Fresh from directing Frameworks new music video, Simon Brooks told me about his new project with Manchester's own rising star, JP Cooper.
JP has had a number of releases and is gaining a big following after his last music video, September Song, went viral on YouTube.
This wasn't a music video as such, more of a live lounge set but Simon still wanted to push it as far as we could in order to make it look and feel so much more.
The first thing Simon said to me was, 'I want the Alexa Mini on this...', which is always great to hear as a dop. As we discussed more about the brief, it turned into a 4 camera shoot and with budget restrictions 4 Mini's was out of the question, so we opted for the next best thing, 4 Amiras.
The original brief was for JP Cooper, a pianist and 3 backing singers. We looked at recording studios to accommodate this setup, the legendary Blue Print studios being one of them, but as the hours went on more additions to the band were added. As well as the backing singers, 3 strings were added...
Because of this, the management opted for the larger studio at 80 Hertz in the Sharp Project.
We recce'd the studio and I took measurements of the room we were to use, these were then put into Cinema 4D and I quickly created an accurate 3D model of the room.
For this project I wanted to create some new human models as I didn't want to copy and paste the same model over and over for the scene.
I used Adobe Fuse to model a lookalike for JP Cooper and his band.
Matt Workman's tutorial for this made the process very quick and easy.
Because of the accuracy of the 3D model, dropping in the human models and their instruments was such a time saver for not just us, but also the recording studio because they could use my blueprint to map out where their microphones and recording equipment could go. Although this took me time in pre-production, it saved so much time in the pre-light and on the shoot day.
With the lighting plan all but finished, with only a few minor alterations to make to the placements of a few lights, I got the call from Simon to say that there were even more additions to the band. The 3 strings became a string quartet and the 3 backing singers became 8 backing singers. So what started as a lighting plan for 5 people, eventually became a lighting plan for 14!
George over at 80 Hertz was so accommodating for the whole production, it's not every job you get to pre-light, but on this occasion it was invaluable to us. Using Cine Design as our blueprint, my gaffer, grip and assistants knew exactly what to setup and where, all within a few feet. Bar a few tweaks here and there, what we decided in pre-vis was our final setup.
Everyone was keyed from the same side, so cameras were put on the opposite side so the long side of the face is darker. This is a preference of mine that I have spoken about before, it is sometimes very easy during a multi-cam shoot to cross this line, so Cine Designer came in handy with this yet again, being able to look through the lens of each camera has great benefits in planning.
The 4 camera setup was as follows...
Camera A, 18mm lens on dolly with curved track - this was our widest shot and the movement would be timed with the music to be in certain positions as the strings and backing singers came in.
Camera B, 75mm static on JP Cooper - this was our main shot of JP, the tripod head was left loose so the operator had the freedom to drift around.
Camera C, 30-90mm static on the keys, backing singer and strings - the zoom provided the operator the freedom to drift between the piano, strings and backing singers.
Camera D, 50mm static on backing singers - again the head was loose to give freedom to drift.
Extra angle, dolly, 50mm. Tighter on JP as we parallaxed around him.
The lenses on the Amiras were Master Primes, stupidly sharp, big and heavy. I originally wanted Cooke S4/i's, they were double booked and Media Dog Hire actually bumped us up to the Masters. I said at the time that I think this would be the only time in my career that I am a little disappointed to be using Arri Master Primes.
They're stunning lenses, virtually no distortion which worked wonders for our dolly shot which was at 18mm.
I went into this setup knowing everyone in the room needed a back light and a side light. Once the blocking got more complicated we needed more lights and a little bit of creativity to make sure everyone in the room was looking good. JP obviously had to stand out more than the rest of the band, so he was keyed at 2.8 by a 4' four bank kino, placed camera right, roughly 10 feet away, and backlit with the Rayzr7 set at 18º spot, full CTO and dimmed to 50%.
The pianist and the string quartet were lit with the same kino but were 1 stop under key. The pianist had a Dedo behind him, hidden behind the wall, used to hit the top of his head, then another Dedo on his left hand side backlighting him. This Dedo is in shot but we made the decision early on that we were happy to see the light sources. The string quartet were backlit by a single Dedo placed next to the backing singers.
The backing singers were proving the most awkward to light as there were so many of them now, we had a few Dedolights left to stagger out at the back of the room to backlight them, but we needed another Kino 4' and a megaboom to light them from above. The second Kino was positioned close to the first, just higher, which meant they were at 1.5 stops under JP's key.
With this setup, there was a distinct foreground (JP), middle (Piano and string quartet) and background (backing singers), with the light falling off gradually from JP's position.
With all the sidelight coming from one side of the room, this meant everyones camera side had good contrast and everything looked consistent.
We added a 12x12 black to cover up a window on the camera side wall, this would also act as some negative fill for JP.
Simon and I share the same affection for low-key lighting so JP was at a ratio of around 2.5:1.
I feel these lights haven't been getting a lot of love lately, especially with the new breed of cinematic LED lighting craze that is out now, but these little lights have been my savour for such a long time, that little tungsten bulb looks so good on the Arri sensor and the ability to shape the light with the barn doors is still incredible. That's why they remain a really popular set of lights to take on every shoot because you can always find a use for them.
RAYZR 7 300w
This light is still blowing me away, even with full CTO and dimmed to 50%, the light looked incredible with the kinos and Dedolights, it'll be a sad, sad day when I have to return it.
DMG LUMIERE'S/ AATON XTR PROD
I recently just picked up the Mini Switch and SL1 Switch from DMG Lumiere. First impressions are really good, the light output is crazy good and the modular design on the back is very cool. There are a number of ways to attach the driver and battery pack, lollipop for C-stands and even a handle in case you need to hand bash them. The best thing about these is they can run off your standard 12v V-Lock batteries, so handy when in a tight spot like we were in the images below.
I used them briefly on a shoot and the daylight is lovely and soft on skin tones.
I also went to pick up a new camera, not the Alexa Mini, but the Aaton XTR Prod 16mm film camera.
I've been looking to get into film for a while, I've been researching and keeping my eye out for this camera for the last 6 months and the timing was just about right. I have a number of passion projects coming up and feel one or two of them are right to shoot on film. This camera is amazing and the guy I picked it up from gave me and Leighton Cox a great history lesson of the company behind the build.
Luckily Leighton had his camera with him and he filmed the entire road trip for your pleasure. Make sure to give his YouTube channel a like and subscribe after watching the video.
Also, please consider supporting me on Patreon so I can continue improving these blog posts. I have plans to release some how-to lighting videos in the coming months. There is a lot more in the pipeline and with your support I can get this content out at a more consistent rate.