This spot was part of a web campaign for California’s No on Prop 8 campaign. In my previous article I wrote about another No on Prop 8 that we shot in four hours on a Sunday afternoon. This is what we shot in the morning. It’s all one take, which is pretty rare for a spot.
The contrast was fairly extreme. I’d say the actors were a stop underexposed at EI 160 (which is how I rate the RED) and the background was four or five stops hot. A polarizer took care of a lot of the heat coming from the swaths of sunlight raking through the background, and as long as I only clipped one channel (typically green) I found that I didn’t lose much detail.
When we scouted this location my big concern was light. We had no lighting instruments that were big enough to back way off and light an 80′ walk. I’m not sure we even had power for a 1200 PAR in this beautiful Oakland park. The director, Tom Donald, wanted the women to walk around a bend in the path, and when I stood on that spot I couldn’t see any source of light other than sunlight hitting green leaves. Green sucks up a lot of light, and leaves are green. Not a good combination for flesh tone against a sunlit background.
I walked a bit further along the trail and, lo, the branches parted before me and I saw a big patch of blue sky. Sky is a light source, and it’s far enough away that its exposure isn’t going to change over an 80′ walk… hmmm.
I talked Tom into letting me shoot this with the patch of blue sky over the camera position and, once I told him my reason, he readily agreed. I was a little worried about the color of the light (skylight being blue and all) but I figured I’d “fix it in post.”
On the day of the shoot the only tweaking I did was to have two grips walk along the side of the hill with an 8×8 silk, following the actors. Some of the sunlight they walked through was too intense, and the moving 8×8 smoothed all of that out nicely.
We shot this on an 85mm lens at about T4. I tried white balancing at one point and the camera maxed out at 10,000k–so I put it quickly back into 5600k preset.
When I did the rough cut for this project I simply picked the take Tom wanted and ran it through RedCine, white balancing using the color picker on the white timecode slate. Then I exported the take into ProRes, brought it into Final Cut and did the rest of the color correcting in Magic Bullet Looks.
The flesh tones look very good to me. There are some blue reflections here and there but that feels natural. Whenever I’ve shot under extreme color conditions and tried to bring it back to normal, it’s not unusual to be able to correct the skin tones while the reflections in the skin skew toward the color of the source. Maybe that’s because the sky itself is bluer than the light it emits by the time the light reaches the actors.
One other interesting thing: as the background highlights went out of focus they dropped in brightness by about a stop. The only explanation that comes to mind is that the highlight loses intensity as it blurs and spreads. It certainly was a welcome accident in this situation. (The lens was an 85mm Zeiss Super Speed.)
My camera assistant, Phil Bowen, nailed every single take.
I’m glad we used the RED for this. Director Tom Donald is completely sold on this camera now, and in the past he’s been a hardcore film buff. It’s nice when technology catches up with expectations.