Hi, I’m Marshall, Vice President and all around creative at Studio Say So. This is my first of many (contractually obligated) blog posts. For my inaugural post, I want to use this share some of our process and some of the unique things we encountered during the making of this project. Searching for Air: Mackenzie’s Story is a piece that we are really proud to have produced.
We are lucky enough to have a good working relationship with the marketing department at Florida Hospital for Children and they really allow us room to create interesting video concepts and execute them. When they introduced us to Makenzie Peters and her story, they allowed us to brainstorm with them and develop some ideas on how the story would be told. For us, like any creative company, it is a huge privilege to be trusted with shaping the story from the start.
One of our standard practices when making this type of mini-documentary type about people is that we always try to meet the subject in a non-filming situation first. We don’t want the first time they meet us to be when we are pointing a camera in their face. If we take the time to get to know them as people first, a week or even weeks before shooting, we not only get an excellent time to scout out the story, but even more importantly they get to know us. When it comes time to shoot they already know us, they already trust us, and they already are comfortable opening up to us on camera. Also, the questions we ask the first time we meet them help them develop even better answers the second time around.
After reviewing our notes and trying to write out a couple of different ideas and outlines, Danny came up with the concept of filming underwater. Makenzie talked a lot about how much she loved swimming and had not been able to do it because of her epilepsy. It turned out to be a great way for us to communicate the feeling and stress of having a seizure. I also feel like it brought us a really strong opening to grab the viewer. The visuals turned out very dramatic, we even found ourselves cutting some of what we shot because it was so disconcerting to see a small child floating ‘lifeless’ in the water. My hope is that the visuals set the stage and drama for the rest of the piece.
This was our first underwater shoot. We ended up using this housing with a Canon 60d. It was a lower cost option that ended up working out great. We found it a bit little tricky to work the focus and actually see what your doing while underwater, but if your give yourself time to get a good shot and shoot a lot, you will be happy with the results.
Most of the time I would look at my setting and length from subject while above water, and then just try and maintain that distance while swimming. One big obstacle with the housing we used was that there is a lot of air with in the container that the camera is in. So taking it to any depth and holding it steady becomes a battle. There were two things I wish I had: A counterweight on the housing, just heavy enough to combat some of the buoyancy it had. And a decent pair of flippers, because swimming without your arms (cause you are holding the super bouyant camera housing) was not easy. As far as camera settings the only odd thing we did that I think worked in our favor is that we shot at 10000 color temperature to warm up the colors. The water was so blue that even after adjusting we had to warm it up in to get the finished look.
This project was also unique because it was our first time using Speedgrade on a professional project. SpeedGrade is a product now included in the Adobe suite that is used to “Open the full dynamic range of your footage through a sleek new interface” – i.e. to color your stuff. Prior to Speedgrade we did a lot of our looks through FCP 3 way corrector and/or Magic Bullet’s programs. However now that we have left FCP behind, we are looking forward to a loving long-term relationship with Adobe, and so… Speedgrade. Some of the interface is a little odd, maybe because Adobe just purchased SpeedGrade they haven’t had a chance to make it comply with the rest of the suite (interface and short-cuts). However, after getting past some interface hang ups, some as simple as a different shortcut to save your work, I found it to be a really powerful program.
The biggest difference for me was the ability to do color correction in a layering system similar to photoshop. This made it easy for me to understand how different custom layers and presets interacted with the footage, because you could take an opacity slider for each layer and pull it in and out to see the changes. Not only is that useful for noticing the changes, but obviously its effective at controlling the change. For example, if I have my layer effecting a set up clips (lets say it is all the underwater clips). I can take layer and apply general color correction changes. Then I can take a preset look like Cinematic and apply it over the same set of clips. On Mackenzie the result came off a little too dark and dramatic for my liking (or the clients). The Cinematic preset has crushed a lot of my darks into oblivion. However, have no fear because I can pull the opacity of just the preset down to a place that makes my sequence look great with out compromising color quality.
All in all, we are pretty excited about this piece. A lot of what we do is mini-docs and testimonials and we are constantly looking for that thing that will grab the viewer and connect them to the story – for this piece it was shooting underwater. But ultimately with a story as compelling as this one, we are just there to watch it unfold.