Cinematography is the merging of mind and flesh with machines and sensors. Cinematography is the extension of the heart, eye and brain. Cinematography is the interpolation of three dimensional space to a two dimensional work of art. Cinematography is my love for cameras. Cinematography is my love of light and shadow. Cinematography is personal. Cinematography is key. Cinematography is story. Cinematography is crucial. It is the way. Cinematography is an extension of my soul. Cinematography is an extraction of the world. Cinematography is a hope for a vision. Cinematography is a reason to meet new people. Cinematography is to experience. Cinematography is to live. Cinematography is for all, even those that don’t see it. Cinematography is existence. Cinematography is life. It is real.
It means a lot of things in a lot of ways. At first I think of it as a ways to a means, Visual Storytelling. I have always been in the middle of making visual art since I was a small child. My Mother is an exceptional artist and I imagine my first exposure to art was through looking at hers. Big bright beautiful paintings and sculptures. She taught art and took art classes, which I got to experience and take part in from time to time. My mother saved what most folk know as trash; cardboard, egg & milk cartons, etc. To me and my mother they were raw building materials in which to create great imaginings with. Castles, spaceships, robots you name it. She also exposed me to massive art books filled with the famous works of art from all the ages of known, recorded time. I would spend hours and hours looking at pictures, reading and imagining. Fast forward through a long era of building vast landscapes and armies from plasticine all the while continuing my work with trash, or as I like to label it as “making something from nothing.” During that time, my father slowly exposed me to story. Children’s classics at first like Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, followed by more grown up stuff when I got a little older such as All’s Quiet On the Western Front and The Magus. Add a healthy dose of Star Wars & Akira Kurosawa movies and my mind went into overdrive that I must become a filmmaker. Those paintings, drawings, sculptures, photos, stories and movies had me hooked for life. In school I learned as much as I could about all facets of moviemaking that were taught in my program. The program focused more on the academic world of theory but I made it work regardless. I shot many short films and worked on as many projects as I could. I still learned cinematography, screenwriting, basic lighting and sound which was enough for me to make my own work. My thought process was being that I am the least expensive cinematographer I know personally lol. My approach to editing and writing and directing was pretty much the same. In the end I wanted to create brilliant graphic images that tell a compelling story. I feel that the story must be present visually. If not then why? This is a visual language.
“The Werewolf Hunters” is one of those films that came out of nowhere to me. It was part of a mini anthology horror short that I had written more than a few years ago. It had been a hot minute since I had directed a film of my own and had an opportunity to knock it out in a day of shooting alongside shooting some stuff for Kill Giggles and a promo for Louis Bekoe’s “Zombie Fried Chicken.”
By the time we got to my shoot, it was beginning to get dark. I know, why did I agree to shoot and direct a short after almost a full day of shooting. Having motivation by my filmmaking brothers from other mothers Jaysen Buterin and Louis Bekoe at my side helped. My script was only about two and half pages and makes up really just one scene though a couple shots I guess make up small scenes of their own. We began wide showing a male werewolf hunter entering a small stone cottage in the woods. I had the gift of having John Quade (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) director of photography and master gaffer from the industry to help me. Along with Aidan Ford as my AC/Key Grip, Louis Lando Bekoe and his wife Shannon on sound and pretty much anything else, and Joh Harp and Soraja Davis on Makeup and wardrobe.
We began with an exterior shot showing Michael Williams (werewolf hunter) enter the cottage and perform a ritual. Because the short is only 2+ minutes long we covered most of the action from each angle shot. We set up a 2k behind a tree, a kicker or two inside the structure and fogged the place up.
When the werewolf hunter is desperately trying to reverse the effects of a werewolf bite, another werewolf hunter (Margaret Alice) finds him but it’s too late. We took the scene all the way until Michael William’s character begins to transform.
After sfx makeup was applied by Joh Harp, we began the action sequence where the two werewolf hunters fight. This I pretty much got from a couple of angles and had enough to make it exciting. Michael and Margaret did an excellent job!!! Years of theater combat training behind all that. I love that we put a light in the small faux stove and pumped the fog through a large plastic pipe going into the bottom of it from the outside. Did I mention we shot all of this during a thunderstorm. Due to the professional level headed crew all lights were rigged safe and everything went great. We only stopped due to the storm for about 15/20 minutes.
For the transformation we shot a wide from outside the door showing the silhouette of the fully transformed werewolf. Addition to that we grabbed a close up of the Margaret and a few cutaways of her reaching for a weapon.
I enjoy a good shadow play.
For the scene before last, we shot an intimate scene of him dying in her arms revealing that they were more than just partners in the werewolf hunting biz. They played it perfectly and after a couple of takes we were ready for the Shirley Temple (last shot of the day).
For the last shot we were joined by some excellent extras in wonderful garb and accoutrements.
Though part of me feels that this was way too rushed I never meant more than to do a sketch of a movie anyway. It works in and of itself but sometimes wonder how it would feel if it was embedded in the initial idea of the mini horror anthology.
So we moved a mere few blocks down the street and set up shop at The Ramkat, an awesome music venue in Winston Salem. Myself, Jason Ledford and Thoren Claytor (Amazing Assistant Director) followed director Jaysen Buterin around the large location going through the eight scenes we needed to cover there.
In that same day.
The weight of what we had to pull off in such a tiny amount of time hit like a ton of bricks.
We began with a rock concert that is to be a part of a montage depicting Tommy and Eden growing closer. We had a minor issue with lighting in the beginning but got through it and shot some amazing footage. And yes, the director himself played drums.
We moved on to a bar upstairs. Tommy speaks with the bartender (Lee Troutman) and learns about a bachelorette (Christy Johnson) party with Eden and a clown (Shane Terry). We used green and magenta gels on our lighting and I got all my coverage off the job arm. I love giving the scene an extra bit of movement that adds to the emotional content visually.
Tommy encounters the clown for few terse words in the bathroom. Lighting this was fun. A great friend of mine, DP/Gaffer John Quade (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) joined us for part of the day. It was great getting some insight from him. Incidentally he is in the crowd at the rock concert standing right next to the happy couple.
We moved on to the bathroom entrance where Tommy and Eden almost run into each other. Quick scene but took a hot minute to set up. Just one wide shot, no additional coverage.
We then move on to Tommy and the clown having a coming to terms buddy to buddy discussion over several drinks.
Still at the bar we cover Tommy and Eden hanging out until closing time.
That green backlight is so great.
While we set up the lighting for outside, we left Dalton to second unit the clown strip tease at the bachelorette party.
Outside we covered some more dialog between Tommy, Kinky Dinky and Eden.
We did have a pause in production while the entire crew searched for a prop in a bush, but other than that, all went great.
A great moment was when we used a dummy version of Kinky Dinky that I am quite sure Michael Williams enjoyed chucking down the steps. It looked fantastic! Joh Harp and Soraja Davis’s hard work paid off!!!
Our martini shot for the day and for general production was an awesome GoPro POV shot of the poor clown tumbling down the concrete steps.
So proud of this film and everyone that took part in making it come to life!
The dinner scene with Eden and her movie star Mom, Deborah de Prima (Judith O’dea/“Night of the Living Dead”) represents the quiet before the storm in a production sense.
The scene is simple enough, dialog with mainly two people with a brief exchange in the beginning with a fan (Denny Nolan) of de Prima.
Me and Jason Ledford agreed to go with nice soft overhead lighting that had served us so well on this shoot so far. After he and his crew were done, the set looked amazing.
The shots were a wide followed by medium ots (over the shoulder) shots. We got a little additional footage from B cam courtesy of Dalton Pope.
So funny story. It was still daylight when we began shooting and then turned dark when we were in our second setup. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t considered the sunset. I was used to setting up dinner scenes away from windows when stressed on time. Needless to say we had to shoot the wide again. No big deal.
After the second go on the wide we were done for the day and looking forward to being almost at the finish line.
Little did we realize how grueling that last day would be.
We were back in Asheboro for the final time & once again found ourselves using the same theater location that we used the exterior of previously.
The space was impressive and we had plenty of time to set up. We used theater’s lights along with our own for a great look.
The scene involves a rehearsal for a clown laden musical production that goes very poorly. The director (C. Michael Whaley) leaves in a huff while the clowns (Matt Patterson, John Mazza and Christy Johnson) deliberate.
A & B Cameras were placed on the upper and lower levels for the wides and then we moved in for coverage.
The dialog coverage was followed by the entrance of teenage Tommy bringing his own brand of clown punishment. This needed to be blocked meticulously due to the fact that things can go wrong. Safety is all important.
The continuation of this pivotal scene involving a stabbing and a shooting needed to be rehearsed carefully.
We used a retractable blade and a billet hit was added in post. Jordan Blake and Tom Gore did a fantastic job.
The performances were realistic and well played.
We finished the sequence with close ups. “Don’t breathe Tom. Don’t breathe.”
For the Martini shot (final shot of the day), Dalton Pope broke out his drone and we got some great stuff.
We began in the suburbs of Greensboro with a flash back of teenage Tommy (Jordan Blake) coming face to face with his greatest tragedy in the form of Bill (Tom Gore) at his Aunt’s (Tracey de Leon) home.
This was a great emotionally charged scene that was a lot of fun to shoot. The location was fantastic. Love the details of the older style homes. Very nice for the camera. I just wanted the look of everything being lit by the daylight pouring in through the windows.
It looked great no matter where you positioned the cameras.
We grabbed at the bottom of the steps to cover the entrance and exit of teenage Tommy which bookends the scene.
Next was a company move back to Asheboro where we began with a little robbing of the old liquor store (convenience store). I was pretty much on the fig rig for the rest of the day.
Followed by downing it (water) all while power walking the streets in broad daylight. Tommy was always a badass.
We ended the day with a scene of teenage Tommy continuing his aimless wandering until he happens upon a small theater (same theater we used with Felissa Rose) that of course yields in tragedy that we’ll discuss in the next installment.
Originally we were planning on doing a long take of Tommy approaching the theater back entrance.
I ended up cutting the bulk of it out because of timing and ended up piecing parts of it together with fades in and out of black. It’s a flashback and the tail end of a montage so the fades worked out just fine.
It was a long day and we finally got through. Time to go rinse wash repeat…
We have been planning this flashback scene for a while. After having visited the location ahead of time we planned it out like a military operation. Law enforcement blocked the streets for us and we were ready to go.
We were going to shoot a collision of 4 points of view into a horrific life altering crescendo.
The first scene we got standard coverage of young Tommy and his teacher played by our expert MUA (makeup artist) Marisol Feliciano Cotton.
On the reverse angle over young Tommy’s shoulder we got a great slow motion shot revealing younger Giggles (David Joy) drunk on a bicycle followed by Tom Gore and Nick Cannon in a red minivan.
2nd Unit Cinematographer, Dalton Pope brought his own drone and Blackmagic Design URSA mini which matched our A camera and got some fantastic footage. While A camera was shooting coverage from inside the van we utilized the drone from above. Having that birds eye view of the collision added an incredible dimension to the sequence.
The back of the van was incredibly cramped and hot, but we got our footage.
After we finished van coverage it was time to film the horrible yet beautiful crescendo footage. 2nd unit took care of young Tommy’s parents (Christina Nicholls & Jason Crowe) approach and reactions while 1st unit captured the approach of Giggles before he even encounters the van. Shooting out of sequence is necessary due to time management and ease of production. Shoot everything you need for that location and then move on.
We continued working as two camera units so I could get footage of the parents walking towards town and 2nd unit could cover the approach of the minivan.
We put the jib on the back of a pickup truck and were ready for our last footage of the day.
The jib shot from the truck dollie gave us some great footage and I must say it was fun to ride around town in a pickup truck. Reminded me of my high school days.
Location: Former Republican Headquarters transformed into Joey Z’s Clown Acadamy.
2nd AC Aidan Ford and st1AC Tristan Chaika snag some B-roll shots taking turns pulling focus in the process. I always think it’s good if time provides, to give the others in my camera crew some experience with any gear they haven’t had a chance to use yet.
We began our main coverage with a oner (a long continuous shot also known as a fluid master) of the detectives first meeting Joey Z (Jaston Pendry). Lighting had been rigged in the ceiling to give me complete 360 coverage. We played around with some colored gels to enhance the clownish feeling. The extras were all very talented. It was a lot of fun blocking this shot.
We shot a typical dialog scene of the detectives and Joey Z at his desk. I love to “dirty” the frame during dialog sequences. It just makes me feel more involved. Dirtying the frame simply means that while you are getting coverage of a scene involving more than one person, you place objects (in this case the other actors) close to the lens and out of focus. This has an effect of framing in the person you are getting coverage of for that shot. Like I mentioned before it also just makes me feel more a part of what’s going on.
For the shot of Joey, I dirtied the frame but for the reverse shot we went with more of a POV angle from Joey’s perspective. The detectives didn’t have too much to say in this scene so I just kept their coverage to a medium 2 shot. We also snagged a close up of Joey sans dirt and we were out.
We took it outside for a short dialog scene with the detectives and we broke for lunch.
After lunch we grabbed some shots in the back of the van. We started off with some clowns and ended with a tank and gas mask. Wonder what that’s for???
So we moved back inside to finish the rest of our day’s coverage beginning with magic moving balloons.
So with three scenes left to nab we captured some collapsing clowns in some wides and close ups.
Followed by another detective scene with standard coverage.
At the end of the day we were down to a small crime scene that we faked part of the location for. The bear trap in the cream pie was a rather difficult gag to pull off but we did it and it looks cool in the movie.
Not the easiest of days by far, but we were through and only a whole heck of a lot to get in not that many days left for production. We’ve made all our days so far. Here’s hoping we can make them for the rest of the shoot. Tune in next time.