CORRUPTION: Starring Olympia Valance & Maurice Mammoliti
If you've been following the blog you're probably sick of seeing these two and hearing about "Corruption", my first director/DP/art film, showreel piece. Well, to be honest, I've spent so fricken long with this project now that even I'm sick of it hehe ;) But I'm so glad it's done and I'm really happy with the end result. I have this thing in my life where I'll get 90% of the way there and just quit right before things are finished (personally speaking of course, I wouldn't do that on your film!).
The whole idea of Corruption came about when Grass Valley (the guys behind EDIUS) approached me and asked if I would create some 4K content for them. So, instead of taking a girl to the beach and filming her playing the violin or getting macro shots of flowers, I suggested that I take it the next level and create a sort-of-film/commercial/epic 1.5 mintute short film. As a cinematographer, I cannot open my eyes and NOT think about lighting or shots. It's something that I have practiced for most of my life, even before I ever had a camera. To me, it's about looking for beauty in everything you see, because it's there, it just needs your attention. On top of that, when my eyes are closed I'm imagining shots...with guns, slow motion, drama and I explore ideas that relate to who I am and what I believe in.....but yeah, I think you get the idea. I'm very visual. ANYWAY! So after putting a few ideas on the table, we settled on a "perfume style commercial", with a cinematic feel. I was given complete creative freedom to come up with whatever I liked. So, it was time get inspired.
I started researching perfume commercials through YouTube and really loved THIS ONE, Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, starring Blake Lively, for Gucci. The colors, music, 50p-slow-motion and camera movement were all very appealing to me, but how was I going to achieve anything like that? Especially when my budget was barely enough cover pizza for three days, a tiny wage for my crew and enough cash to pay for one location. It was going to be a huge challenge, but I was determined to make it work. Also, the Blake Lively commercial inspired the hell out of me! I just loved it. I've been trying to find out who shot it to give them a shout out, anyone?
So the inspiration was there, but now it was time to actually come up with a short story. I'm not a writer...no way. I'm used to people coming at me with ideas of which I'll get lost in and create more from, but coming up with something from scratch and being responsible for telling it is something very new to me. The cool thing was that there wasn't a lot of pressure to tell a compelling story - it was more about cool shots :) Knowing that, I jumped right in and had a go...here's what I came up with:
Corruption is a short film about a detective who is working tirelessly to solve his biggest case. Michael is struggling to focus clearly and put the last pieces of this complex puzzle together. Loretta Fox, his sexy and confident new love interest is constantly on his mind, clouding his thoughts and distorting his judgment. When lust and persuasion take hold, does murder become forgivable?
So, the final piece marginally rests on this idea, but I'm not quite sure how complex the puzzle is when Michael ends up finding her perfume bottle sitting at the scene of the crime hehe ;) The point is though, it was fun and turns out, I want to do it again. Since completing this piece I've conjured up a some super crazy ideas. One of them is to create a trailer for a film that doesn't exist yet. It involves a car chase, crazy stunts where a guy flies through the air horizontally, smashing through a bus-stop firing his gun towards camera, in slow motion, AND a cool twist. More on that later, but it WILL happen.
Writing aside, the most challenging thing about all of this, was without a doubt, finding and securing suitable locations. I was very clear about what I wanted visually, but actually finding that was another story, especially when you don't have thousands of dollars to flash around. In the end, we shot in a total of five locations over four long days. The main compromise was that we couldn't secure anywhere with city views at night (basically very similar to the Gucci commercial), had trouble with power and creating rain and also being allowed to shoot at all hours of the night.
LOCATION 1: (requirements: Expensive looking hotel room, warm tones, no white walls)
As you can see, we ended up settling for white walls all round and a tiny bedroom. It can be dis-heartening when you have such a grand idea of what you want in your mind, but in reality some times you have to make do with much less. I think it worked in the end though, mostly because these two guys were simply amazing to work with. They had a connection on screen that was just perfect. A big thanks to producer Katie Baker's friends, The Kitson Family, for letting use use their home :)
LOCATION 2: (requirements: Dark, abandoned industrial warehouse, power, rain)
This location was always going to be tricky. The problem with abandoned warehouses is that they don't have any power, water, are very dangerous and are sometimes frequented by Turkish gangs with machetes who make themselves known by throwing rocks through the big windows above (true story). It was a VERY stressful evening, and although I missed four important shots, we were lucky to get what we did. No power meant LED's only on limited batteries, and no water meant no rain. Oh well :) Caution tape, chalk and quick thinking sorted us out in the end.
LOCATION 3: (requirements: Luxurious, gold, opulent hotel foyer, lots of reflections, no people)
Almost all of Melbourne's grand hotels have been burned by film crews before, so none of them were particularly friendly or helpful when we approached them asking to film "corruption". In the end, we settled on a 70's theater, but I honestly wish we never paid the ludicrous amount of cash they wanted for those two stair-case shots.
LOCATION 4: (requirements: Massive old style bridge for open wide shot)
This place was and still is, one of my favorite spots on earth! It's completely open (broken locks) to the public to explore. It's basically a massive old train bridge that looks phenomenal, inside and out. The wide shot I was hoping for didn't really work out because of the extreme over-cast nature of the weather, and lack of time. I definitely want to go back there and shoot some more!!
LOCATION 5: (requirements: Car, rain, power, concrete walls, ability to fire gun)
The original plan was to drive 3 hours out of town to a private block and shoot this scene on a farm. Sure, that could have worked, but the travel distance would have made it difficult for everyone and the scenery just wasn't what I had in mind. Thankfully Paul Norton (www.portfirestudios.com) allowed us to use his car park, right out the front of his studio! All legal and legit, with water and power. It went very well :) For an in-depth behind the scenes look at how we shot this scene, please visit HERE.
Locations and logistics are a nightmare. I was so lucky to have the help and support of three amazing people though, my Producers, Katie Baker, Jonathan Trakas and Aylin Gedik. They also had the added pressure of producing Corruption right around Christmas and maaannnnn....what a stressful thing that was. Thanks guys!
THE LOOK OF CORRUPTION
With complete creative control, I wanted to light and shoot this thing as if it were almost some sort of modern day noir. I wanted the golden beauty and flow of the Guccii commercial, but also a dark and dramatic tension, something like you might see in Max Payne. I was very specific about colours, framing and lighting, and wanted to keep the camera stationary for most of the film. I like setting my self restrictions like that - it forces you to think creatively. My next piece will be all about MOVEMENT though, for sure :)
Aside from the actors, location and lighting, I also HAD to include a perfume bottle, right? That is part of the look of corruption for sure. Aylin found me these on eBay which cost us about $60 if I remember correctly, absolutely perfect :)
That's pretty much how I lit the product shot, just one LED to the left but I also used a flashlight to light the black background which turned it a silvery grey once illuminated. If I moved it carefully, it created a sort of sun-set transition. Here were original tests for that:
Lighting the rest of the film I just used my basic kit, 300w and 650w tungsten fresnels for interiors and daylight balanced 1000LED's for locations without power and the rest. I also wanted the detective's torch to be a main light source for him. That was tough. A lot of my shots were underexposed too...which adds a nice texture when you bring it back up in post. The other (hopefully) obvious choice was to keep a stark contrast in colour when cutting from warm to cool scenes. Even though that sounds like purely a grading/post production choice, you still have to consider lighting on the day, set design, colour temperatures, etc in order to get the best results.
For the warm "romantic" scenes, I also used a home made smashed glass filter for some added distortion and texture. It worked really well! Just slide this into your matte box, shine a torch at it, or let light in from behind :)
Before editing the piece, I knew I had to find the perfect song. This is SO important and completely changes the tone and feel of the film with a different track. My go-to music library is www.premiumbeat.com which is where I found (after many hours of browsing) "Heavens Gate" composed by Olive Musique. I really liked the flow of this piece. I am a huge fan of the piano and progressive ambient music. I especially love it when I cut to the overhead shot of the blood in the basin, how the strings come on strong and the tension goes through the roof. It's a beautiful song, so thank you Olive! If you're prepared to extensively look for the right track, Premium Beat are sure to have it, those guys are awesome :)
Once I had finished the edit, it was time to look at colouring the film. I literally spent an entire week trying different looks but ended up settling on the pallet below. It's a variation of the typical Teal and Orange look, but I think it works really well with this piece. I'm working on a new tutorial for you guys as we speak which covers a lot of cool stuff in Resolve that I've been playing with lately :)
As promised, I'll have a few (4K RAW .R3Dclips) for you guys to download and play with, but I'm also thinking of providing an AAF/XML timeline with a an .R3D snapshot of every shot as it appears in the edit. I'm thinking this will be a great way to learn how to match an entire project when colour grading, rather than just focusing on making a single shot look good. It's gonna be awesome, I promise :)
In the mean time feel free to download the .mp4 from Vimeo and take a closer look, it's much nicer than Vimeo's compressed version. Finally, if you're at NAB this year, make sure you come and say hello, I'll be at the Grass Valley booth using this exact footage to demo my post techniques and colour correction ideas. Thanks for visiting!