Panavision Spherical for creative, loyalty and economics. Thanks again for the kind words.

Travis Guerra February 10, 2011 at 2:35 PM

I dont even know what half of that stuff is..but it looks freaken awesome!

Shane February 10, 2011 at 10:47 PM

Travis Guerra, LOL

Joseph J February 10, 2011 at 8:32 PM

another fantastic blog post. nobody else does it like shane. love it!

Shane February 10, 2011 at 10:49 PM

Joseph J, Hey man, great to hear from you. Thanks for making everything work out over at HV. I am glad you liked the post.

Vitaly Bokser February 11, 2011 at 2:57 AM

As a DP slowly moving up in this field, it is great to see the industry giants like Shane and Deakin’s always sharing their experiences with us. Would love to know more Shane, on this project, and how your executing it. Thanks!

Shane February 11, 2011 at 2:55 PM

Vitaly Bokser, thank you so much for those kind words and support. There will be many from the trenches on this film. Stay tuned.

Fendi Ang February 11, 2011 at 3:30 AM

Great stuff Shane. Its rare to find a DP like you that’s willing to share and give insights. Appreciate it tonnes! Looking forward for more posts and (hopefully) get to meet the man himself someday! Have a great shoot.

Patrick Kothbauer February 11, 2011 at 6:07 AM

Man, that was sweet post! 🙂

Shane February 11, 2011 at 2:54 PM

Patrick Kothbauer, thank you so much. More to come.

Matt Short February 11, 2011 at 1:19 PM

A great read, Shane! I hope you can find the time during this production to keep posting more BTS stuff. Seeing this process from the eyes of a true master is invaluable. It really gets the creative juices flowing.

Is it too late to send the Banditos my reel or did they get someone to fill your shoes? 😉

Stay warm,

Shane February 11, 2011 at 2:53 PM

Matt Short, Thank you for those kind words, this is what inspires me to give back. Send that on through to Bandito, they are always looking for good 5D men and women.

J-dog February 11, 2011 at 2:43 PM

Shane, you forgot to throw in a couple 5d’s (just kiddin’). I could always bring you mine, but I’m on the other side of Canada! All jokes aside, this is a great post … dig that shot from the AAA shoot, plenty of smoke, the boom almost looks like it’s on fire! Can’t wait to see that spot, since you were telling me about it in Van.

Keep rockin’ it man ….


Shane February 11, 2011 at 2:52 PM

J-dog, great to hear from you sir. Thanks again for your support. 5D’s are flying in next week to start the snowmobile chase sequence. Lot’s in store on this one.

Danny Hidalgo, MBA February 11, 2011 at 3:18 PM

Hi Shane!

You always take the time to bring us great content which is nothing short of amazing, thank you for that. Its truly been an inspiration, as I have been working as an DP and Director for a small company in the digital realm for 5 yrs chasing the dream while working in cardiovascular sales full time. Well, the sales job had lay offs, and now Im wondering what it would take to make the dream a reality. Any advice?

Thanks so much Shane for all you provide!

Danny Hidalgo, MBA

Shane February 11, 2011 at 3:22 PM

Danny Hidalgo, MBA, thank you so much for the kind words. Hard work, never giving up, doing whatever it takes to get you shooting. We have a rental division in Los Angeles. 25 years ago I cam out from Boston and started at a Rental House to learn what it took to light movies. It is the best way to train. Ask Jose how his experience has been. We put him into the fire and he is doing very well.

Danny Hidalgo, MBA February 25, 2011 at 11:26 AM

Great advice my friend, thank you again for your advice and inspiration!

Shane February 25, 2011 at 3:03 PM

Danny Hidalgo, MBA, you are very welcome.

Pascal February 11, 2011 at 5:12 PM

Hi shane
i’m from Montreal. i should have come and see you for support 🙂
i’m a director from montreal

My question is have you tried the HANDYSLR rig . i heard it’s pretty amazing for the price

Shane February 11, 2011 at 8:31 PM

Pascal, Hi, we should meet up, I will have my 5D package prepping over at Mel’s the week of the 21st of Feb. I haven’t tried that one out.

Adam J McKay February 11, 2011 at 5:30 PM

Hey Shane. Thanks for everything your doing with the blog. Did you consider shooting 2-perf at all for this project? It seems like it would have kept the cost done and give the aspect ratio the director wanted. Are their disadvantages to 2-perf?


Shane February 11, 2011 at 8:30 PM

Adam J McKay, two perf locks you into much in regards to VFX and re frames but we are shooting 3 perf. But you are exactly right. You need a little wiggle room. On studio pictures you cannot shooting anything but 4 perf, they want total control over re-frames.

craigc February 11, 2011 at 7:29 PM

Shane, you mentioned early on that weight was a concern when thinking about going Anamorphic. Do you have any thoughts on the HAWK’s? they seem to be lighter than the ones you had listed. Thanks for posting the details about the thought process.

Shane February 11, 2011 at 8:28 PM

craigc, I Never liked the Hawk’s, the optics are not that good compared with the Primo’s.

Heath Vinyard February 12, 2011 at 5:02 PM

Awesome post, Shane. Thank you again. One question, are there ever times where you want to or are forced in a situation to pull your own focus? I’m trying to work this out now as I love running the camera and would rather farm out the focus part to someone else so I can concentrate. I’m for that RRmicroremote soon.

Thanks again for this awesome blog.

Shane February 13, 2011 at 7:42 PM

Heath Vinyard, You are so welcome and thank you for your kind words and support. Yes all the time. I put my Arri manual follow focus on my rig and pull, but if I am not grabbing stuff I love to have my Focus puller on our Bartech remote follow focus controller. Makes it so easy and they do not influence the balance of the rig.

Kevin Anderson February 19, 2011 at 3:59 PM


Shane February 20, 2011 at 7:55 PM

Kevin Anderson, thanks for kudos my friend.

Tyler Bjorkmam February 21, 2011 at 7:09 PM

Thank you very much for posting the detailed break down of the camera packages. This information is invaluable for us young students to see exactly what is required for a real feature! It would be amazing to see a detailed breakdown off the lighting package for this film especially if you are having to drag equipment in via snowmobiles. I love my DSLR but I also love to hear about the workflow of shooting with 35mm film.

Thanks for sharing the information!

Shane February 21, 2011 at 7:29 PM

Tyler Bjorkmam, you are very welcome. Thank you so much for you support. I will be posting my lighting lists and camera schedule breakdown in the next post.

Caue Ito February 27, 2011 at 9:49 PM

Amazing parallel job you’re doing here. Great great work on cinematography too. Thanks

Shane March 1, 2011 at 8:51 AM

Caue Ito, thank you so much for your kind words and support.


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