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Prepping Deadfall

  • February 9, 2011
  • Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Prepping Deadfall

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.

  • Canon
  • Cinematography
  • Kin
  • prep
  • rotoscoping

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