If you haven’t given it a watch on my website already, Tata For Now is a short 3 minute documentary shot as part of Arri Docfest Competition. Check it out and I’ll tell you a little about the project!
So I was contacted by Daren several weeks ahead of DocFest itself to ask whether I might be interested in shooting his film as part of the Arri DocFest competition, he was after a local DoP with experience with the Arri Amira and I fitted the bill.
Now, I have known Daren for about 4 years, and have in the past hired equipment from his production company kinematic.tv, but I hadn’t worked with Daren as a Producer/Director before so I was excited about working with a new collaborator. So I said yes!!
COMPETITION AND PRE-PRODUCTION
The competition itself is ran by Arri, yes the people who make the Alexa and Amira cameras, each year at DocFest – pitching 5 teams against each other to make a 3 minute documentary about Sheffield. The idea is we spend the 3 days (ish) which DocFest runs over to shoot and edit the film and finally present it at the glitzy awards ceremony at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Where the 5 films go to a public vote to choose the winner! Well that’s a bit of a challenge!
As part of the competition, Arri provide each team either an Arri Amira or Alexa Mini along with PL zoom and prime lenses to shoot the film on! Oooo I hear you say!
Now the brief for this year was Sheffield: The Green City. Daren’s film took this and questioned it, looking into Sheffield’s shady past of steel production and pollution and how it’s trying to turn that around! Having worked with the Amira quite a bit I agreed with Daren we should shoot the film with this camera. It offered us the most flexibility for our shoot, particularly for handheld work, and, as much of the content would be interviews, it allowed Paul our Sound Recordist to plug directly into the camera easily giving us a speedy turnaround for post. I selected some lenses suitable for the production. Choosing a zoom with a doco range (Fujinon Zoom 19-90) and my prime lenses of choice, the Arri Ultra Primes (32mm and 50mm). We also discussed at length the look and feel of the film and decided to make use of the slow-motion capabilities of the camera to capture some of the film, particularly the sequence at Magna Science Adventure Centre and the demonstration electric arc furnace.
Now, while I love the Arri colour science, I wanted our film to stand out from the other 4 films when shown to the DocFest audience. Equally I hate how green renders on many digital cameras, and knew so much of our film would feature green environments, like parks and forests, so I wanted to work on a look for the film which was a bit more filmic in its colour response. I therefore developed a LUT in Resolve based around the ImpulZ LUTs, finding a combination that helped desaturate the greens and shift them towards either blue or yellow. It also rendered skin tones with a wonderful warm feel. I could load this LUT straight into the camera and provide Daren and myself an instant graded picture while shooting. Equally, as we had to shoot and edit the film in 3 days, I knew post production would require a tight turn around therefore could provide our Editor Steve with this LUT and he could apply it directly to the LogC footage during the editing process, getting our image to 90% of where it needed to be.
Sadly the Fuji lens wasn’t available in the end so ended up with a Alura 15.5-45. Personally the range on this lenses wasn’t great enough for typical documentary coverage so Arri were kind enough to supplement our kit with a Super Speed 85mm to help us with those longs shots.
With all documentary productions you never know what will end up in the final cut or exactly where the story will go, so you end up shooting contributors which don’t make it and also finding contributors along the way that make the film! We kicked off our shoot at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet in Sheffield and we did exactly that, we found a contributor who made our film – Bob! We were only scheduled for an hour at the Hamlet yet managed to squeeze about 3 hours shooting out of it and found Bob along the way!
Our next challenge was Magna Science Adventure Centre, I didn’t mange to do a recce of the location but a couple of folk I work with have shot there before and I got informed it was ‘very dark’ – and they weren’t wrong! Now consider we were wanting to shoot at 50fps to get that slow-motion effect, the low light capabilities of the camera were going to have to shine! From previous experience I knew that 1280ISO was the highest you could go before you started to notice the noise in the image. Equally I knew we wanted a fast lens hence our Ultra Primes come into play, with a T stop of 1.9 they helped dramatically over our zoom lens. Setting the shutter to 356 degrees (equivalent to 1/50) I knew that’s as much as I could get out of the camera before it fell to pieces! Well… I’ll let you decide if it held up, I personally think it handled the situation very well and the lenses are pin sharp – the interview we shot in there too was shot pretty much wide open with just a couple of LED panels to light the interviewee, trying to keep a feel for the low-lit space.
Steve was our fantastic Editor. He was working in FCP X which was great as I know that edit suite too. The ProRes 422 HQ LogC footage was simple to import and, with the addition of LUT Utility, we were able to apply the LUT I had developed in Resolve straight onto the LogC footage.
Once the edit was compete I spent around 3 hours grading the film, generally just matching shots and tweeking exposure and colour slightly. Working with the LogC footage and applying a correction ahead of the LUT means you get the full benefit of the 14 stops of dynamic range and colour information that the Arri cameras are known for!
With a mad dash to the finish line we got our film in for the deadline and eagerly awaited the screening the following evening.
It was a fantastic evening, celebrating wonderful achievements in documentary filmmaking. It was equally wonderful to see our film up on the big screen and all the other teams handy work from the last 3 days too! Sadly we didn’t win the audience over but we did have good fun in the process.
Overall I love the Amira camera, it’s wonderful colour science, flexibility with features such as high frame rate and professional audio connections, along with an industry standard recording codec, make it an ideal camera for documentary filmmaking, my only gripe is it’s too heavy! So I prefer mine on the tripod! 😉
Thank you as well to my wonderful camera assistants on the job; Owain, Jess and Adam, who each took on a day of our production!