Six months ago, I wrote a post “Why Do We Want Flat Glass?” that was an example of what power posts would be like for the Inner Circle. It shows you what I am looking at as an artist and as a scientist. Remember, it is the mix, art and science, that breeds creativity. Never one without the other.
After doing this test, I was very impressed with how flat the Leica Summilux Cs were and how sharp they were in my low light tests. I thought that this flat glass would be awesome with sheet metal. We could get nice and wide to show speed without distorting the car. I was then hired to shoot an Acura spot that took place in the dead of night for their prototype car.
When I met with the director, James Brown, he showed me impressive storyboards and I thought, WOW!!! This should be fun. When I asked how many nights we had, he turned to me and said “One.”
James had a very unique style that I immediately embraced. It was designed, calculated, organized and visionary. He wanted this spot to feel mysterious, with many misdirects to the audience, only telling them just enough. The mood and tone was dark, with muted tones. He wanted the car to feel alive at night though. He selected a red car and wanted a lens system and a camera to make this baby pop.
James said that he did not want the car to get lost in the muddy, murky light of the deserted LA streets at night. I was all in. I told him about the camera system that I used to shoot Need for Speed. He thought I would all be about the Alexa, but I told him that the Canon C500 sees into the night like no other sensor and with this schedule it would require us to just take light away. We wouldn’t have time to add much. He was like, “What are you talking about, taking light away?” I told him that we will be shooting at 2500 ISO with minimal noise and using the power of the new Leica Summilux Cs at a 1.4 f-stop to bring this vision to life. Once I showed him the night race sequence in Need for Speed, he asked, “We can do this?” I said, “Absolutely.” I assembled the same team that I used on the movie and we were off and running. This was my first time using the MoVI on a commercial project. The combination of the MoVI, Canon C500, aerial drones and Leica glass was a slam dunk. It was like one if by land, two if by air and three if by gyro stabilized.
The Boards and Organization
It is your job as a cinematographer to put as much on the screen as possible and that means breakdowns and being very organized and tight. We had one day to shoot all the downtown LA driving work along with aerial drone work. Oh, I thought I would just throw that in. Yes, drone work at night. So not only were we shooting these very complex action oriented boards, James also wanted to get up in the air at night to show desolation. I loved the idea, but I have had some bad drone experiences. He assured me that he had vetted out this team and had many meetings with the city and they were up to the challenge. The team was from Vortex Aerial and they never disappointed me.
Chris and his amazing team did everything we wanted and more. I told him we needed to fly the C500 and a Gemini recorder. (The Gemini has been discontinued by Convergent Design and in place of it, they are selling their new Odyssey7Q OLED Monitor and Recorder.)
He met with my techs and got it balanced and ready for action. His team was fast. I had used drones before and they never like to be far away from it during the day, but Chris put these powerful green LEDs on his drone. He flew that rig four city blocks deep. So exciting, wrapping around skyscrapers on the 20th floor. Impressive.
I did a camera breakdown so that all teams knew exactly what was asked of them. This is especially powerful when you split up into different units. Your B cam operator who has gone to deliver splinter unit shots has all the lens, camera and device notes necessary in pulling off our vision. Here is an example of my breakdown for day one:
Having these powerful camera breakdowns in hand, we deployed the team to pre-rig and shoot this night.
By setting the C500 at 2500 ISO, shooting 4K Canon RAW and the Leica primes at wide open, we owned the night and the team delivered James’ vision. This was so much fun to shoot. A little side note – we had to save the last jump shot till the end of the night because we knew it would drop the engine right out of the vehicle and it did. That was a WRAP!
No guts, no glory, which means sometimes carnage needs to ensue for the image. I learned this early on in my career.
One last tidbit of information – we never had the prototype car. It only could sit in this room above. It could not drive, so we had to use the 2014 version but it was never red. We painted the car red in CGI because all that was available was a black car. Here is the director’s cut. Enjoy!!!!!
On/Off box for C500