Cinematographer
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BB8 Star Wars Promo

The last quarter of 2017 I ended up doing a few spots with NBC Universal and when the producer put me up for this, I was stoked. BB8 action sequence in Star Wars style, what's not to love. Director Alan Harris wanted it to be EPIC. 

Like all spots these days, everything is just a bit too ambitious for our timeline. Luckily, our talent wasn't on a short 6 hour window like other spots of this scope. I knew, once again, this would have to be an exercise in extensive planning beforehand as there wouldn't be any time to figure things out on the day of the shoot. 

I knew I wanted to build a colorful cinematic look that felt like the guts of a space ship, but the spot consisted of BB8 running through the halls of NBC studios. Basically cubicles and white hallways and corporate offices. We had our run of the studios but on the scout I had to push for the locations I knew we could darken up and build up our color palette.  

So I went through the scout turning out lights and fighting for the largest spaces available, even if we had to adapt the schedule to it. 

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The easiest way to get your ideas across is visually and when you're up against time, and location, and agency that might not be able to visualize possibilities, It always helps to build a full DP approach look-book. I usually include schematics and tonal references as well as pictures from the scout with lighting notes. 

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Ideally the overall pace would be FAST. Unfortunately BB8 moves quite slowly. Any time you see it move fast in the movies is CG and then they use the robot for the close ups. Also BB8's handlers were stict about certain surfaces, turn radius's, and inclines the robot could not perform. So I knew the drama would have to be build up through the camera moves and at times we'd haveto speed up some fo the tracking stuff. 

We had an amazing Movi opp, Nick Timmons. Because of the diverse types of shots we had planned, I felt Movi would be more flexible with height and the ability to operate the head with wheels would help it to feel more methodical and invisible instead of flying steadicam. I wanted shots that would have the precision of a dolly or techno crane.  Panavision hooked up up with an Alexa Mini and C and G Series anamorphic. Despite the lenses being beautiful, if I were to do it again, I'd probably have gone with more modern glass for the sake of lens changes and balancing. But ultimately who knows if the extra time it would have saved would have made the difference in the edit, as there was already more than enough footage to work with. Some pieces got cut out of the 30 second window. 

As far as lighting approach. We wanted to go for a classic primary color palate. We had all LED fixtures, the staples of the modern lighting package, Skypanels, a Digital Sputnik DS6, and Astera LED tubes which we're especially helpful. I knew we would be flying through these sets, there was a lot to do in the day and the nice thing about the astera tubes is that they are completely battery powered, sync to a tablet via bluetooth. They are by far the quickest way to put a splash of color and there's never any wires or set up time. Brad Burke my gaffer had to run the show on the fly even though we we're leapfrogging from one set to the next. The all LED approach saved the day.

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We colored at Company 3 with the amazing Tom Poole and the director, agency, client and everyone involved was stoked with the final piece. Even Star Wars exec Kathleen Kennedy had to sign off on it, as the director and I joked about getting called up to the big leagues, eh maybe one day. 

John Schmidt