"Ex Libris" shoot – A short film with wonderful professional actors, Swansea's library

My involvement on this short film came about after gave I guest lecture for the Film and Media course at Weston College, Weston-Super-Mare. Lecturer Jimmy Hay, also a director outside of his college life, asked if I'd be interested in shooting his next short film for his production company. Jimmy runs Long Arm Films with his fellow co-director James Gillingham and have numerous shorts and features to their credit. They both acted as director on this shoot.

“Ex Libris” follows two people that slowly begin to form a relationship through small daily conversation and mild flirtation. Set in Swansea's Universities library, the film has some lovely subtle dialogue exchanges made the production a pleasure to work on. James and Jimmy managed to secure actors Melanie Walters and Robert Pugh for the roles in the film.

F55:

This was my first time using Sony's new F55 camera and I have since used it on numerous occasions. The hire team over at 180 Rental in Bristol were kind enough to take me through the camera and all of its features before hand and so we no had issues or hiccups on set. A nice set of CP2 lenses were provided in 18mm, 27mm, 32mm, 50mm and 85mm sizes. I had a 7” on-top monitor to work off, whilst the joint directing duo of Jimmy and James had a Panasonic 17” monitor. I kept a 1/8 Black Pro Mist filter on the front of the lens at all times just to smooth out the crispness of the image and to give our overhead light fixtures in shot a little glow. Our 1st AC Scott Waller, kept the kit running smoothly and did a wonderful job keeping things sharp. The F55 offered 4k, 2k and HD as formats. We decided to shoot HD and shot to the 709 gamma setting forgoing the S-Log2/3 wider colour space option. At the time of shooting we weren't quite sure of the post route and at best knew we weren't grading on a DaVinci suite or similar so opted for 709. When shooting in S-Log 2/3 the camera's native EI/ISO is 1250 which is very sensitive.

When we set to record 709 it dropped to 500. It is also worth noting that there are 4 SDI output sockets on the side of the monitors. As I understand it, sockets 1+2 will record 709 to your cards even if your camera is set to S-Log 2/3. Plugging your monitor in to sub-SDI sockets 3+4 will allow you to view a 709 image but still record in S-Log 2/3. Worth double checking if you decide to record S-Log.

Shooting:

We found we mostly favoured the 27mm for a lot of the shots, which randomly got nicknamed “The Coens” after the directing brothers who mostly favour that size for their work; also fittingly that we were working for a directing duo. When we started moving in for close ups we moved on to the 50mm. The directors and I felt it was better to stay wider giving us a nice sense of place in the library and to really save close up work for the more intimate private moments. On one such occasion filming actress Melanie Walters, the directors decided on the 85mm. This was very close but it was right for that point in the film. In shooting this shot and being in so close I doubled up on filters opting to put a ¼ Black Pro Mist in addition to the 1/8 already in place. A 2x4 kino flo was brought in to fill out the face just off centre and a 300w Arri bounced off a small poly to fill. Other lamps on the set were a 2k Blonde which came in to play bringing up the exposure when daylight was present in the library foyer.

There were two main challenges in lighting for this project; one was was the library aisles and the other was the fixed permanent overhead florescent lights. Unfortunately the shelves down each aisle were fixed and solid all the way to the ceiling, so if our cast were to stop half way down, which they did most of the time, we couldn't get any lamps in peering over the top of the shelves to light them directly. The cast had to be lit for the wide shots with their own single keylights, not only to remove the flat look created by the overheads but also to really match the single close ups that would follow. I never like to seeing actor's faces pop when we cut in to the close up work. The audience can and do notice these subtle changes in light exposure or direction. The solution was to use an Arri 300w on a dimmer and to use a magic arm to clamp it to the shelves opposite just out of view. Each 300w was gelled with 216 diffusion and a 1\4 CTB gel to match the overheads. 2nd AC Keith Scott was fantastic at helping to securely rig lamps and running power to our aisles with the limited plug sockets at the location. Things needed to be rigged safely and fast and Keith delivered for us on each occasion.

My normal practice when setting a white balance is to work of a preset. Knowing that we're either on 3200k or 5600k enables me to think about what other lights will do to the image when we bring in other sources. On this occasion I balanced to the overheads to eliminate a slightly greenish tint that we were reading from them on camera. The F55 suggested we shoot at 3900k so that's what we set the balance too. As these lights couldn't be switched off or dimmed in any way, most of the shots became about flagging or controlling the overheads to what we wanted. Black wrap was used to cover up parts of the lights that were washing out our shots. More black wrap was used when we wanted a little more darkness in the background and help our cast pop out of the frame a little more.

Working with industry renowned actors such as Robert Pugh and Melanie Walters forced you to bring your A game to the table. If a mistake was going to be made and another take required, it wouldn't be on their side of the camera. They were of course very flexible and understanding if there was a need to go again for any focus or camera movement issues but it was nice to be kept on your toes by experienced professionals. Jimmy, James, and I agreed on a nice classical composed look and feel to the film. The film contains one shot that was hand-held but the rest is slow tracking moves, pans and tilts to reflect the environment, pace and feel of the film.

As joint directors Jimmy and James were in sync which is always a bonus. Detailed prep work enabled us to move fast and know when we had what we were after and what was next on the schedule. It sometimes helps me to be as fast as I can be to light for two or three shots down the line and for them to know this information meant I could be a little quicker for them...which means we get to break for lunch sooner...

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