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Shooting Act of Valor Q & A

written by Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Shooting Nestor Serrano and Roselyn Sánchez in Act of Valor

Shooting Nestor Serrano and Roselyn Sánchez in Act of Valor

We’ve had a ton of questions via Twitter, Facebook and the hurlblog about shooting Act of Valor, so I thought I would share them in a Q&A format. Thanks so much to everyone for your support and kind words about the film!

Q: How much of the film was shot on the Canon 5D Mark II?

A: 70% 5D, 20% film, and 5% F950 for aerials.

Q: How much of the film was lit with natural lighting?

A: 60% natural light.

Q: How did you light that scene at night when they are in the jungle/forest on their first mission?

A: One 12 lite Maxi brute on 80′ condor. One mini nine light with FCX globes bouncing into 12x ultra bounce.

Q: What picture style was used on Act of Valor?

A: Neutral.

Q: Was that you holding the gun with the camera mounted to you at times?

A: No, that was one of the SEALs.

Q: How in the world did you get the scenes in the dark without noise?

A: Dark Energy by Cinnafilm is a tool that strips all 5D compression off of footage and then layers 35mm grain.

Q: Did they let you fire a weapon?

A: Yes!

Q: Did you jump with the SEALs?

A: No!

Q: What lens did you use for the helmet mounted shots?

A: 18mm Zeiss ZF with a Fotodiox adapter.

Q: What camera did you use for the HALO jumps?

A: Canon 5D

Q: In Act of Valor, was the out of focus shots during dialog scenes intentional or a result of the 5D’s shallow depth of field?

A: This was intentional. I wanted to use the shallow DOF to illustrate Christo’s world closing in on him.

Q: Was the live fire just for that scene with the mini gun?

A: No, we did live fire on San Clemente Island as well.  50 cals in H860 helo’s and on the ground.

Q: Is the visual quality difference between full-frame sensors and APS-C sensors noticeable on the big screen?

A: Full-frame looks best, but APS-C holds up well if you use good lenses. Check out this post for more info:  http://www.hurlbutvisuals.com/blog/2010/02/06/still-lenses/

Q: The new 5D announcement is days after Act of Valor drops. Did you have access to new body?

A: No. Just great Canon marketing.

Q: The CU on Keith Urban in the music video – that was the Alexa, right?

A:  Yes, the CU was Alexa. The CU shots of the drummer were Canon C300. We also used 5D and 7D.

Q: Any chance of a solid BTS on the Blu-ray down the line?

A: Yes, there will be tons.

Q: How was the sound synced, since there were multiple cameras?

A: We used the 5D mics as a scratch to sync with our double system sound.

Q: Panavision is hyping the 435 and Primo’s on Act of Valor. I thought just the funeral scene was film. Is the movie 50% DSLR, 50% film?

A: Only 8 shots were film in the funeral.  70% 5D, 20% film. Primo primes on both platforms.

Q: Did you ever get to reuse any of the 5Ds shooting Act of Valor, or were they all obliterated?

A: We only lost 6.

Q: Was Act of Valor pretty fun to make?

A: Difficult but an amazing life experience. I always have fun.

Q: When is Act of Valor opening internationally?

A: Here are the dates we have so far:

Canada – February 24
Singapore – March 1
Kuwait – March 1
Italy – March 16
Ireland – March 23
UK – March 23
Spain – April 27
Australia – May 3
Netherlands – May 10

Q: Are there any books you suggest for students of cinematography?

A: Writing with Light by Vittorio Storaro, Painting with Light by John Alton, and Cinematography by Blain Brown.

Q: Are there going to be any more BootCamps?

A: Another boot camp is in the works for later this year. Keep checking the hurlblog for updates.

Q: Are you going to be at NAB?

A: Yes, we will.


Thanks again everyone!

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Chris March 5, 2012 at 5:02 PM

Can you talk about Dark Energy by Cinnafilm a bit more ?

Was it the standalone or plug in ? and have you used it a lot before ?

Appreciate the blog. Cool insight!

Thank you for your time.

Shane March 5, 2012 at 10:04 PM

I made a post about Dark Energy last year. Hopefully this will answer a lot of your questions-

Tyler F March 5, 2012 at 6:10 PM

I can’t wait until I can catch it in the cinemas in the UK.

Kent March 5, 2012 at 7:10 PM

Great job I loved the movie. I thought the script was a little weak but your part was superb.

The link you provided above for lens on the 7D provides an error message.

Thanks for all the great information.



Shane March 5, 2012 at 9:59 PM

Thanks for pointing that out. It should go to the right place now.

N.K.Osborne March 5, 2012 at 8:07 PM

Thanks Shane you answered everything. I have an additional question, your neutral settings,was it 0 sharpness, -4 contrast, -2 saturation? Or was it something different?

Thanks for all the in-depth information.

Namo KinG March 6, 2012 at 5:06 AM

Hey Shane.You are very friendly and creative person.I do enjoy with ur blog.U know man now i’m planning my new project Please Shane!give me some good advice for my little project.So I use Canon 5D mark 2 with Canon EF 50mm f1.4 prime lens…I know i don’t have a lot of lens which us L..But i think i could arrange my sharpness on post.For example: Unsharp,sharpen from AE..do u have any better idea for improve my footage?Second thing: i use windows 7.So i cannot write proRes 444.Even i use 5DtoRGB it writes ProRes 422.That is why use Cineform.Which is for transcoding and color grade.It looks good..i mean ProRes 422,Cineform FilmScan 444,,those are looking good.it looks good..but after i convert to Main concept h264 and i do upload my video on Youtube,,i becomes very bad u know..Pro people’s videos are very good on youtube vimeo..How man ,my master video is wrong?I almost try everything …Matrox DNXHD ,cineform…..Thank u Shane

Namo KinG March 6, 2012 at 5:07 AM

oh by the way sorry my bad english..from Asia

Shaun March 6, 2012 at 9:10 AM


Would it be possible to write up some articles [with some diagrams] that show how you lit the film and also discuss how you go about shooting coverage for action scenes. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I have heard that the action scenes are real impressive. I would love to get your insight on how you plan and shoot complicated scenes. If possible could you give examples of that process for different types of action scenes [fist fight, shootout, and chase].



Hurlbut Visuals: Shooting Act of Valor Q & A | Kelly On A Tangent March 6, 2012 at 10:59 AM

[…] Shooting Act of Valor Q & A | Hurlbut Visuals. […]

Kevin March 6, 2012 at 6:25 PM

I have already seen the movie twice. The 5D footage looks so great that its distracting at times (i cant stop looking at the color and IQ that ive missed part of the movie). Great job, and certainly a benchmark for DSLR performance. I also liked how you could see the effect firmware upgrades had on the footage. Did you film the jump scene in only natural light?

Shane March 27, 2012 at 10:13 AM

Thanks Kevin. Yes, the jump scene was shot only with natural lighting.

Kelly March 6, 2012 at 6:55 PM

Hi Shane,
I haven’t seen the film but I’m guessing there is a lot of action in it. Curious to know how you avoided Moire/aliasing/jello. It is a continuing headache for myself, although I use a 60D which apparently is worse than the 5D.
Keep up the choice work.

Alec March 6, 2012 at 10:26 PM

Amazing movie. Thanks so much for the behind the scenes along the way and those to come in the future. It’s great to see bits of how this movie was put together, and the final product. Also what possibilities you’ve introduced to these larger films, there were some amazing shots that you would never see from a large film or even digital cinema camera.

John Moon March 6, 2012 at 11:48 PM

Looking forward to checking this movie out. Can’t wait for your next Boot Camp! Going to try and make it.

J.S. Lawrence March 7, 2012 at 6:05 AM

Hi Shane,

Love everything you’re doing. Would you mind going into more detail about the program Dark Energy and how it can benefit DSLR filmmakers? I am very interested in the software for my feature film. I feel like just by visiting the site, doesn’t do enough for me. I want to know the true benefits of it over something like let’s say… NeatVideo.

Thanks, you’re awesome!

– J.S. Lawrence

Joseph March 8, 2012 at 5:03 PM

Hi Shane
I’m curiuos as to why you did not use a preset like Technicolor cine style or any other preset plugin? Also do you use magic latern for any of the cameras you use that are yours obviously and not rentals?

Shane March 13, 2012 at 1:06 AM

Joseph, Technicolor’s picture style decreases your color BIT depth in an already reduced 8 BIT color space. Sorry not having it. Every camera is mine.

Kelly March 13, 2012 at 4:30 PM

Hi Shane, Interesting what you say about Technicolor picture style. I thought the reason so many people raved about it was because of its ability to retain color information. I haven’t been a big fan of it so far. Also curious to know how you dealt with Moire/ aliasing issues? I haven’t seen the film yet but I’m guessing there’s lots of action which equals loads of movement which would cause lots of moire??

Joseph March 15, 2012 at 3:43 PM

Thanks for the quick response Shane. Your a briliant film maker and a lot more knowledgeable than me, so I will deffinately take this advise. If your ever filming in my area and need a BTS camera man or B-Roller give me a holler.

Circuitous Conversations » Blog Archive » #76 – Getting Scared with Brad Rego March 11, 2012 at 5:01 PM

[…] Shooting “Act of Valor” Our guest this week is independent horror film creator Brad Rego, the man behind ‘The Killing of Jacob Marr’. Don’t miss out as we talk behind the scenes, the hurdles, the workflow, film festivals in the days of the internet and more. And the new iPad. […]

Bill Hamell March 21, 2012 at 12:06 AM


How often if ever do you use a PL filter on the 5D and do you prefer a circular or linier PL filter.

Thank you,

Chris April 1, 2012 at 1:16 PM

Shane (& L),

Very impressive responsiveness.

“Q: What camera did you use for the HALO jumps? A: Canon 5D”

Considering the above quote, and that Navy Leap Frogs did parachuting while 2 SEALs were aerial Navy cameramen, I’m assuming HALO jump was a real HALO jump, which has got to be yet another film first, right? (As opposed to simply putting on fake masks/etc and doing a regular jump.)

Great stuff!

Shane April 1, 2012 at 6:28 PM

Chris, Yes 5D on both jumps. We did 5,000 ft, then we did the HAOL jump at18,000K. Yes, we did all of the Halo day for night, then went into After effects and cut the SEALs out and then lowered the sky to look like a night sky with just a little ambience in it, then colored the SEALs body cool grey. Thanks for all your support

Chris April 1, 2012 at 7:47 PM


From my “film-goer” perspective, using post-production like that seemed to work really well (also the night vision shots)

Videographer Singapore April 22, 2012 at 10:18 AM

Hey shane, I finally managed to catch Act of Valor here in Singapore. I LOVE the FPS stuff going on. Really awesome. Great work. So shocked to know that a bulk of it was shot on 5D! Anyway, I saw in the comments that you were mentioning something about the technicolor picture style not being too useful. Do you mind helping to elaborate abit on that? Thanks!


Shane May 1, 2012 at 10:15 PM

Videographer Singapore, thank yo so much for the support of Act of Valor. Yes 70% was 5D. The Cinestyle picture style I use in very extreme conditions. Looking into the sun, pushing in from darkness to a very lit room. But in general I feel it reduces the color BIT depth of the image. It sucks out its soul.

Tim Book April 24, 2012 at 12:39 AM

Hello Shane, first of all let me express my appreciation for your sharing all of this with the readers. Not only are you a professional and ASC member but you also excel by sharing all your expertise and knowledge. Quite rare today.

One last Question regarding picture styles:
Did you tweak Neutral like for instance 0 -2 -2 0 or was it used in default. I am going to see it on the big screen and give feedback once its around here. I heard elsewhere that those other picture styles were just eye rubbing/reducing color space and found it nice to see your confirmation.

Shane May 1, 2012 at 10:11 PM

Tim Book, WOW!! thank you so much for your support and wonderful words. This means a lot. I love what I do, its personal and I pass it onto all of you. I have my own Neutral picture style that I have created within the editor. Bent some curves this way and that way.

Satyanivas July 12, 2012 at 5:53 AM

Hi Shane..Watched Act of Valor, AWESOME WORK. I really shocked to see that this film was shooted on 5D Mark 2 (70%). As a fresher to film making, No words to say about your work. U SHOWN THE WORLD WHAT CANON 5D MARK 2 CAN DO.
REQUEST: I recently taken 5D Mk 2 with Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L USM. Can i use this lens and other canon f/2.8 L USM series to make a feature film to display on big screen. I can’t invest huge amount on high quality lenses. PLEASE ANSWER THIS QUESTION. PLEASE.
PLEASE MAKE A DVD SERIES ON FEATURE FILM MAKING WITH CANON 5D MARK 2/3..You may not get much from it BUT, BIG BUT, its great giving to the young film makers.

Shane July 25, 2012 at 8:21 PM

Satyanivas, I would stick to prime lenses. The 5D is very soft with it compression and line skipping. You need a sharp piece of glass to bring out the best in its image. Stay off the zooms. Thank you so much for your kind words and support. Every one told me it was impossible. That’s when I knew I was headed in the right direction.

Shane August 22, 2012 at 12:17 PM

Satyanivas, thank you so much for those wonderful words of support. The 24-70 will not hold up, you will need to stick with primes to grace the big screen. Rent lenses first which will make your investment much more educated. Test to see what lenses grab you as an artist.

Tobias Deml July 28, 2012 at 4:25 AM

Absolutely amazing lighting. Shane, you should be hired like ten times more, this film looked phenomenal. You’re my total DSLR hero now 😀
Personal favorites, stuff I’ve never really seen before, at least not done that well:
The lighting inside the freight helicopter
The lighting at night in the grass fields before the forest
The camera tumbling inside the carpet


Shane August 8, 2012 at 6:34 AM

Tobias Deml, thank you so much for these wonderful kind words and support. It was an amazing opportunity to push all limits. Both creatively and physically. Thanks again.

Anonymous November 12, 2013 at 1:50 AM

[…] […]

johnny March 28, 2014 at 1:58 PM

Hi Shane,

You realy inspire me and alot of 5d users! Amazing movie! You are amazing I follow you way back a couple years!

Question what do you think of 5d raw video and can you tell us a bit about you processing flow?

Kind regards Johnny from holland

Keep up the good work!

Shane April 8, 2014 at 12:18 PM

johnny, thank you so much for your kind words, I have shot some tests that I will release very soon on the 5D MK II hack from Magic lantern.

Shane May 26, 2014 at 9:03 AM

johnny, Thank you for these wonderful words and so sorry it has taken me awhile to respond. I am doing a post on the RAW video out of the 5D very soon. So far I think it is very cool and looking to incorporate it into my workflow.

Logan September 18, 2014 at 3:40 PM

Hey man loved the film but can you please tell me all of the audio equipment used on the film (please don’t say shotgun mic and field recorder i would like specifics). Best of luck in the future. Thanks!


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