China Ball

Well the china ball really came into it’s own yesterday. It provided lovely soft lighting on the actors and left the background nice and dark (and the lighting didn’t need changing between passes). But what a long day and what a lot of ‘coverage’ in the scenes we did – swapping camera position to catch every line and look between three actors. We must have heard the same lines 20 times…v patient actors.

Thanks to my Dad for diverting past B&Q for the DIY china ball on the way to a family gathering yesterday.

During the last scene I operated the pan and tilt handle with my right hand while tracking the dolly along the track myself with my left…only the opposite of what I’ve done for what, 15 years, that’s how tired I was – I didn’t even notice. I thought it was unusually difficult to hold the pivot! The shot would have been a whole lot easier had I remembered how I usually do it (I’d got used to operating ENG, Electronic News-Gathering, style with my right hand over the previous 14 hrs!).

Then I couldn’t find the GoPro…it was plugged in to the Mac all along which I overlooked about 3 times…remembered what the steering wheel did and got home safely anyway!

Right, enough social media. Time to back up yesterday’s files.

Week 1 Complete (1/3 of this part of the shoot)

I’m having a day off from shooting, after a day in London operating a jib yesterday and finishing the first week of The Renata Road.

I’m on my way, with my family, to Lincoln to visit my sister via Sale, Cheshire, to get a replacement HMI bulb from my friend Andy Bennett. The bulb blew during our last scene on Friday. Also stopped at B&Q for parts to build a DIY China Ball (£20!) – pic below.

So, I started this blog asking ‘What’s it like to make a feature film?’. The answer is full on and slightly all consuming as well as v rewarding. I feel a lot of responsibility to produce great images for all those involved. I haven’t seen any proper playback since the first day, but I have Michael, who’s part of the camera team, looking at exposure and white balance in Adobe Lightroom to produce an example still – a graded still if you like – that represents every recorded clip. It looks very promising.

The Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera (BMCC) and Alphatron EVF have been brilliant. They have been working the same long hours as I have and haven’t crashed or had any technical wobbles at all. I’m really impressed. I’ve also reliably been able to split the HD-SDI video feed from the BMCC using a BNC T connector to feed the director’s monitor.

My only problem with my rig is a slight latency on my viewfinder picture. I might conduct a test this week to measure it. I thought I could point my BMCC at the clapper board and on a second BMCC record the images from the back of my BMCC and viewfinder at the same time. I could then open the footage in FCPX and see how many frames difference there are between the clapper closing on the back of the cam and the EVF. The bottom line is that, during fast moving action, contained in a tighter shot, I’m finding it a little difficult to pan with the actors’ movement.

I’m enjoying the lighting. Highlights include when Ed, the director, in making a bedroom set look suitably disrupted turned over one of the bed side lamps so that the bare bulb was down the lens. I said “leave it there”…it looked great. We also had a scene in the same set whereby I lit the main protagonist with only one bedside lamp. He rolled over from being on his back on to his side and came into the light from under the lamp shade. Simple yet effective. Jordan’s focus pulling was to die for, brilliant!

As you can tell from my other blogs, I’m learning a lot as I go along and planning where I can and making other decisions as we go along, but that’s ok because it’s a nice challenge and the outcome already looks exciting.

I’ll post a photo with the camera / lighting team. We’re working so well together – I’m loving it.

One mistake that everyone is aware that I’m making is regularly forgetting to record the clapper board when we decide to ‘end board’. On occasion the camera will be pre-framed and focussed for something, maybe on a tight lens, and so we decide to shoot the clapper board at the end of the scene…between Ed calling cut and me forgetting, I’ll be the cause of cursing from the editor. My solution is an extra line on Amy’s (the clapper / loader) job spec: In charge of running to record and cutting (rather than doing it myself).

Apart from one scene which I found a little uncomfortable to shoot, I’m in my element.

In other news, I may have forgotten what my wife looks like and my boy is wondering who I am…! But it will all be worth it.


First day under our belts

Today went well, I think. We did finish without completing all the scheduled scenes, and overran, but then again, I honestly ran my socks off.

There were lots of challenges for me. Shooting through mirrors, sorry windows!…while trying not to see myself or any of the lamps reflected, that was hard, but we got round that. There was trying to ETTR (Expose To The Right i.e. overexpose without clipping data) on the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and still judge whether the light on the actors was at the right level compared to the background – feels like a guessing game. I tried to keep my key lights at 90 degrees to the actors and keep the shadows towards the lens…moody.

The oconnor pan and tilt head arrived. I’ll be using that tomorrow. I must get someone to take some pics tomorrow.

After an exhausting day, the director was happy with my efforts. Can’t wait to go in tomorrow morning and to look over some of the stuff we shot over breakfast…I’m living, sleeping, dreaming The Renata Road. Good night.



Down to the nitty gritty.  As first time DoP I’m trying to work out the follow…

0:00 – 0:14 mins/secs (thanks to Craig, the gaffer).

The practicalities are difficult – a cam move is required that starts as per the angle shown and develops towards the fireplace to pivot around the character in the chair as someone walks past the window…thus revealing the lighting rig reflected in the windows (1x 2k Arri, through a doubled-over piece of muslin with a flag to try and minimise light on the white wall left-of-frame).

I want more shadows on the camera-left side of face, but there is so much bounce from the white wall filling in the shadows.  I like the look and softness of the 2K + muslin but it’s a bit of a blunt tool in terms of the spill and I might be better with a Dedo / Lite Panel, used directly, to increase contrast in the scene.   Also, if I use a Dedo, I may be able to rig higher, maybe from the ceiling, to avoid reflections seen when the camera develops.  Any thoughts, please?

0:15 – 0:56

I think the corridor will look good.  There are two skylights in the ceiling and, in this test, there is a light panel in each.  I’ll double up and have 2x light panels in each skylight to make the coverage a little greater as the characters walk beneath.  With the addition of black wrap around the fire exit sign, ND over the light illuminating the tree b/g, ND over the light illuminating the steps and CTO (maybe x2) over the v. blue light over the f/g light which illuminates the top of Craig’s head, I think it will look suitably moody.

0:55 – 1:08: The staircase.

Lit with 1x750w Arri bounced off wall behind the cam gives v. flat boring coverage.  I’d like a nice gradient on the walls.  May need direct light from the Dedo but I don’t want the light intensity to increase as the actors near the top of the stairs and the lamp next to cam…tricky spaces.  Dedo would reduce the spill and keep it moody.

2:00 – 2:05

The addition of a light panel means the characters won’t be in silhouette so much but maybe the level of the light panel could be reduced to keep it moody?

There’s a theme…a move from the soft light towards more controllable direct light from Dedos.

Shoot day minus 3

Just 3 days until the shoot begins!  Today I was in Manchester at ProVision where I met Danny Thomson.  I collected some in-line dimmers to control light fixtures on set.  I’ll be controlling the light level with ND but, when I’m up against it, a quick tweak on a dimmer will be helpful.

I also met Peter Green at ProVision who showed me the camera goodies, which is a bit like being in a very expensive sweet shop. I came home and returned part of an underwater splashbag to Jenny at Cameras Underwater – she’s kindly letting me exchange for the product I should have selected in the first place.  I also contacted Rene at Alphatron who sorted me out with my electronic viewfinder.  I took some time out to read Andy Reid’s article:

‘Why I am going with 4K and why you should too’

…don’t tell the Director – we’ve got a mere 2.5k…(and my brand new and fully pimped up iMac only just copes with that).  

I’m on set in the morning. I’m going to spend tomorrow and Sat getting ahead of the game by lighting the various rooms we’re in.

Toby’s kit to add to my own:


What’s it like to shoot a feature film?

I’m about to find out.  This is my new blog about being Cinematographer on the film The Renata Road, with Director Ed Greenberg.

I’ll post some thoughts as the film gets made.  Shooting starts on Monday 20 January 2014. So this first post: just saying THANK YOU to all the people who have got us this far, including the lovely people at oconnor who today said they’d send me a head and legs on Friday.

I’ve spent longer organising and packing my gear than I would if I were going on a very long holiday. But what exciting gear!!! Black Magic Cinema Camera, Zeiss primes (thanks to my friend Phil Carr) and loads of accessories, iMac, GoPro etc. Check out the pic. Prepare to be amazed!*


Back to school for me…getting to grips with the cinematography, Raw video, and operating camera, all at the same time.

OK, that’s it for starters.

*There will be lots of over-excited talk about gear on this blog…comments Mrs Cullen.