The entire month of March, and then some, was completely consumed by Crossing Streets, a feature film shot in Roanoke, VA. I was so thankful for all the support I received and as it was my first feature as a Director of Photography, I needed it. It was hard to answer all the questions I got while filming so I wanted to write a post summarizing my experiences and the things that I learned.
When I was officially chosen as the Director of Photography, I wrote a post on the story which discussed the story, gear and my vision. In this post I want to talk about a few of the many things I learned and answer common questions I got during filming.
How Did You Get Into The Feature World
I got this question a lot and not sure you could say I’m in the “feature world” just yet. I got this opportunity by keeping my options open and always looking for work. Some could say I got lucky and I wouldn’t disagree as I am very lucky to have been given the chance. When the director, Marc Hutchins, called we immediately hit it off. Talking about gear, lighting setups and how he wanted a hands on DP who could work next to him to complete the film. I loved his energy and he was a fan of my passion. After reading the script I was sold. It was such a solid story with rich characters and even better character development.
I shared all my ideas with Marc and tried to give him well thought out ideas with tons of information behind it. Not sure why he chose me over so many others but haven’t put much thought into that. Once he told me I was his guy, I went to work.
One of the smartest things I did was put a lot of time and effort into the pre production process. I give a lot of credit to Shane Hurlbut for telling me to do so. He made a comment on going all out on pre production for his newest film, Fathers and Daughters and that I need to do the same.
My first step (after reading the script several times) was to buy the following items:
•2 Copies of the Script
I put together a binder that had my notes, mood boards, script, shoot schedule and blank paper for lighting diagrams. This kept me organized for the entire shoot and helped me voice my ideas clearly to the director, camera department and the gaffer. This is something I will continue to do for every feature and longer projects.
The next thing I did was go down to Roanoke, VA on my own dime to see all the locations and spend time with the director and producer. This put the ideas in my head to life and I could better picture the movie after seeing the locations. Lighting diagrams were created and I could begin listing the gear I needed for each setup. This three day venture saved a lot of time in the future and even calmed down some of my nerves.
Now this is a post in itself and I will break down a few of my favorite setups in future posts. Marc wanted a natural look that wasn’t over processed. It is important to choose a look based on the script. The lighting, camera movement and color all need to help tell the story. I drew my inspiration from Breaking Bad (Neslon Cragg) and Homeland (Michael Slovis). Cragg and Slovis had a very gritty look on those shows but still kept a sharp image. Loved how that allowed darker scenes to stay dark and didn’t light every corner of a room. Breaking away from the feature world, I also drew a lot of looks from Eric Koretz who has a raw but clean look. I really dig the way he frames subjects and moves the camera. Luckily, our locations supported these looks because without that, it wouldn’t work.
For the interiors of the police office I went with Kino fluorescents. This allowed me to blend lighting temperatures with windows and the available lighting. At times I would diffuse overhead lighting or completely black it depending on the situation and movement of actors.
In any situation where I had ample space, I would bounce an Arri open face 2K with 1/2 CTB off a large white board. From there I would cut and re-bounce as needed. A lot of times that did the trick and if not I added a little Kino love or another heavily diffused hot light.
My 3 Takeaways
There’s so much I learned from this project but I’ll keep it to the three biggest things I took away.
For those wanting to be a DP on a bigger set, you also need to become a leader. One that is respected, can delegate responsibility, encourage team work, and inspire each person on the crew. As much as I was in charge of the lighting, lens choices and camera movement, I also had the responsibility of being a role model on set. If the director is the coach, I was the captain.
Each set is different, but I found it invaluable to inspire my camera department each day while also keeping my grips and gaffer motivated. Not always an easy task to do when things get crazy, but the more they had my back, the better the days were. I was no where near perfect and knowing this I made it a point to keep smiling and stay relaxed. If I got stressed then my first AC started rushing which caused my 2nd AC to get jumpy which made the gaffer antsy which then added pressure to the grips. As fast as you read that is as fast as it happens. I learned to always set an example on set and to appreciate everything my crew does because without them this project wouldn’t have happened.
2. There’s Never One Way To Do It
Now this sounds simple but it is easy to have one idea all the way up to striking lights and realizing it isn’t working. Even if a similar set up worked the day before, I had to tell myself there is another way to do this for this location. Utilizing my team and talking it over with the director were ways to think out of the box and open my mind to other options. Whether it was using a more powerful hot light and scrim it down, or taking a light away, or using more natural light, you need to keep an open mind and realize there’s multiple ways to achieve the same look. This goes the same for lenses and camera placement.
3.Create Your Own Luck
This is something my Dad taught me and I do my best to shape my career around it. People told me how ‘lucky’ I was to do this and that I caught a ‘break’ by getting hired for the job. Although I do feel lucky and humbled by it, I believe I earned the opportunity. Spending hours looking for work, practicing in my spare time, and going all out for every project has gotten me to where I am today. No one is going to get on a feature just by sitting on their computer and waiting for that email. You need to continually put yourself out there and not get down when things don’t go your way. I was lucky to email Marc during a time that he could call me back, but without the work and knowledge to back it up, he would have said nice talking to you and hung up the phone. Create your own luck by mastering the craft and putting everything you have into it.
Thanks again to everyone that has supported me through this. Be on the look out for more posts on the film and check out the Crossing Streets Facebook Page for all movie updates.