Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Level 26: Dark Revelations -- Production Journal - Day 1

Warning: Potential book and cyber-bridge spoilers ahead.

Day 1:

Call time: 7:00 am.

It’s supposed to be a fairly easy day. Four scenes, 4 3/8 pages. Probably the easiest day we’ll have so far (which does turn out to be the case). We’re filming for the next three days on the CSI:NY stages at CBS Radford Studios, one of the amazing benefits of this being an Anthony E. Zuiker project. Even though we’re operating on a fraction of the budget we’ve had before, much less than CSI:NY’s per episode costs, we still get the benefit of multi-million dollar sets, which adds so much production value I can’t even begin to tell you. (Well, you can see it for yourself.)

We started the day in the Interrogation Room set on Stage 2. The scene revolves around two detectives who interrogate a crazy homeless man about a box he’s brought into the police station. This scene intercuts with another to make up the first cyber-bridge. The detectives were played by Dave Baez, best known for his multi-episode stint as Debra’s boyfriend in Season 2 of Dexter, and Tom Ohmer, a former police officer with the LAPD and motorcycle cop with the Simi Valley Police who has made multiple TV appearances on network shows in recent years.

MJ Gazali, a newer actor from Lebanon, played the Homeless Man. All three of them came in and killed it. It was an intense scene, with some dragging, punching, throwing in to walls, but the performances were great and I got what I needed as we moved into lunch.

Following the meal, we set up for a simple News ENG style shoot of Alain Pantin, a European Parliament Member delivering a speech. This will be cut together with shots of protests and riots and comp’d onto a television that Dark looks at in the final cyber-bridge of the novel. Simple shoot. We shot it two ways, one on the HVX in 29.97 for a more TV news look and also on the 5D for a more filmic look.

This is probably a good time to mention that we shot the cyber-bridges on two Canon 5Ds, just like Dark Prophecy. Though it’s been a year, I don’t feel like there have been any dramatic low-cost improvements in terms of production with the Canon cameras. We were still tied to about 20 feet of monitor cable; we still had HDMI cables breaking. Unlike last time, we shot on Canon lenses (before we had cine lenses that weren’t available to us this time around), which is something I was a little worried about. However, once we started shooting they worked great and we really didn’t have outstanding problems with focus or zooms (except when I was operating, ha, I am a terrible focus puller). I was really surprised at the versatility of the lenses we used, moving back and forth between a 24-70mm F/2.8 and the 70-200mm F/2.8. I was really happy with the image we got.

Also, slightly different than last time, I decided to shoot this framed for 2.40:1, instead of the more traditional 16x9. I did this because 1) it’s an aspect ration I’m more comfortable composing in and 2) it gives the whole thing a much more cinematic feel that I think the series could benefit from. Considering all the bridges not only take place indoors but also are mostly dialogue scenes, I felt the widescreen would help enhance the epic quality of the book. I’m more than happy with the result, though the frame lines on the video village monitors were a little wonky due to the down-rezzing and stretch while rolling the camera.

While we were at lunch and shooting the Alain scene, our art department team, led by Art Director Raul Contreras and his On-Set Dresser Tyler Travis, started to dress the interrogation room for the result of a death scene. The walls and so on were covered in gore and blood and it looked really fuckin’ cool. Unfortunately, this shot did not end up in the final edit, as we found through screenings that people were confused about what happened. In an effort to make it easier to understand, this shot got dropped, despite by initial objections. This is a great lesson though, in that nothing in the edit room can be sacred. It’s all about the project, even if that means cutting shots that took you and others a long time to get.

Once we completed the last few shots in the Interrogation Room we moved down to the basement of Stage 2 where we setup a shot with one of Labyrinth’s victims who is chained inside a backup supply pipe. We had to hide the fact that we were in a low, boxy hallway and not a round 10-foot in diameter backup supply pipe. That said, regardless of our limitations, I always imagined it as barely lit, the only light coming from a cell phone and creating a real sense of claustrophobia for both the character and for us, as the light just falls of into darkness.

Actor Alan Brooks was a sport for having to hang from a pipe for most of the scene, despite us making it as comfortable for him as possible. It’s a great scene and looks amazing. Paul did an great job lighting it to look like single source and my camera operator, Nate Kolbeck, took the camera handheld, focus buzzing, moving in and out, and really made you feel like you were the victim. Some great camerawork in this scene.

It wasn’t the most pleasant place to shoot, a dark and dingy hallway, but it got the job done. Regardless, we’d be back the next day for the fight scene between Steve Dark and Labyrinth.

Tomorrow: Day 2 of Production

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