Red Eye

Last week I worked on a short film, Raised Alone. We were shooting on the Red One and I was the gaffer, then stepped up to DP for three days while Rob, the original DP, went to look after his wife who had a baby during the shoot. I never usually have time to write up the experiences from what I’m doing, but here, for once, are some of the things I learned and some of the things I was reminded in the past week.


Learning #1: this was my first shoot with the Red One and, yes, it’s a wonderful camera but… it has some serious problems, including the awful cables which trip off the power or the others that cause annoying flickering in the viewfinder. Cutting off power seems trivial–just switch it back on. You would think that until you realize it takes 90 seconds to reboot the camera. We had as much downtime for batteries and flaky cables as I’ve had with film loading issues. Having said that the picture quality is lovely. I’m sure the post folks will be extremely happy.

Reminder #1: being prepared is the best thing in the world. Scouting locations, planning shots, storyboarding, rehearsals, etc, etc. However, experience can still trump all of that because, in the light of the (inevitable) unforeseen, you have to stay flexible while still achieving the vision.

Learning #2: if you want to use a big light to create moonlight, you really do need a crane or a cherry picker. Related to that is…

Learning #3: when you’re using a Fisher dolly and have enough risers, a 10-foot jib doesn’t add that much to your shoot. I suppose that’s unless you rig the jib on the dolly’s arm and then add your risers. Not a very stable idea, however.

Reminder #2: you can’t expect a crew to work 12 hours on a meal of sandwiches every day. Feed the crew and work smart. Tired and/or hungry people aren’t creative or as productive.

Reminder #3: get a good gaffer, a good sound dept and an AD who knows what they’re doing and, if you’re prepped, you can achieve some pretty amazing things with a truck full of gear and tight schedule.

Reminder #4: always try to get a few really difficult shots because challenge motivates the crew and if you pull them off, your footage will be a cut above the ordinary. However, don’t sacrifice coverage when time is tight.

Reminder #5: location managing is actually incredibly important on a low-budget shoot. If the person doing that job doesn’t get film-making, then you’re going to waste a lot of time finding nearby parking, accessing the location, running around for craft services and staging gear in impractical places.

Reminder #6: there’s often more light than you realize and prime lenses rock.

Reminder #7: a very large Cooke zoom can also rock but a trombone shot is going to take at least an hour to get right, especially with your 450lb dolly set on a slope.

Reminder #8: there’s no substitute for an extras casting specialist if you’re casting extras. Promises that lots of friends/family/colleagues will show up never pay off.

Learning #4: when shooting digital files, use time of day timecode. What a simple but brilliant idea. I love it.

So, there you have it. More important than any of the above, my crew in both grip and electric and in the camera dept were totally awesome, and the lead actors were great. The director was ambitious and well-prepared. I’m looking forward to the next one.