Equipment Review #3 – The Secretlab Omega Gaming Chair

With lockdown 3.0 forcing most of my work to Development and Post Production I have been spending a lot more time in the studio and my back has been really suffering for it. Every time I do a long edit, or grading for a few hours I end up cursing my desk chair as pain shoots through my lower back and it wasn’t a cheap chair I think it was around €75 when I bought it.

So this spurred on a year long search for a new chair, mainly because good chairs are really expensive and I’d always talk myself out of spending that much money on a chair when I already have one.

I looked at a wide range of chairs from office to gaming chairs checking top ten lists and reviews and one chair that kept coming up was the Omega Gaming Chair by Secret Lab. It was consistently on every chair list I looked at going back a few years and had gotten great reviews. I was wary about it cause some said people were only getting it because they wanted it for the style rather then function. So I held off till December before making a decision.

So I ordered it on the 26th of December and this morning the chair finally arrived.

Secret Lab Delivery

The chair took some assembly but nothing too complicated and I had it built in under an hour.

Now to the important bit, the sitting.

I have to say it is very comfortable, the lumbar support pillow really hugs your back and seems to keep me sitting in a more upright position. The neck pillow has an elastic band that allows you to slip it onto the top of the chair and adjust its height. The arms rests are adjustable not just by height but move forward, back and rotate left and right. It reclines to almost 180 degrees and when you lean back the seat rocks backwards which is also tension adjustable so you can customise it to your weight.

The difference between it and my other chair is massive, no more lower back pain after hours at a desk. I know some people will say you should just buy a good office chair but when your studio / office is at home and you spend more time then most at your desk (and also some gaming) you really need one that you’re going to be happy with and I am very happy with this investment.

Lets see if I’m still happy in a few months

Secretlab Omega Gaming Chair

December Update 2020

Well I think it’s safe to say it’s been an overall shit of a year but there’s been a lot of positives it’s over now. After a busy winter season a nice quiet Christmas was very welcome. It’s been a while since I’ve posted so here are a few things I meant to post about but didn’t get around to:

As a factory driver for Colourlab Ai I did a video testimonial outlining one of the ways I use the platform to optimise my workflow. It really is a fantastic program and I’m excited to be using it along with Look Designer 2.0 on my next project but more on that later.

I’ve got to work alongside some amazing people on Other Voices in Dingle and in the Storehouse and shot some amazing music with Jameson Connects. I was blown away by the serious amount of Irish talent out there it was a nice pick-me-up of a job and I even went so far as to buy a physical album from one of the artists.

https://www.youtube.com/user/OtherVoicesLive

There were many more shoots that were all great fun but too many to mention and some I can’t anyway.

I was very happy with the results of my multi-exposure expired film experiment the method really give some interesting results that you just wouldn’t get with a digital camera. I’ll definitely be exploring this method further next year, I still have three rolls of it to develop so god knows what’s going to come out of that. I’ll be putting the prints up for sale in the new year so there’ll be a link appearing on the website soon.

We’ve had to shut down for the holidays (mainly cause everyone else did and I can’t get much done aside from project development with everywhere closed – covid didn’t help there either) So I’ll be doing inventory of my gear while it’s quiet and seeing if there’s anything don’t use anymore that can go up for sale and what new bits I need to get, cause as we all know the gear list never ends. I’m looking forward to getting shooting again and working on new projects so happy new year, stay safe and lets hope 2021 gets better and better.

Reviews: Tilta Nucleus-M Wireless Follow Focus

So this is the second gear review I’ll be posting but the first post entirely dedicated to a review.

This past two weekends I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Tilta Nucleus-M Wireless Follow Focus on a job so I thought I’d give it a review.

The unit is easy enough to set up but in prep we had an issue with the motor switching it’s direction when turning the focus wheel even slightly which was very odd but doing a factory reset on the handset and re-syncing the devices solved the issue.

Tilta Nucleus-M Wireless Follow Focus set up on an Alexa Mini LF
Tilta Nucleus-M Wireless Follow Focus set up on an Alexa Mini LF

The unit aims to keep things compact by having the transmitter built into the motor, this makes the motor itself quite chunky and at times made it awkward to mount depending on what kind of lens we were using. When switching from zoom lens’s back to primes it meant that we had to re-rig the eye piece to accommodate the bulky motor. This issue was partly because we had decided to mount the motor from the top but could have been avoided if we were able to switch the gear to the other side of the motor which you can do on most units but it is not an options with this device. You can remove the 15/19mm clamp front the motor and position it four different ways but cut switching the side the gear was on is an option I missed. The re-rigging didn’t take much time and it didn’t leave us under pressure but it was a little annoying.

The menu system was not intuitive and changing settings required a bit of research, for example changing the motor channel was not an option in the menu, you triple tap the arrow buttons up or down on the motor to the left and right of the display to change the channel. But the motor was light for its size and not having a separate transmitter would be handy for gimbals

Tilta Nucleus-M motor set up on an Alexa mini LF
Tilta Nucleus-M motor set up on an Alexa mini LF

The handset is small and light but by no means feels cheap, the build is certainly solid and I was quite impressed with the action on the wheel which feels really nice. Being on the end of a 290mm lens wide open trying to follow a sports person playing a match is no easy feat but I can honestly say there were no issues with the units performance from a focus point of view. It was responsive, smooth and reliable.

Alexa mini LF fitted with 290 zoom lens, teredek blot 300 and Tilta Nucleus-M
Alexa mini LF fitted with 290 zoom lens, teredek blot 300 and Tilta Nucleus-M

I did not have the opportunity to get to use the zoom or iris functions in this instance but I did like where the zoom button was placed. It falls exactly where your thumb rests when using the unit and felt solid. The iris wheel I’m not sure about it seemed to be in an awkward spot and a little flimsy but I did not use it.

Overall the system reminded me of Sony cameras, practically very good but with an over complicated menu system.

For under a grand you can’t really argue with it, a single motor unit can run you €662 while a full kit comes to around €1200 and for the price it is an excellent piece of kit. Given the choice (and no financial limit) I wouldn’t choose it over a WCU-4 or a Preston but if the money was coming out of my pocket it would definitely be on my short list.

Drones, Docs and Dojos

So we’re entering another week of lockdown and people are getting frustrated and stressed, I’m not going to suggest what people should be doing or things to do to keep positive or anything like that, everyones circumstances are different and there is no one fits all . But on the upside the film industry is working and there appears to be a lot of work out there.

Things do seem to be very last minute and a lot of stuff is being rescheduled and pushed back even as I write this another shoot I’m on has been moved for the third time but the industry is moving and that’s not nothing.

So what have I been doing since my last post. Well, not a huge amount to be honest there’s been a few day work on Dramas and corporates but a lot of them keep getting moved due to the current situation. So to keep myself sane I have been going for evening runs and learning how to play Dungeons and Dragons. Anyway back to the film stuff, I took my drone out to soldiers point and the Cooly mountains for a practice run then brought the footage into Davinci Resolve and used Lookdesigner by colour lab to try out different looks

And when not shooting stock footage on my drone or working on corporates or dramas, I’ve been working on a few personal projects. The edit for my documentary “In The Shadow of The Bull” is very close to being locked. This doc has taken me years to get near the end of and has broken my heart more then once but it’s nearly there, we’re about to enter the scoring and grading phase and I’m looking forward to getting it out there. Hopefully there’ll even be an “in person” festival run.

A Still from interview with Alex Meehan of the Namiryu Dojo

I’ve also started a new project, a documentary on martial arts namely Bujinkan with the Bujinkan Namiryu Dojo. The Doc is about the evolution of the art from ancient Japan to modern day, it’s place in western and modern society and the people who study the art. I have been training there for four years now and aside this is a subject I am passionate about it’s more then an excuse to study more about the art. Last Wednesday I shot an interview with Alex Meehan the Sensei of the dojo which was absolutely fascinating. here is a still from the shoot showing the RAW Footage from the RED Scarlet Dragon and the LUT I designed for it in Davinci Resolve. The LUT is a Kodak5217 Vision 2 200T film stock emulation printed on 2398 modern stock. ( +4 C, 0 M, -3 Y).

For more info on current projects or to discuss new ones feel free to get in touch. I’m always looking for things to shoot or colour, I’m especially interested in shooting more drama at the moment.

fionagraham@singlecellfilms.com

October Update

So it’s been an interesting few weeks, It seems like I’ve been saying that a lot and I keep thinking of that old Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” but it is none the less true. Dublins gone back into lockdown and it looks like the rest of the country is going to follow but sure we’ll keep going the best we can. If they do shut everything down again I’ll be sure to be out with the drone.

Since my last update I’ve had two shoots assisting the lovely people at Tiny Ark, Submitted two projects to Tg4’s Ignite program, edited one promotional trailer, Finished editing a live gig for a band in Scotland (more on that later) and gotten back to work on my doc on the legacy of The Field “In The shadow of the Bull”.

The Ignite Scheme looks interesting. “The scheme is project-led, and will support the progression of the selected projects and their teams, through training that will focus on the development process of documentary, from inception to exhibition. The scheme will foster a new generation of non-fiction creative documentary talent from all over the island of Ireland to pursue their first or second feature, and to provide them with a platform to develop the spectrum of skills and knowledge required to succeed as a feature documentary filmmaker on an international level.” So it looks like the selected film makers will get much more out of it than just funding, fingers crossed we get at least one project in. Not sure what the notification date is.

Anyway one thing I have been very happy with lately is three new pieces of software I have been working with called Look Designer 2.0, Grain Lab and Colour Lab AI. I had mentioned in previous posts that I was doing grading courses taught by Dado Valentic and part of that course was we got to beta test these pieces of software. The first two are plugins for DaVinci Resolve while the third is a stand alone program and I would highly recommend them to anyone who does their own grading. Check out the link below for more information on them.

https://colourlab.ai/look-designer/

Three of the shots in these pictures (Taken from the promo for the Doc “Searching for Maria”) were shot on the Sony A7sii and three of them were shot on the RED Dragon. They were graded using Look Designer 2.0 emulating Kodak 5217 Vision 2 200T film stock printed on a 2398 Modern Negative.

I’ll be trying out Colour Lab AI on the next project I shoot so hopefully Covid won’t postpone it too long.

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

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

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.”

Lockdown 2020 Drone Footage

I recently had some Drone Footage I shot over the lockdown featured in The Guardian, Die Welt and Stern news sites. Here is the original video I posted:

The streets we eerily empty and its was a bit unnerving shooting the footage but as always Dublin looks great.