Phone Whore Performances

Tuesday and Wednesday marked the two night run of ‘Phone Whore’ at the Alma Tavern & Theatre, where I was hired as part of my freelance theatre technician contract with them. When I arrived on Tuesday I decided to arrive slightly earlier so I could take a good look at the theatre facilities.

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Lighting – Aurora 12 lighting desk. 8 lamps on stage, 3 Strand Quarter 22/40 from back of venue. Very limited, purely the case of fading up and down the appropriate channels.

Sound – Behringer 24-bit multi-fx processor (12 channel input), comes with CD player and 3.5mm for music play out, no microphones or additional sound kit provided.

All of the kit appeared to be in working order. The venue is very technically basic suggesting most clients will bring additional gear or run with a narrative intensive play so that tech is forgotten.

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When Cameryn arrived we started loading props onto the stage, also sourcing an additional table and chair. She gave me a copy of the script to read through and note the lighting and sound cues, very simplistic. Once the set was assembled I started to light for a “cosy room at night” feel, putting particular emphasis on the three elements featured. This was the case of direct spots on each element with some dimmer fill light to illuminate the entire stage, I also used one of the Strand Quarters focused on the chair where most of the action was happening to pull it out slightly. I discovered a stash of gels in the venue so I used full straw gels to warm up the stage, however this was too ‘sepia’ so I dialled down to half straw (R09) gels assorting colours between these gels and bare lamps.

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Having noted down the lighting and sound cues Cameryn and I ran through each of these elements:

1 – Fade house music and start phone ring as Cameryn is speaking to audience. Fade house lights down and bring up stage lights. Cut phone when answered.

2 – “He’s putting it all out there”, phone rings.

3 – Cameryn outside door “…bend them over the dining room table, but they don’t. It’s too threatening”. Leave a beat, toilet sound.

4 – “someone’s dick in their ass is the best I can do”, phone rings.

5 – “I was out like a light”, toaster sound.

6 – “…big boy now! You must be really excited”, phone rings.

7 – “…guy rummaging cans in my recycling”, Cameryn goes to take a drink, phone rings.

8 – “Desires are some of the most personal thoughts we have”, phone rings, dim volume as it continues to rings. When she answers dim house lights.

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After one last rehearsal of the cues prior to the show we went straight into the performance, the same deal with Wednesday night. Both performances went flawlessly without any technical hitches. The audience appeared to enjoy the show, it definitely sparked a lot of conversation as intended due to the subject matter. The Q & A following the performance was really interesting and I’ve definitely taken a lot away from the experience. Over the two nights we had one audience member leave during the hardest part of the show, this was something Cameryn had warned me.

The show itself is an insight into the life of a phone sex operator, Cameryn herself actually does this as a profession so its based on real life experience. The idea that everyone thinks phone sex is ‘vanilla’ is far from the truth as we explore four phone calls amongst monologues into the mind of the character and her struggle. The content of the calls get progressively worse until the point children and illegal activities are involved.

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The bigger debate centralises around the difference between thought and action. How we cannot limit our thoughts and fantasies, whether they are right or wrong, but as a society we know not to act on these due to the nature of them. Using sex as the device to explore this issue is really interesting, it makes for an uncomfortable performance but waiting until the end and understanding the life of the character reaches a form of resolution. Whilst there is no happy ending it brings to life a social issue and questions whether fantasies are actually wrong and how we shouldn’t feel suppressed by what society deems as taboo.

Over the two days I had the chance to discuss this further with Cameryn and its a real eye opener. She has some fascinating stories and I feel this work is a great reflection of her thoughts and feelings. After the show we discussed further with audience members at the bar, it was great hearing their reactions and getting their feedback. I ended up giving out my number to someone whose son was interested at getting into live sound engineering. Admittedly I am only starting out professionally myself, but I feel I have a good source of knowledge that I can share out about the Bristol performance landscape.

I’ve notified Holly of my hours for freelance work, I’ve also expressed my interest in future projects. She will notify me of anything upcoming and I’ll be eager to jump in. I’ve also let her know of my experience in PAT testing, rigging, etc, so hopefully some additional work can come off the back of it.

It’s a shame the show only ran for two nights, I would have loved to continue it. Admittedly it wasn’t a strain on me technically, but I loved the conversation that accompanied the piece. I really feel at home in this environment and love taking apart these texts alongside my technical and creative crafts. If this is only the start of my professional journey I am eager to see what else is to follow.

Duet Shoot 2

Today Will and I returned to finish filming on ‘Duet’, a short independent indie film produced and directed by video artist Matt White (http://www.matt-white.org/). I started this opportunity as an opportunity for work experience, as the length of the project has increased I have continued to commit professionally. Admittedly I am no longer looking for a role on a film set, but I appreciate the experience it offers and it is always another useful tool in my arsenal.

Alistair (DP) was running a little late due to traffic so I started unpacking all of the gear. Time was of the essence today, Matt and I went ahead and shot on a Canon 5D a point of view shot peaking through a crack in a bathroom door. I shot several versions varying in pace and composition.

Once Alistair arrived I helped to unload kit, I went ahead and rigged a KinoFlo 1K in the kitchen to match the natural light and fill out faces. Alistair decided to go purely for natural light in the end, however I was able to easily move the KinoFlo into the corridor for the proceeding shots.

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The shots in the house were relatively simple, once the KinoFlo was rigged it was the case of bouncing some light with a reflector. I ended up pulling focus for some shots, generally assisting wherever possible to help for speedier turnovers.

When the unit moved back to the original hotel room I went ahead and started to rig light to mimic the previous shoot. This consisted of a KinoFlo 1K in either corner with CTB gel and diffusion in variation of the shot choices. Once again it was the case of assisting wherever possible to keep turnovers as fast as possible.

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I had to leave set a little early due to commitments with my job at the Alma Theatre, Matt and Alistair were all okay with this as I helped rig the lighting for the final couple of shots. The entire day ran really smoothly, keeping a good work ethic as Alistair and I continued to collaborate well. He has mentioned about additional work opportunities to me so hopefully he will keep me in the loop regarding it.

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Matt now has all of the footage and my input in the project is complete, it is now the case of awaiting the final export. I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with Matt and Alistair once again and they continued to be pleased with my work ethic. I very much look forward to seeing the final project and have my fingers crossed for any future opportunities from Alistair.

4K Grade Exports

Today started off as a simple case of going in to export the grade for Implication, however I saw an opportunity to test file formats and better my technical understanding of the edit workflow between grading and online. The general standard from DaVinci Resolve is to export a DPX (Digital Picture Exchange); this generates a string of individual still files that can be brought in as a sequence into the editing software (i.e. Adobe Premier). DPX provides a great deal of flexibility in storing colour information, colour spaces and colour planes, effectively becoming the still version of a RAW video file.

The main reason for its industry success is the huge amount of information it can store ready for VFX and further editing. However in the case of ‘Implication’ the export was purely being used to synch back up with sound before the final delivery. My theory was if I exported the 4K file already baked then I’m only bringing the compression stage a tad earlier, so Premier would only mimic the same process and not actually affect the image. DPX seemed like an unnecessarily big format for the nature of this 4K grade delivery.

I exported a test sequence from the file of various compressions and codecs available on the system that could handle 4K (technically 4480 x 1920). I opted for the following formats:

H.264 – Dimensions of 4K exceeds limit of DaVinci export ability.
MPEG4 – Should be the most compressed of all selected.
DPX – Great for high quality but huge file size, usually standard but not tested on larger projects in our facilities.
MXF DNxHR 444 – Testing.
Uncompressed RGB 10-bit – Testing, in theory if uncompressed it will remain a large file size.

H.264 couldn’t operate with the large resolution and MXF couldn’t be imported into Adobe Premier. Comparing DPX and RGB 10-bit I found no visible difference in the Premier timeline, I would say both were completely identical. The RGB 10-bit is slightly favourable as it delivers a self-contained file so is easier for organisation than the vast array of DPX files generated, however this does require a slightly longer export time. The MPEG4 appeared slightly clipped on its levels in comparison, almost as if contrast had been digitally increased throughout.

Uncompressed RGB 10-bit

UNCOMPRESSED UNCOMPRESSED2

MPEG4

MPEG MPEG2

I took the Uncompressed RGB 10-bit and MPEG4 one step further and exported both in a H.264 4K format from Premier to compare the colour on the final output. The MPEG4 continued to appear with the original higher contrast whilst the Uncompressed remained truer to the original grade levels.

Taking all of these factors into consideration I have since opted to export the 4K grade as an Uncompressed RGB 10-bit so that it’s self contained for ease of the editor (director is doing editing). In order to reduce the risk of crashing I have broken the film into 4 smaller chunks that can be pieced together in Premier. I have also chosen to export a MPEG4 as a backup option.

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I discussed my findings with Dipo (Colourist) further as we often talk through grading and DaVinci being the only two specialists in our year group. He tested the format I recommended and agrees the identical file size and quality, once again the case of longer export vs self contained file. Dipo has some interesting findings on the scopes of compressed vs uncompressed and there is very little variation, this subtle variation may not be a issue but it all comes down to a project basis. ‘Implication’ I want to keep as true as possible, my other projects ‘Billy’ and ‘The World Of The Willows’ are 1080HD allowing additional options on export, uncompressed versions is something I am likely to continue for these dependent on time scales.

 

 

 

 

Soldering

Soldering is the process of joining two metal items together by using a filler metal into the joint. I had the opportunity to learn some soldering with Jordan and Joe, the idea being to learn the craft so we can go ahead and get additional training in building specific cables such as XLRs, 1/4 Jacks, DMX, etc. The exact wiring of each cable varies, but the craft of soldering remains the same.

The soldering cable is an alloy with a lower melting point than the metal cables it is joining. This means it can easily melt and reform around these cables. Standard soft-solder cable consists of Tin (63%) and Lead (37%) which is commonly used in electronics; this was the type we used for training purposes.

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Starting with basic circuit boards I was able to practice by pressing the solder cable onto the iron to form a metallic blob that could be pressed onto the circuit, cooling down to fasten elements. The practice is to thread the cable through the board then hold the iron near and press the solder cable into the join and pull the iron up, thus creating a cone shape around the copper wire. My first few attempts weren’t fantastic but after several attempts I found it a really easy concept to pickup and produced some great cones.

Taking this technique and understand we set about building some 1/4 Jacks, a basic soldering job. Using two multi core wires I learnt the art of ‘tinning’. This is when you take the wire and hold it against heated solder to make a blob on the end of the wire, you then create a second blob on the metallic element you are fastening it to and heat the two ‘tinned’ parts together to create a strong seal.

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In terms of wiring you need to keep the colours consistent between each adaptor. Once soldered in place I opted for heat shrink wrap over either wire to secure it in place firmly. It was then the case of threaded the rest of the adaptor back into place and twisting the cables together for added tensile strength.

I feel like I picked up this relatively quickly, I know it’s only the basics but I definitely feel confident to take this craft further and start learning how to build specific types of cable.

Facebook Discussions

The past few months I have taken the opportunity to get involved with other communities to talk about colour grading and lighting design further. I’m aware of many websites out there with various forums and mailing lists (i.e. lift gamma gain, colour grading central), but I tend to find Facebook communities a great method of communication. It may not be seen as professional as official websites and dedicated communities, however I tend to find particular groups extremely useful and are great to keep up with what is happening as it subscribes to my Facebook news feed.

I have taken the odd enquiry onto the various communities I am part of. Currently I really enjoy ‘DaVinci Resolve Users’  and ‘Lighting Designers’, both are vast communities and the ranging levels of expertise make me feel like there is always something to learn and something to teach. I don’t always directly seek out forums so this is a nice subtle way to always be constantly in the loop as I am often notified by Facebook as I currently use it for a lot of ongoing project organisation so it builds into my social and professional feeds.

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DaVinci Resolve Users
https://www.facebook.com/groups/306080639552827/425399300954293

Lighting Designers
https://www.facebook.com/groups/lxdesigners/

There are plenty of other communities available I subscribe to but I have found these two to really stand out. I’m constantly taking a little nose and providing my input, and where possible I know I can happily take whatever level of request to them. Whether its something simple like how to plug in a DMX or complex like patch paneling a specific style of desk, I know there will always be people happy to help out without any sign of abuse or misuse.

The Gift – Shoot Review

A slightly longer day than planned, but a successful one nevertheless. I am extremely happy with how the lighting turned out on the day, some locations allowed full controls whilst others I was sadly restricted due to logistical constraints. However having such beautiful weather to film in today allowed natural light to compliment the composition that I could further adapt through the use of reflectors.

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The shot list was provided to me today, I had only read the script prior to this so I was reliant upon Joe’s blocking in order to set up the appropriate lighting. The house sequences allowed the most control over lighting. In the kitchen I was able to enhance daylight using a 2K Arri with CTB shone through the window, seeing as it needed an extension cord for power the quality was depleted allowing it to shine directly through without washing out details. I particularly enjoyed the silhouette it cast against the wall from the window frame. To counter this I had a dedo hitting the back of the subjects head.

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In the dining room a daylight balanced KinoFlo was able to provide most of the coverage, with dedos used once again to highlight the subject. With white walls this was important to help pull them out and add depth to the shot. I was also able to employ my LED Panel for extra kicks of illumination rather than the hassle of having to set up additional lights. The quality of the LED and Kino meant light wrapped around the subjects faces nicely, with the dedos helping to remove shadow at the same time.

As the action came into the dining room and stairs I was able to move the 2K into the room for an overall burst of light, bouncing from the ceiling for soft distribution. Lighting didn’t need to vary much between shots but I kept abiding by the same principles; Kino for fill, dedos to pull subjects out, LED and reflectors for additional kick. I was really happy with the control I had over this location and how the choices in lighting translated across into the RED One camera.

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Thankfully as it was a sunny day it meant outside lighting was not an issue, and the amount of direct light provided plenty of opportunities to bounce with reflectors. It was mostly the case of bouncing for even patterns of illumination. One shot where the female lead had to look down the lens I ended up using the reflector as a flag to block out the sun. Whilst Joe (Director) queried this I argued that the light could be boosted whereas the swint on her face couldn’t. The exterior shots also gave me a brief opportunity for some grip operation in the form of the EZ Jib, always useful to keep implement your skills.

With the day running behind on schedule it made the shots in the last location a little rushed. Unfortunately due to a lack of power ports I was unable to light this, by the time a long enough cable was used the power had depleted so much the lights were obsolete. Thankfully the location had a large west facing window to let a lot of light into the shot. Once again I was able to utilise the outdoor light with a reflector for even coverage.

The lighting was very simplistic; it was the case of evenly illuminating subjects for an image that will become very warm and inviting. I am primarily a stylistic lighting designer but it is always useful to prove the extent of your abilities. I felt confident in what I was doing, and whilst at times I was queried mid setup I continued with what I had planned and managed to achieve the desired effect despite setup concerns.

I tried to help Craig (Camera) whenever possible but Joe and him were working closely together. Craig did really well shooting on the RED, I know how frustrating it can be to operate. Whenever I had the chance I would try and lend a hand (i.e. grip operations). Jordan (Sound) simply went ahead and did the job without any problems, he just had his head down and worked perfectly. Joe (Director) has really stepped up his game directing for the last time I worked with him. He is focusing a lot more of the actors than the crew and kit, at times this would slip but generally he did great. I feel the fact he had to producer and director held up the shot lists and meant he had nobody to rush his creative vision, leading to a much later wrap time than anticipated.

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This was a fun little film to come along and film, it has definitely been a benefit to get out on location once more. The entire time I felt extremely confident, able to setup for whatever requirements and nail the desired effect, I saw no drops in the standard of lighting. Along with being a worthwhile cause to continue my understanding of lighting, but it also shows wider work than stylistic, and extends the depth of my showreel when compiled.

The Gift – Update

The production date has been pushed back for this project. Craig has now been able to join onto the project as camera operator allowing me to focus purely on lighting. I am uncertain how this will effect my role, for now I am operating under the assumption I am now ‘Gaffer’.

I spoke with Joe prior to Easter and have secured the range of lights I want available. There is little stylistic about this project, simply the case of illuminating everything naturally. I will have the following kit at my disposal:

  • 2K Arri Lamp
  • KinoFlo Diva
  • Dedo-Lite Kit
  • Reflector
  • LED Panel

Currently the shoot is scheduled for Wednesday 8th April. I am happy with the kit I will have available and am ready to show up on the day and fulfil my role as Gaffer.

The Gift – Involvement

Joseph Cavacuiti approached me about a short 90 second film he had written and whether I wanted to get involved. At this stage I really don’t have enough time to dedicate to the entire production process of another project unfortunately. However as it is a one day shoot I am happy to contribute, but I cannot give any time approaching production. Joe was happy with this arrangement.

As a result I will now be operating under the title of ‘Lighting Camera’. Currently Joe wants me to operate the camera and light the scene, this title commonly used in factual television represents a crew member who shows up on the day top operate the camera and light. This removes the association of constructing shot lists or any preliminary work so it is a fair representation of my involvement. I am planning to show up on the day, light and operate, then leave the production to continue its way into post.

As I am a last minute addition I am happy with this arrangement, as is Joe. I will await future details on the project. This simple shoot continues to build my experience in lighting and is another asset to my portfolio.

Lighting Camera

When Joe approached me regarding his 90 second film concept I was uncertain of my involvement. He wanted me as a Director of Photography on the project, sourcing me for my lighting expertise and combining my existing knowledge of the proposed film camera, the RED One.

Personally I don’t feel like I am able to commit to the role of DP due to the pre-production work required (e.g. shot lists, storyboards, etc), but I am more than happy to get involved on the day. Discussing this circumstance with my tutor, John Podpadec, he suggest that I operate under the title of ‘Lighting Camera’, representing a crew member who shows up on the day to operate purely camera and lighting.

Many freelancers will advertise themselves as ‘Lighting Cameraman’ showing their skills and experience across both of the visual production mediums. The title is more common in television and documentary as in film the role will often adopt the entire pre and production process that is involved as a DoP.

Being hired later on in the production is one of the definitely elements that separates it from a DoP. Lighting Camera will not get involved with the pre-production process, having to rely on instinct and briefings to predict the kit required and adapt to whatever situation is presented.

Additional skills to this role is obviously skills in the camera and lighting department, often from practical experience. An artistic ability is important in adapting to locations, knowing the kit and the technology makes for a faster production process. The role can almost be viewed as a faster version of a DoP, the lack of focus on creative pre-production is one of the reasons for its prominence in documentary and factual production over drama.

The suggested career path to get to this role is starting as an assistant, then progressing through the camera department until you make the verdict to become a DoP or Lighting Cameraman. The more complex nature of camera technology sees it as the prominent experience in the role over its lighting counterpart.

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Having looked into the role I can understand John’s recommendation for me to embrace this title when approaching Joe’s production. I have the knowledge and feel confident in adapting to whatever is presented, my role will purely be to show up and capture whatever footage the director is after. This isn’t a career path I would be interested in pursing as I’m purely interested in stylistic lighting, nevertheless it is still valuable experience in the crafts of camera and lighting.

Dynamic Colour Tests

Unfortunately I was unable to start grading Implication due to the post production schedule having to be pushed. However I did utilise my time by playing around with DaVinci Resolve, I was particularly interested in RAW footage and keyframing colour change, both of these elements will become important factors in future projects.

This first piece of footage demonstrates how far I can push RAW footage. The sample shot on an Arri Alexa was unexposed and off balance, I set a quick goal to pull back the footage to useable range, nothing stylistic, purely balancing. As RAW captures so much information in the high and low ranges , as a result I was able to pull back the lost detail rather than having to dial ISO or other elements from the camera profile. Dragging the mids towards blues counteracts the yellow tinge, after that it was fine tuning to get the best overall image.

I stumbled across some more Alexa footage that centralised around one strong colour component, in this case the BMW car. As this was such a focused and prominent colour I wanted to test changing colours as for future projects (i.e. Implication) I will be required to make certain colours more prominent in the scene. Having matted out the car using the Qualifier tool I then tested a few colour versions:

  • Green – Very clean change, cars looks very metallic. Other blue elements in scene change hue correctly (i.e. sign).
  • Red – Noise on front car. Some gaps on other elements in scene. Potentially resolved with higher contrast or darker mids.
  • Purple – Very clean, back cars looks slightly cartoon (maybe too purple), works well otherwise.

Taking this a step further I decided to keyframe in colour changes so the car would shift as the scenes plays out. As the Qualifier is a separate node I could easily add in keyframes to the single correction layer without effecting the rest of the frame by simply dragging lift, gamma and gain as appropriate. It may be slightly distracting how the other blue elements also shift but as the car is the dominant colour mass it demands attention to the dynamic colour movement.

I am extremely happy with how the dynamic colour change turned out and it has definitely provided me with added confidence for the approaching grading projects. It is likely this was made much easier as it was shot on Arri Alexa RAW with all details intact, nevertheless a good play around with DaVinci Resolve. In future I could also include power window movement to isolate the car.

Having posted my progress to my online presence on Instagram I received positive response to the grading. On one screenshot I asked people to guess the original colour to which no one responded correctly demonstrating how clean the grade was. The below screenshot further demonstrates the positive response to how clean the colour change has been executed, a successful grade!

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