When Adam Wilt and I shot “Fire and Ice” together on a prototype FS700 we had no idea that it would be shown at NAB… and that it would be hit. We wanted to do more, so we pitched Sony a commercial concept for a local company that involved high speed “veggie baseball.” Guess what: they sent us an FS700 again. Edible baseball never looked so good.
A while back I shot a spec spot/demo piece with director Ian McCamey and a prototype Arri Alexa. After the success of “Fire and Ice” I approached Ian to see if he had any ideas for future projects that might take advantage of affordable slow motion. As it turns out, our timing was excellent: Colin Stuart, star of the Alexa demo video, is CTO of a company called Betabrand, a boutique clothing company that makes a lot of very cool and unique fashion items, and they wanted to shoot an offbeat promo for their new line of vegetable-dyed clothing. Ian had a discussion with Colin and CEO Chris Lindland, and the upshot was that they decided to shoot a slow motion food fight in a San Francisco park.
Our plan was to capture all of this at 240fps, the highest speed at which the FS700 can record in full 1920×1080 HD.
The camera arrived last week fitted with a Nikon lens adapter, and Adam Wilt volunteered himself as camera assistant along with his collection of Nikkor zooms (12-24, 17-55 and 70-200) and Vinten sticks to shoot the project. We both invested in garbage bags, drop cloths and full-body Tyvek painting suits as I expected to be quite close to the action and we didn’t want to destroy a camera that hasn’t been officially released yet. I like to get the camera close and wide in order to enhance depth in action shots, and this paid off in a big way for at least one take.
We had two location options for our shoot day (Friday, May 11) and we opted for the second. Our first choice had a baseball diamond but was up on a hill and high winds made it unusable. Our second choice, Precitas Park in Bernal Heights, was considerably less windy, so we rallied there. As we financed this shoot ourselves we didn’t bother with permits and such; we just showed up with a bunch of fun people and a new camera and littered a park with food. (We did clean up afterward, which was a bit of a chore.)
Ian and I set up our first shot. Note that we are not yet wearing any protective clothing. Ah, we were so young and naive then…
Initially we hung back on longer lenses and got some pitching shots, but before long we felt the urge to destroy food with a bat so we wrapped the camera in a garbage bag, taped plastic drop cloth around the legs, and gaffer-taped my Formatt ND .30 filter to the front of the lens as an optical flat. This made operating quite difficult as I had to cram my head under a garbage bag and pull the bag taught so the wind didn’t blow it between my head and the on-camera monitor. I operated a couple of shots by instinct as the bag occasionally blew in front of my face at just the wrong time.
We started with hot dogs and quickly moved into half gallon containers of milk, chocolate pudding, balls of frozen ice cream and, at one point, a whole baked chicken. You’ll have to wait for the final spot to be completed to see most of this, but there will be a piece cut specifically for Sony to show at CineGear 2012. (We’ll see if the chicken makes it into that cut. It’s one of those shots that causes hysterical yet guilty laughter.)
Let’s start with a simple tomato:
My reactions aren’t the best–they’re average, which works well for most things–but I compensate for this with a spectacular sense of timing. We got into the habit of Ian giving a count down (“Three, two, one, action!”) to allow me to get into the groove of the shot. After the first take I got a sense for when the orange would enter the frame, and I started my move to catch it and follow it to the strike. This doesn’t always work because the pitch isn’t always perfectly timed, but a countdown has the subtle effect of getting everyone into sync. It’s amazing how actors, and even non-actors, get into a rhythm for shots like this. Even on a regular set the pattern of saying “Settle… and.. action!” gets everyone working to the same rhythm.
Once the rhythm is established it holds fairly consistently until performers get tired or fed up.
Ian and I hide in a garbage bag while trying to watch a shot in buffeting winds.
This shot was an experiment. Most of the time I followed the bat instead, and I think the results are much more fluid. You’ll see those shots in the final spot.
Here’s where getting close with a wide angle lens pays off:
Most of these shots were done at 28mm on Adam’s 17-55 zoom, not just because that was a good all-around focal length for what we were doing but because we restricted the zoom’s movement by taping the ND .30 “optical flat” on the lens and we wanted to move fast. It was easier to select a dynamic focal length and move the camera around than it was to constantly tape and untape the lens to change the focal length.
For this shot we were behind the strike by maybe 4′, and the sense of depth is helped marvelously by huge chunks of cheese growing dramatically as they approach the lens. That’s what “close and wide” buys us.
As you can tell, we weren’t taking any chances with the camera.
We beat the hell out of a lot of food that day. At one point we had an audience of kids who were excited about the number of raw hot dogs littering the ground around us. Fortunately their overseers put an end to an impromptu picnic.
Speaking of dogs, quite a lot of them came by to help clean up.
As we moved from afternoon into evening the gang really wanted to stage a food fight before the sun went down, and who were we to deny them this pleasure? As it turned out, we had not yet begun to fertilize the park: