“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 2-and-a-Bit

Day 11

In a conference room at a business centre in north Cambridge we set up for a scene in which the titular Harvey arrives titularly late for a big meeting at work. Here we were joined by my good friend Alan Hay, who voiced all the pre-recorded male characters in the stage play, and now portrays Harvey’s overbearing boss Bryan on screen.

A TV monitor in the background of Bryan’s shot, displaying relevant graphics, gave us some trouble. Neither the 50Hz or 60Hz “flicker free” modes in the monitor’s menu lived up to their names. The best – though not perfect – results were achieved by setting the camera’s shutter to 144°, which works out as 60Hz at our frame rate of 24fps. (Next week’s post will be dedicated to the maths behind this. I bet you can’t wait.)

Stephen and James rigged several Astera tubes to the ceiling, which we mostly used to give everyone a tungsten-coloured backlight whichever direction we shot in (Harvey’s stress colour again). The key light was motivated from the window, which we weren’t able to light from outside of, but we generally used the Litemat 2S to punch up or wrap the natural light from that direction. We used floppy flags on the opposite side of the room to stop too much ambience from the atrium spilling in.

Unfortunately by the time we wrapped the meeting scene we were left with a difficult choice: to rush a long and funny scene in Bryan’s office, or to postpone it for some future pick-up shoot when we could do it justice. Jonnie wisely chose the latter, allowing us to decamp to a private home in Arbury and get ahead with the scenes set in Harvey’s house.

First up at the house was a happy flashback of Harvey and Alice dancing in the bedroom, which Amanda had dressed in calming shades of green. We shot towards the window at 48fps and supplemented the natural light with a single Astera tube in a corner.

Next was a less positive flashback set at night. As it was still broad daylight I closed the curtains, framed out the window and set the white balance to 3600K to turn the remaining light seeping through the curtains into a dim nighttime ambience. I had asked Amanda to provide matching practicals on the bedside cabinets, which we now turned on and dimmed to get a nice warm orange glow. This looked great but left the actors’ faces very under-exposed, so we added a 300W tungsten fresnel motivated by one of the tablelamps. (The thing you see hanging in front of it in the above photo is a makeshift flag to stop the other tablelamp from casting an unrealistic shadow.)

Then it was back to daylight – again natural light supplemented by an Astera – and the camera had to stay locked off so that Jonnie could jump-cut to this shot from the same angle at night. Stephen and James set up the lighting while the daylight faded. The main element that I wanted was a streak of sodium streetlight through a gap in the curtains, again part of the stress colour theme, which was achieved with the Aputure 300D gelled appropriately. We wanted to give the impression that this was bouncing off the wall and edge-lighting Harvey in his second position, but in reality we used the tungsten 300W fresnel – now hidden on top of the wardrobe – to get this effect. We bounced two Astera tubes, set very blue with a bit of green mixed in, off a wall to provide ambience.

Overall the frame was still pretty dark, so I decided to do something I’ve seen advised for night scenes before but never actually done: I reduced the ISO by one stop and opened the iris to compensate. Read my article about ISO if you want to understand all the ins and outs, but essentially doing this allowed one more stop of light to reach the sensor – that’s more information to grade with – without increasing the apparent brightness of the image.

 

Day 12

Back in the house, this time downstairs in the kitchen. We had three daylight scenes to shoot here, and the lighting approach was to push in soft light through the windows using the Litemat or an Aladdin, with some harder streaks where appropriate from the Aputure. Hiding another Aladdin on top of a cabinet and firing it into a corner of the ceiling was a good move by Stephen to raise the ambience in the room while still keeping some directionality.

 

Day 13

Our first task today was to return to the cemetery and pick up a dropped shot from day 8. Then it was another Steadicam/rickshaw scene on an Ely street where rain, traffic and a recalcitrant beer can combined to make things quite tricky.

After lunch we had a strict two-hour window in which to shoot three scenes with a hired limousine. The first required it to be driving around, so Filipe (sound mixer), Olga (focus puller) and I squeezed into the front of the main cabin, shooting down the length of the vehicle on the 14mm to where Paul and Alan’s characters were sitting at the back. Jonnie rode in the front passenger seat and watched the monitor over my shoulder. Next to him was an Aladdin which I could use for fill when necessary, but mostly I relied on the dynamic natural light. The heavily tinted windows were a big help, allowing me to retain most of the detail in the sky outside without under-exposing the talent.

When we returned to base, Stephen had all the flags, bolton and lights ready to move into position around the limo for the night scene. His custom-built LED was gelled with Urban Sodium again to key Alan, and an Astera tube inside the limo provided the impression of a passing ambulance.

Then we were left with less than 25 minutes to capture a daytime dialogue scene around the limo. Jonnie had storyboarded it as three set-ups but there was only time for one. Rupert came to the rescue, quickly balancing his Steadicam as Jonnie devised a camera move that would hit all the needed beats.

After a couple more Steadicam shots we moved on to a scene in a hospital car park, a rare moment of calm for the beleagured Harvey. We shot this mostly on the slider, capturing the dialogue in another single developing shot that taxed poor Filipe again but set exactly the right mood for the story. The natural light was very shapeless, so Stephen set up some floppies on one side and bounce on the other.

The day brought principal photography to an end for Stephen and for leading man Paul Richards, both of whom have done stellar work despite the long hours and high energy levels required.

Just after I wrote this Jonnie sent me a rough edit of the limo/hospital sequence and it has turned out very nicely indeed.

 

Day 14

We convened at a farm near Mildenhall to film Billy the pig farmer, one of the many people who hassles Harvey by phone during the story. In a last-minute casting coup Billy was portrayed by 1st AD Rob Oliver with the unscripted addition of his mother Shirley. A comedy duo to be reckoned with. Between takes we scattered food around to entice the porcine supporting artists into the right positions.

After completing this sequence we all took it in turns to hold a piglet. I’m not sure why.

The final scene of principal photography was a spoof charity appeal for “No More Racism UK”. We shot this down at Ely riverside again, where a crowd steadily gathered to watch us film an old white lady throwing bread at a black couple. We captured the whole thing on the slider with the 50-100mm zoom at 48fps and with the Soft FX 1 for extra cheesiness. To get the depth of field as shallow as possible with our limited ND filters I went down to ISO 250, the downside being a reduction in highlight detail which threatened to blow out the feathers of a white swan in shot. I’m sure that’s symbolic somehow.

We wrapped at the astonishingly reasonable time of 3pm and reconvened in the evening for a pizza-fuelled celebration at Othersyde. The shoot was great fun, the whole team has worked really hard, and I look forward to seeing everyone again for the pick-ups.

The “Harvey Greenfield” camera department: 1st AC Olga Lagun, 2nd AC Fiyin Oladimeji and me
“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 2-and-a-Bit

“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 2

Day 6

I think the director is turning into Harvey Greenfield. This morning Jonnie burst unexpectedly out of a hedge apologising for being slightly late.

Our first location was a surprisingly busy park in the village of Exning. We shot under the trees lining the edge of the park, keeping the camera on the same side of the eye-line as this handy arboreal negative fill, allowing the open sky of the park proper to light the actors’ off-camera sides. It’s great when blocking works out in your favour like this.

Then we moved around the corner to Wests Garage. First up here was a 24mm tableau shot to establish Barry the mechanic when he first calls Harvey, just as we have done to introduce the other supporting characters. We placed Barry in an office with a window behind him showing the workshop. Stephen arranged our four Astera tubes (in tungsten mode) around the workshop as practical work-lights, clamping some to pillars and placing others on the floor; wherever possible we are adding orange splashes of light (Harvey’s stress colour) into the background of these tableaux.

Next we shot outside around a car (a Rover I think – they all look the same to me), getting a nice slider shot parallel to the vehicle. Shades of Wes Anderson again. The trouble with all these straight-on shots of windows and shiny cars is hiding all the reflections. Stephen had to build a wall of floppy flags to disguise the slider.

By the time we wrapped the heat was getting to us all, and there was nothing for it but to try out the local pub.

But that was closed for a private party so we went to the other local pub instead.

 

Day 7

Jonnie was wearing Harvey’s jacket. Definitely turning into him.

We were at Othersyde, part of the Cambridge Museum of Technology, for the biggest day of the shoot: 12 scenes and nine pages of script to cover.

We began in a tent – Amanda had kindly found an orange one at my request – which we flagged on one side, adding the Aputure 300D to the other side to bring some shape to the lighting.

Then we moved into one of the venue’s toilet cubicles, where we simply added a skirt of black wrap to the existing overhead light fitting to reduce the light on the walls and add contrast. (Stephen and spark daily James also had to build a black-out tent around the door so that it could be open for the camera to see in without admitting daylight.)

Then we jumped into the bar of the Engineer’s House to grab a one-shot flashback scene. We lit through two windows (the Aputure and the Litemat 2S, I think) and added fill (a CTB-gelled 2K bounced off poly) and a couple of other sources inside (an Aladdin into a dark corner; a tungsten lamp shining down some background stairs). The shot required some well-timed whip-pans – always good for comedy. These require great skill as a camera operator when executed on sticks, but fortunately for me this one was handheld which makes the muscle-memory involved much easier.

Next we were in another toilet cubicle. Again we skirted the ceiling light and tented around the door, but this time another character had to come in. Here we used an LED fixture which Stephen built himself, gelling it with Urban Sodium as this shot is part of a sequence that has a stressy, streetlamp look to it.

By this time it was getting towards evening and we set up for a slider shot at the front of the site, overlooking the River Cam and shooting towards the low sun. Thanks to Helios Pro – a sun tracking app – we managed to time this just right. A 4×4 poly bounce either side of camera was all that was needed to supplement the beautiful natural light.

Sounds like all that would be enough for one day, doesn’t it? But oh no, the big scene was still to come. With 20 or 30 extras we staged a wedding reception under Othersyde’s marquee. Stephen keyed the wedding party at the head table with the Aputure bounced off poly (both rigged to the marquee’s ceiling) and we backlit them with a tungsten 1K firing out of an upper window of the Engineer’s House. A character off to one side was lit with an Aladdin rigged to the roof of the bar. The aim was to keep the lighting fairly warm overall, but to make those warm foreground colours pop we added blue-gelled 300W fresnels uplighting the Engineer’s House and a 1K in the deep background, gelled with Steel Blue, for a hint of moonlight. All of this was supplemented by the venue’s existing string lights, bar lights, LED uplighters in the flower beds and candles which Amanda placed on the tables.

Although we didn’t quite make the call sheet, we only dropped one brief scene – a pretty amazing result and one for the whole team to be proud of. Our welcome reward was a selection of Othersyde’s finest pizzas.

 

Day 8

The morning was spent with a beautiful horse-drawn hearse (featuring more fun reflective surfaces!) while the afternoon took place around an off-camera grave in Ely Cemetery. Some brief scenes with the child actors, faking a corner of the cemetery as a park, completed a damp but straightforward day for cinematography.

 

Day 9

About a third of Harvey Greenfield is Running Late takes its title very literally, seeing Paul Richards’ character hurrying to his next appointments as he makes phone calls and talks to camera. Today was the first day dedicated to capturing these scenes.

The first few scenes were shot as Annie Hall-esque wides in the streets and parkland around of Ely. (Much as Hot Fuzz filmed in Wells but painted out the cathedral, we framed out Ely Cathedral to avoid it becoming an identifiable landmark.)

To get a shot of Harvey looking down at a piece of litter, we put the empty beer can on top of two peli cases. Using the lovely wide 14mm lens we were then able to shoot up past it to Harvey and even rack focus to the can. I never usually hire anything wider than an 18mm but I have certainly learnt to appreciate what a 14mm can do on this shoot, even if it does make lighting and boom-operating more challenging.

Our Steadicam operator Rupert joined us again for the rest of the day, bringing along a rickshaw to enable him to track Harvey more smoothly. This drew plenty of attention from the general public, particularly when we moved down to Ely’s picturesque riverside. Most people were very friendly and kindly stayed out of frame if asked to, but a couple of self-styled pirates seemed determined to get an unscripted cameo. Nevertheless we managed to pull off a long and complicated shot which begins with Harvey approaching camera down a tree-lined car park and then tracks him in profile as he pelts along the riverbank.

 

Day 10

The morning was spent filming outside a house in Romsey – a short walk from home for me – which was standing in for Harvey’s. There was yet more fun with reflections when we had to shoot Harvey’s neighbour looking out of his window. No matter how tight the budget is, I will never ever take a polarising filter off my kit hire list again.

In the afternoon we captured more Steadicam running scenes around Romsey Park, before moving onto the nearby streets when it got dark. Here the Gemini’s low light mode saw use again, allowing us to rely mostly on the existing streetlamps (not pretty, but it works for the story). Stephen rigged an Aladdin to the rickshaw so that Harvey would have a little fill light moving with him.

Finally we moved back into the park, where Stephen had cross-lit the kids’ playground with tungsten sources. This formed the background of the scene, with the action taking place under a streetlamp in front of the play area. As the streetlamp was naturally very toppy, we fired in a Litemat (gelled with Urban Sodium) from above the camera to make sure that we would see Paul’s face for this critical performance scene.

There will be more on Harvey Greenfield‘s second week in my next post. In the meantime you can follow the film’s official Instagram account or Facebook page.

“Harvey Greenfield is Running Late”: Week 2

Undisclosed Project: Experimentation

The main event of last week’s prep was a test at Panavision of the Arri Alexa XT, Red Gemini and Sony F55, along with Cooke Panchro, Cooke Varotal, Zeiss Superspeed and Angenieux glass. More on that below, along with footage.

The week started with Zoom meetings with the costume designer, the make-up artist, potential fight choeographers and a theatrical lighting designer. The latter is handling a number of scenes which take place on a stage, which is a new and exciting collaboration for me. I met with her at the location the next day, along with the gaffer and best boy. After discussing the stage scenes and what extra sources we might need – even as some of them were starting to be rigged – I left the lighting designer to it. The rest of us then toured the various rooms of the location, with the best boy making notes and lighting plans on his tablet as the gaffer and I discussed them. They also took measurements and worked out what distro they would need, delivering a lighting kit list to production the next day.

Meanwhile, at the request of the producer, I began a shot list, beginning with two logistically complex scenes. Despite all the recces so far, I’ve not thought about shots as much as you might think, except where they are specified in the script or where they jumped out at me when viewing the location. I expect that much of the shot planning will be done during the rehearsals, using Artemis Pro. That’s much better and easier than sitting at home trying to imagine things, but it’s useful for other departments to be able to see a shot list as early as possible.

So, the camera tests. I knew all along that I wanted to test multiple cameras and lenses to find the right ones for this project, a practice that is common on features but which, for one reason and another, I’ve never had a proper chance to do before. So I was very excited to spend Wednesday at Panavision, not far from my old stomping ground in Perivale, playing around with expensive equipment.

Specifically we had: an Arri Alexa – a camera I’m very familiar with, and my gut instinct for shooting this project on; a Sony F55 – which I was curious to test because it was used to shoot the beautiful Outlander series; and a Red Gemini – because I haven’t used a Red in years and I wanted to check I wasn’t missing out on something awesome.

For lenses we had: a set of Cooke Panchros – again a gut instinct (I’ve never used them, but from what I’ve read they seemed to fit); a set of Zeiss Superspeeds – selected after reviewing my 2017 test footage from Arri Rental; a couple of Cooke Varotal zooms, and the equivalents by the ever-reliable Angenieux. Other than the Angenieux we used on the B-camera for The Little Mermaid (which I don’t think we ever zoomed during a take), I’ve not used cinema zooms before, but I want the old-fashioned look for this project.

Here are the edited highlights from the tests…

You’ll notice that the Sony F55 disappears from the video quite early on. This is because, although I quite liked the camera on the day, as soon as I looked at the images side by side I could see that the Sony was significantly softer than the other two.

So it was down to the Alexa vs. the Gemini, and the Cookes vs. the Superspeeds. I spent most of Thursday and all of Friday morning playing with the footage in DaVinci Resolve, trying to decide between these two pairs of very close contenders. I tried various LUTs, did some rough grading (very badly, because I’m not a colourist), tested how far I could brighten the footage before it broke down, and examined flares and bokeh obsessively.

Ultimately I chose the Cooke Panchros because (a) they have a beautiful and very natural-looking flare pattern, (b) the bokeh has a slight glow to it which I like, (c) the bokeh remains a nice shape when stopped down, unlike the Superspeeds’, which goes a bit geometric, (d) they seem sharper than the Superspeeds at the edges of frame when wide open, and (e) more lengths are available.

As for the zoom lenses (not included in the video), the Cooke and the Angenieux were very similar indeed. I chose the former because it focuses a little closer and the bokeh again has that nice glow.

I came very close to picking the Gemini as my camera. I think you’d have to say, objectively, it produces a better image than the Alexa, heretical as that may sound. The colours seem more realistic (although we didn’t shoot a colour chart, which was a major oversight) and it grades extremely well. But…

I’m not making a documentary. I want a cinematic look, and while the Gemini is by no means un-cinematic, the Alexa was clearly engineered by people who loved the look of film and strove to recreate it. When comparing the footage with the Godfather and Fanny and Alexander screen-grabs that are the touchstone of the look I want to create, the Alexa was just a little bit closer. My familiarity and comfort level with the Alexa was a factor too, and the ACs felt the same way.

I’m very glad to have tested the Gemini though, and next time I’m called upon to shoot something great and deliver in 4K (not a requirement on this project) I will know exactly where to turn. A couple of interesting things I learnt about it are: (1) whichever resolution (and concomitant crop factor) you select, you can record a down-scaled 2K ProRes file, and this goes for the Helium too; (2) 4K gives the Super-35 field of view, whereas 5K shows more, resulting in some lenses vignetting at this resolution.

Undisclosed Project: Experimentation