Alexa 765 65mm Shoot

So the past week I have been in Birr Castle, Co. Offaly assisting an amazing camera crew shooting on the Alexa 765.

Arri 765 loaded with 1000 ft magazine
Arri 765 loaded with 1000ft magazine

It was amazing to get to work with this camera, there are only seven of them left in the world and only five working.

This camera is certainly a challenge to work with, aside from the extra stress for the focus puller shooting on large format with these lenses it weighs a whopping 38kg when loaded with a 1000ft magazine. Normally this would limit the way you would shoot a film because aside from the weight it is top and front heavy but we still managed (just about) to shoot a scene hand held.

I like the precision shooting on film requires, every decision has to be deliberate so there’s no ‘lets just roll on that for a few minutes’ cause those few minutes will cost you around 2k. But there is also the downside of having to constantly take light meter readings and make tweaks and adjustments to stops, filters and lights. It is definitely not a format to pick for speed.

The Location was absolutely amazing, the castle is home to a giant telescope that at the time it was constructed would have cost the equivalent of one billion to build. It was also home to a few little visitors that came over to the camera to keep us company.

I have to say a big thank you to out DP Halyna Hutchins, Focus Puller Ivan Vountidis, Camera Tech Sascha Mieke I really learned a lot from them and it was great craic working with them. And of course our trainee Nathan Campion was a massive help. It’s back to shooting digital next week, I don’t think I’ll get to see 65mm film again soon but I look forward to working with film again.

Bridge on Birr Castle grounds
Bridge on Birr Castle grounds

For anyone that’s interested here is the playlist we listened to while we were wrapping the camera gear after wrap. I took us till around half one in the morning. https://open.spotify.com/playlist/66lqP6W3FZEUY3BkTg9iWV?si=tzVgevhdQ_eVQDx6de0gbA

An Interesting Few Weeks

So it’s been an interesting few weeks, spending some time in a remote part of the country I thought would be great for getting my course work done in a relaxing setting while spending some time with my family.

Day one the phone mast in the village went down knocking out both phone and internet for four days, so no chance to get any work done in the first few days, (for some people this would be relaxing but the stress of falling behind or to getting something done is not good for me). On top of that later in the week the muffler box on my car detached from the exhaust and my car spent the night in a garage and my phone went for a swim in the sea because while stand-in knee deep in water I just had to take a photo.

Back to Dublin and I then managed to give myself a black eye after a shoot trying to fold a 6 foot collapsible back drop, not easy when you’re 5’3. And after another shoot on Thursday I can relax into the weekend and focus on some editing and colour grading.

So what’s new. I finally sold my Ephonix MC colour grading control surface and have replaced it with the Ripple Tangent. There are a number of reasons for this, the main one being that the MC Colour is not compatible with Premier Pro and that is my main editing software. Avid and Adobe just do not get on.

Ripple Tangent

Reason number 2 is that the tangent is portable and runs off USB so it’ll be easy to have on set or when I need to get work done and travel and reason number three is it works great with Davinci which I use for colour grading and I have to say I am incredibly happy with it. Here is a few looks I created last week while using it.

Fiona graham, colourist, duo tone look, colour grade presentation
Duo Tone Look – Fiona Graham
Fiona Graham, Colourist, muted colour isolation look, colour grade presentation
Mued Colour Isolation Look – Fiona Graham
Colour grade based on film spectre,
Fiona Graham Colourist, Colour Grade Presentation
Warm Tones (Based on the film Spectre) – Fiona Graham

I’ll be offering 3D LUT design and Look design and presentation on my website soon but more on that later.

3D LUT and Look Design

Ok so today I am launching an updated website, Ive got a new logo which I’m much happier with but more importantly I’ve added a section to include a new service. Grading, 3D LUT and Look design

So what does this mean. I’ve decided I’m going to open up some of the work I do on my own Cinematography to the public, if they want to avail of it. These days colour management is so important and with budget and time constraints it can easily get swept aside but colour effects how your clients and viewers perceive and feel about your work. This applies to all audio visual projects from features to adverts, music videos, docs, anything.

All cameras have a ‘look’ or ‘LUT’ (look up table) that they apply to the footage they shoot. It’s one of the reasons people will argue for one camera over another. However the majority of cameras these days give you the ability to shoot in RAW which is a flat image with no ‘look’ on it, the reason people shoot in Raw is because it gives you more options in post including more ability to control the look of the image. You don’t want your end product to look like everyone else’s.

A Show LUT is a single LUT designed to control the look of a film, TV show or whatever project you are doing. It is used on set to monitor the colour and look of your production and insure your look is consistent. It is then used in post as the basis for your grade.

For Camera people there are plenty of LUT packs that you can buy out there but they’re generally a ‘one size fits all’, they tend to not give you really good film stock emulation or truly get the look you want. I can design custom LUTS based on the camera you are shooting on and catered specifically to the look you want.

The way this process works is that you will come to me looking for a look, LUT or colour space designed for your project. I will talk to you about the look you are going for we will discuss the tone and feel of the project, reference images and intended delivery.

I will then present it to you in the following format:

If you are at the point that you are just building your pitch or presentation these are a great addition to you look book.

Once we work out any tweaks or changes to the look I will then reissue this presentation along with the reference images and two .cube files, a 65 and a 33. (The 33 is for uploading to your camera and monitors for on set monitoring and the 65 is only for post as 65 is too big a file for on set monitoring but they are the same LUT)

It is important to have a LUT that is 100% correct because it needs to give you the look that you want without effecting the exposure of the camera.

This is a process I use for every project I shoot and it really does make a difference.

If you have any questions or queries email me at fionagraham@singlecellfilms.com

Trial and Error with Antique Cameras

Film Developing Kit, chemicals, florid, cameras, developer, Home negative developing kit, black and white film

During the lock down I got very used to having a regular wage for the first time since 2008. I tried to keep myself occupied with a number of projects but after cleaning out the shed, painting every room in the house, planting a vegetable garden and learning how to make bread I was seven days into lockdown.

I am not a person that can sit still so I began to think of ways to improve my work while still being paranoid about going outside. On my shelf I have had two antique stills cameras for years. A 1921 Kodak Girl Guide Camera (similar to the pocket brownie but made specifically for the girl guides). It had belonged to my mother and was a gift from her uncle Frank but had not been used since the 60s.

This camera takes 127 film which is an unusual size and no longer in general production. There are a few places that still make this film but it is pricey. You could also get 120 film and cut it to fit the camera but thats a whole other pain. The camera is in good condition, what I find really interesting is that the exposure is controlled by a metal disc with four different sized holes in it that you can rotate in front of a meniscus lens.The shutter is completely manual and it’s designed to be shot from the hip.

1921 Kodak girl guide camera, version of the Kodak pocket brownie camera, 127 film
1921 Kodak Girl Guide Camera

I shot a roll of 127 black and white film on this camera and developed it only for them to come out completely black (over exposed) and on closer inspection of the camera I found a number of very small holes in the bellows meaning light was getting into the camera and ruining the negative. It is a shame cause I took some really nice scenic shots near Kerry with this and was really excited to see how them came out. So I have ordered a tube of black silicone to fix this and will try again once repaired.

The Second Camera I have been shooting with is a 1932 Coffee Can Camera (I cannot find the correct model name for it but it’s what they were commonly referred to) It was given to me by my uncle a number of years ago, I don’t know where he found it but he brought it down to the house saying it was broken but he knew I was into cameras so would I like it as a display piece. So I stuck it on the shelf and aside from it being a nice display piece I haven’t given it much thought till now.

1930's coffee can camera with leis dual lenses, 120 film
1930’s Coffee Can Camera with Zeiss Lens

So on inspection it seemed to be working perfectly fine. It needed a plastic reel to collect the film but aside from that all the parts were there. I ordered one online along with some colour and black and white 120 film for it. It has a number of controls on the front, There is a big lever that you slide up and down and it moves the whole front element back and forward to set the focus, you set the shutter speed by turning the front of it, then pull the top lever across to lock that in and prime the shutter. You can set the stop with the lever on the bottom the once the shutter is primed release it with the lever on the side

The first reel I shot and developed was over exposed and had a lot of motion blur so in trouble shooting the problem I found that the dial on the front of it actually controls the shutter speed and I had set it far too low so the blur and exposure issues made sense. The second roll I shot was exposed fine but was out of focus which was odd cause the focus on the eye piece seemed to be fine. so I did a number of tests and found that the focus dial on the front was giving the correct reading but the eye piece was giving a different reading so the two lenses were out of sync. The solution is to frame with the eye piece and ignore it for focus, just go with the numbers of the dial. I currently have my 3rd roll loaded into the camera and am hoping the next one will come out well.

During this time I also got an old stills camera (Canon AE-1 a 1980’s film camera). It takes 35mm film.

Canon AE-1 film camera, 198's film camera
Canon AE-1 (1980’s)

I love this camera. The texture of the shots is amazing. I have had to get used to relying solely on a exposure metre and not the eye piece which can be tricky at times when you’re so used to new technology and seeing the finished shot in front of you but there is something exciting about not being able to see it and having to wait to see if a picture came out. Its more tangible and means more then just taking 50 shots on your phone that you’re probably never going to look at again. It also forces you to think about what you’re doing and be specific about your framing.

Nowadays we are in such a rush for everything and shoot schedules are getting tighter and tighter it has been really nice to take my time and be able to think about my process and how to approach different issues. I know its not practical to shoot stills on film all the time but I’m definitely going to see where I can fit this in to my work in the future.

Upgrading My Grading

grading wheels, colour wheels, davinci
Colour Grading Wheels

Ok so my last blog post got deleted so ill try to rewrite it as was, with a few minor corrections,

So With Covid slowing everything down I’ve decided to to take a course while I still have the time. This time I’ve decided to go with the ‘Summer Looks Academy’ with https://www.colour.training/ taught by Dado Valentic.

I first met Dado in London at a REDucation course in CVP. I was looking for a course to help improve my cinematography and thought learning everything there is to know about the camera I was shooting on was a good place to start. Dado was the guest speaker on the second and third day who was coming in to talk to us about Colour Science.

During this talk he said something that caught my attention. “If you were to look at the sun without the ozone layer it would actually appear as a shade of green not yellow, The ozone layer acts like a filter and the reason that the sun changes colour as it sets is that the density of the “filter” between you and the sun increases as it sets”. This was connected to the reason that there are twice as many green photocites in a cameras sensor then blue or red because the purpose of the sensor is to capture as much light as possible. When I heard this I thought ‘this is what I should be learning’ and a few months later I returned to London to do my first course with Colour Training in Colour Managment.

After we were presented with our certificates a few of us went to the pub where I nearly lost my certificate when it caught fire in the smoking area but that’s a different story.

This time I’m hoping to delve deeper into the design of Looks and LUTs and create some cool LUTS. I’m excited about doing the course, I really want to develop a look for a film or series from scratch and see it come to life on screen rather then do it all in post but I’m also nervous cause there are some really heavy hitters in the group that work on really big projects. 

Anyway lets see how it goes.

IFTN Cinematography Article

With the IFTA nominations coming up and our film Heyday: The Mic Christopher Story in the mix, IFTA interviewed me on Cinematography.

http://www.iftn.ie/?act1=record&aid=73&rid=4293488&sr=1&only=1&hl=Fiona+graham&tpl=archnews

With the IFTA Awards Viewing Season in full swing, we showcase Irish talent who are blazing a trail across our industry, working in front of and behind the camera.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry. 

We find out what they look out for in the projects they take on, what their approach is to filmmaking and on-set collaboration; what inspires them; what current trends and techniques they like, and dislike in the industry.

We spoke to Cinematographer Fiona Graham, about her latest project Heyday – the Mic Christopher Story. Originally working in continuity for several years, Fiona has worked across a spectrum of roles within the industry, including script supervision (Mad Mary) Assistant camera (Maze) and focus pulling (Red Rock). As well as the acting editor and DoP on Heyday: The Mic Christopher Story, Fiona produced the documentary alongside Alan Leonard under their production company Single Cell Films

Heyday: The Mic Christopher Story is a heartfelt story that charts the life of singer-songwriter Mic Christopher, told through the eyes of those whose lives he touched including Oscar-winner Glen Hansard, Actor/writer Sharon Horgan, Mike Scott of The Waterboys, Bronagh Gallagher, Josh Ritter, Lisa Hannigan, Colm Mac Con Iomaire and many more. 

What attracted you to the Heyday project?

“It was definitely the story that attracted me to the project. It’s rare that you come across a story that’s so inspiring, uplifting and sad at the same time. I didn’t even think twice about it, I knew it was a project I wanted to work on and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

What was your approach to making this documentary, and where did you take inspiration from during the process?

“As with any project prep is key. You need to have a good battle plan or its just not going to work, you can always adapt and change the plan as needed but just shoot it as see is never a good approach, you need to know your end goal. I like to have my colour template, lighting style and shooting style locked in before any shoot that way if the plan needs to be changed you have a clear idea of the options open to you. During the shoot, I watched a lot of docs examining story structure and shooting styles, one that really stood out to me was ‘Searching for Sugarman’.”

What is your general style of working with directors and creating a visual strategy?

“I don’t know if you could call it a style but there is a structure to working with other people, it’s a process. When working with any director your sole job is to give them their vision on camera so the first thing to do is listen. Creating the visual template is the easy part discovering what someone else sees in their head is difficult. But once you have an idea and a few visual aids the rest is just tweaking till you get it right.”

Tell me about your experience on set, and your favourite moment during production?

“The set was always very calm and upbeat. We had a small crew of three or four people for each interview and for the wrap arounds myself and the director Alan Leonard went out by ourselves with the drone or just one camera to capture the shots. Sometimes we would only do one or two shots in a day because the light we needed was so specific and we only had an hour to get the shot. It was a very relaxed shoot. After each day, I’d take the cards home to back up the footage and watch it back.

My favourite moments were sitting at my computer watching the footage back for the first time and seeing that something we tried worked or during the edit seeing that it was all coming together and it was going to be really special.”  

What do you think of the current state of cinematography in independent and mainstream cinema? Are there trends you’re excited about or that you like/dislike?

“I think independent cinematographers have never had it better. Cameras and lighting equipment have never been more accessible and in the right hands even the smallest camera can produce beautiful images. Whether the work is there is a different story, I think Cinematographers are going to have to expand their job descriptions and take a bigger hand in generating their own work because there is a lot of Cinematographers out there and the competition is fierce.”

“Things that get me excited at the moment are colour science and 3d LUT design. I like designing a look for a director, choosing the right colour space and being able to show them close to a finished product on the monitor as we shoot. I also love shooting with drones and gimbals, the technology is advancing so quickly and opening up a whole world of possibilities.”

What filmmaker or cinematographer has influenced you the most? 

“Well there’s always the obvious ones, Robert Richardson has probably influenced me the most in terms of Cinematography but I only found out he had shot a lot of my favourite films retroactively. In terms of filmmaking seeing Jim Sheridan’s films as a kid opened my eyes to the fact that you could make films in Ireland about Irish topics, Robert Rodriguez’s book ‘Rebel Without a Crew’ which showed me you could do things by yourself and people like Eleanor Bowman showed me that it was possible for women to make careers in camera dept. I think she may have been the first woman I saw with a camera on her shoulder.”

What other Irish cinematographers have you been most impressed by in recent times?

“In terms of Irish Cinematographers there are so many to choose from, I like Eleanor Bowman and Kate McCullough’s work. Ciaran Tanham and Declan Emerson who both taught me a lot during my time on ‘Red Rock’, what they did with the time and budget they had was incredible. Cathal Watters, Suzie Lavelle, Eimear EnnisGraham, Piers McGrail all have been producing great work over the last few years. There’s really too many to name.”

Is there an Irish film over the last few years that you wish you had been a part of…?

“There’s a lot of Irish productions I would have loved to have been part of but I get excited about new ideas and getting to shoot things in general. There’s been a number of TV dramas shot here lately I would have loved to have been given the opportunity to shoot. Anything that’s a period piece or in the historical of fantasy genre I really want to shoot.”

We often are our own worst critics.  What is your approach to self-criticism and inward reflection?

“Oh I question everything I shoot, I will nitpick it to death. I think this may be the first film I’ve shot that I was almost completely happy with. But you can’t carry the negative aspect of it with you, you have to learn from it and mould that lesson into your future work. So while I do question my work I try to question it in a way that will benefit me in the future. If I didn’t like something or if something didn’t work: Why didn’t it work; what could I have done in that situation to change it; and what can I do to prevent it being a problem on other shoots?”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career, which you’d give to aspiring cinematographers?

“Listen more then you talk, communication is key in our industry and the project should always have a bigger ego then you.  

And always have a spare change of clothes in your car.”

How have you channelled your creativity during lockdown?

“Lockdown has definitely been tough trying not to talk to the furniture but I’ve tried to keep my mind busy working on a couple of pitches for different projects. I think I’ve around six ready to go and as always, I’m playing with cameras. I was able to do some drone shots around the city which was fun but hopefully things will get going again soon. We’ll have to adapt but it’ll get going again.”