The Wild Life of D.P. Jones

As I've been gearing up for serious work on my first feature, I've been having some issues running down all of the technical information I need.  The community has been an amazing resource, and I plan on sharing both questions and thoughts and things I've learned with them in the coming months.  I'll be posting those thoughts here as well.  From the morning, the first post:

I've been working on my first very indie feature for the last year, now. It's been out of pocket and in my 'spare time'. Much of it has been shot in a documentary fashion as it is 'based on a true story' and real events have unfolded in chronological order. Recently I was able to get some money together and put a plan in motion to finish several fictional scenes and round-out my story. It's enough that I can dedicate six weeks this spring to finishing 'principal photography' before hopping over to my producer's house in the States, where I can live and use the editing suite as long as I need to at no cost.

The basic premise is of an older Gringo feeling lost and told to slowdown by his doctors, his friends, and to an extent by his government up North. He goes searching for a final frontier and ends up with a plantain farm in the jungles of Central America, well beyond the end of the last dirt road. Things don't go exactly as 'planned', of course, and various hijinks ensue. It's heavily Fitzcarraldo and Mosquito Coast influenced with the man against nature and himself themes, though on a much more comedic scale overall. I'm writing, directing and shooting, William E McEuen (The Jerk, The Big Picture, etc) is producing, local crew from my commercial gigs will be assisting in places, the lead character is an amateur actor but lifelong performer and I'm rounding out supporting roles with television actors and real extras.

This community has been the first stop and a great resource for my journey through learning all of this, and I'd like to share a bit of my process as things get more serious going forward. I also want to be able to speak frankly about various questions and challenges and have had a difficult time pinning folks down with regard to very specific technical questions on twitter and other forums.

I've shot 95% of the current footage on a Driftwood Moon T5 or T7 hacked GH2 with a LA7200 Anamorphic Adapter, with the 20mm Pancake, 14-140 and a mix of Rokinon and Nikon primes. I've shot enough with the adapter and liked it that I am totally committed to the aspect ratio and the anamorphic feeling, but the challenges presented by the LA7200 mean that I'm light on close-ups and most of what I do have was shot spherically and cropped, which I'd rather avoid going forward. I've since been equipped with a GH3 and 12-35 and 35-100mm lenses, which, I like better than a lot of people, especially behind the LA7200. The 12-35 and the LA7200 is a pretty impressive combo on a GH3.

Due to the extreme conditions of a lot of this shooting, I do not believe a Blackmagic or a 5D3 Raw or a similar low budget 'cinema' solution that is currently in vogue is the correct way to go. I have a certain love for the 1DC but it's out of the question for this budget and doesn't make sense with the current anamorphic tech. So unless the GH4 really does come out in February I'm not interested in a camera upgrade, and either way I'm committed to Lumix, which I rather love, especially out in the field in this country.

My biggest tech purchase decision right now rests on whether or not to jump on the Letus AnamorphX, which seemed like an absolute godsend when announced but has been a bit lacklustre or hard to figure out since it's release. I've offered to pay for someone to rent it from DivisionCamera in LA and do some testing, I've tweeted Ryan Connolly who used it on 'Proximity', I've written detailed emails to Letus with relevant questions...all with little useful or no response. It seems like everything I need but warning bells are going off in my head. Maybe no one responds and the only tests are on 7Ds, weirdly un-squeezed or with shitty grading because they're selling so many no one cares to correct it...or maybe Letus is ignoring the situation because they'll make a lot more money on the GoPro and iPhone Anamorphic adapter gimmick thingies and just don't give a shit. I do not know.

Beyond that, I'm mostly going for a hand-held aesthetic and so have been working on my rig a bit, slipping in a Shape pad and handles into my Geni situation after feeling them out in person on a trip to NY last year and finally being able to purchase them. My ideal look for handheld cinematography has most recently been demonstrated in 'Captain Phillips'. Not frenetic like the Bourne trilogy, but very immediate, real, and practical from a shooting perspective on location. Not to mention when it occasionally pulls out for a smooth helicopter shot it provides great contrast. The key to this look of course will be having something relatively heavy and well balanced on my shoulder. For a time last year in little dugout canoes I ignored my rig and I believe the naked Gh2 and Varavon loupe, while feeling nice in the hand, was too light and unadorned for the look I want.

One slight obsession point, then, is the rig I'm using. I feel slightly sick when I see threads full of everyone's frankenrigs and I wonder how much use we all get out of them. Yet that same sentiment fades when I realise the aesthetic I'm trying to achieve and the conditions I'll be working in. For the same reasons I'm learning to carefully select shoes, a lumbar support and gloves, I need to have the right setup on my shoulder to go the whole day. I'm feeling pretty good about my current setup but there is a lot of unnecessary metal in the Gini handle assembly and I am worried the Varavon Loupe and GH3 screen are going to be a weak point under extremely heavy use. I am considering moving the GH3 back farther onto the shoulder, and using a Swedish Chameleon Cage and Zacuto EVF to really solidify things. With the Letus, the snap on Mattebox and the Skier ND filters on the front I'll be dealing with some weight, and moving things back and locking it all in sounds like a plan, not to mention the focusing aids and the ability to see anamorphic un-squeezed on the Zacuto. Of course the price on the Swedish Chameleon is disgusting, especially next to the $99 GH3 cage out there, but, I like the semi cage for the ability to still handhold the camera in a real pinch. Zacuto seems tough and I already own a Z-finder...that plastic takes a beating, seems proper. I am DISGUSTED by how expensive EVF mounts are, but know that I'll kill myself if it's loose all the time.

So that's what I'm dealing with right now. Got my story and my people in shape, scheduling on track, some money in the bank. The idea of $4,000-$5,000 in additional equipment right now makes me queasy and feels like I'm focusing in the wrong place, but I don't see much of a way out. Either way from there on in, it's going to be Bananas, Dugouts, extras, actors and food when it comes to budgeting.

Any thoughts, help, observations and the like that the community can provide would be wonderful. Beyond that, I'll share as much of the process as I can (if it's ok with Vitaliy), moving forward.

-Stuart Hooper


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Stuart Hooper2 Comments