Lensing sci-fi short, “Zero Sum” on the Arri Amira.
I had the honour of being asked to light a new short sci-fi film, “Zero Sum”, for the film-making duo of Jimmy Hay and James Gillingham at Longarm Films. The films stars Amiee-Fion Edwards and Phil Davis.
I had previously shot their last effort, the drama “Ex-Libris”, and we had established a wonderful working relationship so it was a pleasure to come back.
The film tells the story of a young woman who wakes up in a room that turns out to be a pod floating as part of a space station. Once awake she discovers that the pod is made up of two identical rooms and she is not alone. The film was shot over four days at Vision Studios in Portishead, near Bristol. The crew had a day prep to pre-light and test kit before the shoot. The camera of choice was the Arri Amira which was my first time shooting on this camera and I found it to be a lovely piece of kit to work on. On the front we had a gorgeous set of Arri Primes in 20mm, 24mm, 32mm, 50mm, and 85mm sizes. We mainly shot on the 24mm for wider shots and the 50mm for close ups. To give the film a slightly dreamy space feel, I also shot through a ¼ black pro mist diffusion filter on the front.
Director Jimmy Hay wanted everything to be handheld to help sell that waking, disorientated feel. To help avoid hundreds of pounds in chiropractic visits, I opted to shoot with an Easyrig as Jimmy wanted to shoot very long takes, sometimes up to 6 or 7 minutes long. An Easyrig is a harness that straps to the operator's body and features an arm that protrudes overhead with a wire enabling the operator to let the Easy Rig take a little of the weight of the camera.
As the film features two characters in two identical sections of the pod, I wanted to help visually distinguish between the two rooms and between the hero character and her opposite, so when cutting back and forth, we would know where we are immediately. It could make the difference between the audience getting lost or not, as even though we as the film-makers know where we are, the audience might not. To help set this up, I placed a 2k Fresnel with a full CTS (colour temperature straw) outside the hero girl's window to let the “sun” spill in to the first room. This way a warmer orange
glow would hit the back wall and spill around the room a little. With no sun in the second area of the pod, this meant the second room was a little cooler. Two 2K blondes were placed overhead firing down into each pod to provide some over head fill light. The light in the hero girl's pod was shone through ½ silk cloth to help diffused her light a little. The second pod had no diffusion to give her a much harder look. Each actress when in close up was also keyed by a 2x4 diva soft light to help lift the face and give a highlight in the eyes. A large 6x4 poly board was also positioned in place to give our hero girl more fill light, which wasn't used when shooting the girl in the second pod room, to keep her look a little harder.
Before shooting, discussions were had with Jimmy and James and with set designer Simon Birtwistle about placing practical lights on the set. When visiting a local TV station before the shoot on an unrelated matter, I had noticed long florescent tubes in the corner of the walls on the stairwells. I logged this in my mind and thought it might be a nice look for this new project. They are in keeping with the sci-fi feel and also would provide me with some nice back light motivation for when the two girls are talking to each other face to face. Simon thankfully liked the idea and happily incorporated them in to the set. Tubes were then ran through a dimmer board to help control their intensity and my exposure when needed. Our ¼ black pro mist filter also gave us wonderful halo effect around the tubes too.
The hardest challenge on this film was the long takes. Keeping the composition of the frame at all times as well as lighting for those long shots. My biceps certainly got a workout! I found it was a nice dance between the actress and myself and focus puller, Scott Waller, and we even found ways to communicate with each other behind the camera, during the take! The shot might involve our girl knelt of the floor by the window looking out into space before standing and walking over to the window looking into the second pod room and right into her close up! Ideally, it's nice to light for the close up separately to give the actor the best possible chance of looking their best, but the challenge was to be able to light for the whole thing.
Zero Sum was shot in Pro Res at 444, 2K, 24fps. As we knew there would be quite a few visual effects shots in the film, we wanted to shoot on quite a high resolution to give visual effects artist, Al Tabrett lots of pixels to work with. I tried to shoot around a stop of F4 to give focus a chance and also help show the wonderful looking set that Simon had created.
A fellow crew shout out has to go to first AC, Scott Waller, who really had his work cut out focusing for all the handheld shots, and to 2nd AC, Ceejay Fumar, keeping all the kit together and supporting us. Colin Holloway was the Gaffer, rigging all our lamps and making sure everything floating overhead was securely in place.
Below is my lighting plan. Traditionally, light plans are drawn from the overhead perspective but on this occasion is suited being drawn from the side.
The grade was performed by Paul Koren at post-production facility, Halo, in London who I think did a wonderful job augmenting my work.