I was invited to speak at the Tiffen Booth at NAB Show 2017 about filmmaking. I wanted to share some important concepts I’ve learned and honed about the use of camera and telling your story. Here’s part 2 of what I shared with the audience and now with all of you. Enjoy!
I had this incredible group of some of the most amazing actors on the planet for this film I did, Fathers and Daughters. Gabriele Muccino was the director. This wasn’t a $250 million action film, it wasn’t a sci-fi feature; this film was all based around emotion and performance.
We had Russell Crowe, Aaron Paul, Diane Kruger, Jane Fonda, Octavia Spencer, Kylie Rogers, and Amanda Seyfried. This cast was an absolute powerhouse. They were the perfect ensemble to bring the right amount of emotion to this project.
Let’s break this thing down.
When I get a script for a new movie, I re-read it probably four or five different times before I even think about making a note. Once the notes have been started, they are all about finding that core to the story. What is the look? What kind of lenses am I going to use? Is there anything special about the time period? Do I have to do a vintage look? How will I delineate between the past and the present if I need to do so? I will literally write them right on the side of the script.
All these things start to go through my head and I start jotting them down as ideas. It’s all about working towards that core.
So, my first instinct while reading the Fathers and Daughters script was in regards to the look of the film. The time period was 1989 – I had something specific in mind. I wanted the look of 1989 to be warm, inviting, colorful, with flares and glowing highlights. 1989 is Katie’s perspective from when she was 10 years old.
The film was taking the audience from 10-year-old Katie to 26 year-old-Katie. It was important that I take the audience through those time shifts from Katie’s perspective. It had to look like a kid’s world.
When you think about it, everything is more colorful as a kid. Everything is more alive and bigger than life. That was my big core story element that I needed to get across in this film. That is what would make or break the film for me.
There’s a great story to be told about why I was doing this from a 10-year-old’s point of view.
My dad and I had an incredible relationship. He passed in April of last year, so it’s been a difficult road losing one of my amazing mentors – my father, Ron Hurlbut. He was an incredible educator as well. I grew up watching how he shared all his knowledge with his students. Now I’m following in his footsteps. That’s what I’m trying to pass on to all of you.
My father was a giant to me. Whenever I had looked up to him he was like Superman – that is my memory of my father.
He was a baseball player. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox as a pitcher. We had these amazing times on the old family farm playing ball. I grew up on a farm in upstate New York. This little half-circle driveway here was marked out as 60’ 6”. This was the perfect pitching mound for my dad and I playing catch.
One time I was talking with him and I said:
Dad, remember when you showed me that first curveball? I was there, and the sun was there flaring you out. I saw you release that ball and I couldn’t catch it because the thing broke like 2.5 feet and went into the dirt. So I ran down and picked it back up and threw it to you and it was just amazing.
Son, what the hell are you talking about? I came home from work to get lunch and we played catch at high noon.
My take away with this is that as a child everything is much more colorful. It’s much more alive. That became the score for this story.
With that, I turned to Tiffen to be able to nail the look in-camera. I wanted 1989 to have a warm feel. I did that by using their “Antique Suede #2.”
Now a lot of people might say, Well Shane, this is all digital man. Just go into the color bay and jack that color to make it warm. Well, you definitely have those options, but for me, I like to do as much in-camera as possible. The Antique #2 gave us this yellow, slightly aged quality to it all. The highlights were perfectly bloomed with the Glimmer Glass #1. These filter combinations made everything just a little more magical. Magical is where we wanted to be.
You can start to see the camaraderie that’s starting to happen between the two actors in this scene between Russell Crowe and Kylie Rogers. You can see how using the filtration can help pull off this vision for the movie as a whole. It adds to the story.
When Russell Crowe’s character accepts the Pulitzer Prize from Jane Fonda, you can see that it’s from Katie’s perspective. The lights aren’t just shining on Jane Fonda at the podium – they’re shining out into camera and flaring. It’s showing you that vision of what a child would see.
I want to break down the Black Glimmer Glass because this is a really unique filter. There’s a lot of filters on the market that will shift your contrast or open your contrast up. The Black Glimmer actually holds contrast incredibly well. The black component within the glitter really delivers while maintaining contrast. I was using Black Glimmer 1/2 and Black Glimmer 1 throughout the whole picture. What I’ve set up here is the perfect playing ground for testing filtration.
We have a Pinspot source so we can see how those highlights bloom with added filtration. We have hot, overexposed background, and then we have a darker area that you can see will start to open up as we increase filtration.
Going from the 1/2 to the 1, I see a little more open up on her face. On the 2, look at the highlights. It’s blooming a little more than the 1/2 and the 1. On 3, we are getting less contrast around the board and more blooming highlights.
Now our medium shot. Another thing about the Black Glimmer that I love is that it doesn’t really de-focus the eyes. That’s where the emotion is. The face is what’s grabbing us as an audience. With the 1/2 there’s nice sharp eyes. From the 1/2 to the 1 there’s just a little bit of contrast change on the back wall and in her face shadow. On the 1/2 there’s no highlight blooming, but on the 1 you can see it start to bloom a little.
It’s definitely blooming a little more with the 2. With the 3, your contrast really opens up a lot. Her eyes, however, are still staying very sharp.
Now, here’s the killer closeup. First we have a half. At our 1, the eyes still look sharp. At the 2, we’re starting to create that gauze effect. For our story that was too much for me. I wanted to stay within the 1/2 and the 1 range. You can see how that gauze starts to happen immediately from 1 to 2. All of sudden, something that I have as a nice black in the background turns grey on the 2, and then 3 is even heavier.
I wanted to nail the look of Fathers and Daughters in-camera. To do that I turned to Tiffen filtration. The 1989 is Katie’s perspective from when she was 10 years old. This look had to be warm, inviting, colorful, with flares and glowing highlights. The Tiffen Antique #2 gave us this yellow, slightly aged quality to it all. The highlights were perfectly bloomed with the Glimmer Glass #1. These filters were magical and got us right where we want to be, all in-camera.