My good friend Wilfred Galila and I have collaborated on many creative projects in the past year and beyond, and so I was very excited to have him on board to be the Director of Photography for ‘Nuclear Family‘. I knew he understood the concept of the film as much as I did which would make the imperative communication between director and DP that much easier. The whole process from initial conversations about the visual style I wanted to achieve, to now the final tweaks to color correction have been a smooth process – and one that has resulted in ‘Nuclear Family‘ looking the way I had imagined it back in the writing stages.
Wilfred answered some questions about the process of creating the ‘look’ of Nuclear Family, working with the Canon 7D, and the state of Digital Filmmaking:
Q: How would you describe the look of “Nuclear Family”?
The look of Nuclear Family is one of decadence that is almost devoid of soul. It is a watercolor sketch of the story that is told.
Q: How was this ‘look’ achieved?
It was achieved in different stages and through other cinematic elements such as production design and wardrobe. The house that was used as the location amazingly had the right color palette that worked to our full advantage. Dominic, who wrote and directed it, wanted some sort of desaturated look with a certain amount of contrast. By shooting it with this direction in mind and doing the appropriate color correction during post production we were able to achieve this look.
Q: Describe your process for conceptualizing how you were to visually approach this film.
By painting with watercolor in my mind. The frame is a piece of paper and the images appearing on it are, in some parts opaque and some parts transparent as with the consistency of mixing pigment with water.
Q: What thoughts and/or emotions motivated you during the creation of these images?
Watercolor as it is being absorbed on paper.
Q: How was your experience working with the Canon 7D?
Working with the Canon 7D was an interesting experience. I have worked with it on another project prior to shooting Nuclear Family and have become used to it since then. I’ve enjoyed filming with it and would use it again. At first I had to get used to shooting a moving image with a still camera. Not that this process was something that was entirely new to me. It also included getting used to the shape of the camera. I have been used to shooting moving images with cameras specifically made for shooting motion pictures. It was a paradigm shift.
The usual answer would be that I enjoyed shooting the whole film and while this is true, there are a couple of scenes that come to mind right away because they were also, at the same time, an adventure. One is the opening scene in the car. We shot this with a mount for the camera that we stuck to the hood of the car using the suction cups that came with it. I have never done this before and I thought to myself that with a camera that size, I guess suction cups would suffice. We shot the master shot and a couple of close ups of this scene in several takes. The car with the actors and the camera stuck to its hood followed another car where I was with my camera operator riding in its open trunk. During every take we would try not to imagine the camera falling off the hood of the car. That car mount rig worked really well in the end. Another scene is the one that involved non-human subjects in the form of a beetle and a caterpillar and Dominic has already told this story before.
Q: Has this project offered any new challenges to you as a Cinematographer?
Yes, the challenge of coming up and achieving the look that is specific to this film.
Q: What is your take on the current Digital Revolution of Cinema?
I do not know if we should call it a revolution if what it means is to revolt. To revolt against what? A certain medium of telling our stories? Then we would just be revolting against our heritage. If what is meant by this revolution is a change in ways then I would rightfully call it the Digital Evolution. We are evolving in our ways of telling our stories through the medium of the moving image. Advancements in technology have given us access to an alternative medium. A medium that is also readily available to anyone who can afford to buy the equipment. Just as oil paint in tubes made painting accessible to the masses or roll film made photography available to everyone. We do have to remember that these are just media that are at our disposal and that the plethora of choices that is available to everyone does not make the entire planet full of Picassos nor does the accessibility and supposed easy nature of digital filmmaking has spawned a million Kubricks. On the other hand, and this can be the only thing that is worthy of the term revolution, this accessibility to the digital medium, including the internet, has freed the storyteller from the clutches of the powers that be that regulate the stories and dreams that each and everyone of us could potentially share and have access to. Finally real stories can be told and a myriad of dreams can be shared. Whether the medium is film, digital video, or, possibly in the future, holography; as we evolve with our ways of telling our stories it should always hearken back to our purpose of sitting around the fire to listen, to see, and gain insights into what it is to be a human being.
Q: Having seen a close-to final cut of the film, do you have a favorite shot and/or scene from the film visually speaking?
I really like, what I would call, the cerebral interludes of the main character in the film. The juxtaposition and layering of images that instantly makes sense.
Last night closed another large chapter of “Nuclear Family” – Production. It was about a year ago that I was beginning to write the script for this film, and now I can see the visuals that have evolved from that writing. It’s actually a rather surreal experience. When I visualize a film as I write the script it feels much like how you remember a dream. You can picture images but they feel frayed at the seams, with details that are fuzzy and a bit disjointed. The images often feel like sketches. Some scenes feel so concrete in my head that i could easily name off the shot list, while others have much more breathing room. After now experiencing the production of all those scenes that were once fuzzy – I realize that wiggle room can sometimes lead to the most interesting parts of production and consequently the most intriguing parts of the final film.
Yesterday was the 7th and final day of production. Completing the filming process is a bittersweet feeling. Of course now I feel much less stressed about the project and a bit relieved there’s no more major scheduling to be done. I’m also gonna miss the on-my-toes feeling of being on set and being able to be form the footage in a fashion that feels spontaneous. It now rests mostly on my shoulders in my bedroom editing suite (which also doubles as a desk with a laptop on it). Editing boils down to shaping up the clay, but if your clay is too runny you can’t really make a very good sculpture. Some people say you make your film in the edit room, but I’ve always felt it’s simply another step of a much larger series of stages that can either make your film better or worse. I have worked on the cut throughout the shooting process – and I am feeling extremely optimistic at this point about how the film is shaping up.
Yesterday we shot from 9am to about 9:30pm – which marked the longest day of shooting. Despite the hours, it wasn’t as grueling as it may sound. The nighttime shooting felt rather jam-packed – but during the day was a pretty relaxing shoot that started off with probably the luckiest thing that has ever happened on any of my film shoots:
This story takes a small amount of back story – generally when I am in the brainstorming / conceptualizing stages of my films they begin with a single scene. working outwards from there, a lot of the times I build a story based around that scene simply so that scene can be in the film. Well that’s exactly how Nuclear Family started to take off last January. After conceptualizing a scene involving an insect the main character finds and interacts with – I basically constructed a movie leading up to the scene, which in the final film, takes place near the end.
Well going into yesterday – we still had not been able to track down a reasonable place to find a beetle. A realization I almost certainly knew would mean the scene might not make into the film. The hour was approaching on our schedule in which the scene was to be shot – so I informed the crew the scene was likely to be cancelled unless we someone were to randomly find a beetle around the yard of the house. Having some downtime – a few members of the crew began searching around the yard of the house for the treasured insect, including myself. This was not my first time searching around yards for this elusive beetle that would make or break this pivotal scene from being shot – so my expectations of actually finding one were pretty low. My instinct of course went to turning over rocks. Much like I had done earlier in the day, week, and month to no avail. This time was slightly different. slightly different in the sense that the first rock I turned over contained a beetle. There was a moment of complete shock where I just sorta sat there staring at it, contemplating if it was real. Did that really just happen? After seeing it begin moving its legs I quickly dumped out the closest coffee near me (sorry to whoever’s crew cup that was) and guided the beetle into the cup.
Walking back into the house I announced to the crew dumbfounded-ly “I just found a beetle”. The news was quickly followed by the entrance of our main actor Joe Stricker. After being filled in on the preceding events, he let us know he had just seen a caterpillar just outside the door (another bug that could work perfectly for this scene). We quickly grabbed our back-up insect-actor and let them duke it out for the performance of their short lifetimes. Much like the ongoing battle of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the greatest band of all time (by the way – it’s The Beatles) our insects had a one on one battle for the role in Nuclear Family. The qualifications were rather simple – move. Well, the beloved Beetle of the hour (who we named Juice) seemed to be rather close to dead. Not quite the way to get a role of a lifetime I might add. This turn of events however led to Caterpillar snatching up the starring insect-ular role. Probably his biggest break in the film industry. The shots were gathered with the insect and Caterpillar was set free unharmed much to the happiness of PETA.
Moral of the story: FATE IS REAL.
Just the other night I finished up a very rough cut of all the scenes we’ve shot so far. The cut has some scenes missing since we still have 1 more day left to shoot, but it currently rests it’s rather large head at 25min. Don’t get too attached to that number however. The scenes certainly run slow, and definitely could use some tightening up. The film is beginning to feel less like soup and more like a gelatinous jello-like substance. I’d imagine this is what it must be like to raise a child. See your creation slowly form from a thought in your head to a very tangible being. This baby is still in early adolescence, but it’s birth has been rather smooth. I still don’t feel comfortable showing anyone this small child though. I want to protect him from any outside influences, but I know that can be a rather unhealthy way to grow up. One needs some social interaction, and once my film feels solid enough for some social critique, it will be shown to my peers for feedback. The film will most likely be done in March and get an exclusive pre-screening at the Viz Cinema theater in SF for all of you eager to check it out before it begins to be submitted for some film festivals around the Bay Area and beyond. I also have some exciting news in regards to the films soundtrack that I can’t quite reveal yet until documents are set in stone…
Running time is actually much more important to the film than you may think. Many festivals will not accept films over 15min (and sometimes 10-12) for the “short film” category. It’s something I have been deeply struggling with as I don’t know if this story can properly be told in that time. If the film doesn’t naturally work its way down to that length, I’ve considered the possibility of having multiple cuts. A “Directors Cut” featuring every last moment with these characters that I’d love for you to spend together, and a slimmed down streamlined “Festival Cut” which would probably have to shave off some of the more revealing / insightful character moments in favor of moving the plot forward like a speeding train. Not something I will probably be too fond of considering the tone and theme of the story. It will feel much more natural for it to have a slower pace.
Progress continues at a steady pace for this project. If you’ve been following the film on Facebook you probably already have a sense of the daily schedule of events, but to catch you up to speed, I’ve decided to implement a fan-decided release schedule for the series of short Behind the Scenes videos. Upon reaching 50 and 75 fans on Facebook I have released them, all of which you can check out HERE. There is one last video set to release when the page hits 100 (currently at 90) so invite away to see it sooner.
Recently got some more production stills from my photographer / behind the scenes cameraman Kyle Lester. Some of my favorite shots have made it up to the Facebook, and here’s just a couple (check out the rest HERE)
I feel as if I have just come off of a centrifuge ride at one of those terrifyingly unsafe traveling carnivals. I’ve exhausted a large dose of mental energy and cannot be more happy because of it. My next film “Nuclear Family” has just shot its first full weekend of shooting and is about halfway done with production. The footage is looking incredible, the actors have a full sense of their characters, the crew has been extremely helpful and focused, and I have no doubt that this film will be my best film yet.
This shoot has been a huge learning experience for me. My previous film “Frank’s Mug” was a crew of about 6 over 2 shoot days. This weekend had a crew of 9-10 (depending on the day) and will end up having 6 shoot days and is a larger production in just about every way. My mind was being juggled around. Now in the aftermath it has become a bit easier to understand what exactly happened.
The cast and crew spent the weekend with me on location in the SF peninsula hills. Without complaint they went through a shoot completely on the payroll of ‘love for the craft’. It was a humbling experience to see so many people push themselves creatively to the limit and I feel honored to have had that sort of devoted help.
Friday and Saturday felt like similar days. They were well-paced relaxed shoots. My favorite shot from Day 1 involved an elaborate set-up for a long take that took us from the backyard all the way through the house into the living room for a well-timed character action. With the help of cellphone communication, well placed lights, and Dakota’s tireless shoulders we got the shot in just a few takes. The shot is about a minute and a half and is gorgeous. Saturday, without giving away too much, involved an untrained dog (my dog). There’s something they tell young filmmakers: avoid using animals. Going into it, I warned the crew we may be up for a challenge of patience to get the shot we needed. In a sort of culmination of factors on our side, the shots took about an hour and were mostly painless. Unless someone scraped their knee and I was unaware of it. The shots, also, look incredible.
Sunday was a bit more challenging. Through the day we shot a scene in a moving car with a car mount, getting our last shot within 5 minutes of sunset. Blood vessels were popped. Through the evening, we shot the films most intense dialogue sequence featuring the full family and tons of angles. Pushing through the long day, the cast and crew stuck with it and stayed focused. While we didn’t stay on schedule as we had with Friday and Saturday, the Sunday shoot was still an overwhelming success. I got home in a daze, and passed out (well after watching the latest episode of “Dexter”. I can’t miss that).
This weekend has been incredible, and is the first tangible feeling that this film is really coming along. It’s been over a year since I began plotting out this film, and it will still be about 6 more months before it’s completed, but I couldn’t be happier with how it’s coming together. You will see it as soon as I can get it to your eyes. For now, enjoy a very brief behind the scenes look at “Nuclear Family”: