Audionamix – 7.1.20

Category Archives: Lighting

Production begins again on New Zealand’s Shortland Street series

By Katie Hinsen

The current global pandemic has shut down production all over the world. Those who can have moved to working from home, and there’s speculation about how and when we’ll get back to work again.

New Zealand, a country with a significant production economy, has announced that it will soon reopen for shoots. The most popular local television show, Shortland Street, was the first to resume production after an almost six-week break. It’s produced by Auckland’s South Pacific Pictures.

Dylan Reeve

I am a native New Zealander who has worked in post there on and off over the years. Currently I live in Los Angeles, where I am an EP for dailies and DI at Nice Shoes, so taking a look at how New Zealand is rolling things out interests me. With that in mind, I reached out to Dylan Reeve, head of post production at Shortland Street, to find out how it looked the week they went back to work under Level 3 social distancing restrictions.

Shortland Street is a half-hour soap that runs five nights a week on prime-time television. It has been on air for around 28 years and has been consistently among the highest-rated shows in the nation. It’s a cultural phenomenon. While the cast and crew take a single three-week annual break from production during the Christmas holiday season, the show has never really stopped production … until the pandemic hit.

Shortland Street’s production crew is typically made up of about 100 people; the post department consists of two editors, two assistants, a composer and Reeve, who is also the online editor. Sound mixes and complex VFX are done elsewhere, but everything else for the production is done at the studio.

New Zealand responded to COVID-19 early, instituting one of the harshest lockdowns in the world. Reeve told me that they went from alert Level 1 — basic social distancing, more frequent handwashing — to Level 3 as soon as the first signs of community transmission were detected. They stayed at this level for just two days before going to Level 4: complete lockdown. New Zealanders had 48 hours to get home to their families, shop for supplies and make sure they were ready.

“On a Monday afternoon at about 1:30pm, the studio emptied out,” explains Reeve. “We were shut down, but we were still on air, and we had about five or six weeks’ worth of episodes in various stages of production and post. I then had two days to figure out and prepare for how we were going to finish all of those and make sure they got delivered so that the show could continue to be on air.”

Shortland Street’s main production building dressed as the exterior of the hospital where the show is set, with COVID workplace safety materials on the doors.

The nature of the show’s existing workflow meant that Reeve had to copy all the media to drives and send Avids and drives home with the editors. The assistant editors logged in remotely for any work they needed to do, and Reeve took what he needed home as well to finish onlining, prepping and delivering those already-shot episodes to the broadcaster. They used Frame.io for review and approval with the audio team and with the directors, producers and network.

“Once we knew we were coming back into Level 3, and the government put out more refined guidelines about what that required, we had a number of HoD meetings — figuring out how we could produce the show while maintaining the restrictions necessary.”

I asked Reeve whether he and his crew felt safe going back to work. He reminded me that New Zealand only went back down to Level 3 once there had been a period with no remaining evidence of community transmission. Infection rates in New Zealand had spent two weeks in single digits, including two days when no new cases had been reported.

Starting Up With Restrictions
My conversation with Reeve took place on May 4, right after his first few days back at work. I asked him to explain some of the conditions under which the production was working while the rest of the country was still in isolation. Level 3 in New Zealand is almost identical to the lockdown restrictions put in place in US cities like New York and Los Angeles.

“One of the key things that has changed in terms of how we’re producing the show is that we physically have way less crew in the building. We’re working slower, and everyone’s having to do a bit more, maybe, than they would normally.

Shortland Street director Ian Hughes and camera operator Connagh Heath discussing blocking with a one-metre guide.

“When crew are in a controlled workspace where we know who everyone is,” he continues, “that allows us to keep track of them properly — they’re allowed to work within a meter of one another physically (three feet). Our policy is that we want staff to stay two meters (six feet) apart from one another as much as possible. But when we’re shooting, when it’s necessary, they can be a meter from one another.”

Reeve says the virus has certainly changed the nature of what can be shot. There are no love scenes, no kissing and no hugs. “We’re shooting to compensate for that; staging people to make them seem closer than they are.

Additionally, everything stays within the production environment. Parts of our office have been dressed; parts of our building have been dressed. We’ll do a very low-profile exterior shoot for scenes that take place outside, but we’re not leaving the lot.”

Under Level 3, everyone is still under isolation at home. This is why, explains Reeve, social distancing has to continue at work. That way any infection that comes into the team can be easily traced and contained and affect as few others as possible. Every department maintains what they call a “bubble,” and very few individuals are allowed to cross between them.

Actors are doing their own hair and makeup, and there are no kitchen or craft services available. The production is using and reusing a small number of regular extras, with crew stepping in occasionally as well. Reeve noted that Australia was also resuming production on Neighbours, with crew members acting as extras.

“Right now in our studio, our full technical complement consists of three camera operators at the moment, just one boom operator and one multi-skilled person who can be the camera assist, the lighting assist and the second boom op if necessary. I don’t know how a US production would get away with that. There’s no chance that someone who touches lights on a union production can also touch a boom.”

Post Production
Shortland Street’s post department is still working from home. Now that they are back in production, they are starting to look at more efficient ways to work remotely. While there are a lot of great tools out there for remote post workflows, Reeve notes that for them it’s not that easy, especially when hardware and support are halfway across the world, borders are closed and supply chains are disrupted.

There are collaboration tools that exist, but they haven’t been used “simply because the pace and volume of our production means it’s often hard to adapt for those kinds of products,” he says. “Every time we roll camera, we’re rolling four streams of DNxHD 185, so nearly 800Mb/s each time we roll. We record that media directly into the server to be edited within hours, so putting that in the cloud or doing anything like that was never the best workflow solution. When we wanted feedback, we just grabbed people from the building and dragged them into the edit suite when we wanted them to look at something.”

Ideally, he says, they would have tested and invested in these tools six months ago. “We are in what I call a duct tape stage. We’re taking things that exist, that look useful, and we’re trying to tape them together to make a solution that works for us. Coming out of this, I’m going to have to look at the things we’ve learned and the opportunities that exist and decide whether or not there might be some ways we can change our future production. But at the moment, we’re just trying to make it through.”

Because Shortland Street has only just resumed shooting, they haven’t reached the point yet where they need to do what Reeve calls “the first collaborative director/editor thing” from start to finish. “But there are two plans that we’re working toward. The easy, we-know-it-works plan is that we do an output, we stick it on Frame.io, the director watches it, puts notes on it, sends it back to us. We know that works, and we do that sometimes with directors anyway.

“The more exciting idea is that we have the directors join us on a remote link and watch the episodes as they would if they were in the room. We’ve experimented with a few things and haven’t found a solution that makes us super-happy. It’s tricky because we don’t have an existing hardware solution in place that’s designed specifically for streaming a broadcast output signal over an internet connection. We can do a screen-share, and we’ve experimented with Zoom and AnyDesk, but in both those cases, I’ve found that sometimes the picture will break up unacceptably, or sync will drift — especially using desktop-sharing software that’s not really designed to share full-screen video.”

Reeve and crew are just about to experiment with a tool used for gaming called Parsec. It’s designed to share low-latency, in-sync, high-frame-rate video. “This would allow us to share an entire desktop at, theoretically, 60fps with half-second latency or less. Very brief tests looked good. Plan A is to get the directors to join us on Parsec and screen-share a full-screen output off Avid. They can watch it down and discuss with the editor in real time or just make their own notes and work through it interactively. If that experience isn’t great, or if the directors aren’t enjoying it, or if it’s just not working for some reason, we’ll fall back to outputting a video, uploading it to Frame.io and waiting for notes.

What’s Next?
What are the next steps for other productions returning to work? Shortland Street is the only production that chose to resume under Level 3. The New Zealand Film Commission has said that filming will resume eventually under Level 2, which is being rolled out in several stages beginning this week. Shortland Street’s production company has several other shows, but none have plans to resume yet.

“I think it’s a lot harder for them to stay contained because they can’t shoot everything in the studio,” explains Reeve. “Our production has an added advantage because it is constantly shooting and the core cast and crew are mostly the same every day. I think these types of productions will find it easiest to come back.”

Reeve says that anyone coming into their building has to sign in and deliver a health declaration — recent travel, contact with any sick person, other work they’ve been engaged in. “I think if you can do some of that reasonable contact tracing with the people in your production, it will be easier to start again. The more contained you can keep it, the better. It’s going to be hard for productions that are on location, have high turnover or a large number of extras — anything where they can’t keep within a bubble.

“From a post point of view, I think we’re going to get a lot more comfortable working remotely,” he continues. “And there are lots of editors who already do that, especially in New Zealand. If that can become the norm, and if there are tools and workflows that are well established to support that, it could be really good for post production. It offers a lot of great opportunities for people to essentially broaden their client essentially or the geographic regions in which they can work.

Productions are going to have to make their own sort of health and safety liability decisions, according to Reeve. “All of the things we are doing are effectively responding to New Zealand government regulation, but that won’t be the case for everyone else.”

He sees some types of production finding an equilibrium. “Love Island might be the sort of reality show you can make. You can quarantine everyone going into that show for 14 days, make sure they’re all healthy, and then shoot the show because you’re basically isolated from the world. Survivor as well, things like that. But a reality show where people are running around the streets isn’t happening anymore. There’s no Amazing Race, that’s for sure.”


After a 20-year career talent-side, Katie Hinsen turned her attention to building, developing and running post facilities with a focus on talent, unique business structures and innovative use of technology. She has worked on over 90 major feature and episodic productions, founded the Blue Collar Post Collective, and currently leads the dailies & DI department at Nice Shoes.

Review: Litra Pro’s Premium 3 Point Lighting Bundle

By Brady Betzel

With LED lights showing up everywhere these days, it’s not always easy to find the balance between affordability, power output and size. I have previously reviewed itty bitty-LED lights like the Litra Torch, which for its size is amazing. Litra has now expanded its LED offerings, adding the Litra Pro and the Litra Studio.

Litra Studio ($650) is at the top of the Litra mountain with not only varying color temperatures — from 2,000 to 10,000 kelvin with adjustable green/magenta settings — but also RGBWW (RGB + cool white + warm white), CCT (kelvin adjustments), HSL (hue + saturation + lightness), color gel presets, flash effects and more.

But for today’s review, I am wanted to focus on the Litra Pro LED, which comes to the Premium 3 Point Lighting Bundle, complete with light stands, lights, soft boxes, and carrying case. I had reached out to Litra about reviewing this bundle because I am tired of having to lug around big clunky lights for quick interviews or smaller setup product shots. And to be honest, it was right before I was heading to Sundance to shoot some interviews for postPerspective, I and didn’t want to check a bag at the airport. (Check out my interviews with editors at Sundance here.)

For the trip, I wanted to bring lights, a Blackmagic 6K Pocket cinema camera, my Canon L series zoom lens, a small tripod and some hard drives all stuffed into my backpack. I knew I’d be in the snow, so I needed lights that could potentially withstand all types of precipitation. Also, I would be throwing these lights around, so I needed them to be durable. The Litra Pro lights fit the bill. They measure 2.75in x 2in x 1.2in  — smaller than a phone, weigh 6oz and have upwards of a 10-hour battery life if set to 5% power. Each Litra Pro costs just under $220 but can be purchased in different bundle assortments. Individually, each Litra Pro comes with a rubberized diffuser, USB-A to Micro-USB charging cable (very short, maybe 3-4inches in length), DSLR mount (to be mounted in a hot/cold shoe), GoPro mount and a little zipper bag.

I wish Litra would package not only the GoPro mount to ¼”-20 but also the female ¼”-20 to GoPro mount adapter to be mounted to something like a tripod. If you don’t already them them, you’d need to purchase the GoPro mounts. Alternatively, it would be nice to have a mini-ball head mount like they sell on the site separately.

I was sent the Litra Pro Premium 3 Point Lighting Bundle. This essentially gives you everything you need for a standard three-point lighting setup — key light, fill light and back light. In addition, you get three light stands with carrying bags, three soft boxes, a customizable foam-insert carrying case and the standard accessories. This package retails for $779.95, which is a pretty good discount. If bought separately, the package would add up to about $820 not including the light stands, which aren’t available on Litra site and cost around $26 for two on Amazon. That means with the bundle you are essentially getting a free carrying case and light stands. The carrying case fits most of the products, except for the light stands. I had some trouble fitting all of the soft boxes along with the original accessories into the carrying case, but with a little force, I got it zipped up.

Do Specs Live Up to Output?
The Litra Pro lights are amazing lights packed into a small package, but with a kind of expensive price tag — Think of the saying, “Better, faster, cheaper: Pick two because you can’t have all three.” They have a CRI (Color Rendering Index) of greater than 95, which on the surface means they will show accurate colors. They can output up to 1200 lumens (increasing from 0-100% in 5% increments) either by app or on the light itself; have a 70-degree beam angle; can be adjusted from 3000k to 6000k color temperature in 100k increments; and have zero flicker, no matter the shutter speed (a.k.a. shutter angle). The top OLED screen displays battery info, Bluetooth connection info, kelvin temperature and brightness values.

One of my two favorite features of the Litra Pro lights are the rugged exterior and the impact they can withstand, based on MIL-STD-810 testing. The Litra Pros can withstand a lot of punishment, typically more than any filmmaker will dish out. For me, I need lights that can be in a pocket, a backpack, or mounted on a lighting stand in the rain, and these lights will withstand all of the elements.

They stood up to my practical production abuse: dropping, water, snow, rain, general throwing around in my backpack on an airplane, and my three sons — all under 10 — throwing them around. In fact, they are waterproofed up to 30 meters (90 feet).

My second favorite feature is the ability to control color temperature and brightness among a group of lights simultaneously or individually through the Litra app. When purchasing the 3 Point Lighting Bundle, this makes a lot of sense. Controlling all of the lights from one app simultaneously can allow you to watch your output image on the camera without moving around the room adjusting each light.

When I first started writing this review, the Litra app was one of the most important factors. When I was at Sundance, I needed to change lighting temperatures or brightness levels without leaving my interview position. I wasn’t able to bring an external monitor, so I only had the monitor on the back of the BMPCC6K camera to judge my lighting decisions. But with the updated Litra app, I was able to quickly add the three Litra Pro lights into a group and adjust the temperature and brightness easily. I tested the app on both Android and iOS devices, and as of mid-February, they both worked.

There can be a little lag when adjusting the brightness and temperature of the lights in a group, but they quickly catch up. The Litra app also has “CTO” (Color Temperature Orange) common preset temperatures of Daylight 5600, ⅛ CTO 4900K, ¼ CTO 4500K, ½ CTO 3800K and ¾ CTO 3200K to quickly jump to the more common color temperatures. If those don’t work, you can also set your favorites. An interesting function is to flash the lights — you can set a brightness minimum/maximum, color temperature and strobe per second in Hz.

When shooting product and interview photography or videography, I like to use diffusion. As I mentioned earlier, the light comes with a rubberized diffusion cover that sits right on the camera. But if you need a little more distance between the light and your diffusion to draw out the softness of the light, the Litra 3 Point Lighting Bundle includes soft boxes that snap together and snap onto the Litra Pro. At first, I was a little thrown off by the soft boxes because you have to build them and break them down if you want to travel with them — I guess I was hoping for more of a collapsible setup. But they come with a padded, zippered pouch for transport, and they lay very flat when broken down. They actually work pretty well when snapped together and are pretty durable. The soft boxes are indispensable for interviews. Without the soft boxes, it is hard to get an even light; add the rubberized diffusion and you will almost get there, but the soft boxes really spread the light nicely.

Over Christmas, I helped out at an event for a pediatric cancer-based foundation called The Bumblebee Foundation, which supports families with kids going through pediatric cancer treatments. They needed someone to take pictures, so I grabbed my camera and mounted one of the Litra Pro lights with a soft box onto the hot shoe of my Canon 5D Mark II with the included mount. The Litra Pro was easy to use, and it didn’t startle people like a flash might. It was a really key item to have in that environment.

I also do some product photography/videography for my wife, who sews and makes hair bows, tutus and more. I needed to light a few Girl Scout Cookie hair bows she had made, so I mounted two of the lights using the lighting stands and soft boxes and just stood one of the Litra Pros behind the products. You can see the video here.

What was interesting is that I wanted more light vertically, and because the Litra Pros have 2-¼”-20 mounts (one on the bottom and one on the side), I could quickly mount the lights vertically. I never really realized how helpful mounting the Litra Pros vertically would be until I actually needed it. At the same time, I had left the lights on at 60-80% power, and after a few minutes, I felt the heat the Litra Pros can put out. It isn’t quite burning, but the Litra Pros do get hot to the touch if left on for a while… just something to keep in mind.

Summing Up
From the military-grade-feeling exterior aluminum construction to the CRI color accuracy, the Litra Pro lights are truly amazing. Whether you use them to light interviews at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival (like I did), add one to a GoPro shoot to take the load off of the sensor with a high ISO, or use them to light product photography, the Litra Pro 3 Point Lighting Bundle is worth your money. They can fit into your pocket and withstand being dropped on the ground or in water.

All in all, this is a great bundle. The Litra Pros are not cheap, but the peace of mind you get knowing they will still work if you drop them or get them wet is worth every penny. When flying to Sundance, I had no fear throwing them around. I was setting up the lighting for my interviews and noticed a water ring on the table from a glass of water. I didn’t think twice and put the Litra Pro right in the water. In fact, when I was shooting some videos for this review, I put the Litra Pros in a vase of water. At first I was nervous, but then I went for it, and they worked flawlessly.

If you are looking for super-compact lighting that is bright enough to use outdoors, light interviews indoors, film underwater, and even double as photography lighting, the Litra Pros are for you. If you are like me and need to do a lot of product videography and interview lighting quickly, the Litra Pro Premium 3 Point Lighting Bundle is where you should look.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on shows like Life Below Zero and The Shop. He is also a member of the Producer’s Guild of America. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Audionamix – 7.1.20

ASC’s feature film nominees include 1917, Joker

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) has nominated eight feature films in the Theatrical and Spotlight categories of the 34th ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards. Winners will be named at the ASC’s annual awards on January 25 at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland.

This year’s nominees are:

Theatrical Release

Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, for 1917
Phedon Papamichael, ASC, GSC, for Ford v Ferrari
Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC, for The Irishman
Robert Richardson, ASC, for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Lawrence Sher, ASC, for Joker

Spotlight Award
Jarin Blaschke for The Lighthouse
Natasha Braier, ASC, ADF, for Honey Boy
Jasper Wolf, NSC, for Mono

This is Deakins’ 16th nomination by the society, which has sent him home a winner four times (The Shawshank Redemption, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Skyfall, Blade Runner 2049). Richardson earns his 11th nomination, while Papamichael and Prieto have each been recognized three times in the past by the organization. Sher, Blaschke, Braier and Wolf are first-time nominees.

Last year’s Theatrical winner was Łukasz Żal, PSC, for Cold War, which was also Oscar-nominated for Best Cinematography.

The Spotlight Award, introduced in 2014, recognizes cinematography in features that may not receive wide theatrical release. The accolade went to Giorgi Shvelidze for Namme in 2019.


Review: Polaroid 320 RGB LED light for controlled environments

By Brady Betzel

If you read a lot of reviews and articles like I do, sometimes you can get overwhelmed by how many products are out there. Lighting is one of those categories where the availability of products seems never ending. From ARRI Fresnels that can go for over $5,000 to the Kino Flo Diva-Lite at over $1,300, lights cover the entire spectrum of prices. But sometimes I don’t have the power, room or even money to buy these lights and need something cheaper — way cheaper. Portable lights like the Litra Torch are usually focused around tiny action-cam users are pretty great and go for around $100 but are tiny and may serve a better purpose such as a hair light or a tiny spot light. For those wanting a cheap but larger surface area, Polaroid has come to the rescue. For $99 you can buy the Polaroid RGB LED Light.

The Polaroid 320 RGB is a multi-color RGB LED light that runs off of a rechargeable Sony-style NP battery and can be controlled by an iOS or Android app via Bluetooth. The light also comes with a carrying case, a cold-shoe swivel head adapter to mount on top of a camera, a DC adapter with international adapters, a diffuser, battery and battery charger. The case itself is actually pretty nice — it will protect the light and hold all the accessories. I left the battery to charge overnight after I used the light so I can’t tell you exactly how long it took, but I can tell you it isn’t fast. Maybe a couple of hours. However, if you had a Sony camera from a long time ago you may have some leftover batteries you can use with the Polaroid light if you don’t have your DC adapter around.

The LED light is made up of 320 LED lamps: 144-3200K LEDS, 144-5600K LEDs and 32-RGB LEDs. The light can either be used in the RGB color mode or standard mode. To create the array of colors, Polaroid uses the 32 RGB LEDs to shine almost any color you can imagine. RGB lamps have three colors: red, green and blue, which can be turned off and on in multiple combinations to achieve almost any color. From cyan to magenta to yellow or purple, you can adjust the hue on the Polaroid RGB LED light by pushing the H/S button and turning the knob to the desired color. Oddly enough, it tells you which color you are on with a number between 0-199. I would think 360 would be the RGB designation since a color wheel is a circle.

If you hit the H/S button again you can access the saturation value of the light, which can be adjusted from 0-100. There is a Bluetooth light to tell you when the app is controlling the light… it will turn blue. Next to that is the Bat button, which will tell you how much power is left if using the battery. Underneath that is the Bri, or brightness, button and the Temp button. The Temp button is used when in the “white” mode to change color temperature values from 3200K-5600K, although the LED readout only displays three digits, so you won’t be getting the full Kelvin temperature read out.

But really the beauty of this light is using it through the Fi Light app you can find in both the App Store as well as the Google Play Store for Android. I have to admit, it was difficult finding the app in the Google Play Store, but if you look for the white lightbulb with blue background by “tek-q” you have the correct app. What’s even stranger is that to connect to the Polaroid light you don’t need to connect your Bluetooth to the light, the app will connect on its own. Something I couldn’t get through my head for some reason. But once the light is on and the app is up, start adjusting the hue, saturation and brightness, or even mess with the different modes like Rapid Rainbow Transition or Pulsating Red/Blue for a police light-type effect. While I couldn’t test more than one, there is a group settings dialogue that could presumably join forces of multiple lights to control them at once. The “Blu” light on the back of the light will light up, appropriately in blue when it is connected to your phone.

Summing Up
This light isn’t the strongest, especially when used in conjunction with the sunlight, but if you are photographing or filming products in a controlled environment like a garage, it will do just fine. Ideally, you would need two with a reflector, or three to light something. That being said, for $100 this Polaroid light may just fit your needs for product lighting, or even washing a wall with color behind an interview. It definitely won’t beat out any of the high-end LED lights, but it will do the job in a smaller space with controlled lighting. And because it can mount on a cold shoe of a camera it can even be a great run-and-gun light when working with subjects close to camera.

Check out www.polaroid.com for more products from Polaroid or on Amazon.com where you can search for this light and many more filmmaking-focused products from them.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.


DP Chat: Nightflyers’ Markus Förderer, BVK

For German DP Markus Förderer, BVK, quickly developed an impressive resume of visually unique and critically acclaimed feature films. His feature film debut, Hell, earned Förderer a number of awards. He went on to shoot Mike Cahill‘s sci-fi drama, I Origins, which was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. He followed that with I Remember, which premiered at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and won the 2016 German Camera Award for Best Cinematography.

Markus Förderer on the Nightflyers set.

His early work got him earmarked as one of Variety’s 2015 Up Next cinematographers. Most recently, Förderer collaborated with director Roland Emmerich on Stonewall and Independence Day: Resurgence and shot the pilot for Rise. He also recently shot the pilot for the highly anticipated sci-fi series Nightflyers by Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin, setting the look for the show’s DPs Gavin Struthers and Peter Robertson.

We reached out to him about his work…

How did you become interested in cinematography?
I was always fascinated by cinema and visual storytelling, watching movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott’s Alien. David Fincher’s early films had a big influence on me. When I learned how to use Photoshop during my time in high school in Germany, a new world of possibilities opened up. I experimented with how to manipulate the mood of images by adjusting colors, brightness and contrast.

This was still in the early days of the Internet and access to digital images online was quite limited then. There were simply not many images in decent resolution and quality on the web for me to play with. This is why I started taking my own stills with an early digital camera. It was a Fujifilm camera that had a 1.3-megapixel sensor. Hard to believe from today’s perspective, but this camera opened my eyes to the world of photography, lighting and composition.

Nightflyers

I felt limited, though, by still images and became determined to become a filmmaker to tell visual stories. Before going to film school, I started reading about filmmaking techniques and interviews with famous DPs and directors and realized that it was the DP’s role that interested me the most — the creation of a certain mood and tone that helps to tell the story and puts the audience in the character’s shoes.

What inspires you artistically?
I am most inspired by reading the scripts and talking to the director. I think each project has to have its own visual identity, and for me it all comes from the script and the director’s initial ideas. Sometimes they come with crazy ambitious ideas, and I see it as the DP’s responsibility to figure out a way to make it work. I believe in naturalism; using single sources and available light whenever possible to create cinematic images that don’t feel overly stylized. New technologies sometimes spark ideas for new or more efficient ways to create interesting shots.

You’ve shot Meridian for Netflix as a test film for 4K and Megan as a concept film for 8K. What new technology has had the most impact on the way you work?
Shooting for HDR with high dynamic range sensors has a big impact on the way I light a scene. I think you can be more extreme and explore low-light photography with very rich detail in the blacks, for example. It is tricky, though, to shoot for SDR and HDR distribution at the same time. The viewing experience is vastly different, especially in extreme lighting scenarios, like very low light or very bright scenes.

Nightflyers

Exploring larger, high-resolution sensors, gives me more freedom when capturing extreme lighting conditions and preserving natural detail the way my eyes see it. Shooting with the right combination of low-contrast lenses with a high-resolution sensor gives me very natural detail in actors’ eyes. It is amazing how much of the performance can be seen in the eyes, when projected properly in 4K.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I think it is most important to create an environment of respectful and polite collaboration between all departments and crewmembers. Filmmaking is a team discipline and it shows if you listen to your crew’s input. I always try to listen closely to the director’s vision and find the right cinematic techniques to realize that vision.

However, following a storyboard or preplanned ideas step by step leads to a sterile movie, in my opinion. It is important to be prepared, but it is crucial to watch the actors carefully on the day and react to the rehearsal. The best days are the ones on which I was surprised by the performance of the actors in a way that inspired me to change the planned blocking and get to the core of the scene in a simple and elegant way.

I like to be surprised (in a good way) by the end results. There’s nothing more boring to me than watching dailies and having the images turn out exactly the way I imagined it beforehand. There is a richness in life that is hard to create in front of the camera, but it is always my goal to strive for that.

Nightflyers

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It is great to get involved early on and start bouncing ideas back and forth with the director. Each collaboration is different, and it’s great to work with a director who trusts you and values your input, but I also love working with directors who have a very strong vision and have developed their own visual style over the years.

Tell us about Nightflyers. How would you describe the overarching look of the series pilot? Is there an example of a scene in the pilot that emphasizes this?
Nightflyers is a story about a spaceship and its crew on a very exciting mission to the edge of the solar system. The ship has very dark secrets that are revealed bit by bit. Director Mike Cahill and I focused on creating a specific atmosphere that is scary and leaves room for the audience’s imagination. It was important to us to avoid sci-fi clichés and rather focus on the characters and the way they experience the events on the ship.

The memory suite is an interesting example. It is a room that allows the crew to relive memories in a very visual way. The room by its design looks almost hostile. The first memory we experience, however, is very emotional, portraying the main character’s daughter. Mike was very specific with composition of these shots to create a sense of visual déjà vu, something we explored on a previous feature.

The framing of D’Branin’s character inside the memory suite and inside his memory is exactly the same. We replicated camera moves and used the same focal lengths. Every movement of the actors in the memory was staged, so we could recreate the same shots inside the spherical memory suite. At some point, the barrier between memory and reality starts to dissolve, and the contrast of the cold ship and the content of the memory start to collide in an interesting and scary way.

Nightflyers

How early did you get involved in the production?
Mike Cahill brought up the project quite early, and we flew to Ireland for an initial scout. The team there was fantastic, and everyone from the producers and network’s side wanted to create something really special. Production designer David Sandefur and his team designed amazing sets that gave us great flexibility to come up with interesting shots. This collaboration early on was crucial, as we integrated all the lighting into the ship. It had to be versatile enough to allow for different lighting scenarios for multiple episodes. My gaffer James McGuire did a fantastic job integrating miles of LED light strips. In the end, we could control it from his iPad, which would allow for last-minute tweaks without slowing down the shooting day for the actors and director.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for Nightflyers?
For me, it usually starts with the lens. Mike and I love the claustrophobic look you can achieve with anamorphic lenses in small contained spaces, like a spaceship. We tested a small number of lenses that would give us the desired qualities, and we decided that Panavision’s C-Series lenses would be the right choice for this. Also, I have shot many projects on Red cameras over the years, starting back on the Red-MX sensor. I had tested the Monstro 8K VV sensor from Red and felt it would open up many opportunities with its larger sensor size and incredible sensitivity.

Panavision’s Michael Cioni showed me the latest advances in the DXL camera, and I was sold when I saw how well it sits on your shoulder. We shot a lot of handheld on the pilot and contrasted it with some smooth Steadicam and gimbal shots. The ability to shoot large format and capture amazing images in low light were key for us. We employed Panavision’s DXL and a Red DSMC2 camera with the Monstro 8K VV sensor for tight spaces and lightweight rigs.

Nightflyers

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of?
Shooting the scenes in the biodome was quite challenging. The spaceship is carrying several cargo domes — one of them is a biodome with living trees and a small forest inside. The domes are spinning around the ship’s center to create artificial gravity. We shot the majority in a nearby forest and some shots on stage. To connect the biodome structure with the forest, our art department built an elevator exit and airlock in the forest. The scenes in the dome take place during the day close to earth. We tested many options for lighting, but I found it most interesting to shoot the scenes at night and light them with strong daylight sources to convey the illusion of being in space during the day.

The little atmosphere in the biodome would make the sky outside the windows appear black, yet the inside would be flooded with light. In order to convey the spinning motion of the domes, we mounted a 9K HMI on a telescopic crane and moved it constantly in a circular pattern. This caused the shadows in the forest to move around. It was quite an astonishing experience to be in that forest at night and hear all the birds chirping because they must have thought it was day all of the sudden.

What’s your go-to gear that you can’t live without?
I try to be open to new gear, and I like to mix things up quite a bit from project to project. I find it hard though to go back to shooting Super 35-sized sensors, after working with the Red DSMC2 Monstro; it hits quite a sweet spot between sensor size, resolution and compact size.


Review: Zylight’s IS3 LED lights

By Brady Betzel

I see a lot of footage from all over the world captured on all sorts of cameras and shot in good and bad lighting conditions. Besides camera types and lenses, proper lighting is consistently an area that needs the most attention.

If you troll around YouTube, you will see all sorts of lighting tutorials (some awful, but some outstanding) — some tutorials offer rundowns on what lighting you can get for your budget, from the clamp-style garage lights with LED bulbs that can be purchased at your local Lowe’s, a standard three-piece lighting kit, or even the ever-trendy Kino Flo lights. There are so many choices it’s hard to know what you should be looking at or even why you are choosing things like LED over tungsten or fluorescent.

In this review, I am going to go over the Zylight IS3/c LED light. The “c” in IS3/c stands for the Chimera softbox, which can be purchased with the light.

Recently, I have really been interested in lighting, and a few months back Zylight sent me the IS3/c to try out. Admittedly, I am not a world-famous DP or photographer with extensive experience in lighting. I know my way around a mid-level lighting setup and can get my way through a decent-looking three-light setup, so my apologies if I don’t touch on the difference between the daylight and tungsten foot candle output. Not that footcandles are not interesting subjects, but those can take a while to figure out and are probably best left to a good Lynda.com tutorial, or better yet a physics class on optics and lighting like the one I took in college.

Diving In
The Zylight IS3/c comes with the light head itself, Yoke bar with 5/8-inch baby pin-adapter, some knobs and washers, AC adapter and hanging pouch, safety cable, guide and the Chimera softbox (if you purchased the IS3/c package). Before reading the manual, which would have been the proper thing to do, I immediately opened the box and plugged in the light. It lit up the whole interior of my house at night — think Christmas Vacation when Clark plugged in the Christmas lights (good movie). I saw, in one second, how I could immediately paint a wall (or all of my walls) with the IS3.

The beauty of LED lights is that they are typically lightweight and some can reproduce any color you can dream of while staying cool to the touch. So I wanted to see if I could paint a 15-foot wall chromakey green. With little effort I switched into color mode by flipping the rocker switch on the back of the light, turned the Hue knob until I hit green, and adjusted the saturation to 100% to try and literally paint my wall green with light. It was pretty incredible and dead simple.

The IS3 has a 90-degree beam angle on center with a 120-degree beam angle total (I found multiple specs on this like 95/115-degree beam angle, so this is approximate), has a power consumption of 220 watts max, can be purchased in black and white and is made in the USA. The IS3 has two presets for white light and two presets for color. In white mode the IS3 can output any color temperature between 2500K and 10,000K. The Kelvin range is adjusted in 50K steps. Because LEDs are known for giving off a green tint, there is an adjustment knob to lower or raise the green adjustment. There is also a dimmer knob that allows for dimming with little color shift. In color mode, there are three adjustments: hue, saturation and dimming.

One of the big features among IS3 lights, and Zylight lights in general, is the built-in wireless transmitter that can talk to the Zylink bridge and Zylink iOs app. You can link multiple lights together and control them simultaneously. With the iOs app you can set hue values and even color presets like crossfade, strobe, police and flame. You can run the Zylight by either the AC adapter or rechargeable battery. The outside of the light is built sturdy with a rubberized front and a metal back that doubles as heat dissipation as well. In addition to the Zylink wireless connection, you can use the DMX connection to connect to and control the Zylight.

In the end, the Zylight IS3/c is the soft light as well as wall wash light that I’ve been dreaming of. I was even thinking I could use the IS3 as Christmas lights. I could get a couple IS3s to paint the house red and green.

The Zylight is as easy to configure as any light I have ever used; unfortunately the price doesn’t match its ease of use. It’s pricey. The IS3/c is currently listed on Adorama.com for $2,699, and just the IS3 is $2,389. But you get what you pay for — it’s a professional light that will run 50,000 hours without needing calibration, it weighs 11 pounds and measures 18.5” x 10.75” x 1.9” — and you will most likely not need to replace this light.

If you run a stage show and need to control multiple lights with multiple color combinations quickly, the Zylink wireless bridge and iOs app may be just for you.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.


Rotolight Anova Pro LEDs shipping with updated feature set

The Anova Pro, from British LED lighting company Rotolight, is now shipping with an enhanced feature set for use in studios and on location. Featuring five patented effects, the Anova Pro includes CineSFX, which provides customizable cinematic lighting, including common effects like fire, lightning, TV, film, neon and spark simulation, and more novel effects, such as police, paparazzi and gunshot visual effects. CineSFX can now be used with a wired remote trigger for wireless as well.

The light also includes FX Slave, enabling CineSFX effects to be slaved to up to 512 third-party light sources in realtime with zero latency; True Aperture Dimming, which calculates and displays F-stop for a subject at a given distance; Designer Fade, which provides custom fade up/down production effects; and High Speed Sync Flash, providing a powerful HSS flash with zero recycle time at 150 percent of the maximum continuous light output for traditional photographic workflows.

DP Roy H. Wagner, ASC, on set, with the Rotolight, and his dog!

Recently, DP Roy H. Wagner, ASC, (Ray Donovan, Elementary, House) met a long-term goal using a Rotolight system. “I’ve often spoken of simplicity of image creation and had wished to do a feature with just one light and one lens. Of course, this seldom happens, but I was given the encouragement to do just that on an independent feature, Trouble Sleeping. I chose the Rotolight system to pursue this goal for it had proven to me that it could accurately reproduce the color and power that I needed.

“It survived the rough handling of the everyday professional production crews who have very little time to ‘baby’ any equipment, and it was easily controllable from the back of the unit or from my iPhone,” he continues. “LED lighting is also very tough on actors’ eyes, but Rotolight has found a way of filtering that notch of blue wavelength that is harsh and difficult on the eyes. My crew was also pleased with how easily controlled and mounted the units are.”


Review: Polaroid’s GoPro 3-way stabilizer and 350 LED light

By Brady Betzel

We’ve all seen the trend: technology has started to take off exponentially and give everyday people access to professional-level equipment and software for semi-affordable prices. It also allows professionals to capture images in a way they might not have considered in the past.

For example, you can buy a GoPro Hero4 and create your own stunning timelapses in 4K, or even add dramatic lighting to your independent Etsy-style boutique iPhone photos for a few hundred bucks. Something I find infinitely valuable is the ability to watch other people’s successes, failures and instruction on YouTube for free. What I’m trying to say is that with a few affordable pieces of production gear, you can take average looking footage or stills to the next level.

A few months ago I saw a press release for a 3-axis GoPro gimbal and a high-powered, dimmable LED light made by, of all companies, Polaroid! I was immediately interested, mainly because I chase my sons around with a GoPro and get shaky footage that makes my professional video editor brain cringe — don’t even get me started on the lighting!
Polaroid was nice enough to send over some sample products that I have started to fall in love with — not only for the technology they pack but for the price they sell for.

Stabilizing Your GoPro
Up first in this two product review is the Polaroid Handheld 3-Axis Electronic Gimbal Stabilizer for GoPro Hero 3/3+/4 Action cameras. For months I had seen examples of gimbal stabilizers for the GoPro, but was always left second-guessing an over-$300 price tag for an accessory that was basically the same price as the main camera itself. Then I saw that Polaroid’s stabilizer cost $180 (with free shipping on Amazon) and realized that this technology wasn’t out of my price range anymore.

I opened the slick packaging and charged the three proprietary batteries for an hour. I was pleasantly surprised that I was ready to fly around. To strap your camera to the stabilizer there are two options: with the GoPro LCD Bacpac attached or without the LCD Bacpac. It’s a little clunky to outfit your stabilizer for the GoPro without the Bacpac (i.e. the GoPro Hero 4 with built in LCD), but once you are thumb-screwed into place, your camera isn’t going anywhere. One thing I learned was that you must start the stabilizer on a level surface like a tabletop. So place it on the handle on a level surface, push the power button on the handle and let the stabilizer balance itself for a second or two.

Putting the GoPro on the stabilizer wasn’t as easy as I thought it should have been, but it only took 10 minutes, so not all that life-altering. In addition, strapping the GoPro to the stabilizer is a semi-permanent thing, as it involves thumbscrews. On the bottom of the stabilizer there is a threaded ¼-inch mount that can be used to attach to a tripod or monopod. I even tried it out on a tripod, using two of the legs as my fulcrum points and creating a pseudo jib to get some real long and smooth tilts with the GoPro and it was pretty fun.

I had both a GoPro 3 and 4 lying around so I tried both, and they fit snugly. One complaint I had was that the ring used to secure the GoPro to the stabilizer goes around the lens and feels real tight — I had to twist and turn to get it on which left me feeling like I might rip my lens off — but it is definitely secure when it is screwed on. Don’t get me wrong, I love this thing and I would be hard pressed to find anything in the GoPro Hero 3/4 stabilizer category that is so low priced.

To test it out I told my son Atticus to get on his bike and ride. I ran after him with little to no training other than spinning around the garage a little bit. You can check it out on YouTube.

I started off walking but then picked up speed and ran a little (if you call that running). With GoPro videos, you definitely get better quality footage with good lighting and as little bouncing around as possible. The more stable your footage the less work the compression has to do, which basically means better detail and color fidelity in your video.

It doesn’t take long to get a handle on the 3-axis electronic stabilizer; it just takes a little practice time and patience to get the moves and footage you want. You’ll find out which ways the gimbal will and, more importantly, will not go when it starts to shake and go a little crazy (not limited to just this Polaroid stabilizer). This is a great accessory for anyone using GoPros in their work, and at under 10 inches long it can fit in a backpack when you go hiking! It gives you a real smooth and epic feel to your otherwise shaky action footage, and like I said, for $180 it’s a great price.

Dimmable Super Bright LED
Up next is the Polaroid 350 High-Powered Variable Dimmable Super Bright LED Light with Barn Door. After I played with the GoPro gimbal I saw that Polaroid also made lighting equipment that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and could really pump up my iPhoneography. What really got me thinking was the cold shoe adapters on top of my iPhone iOgrapher. The iOgrapher is a way to help stabilize your iPhone footage while adding options like tripod mounts, cold shoe adapters for accessories and even handles to even out your shaky footage. So why not use the iOgrapher mounts with the Polaroid 350 to make some stunning footage?

good lighting shotIf you’ve ever shot video or stills with your iPhone you know that you can get some incredible images. With the right lighting and stabilization, you can achieve looks that rival many professionally shot television shows airing today.

Earlier I mentioned an Etsy-like photo, and I really meant that you could bring your photos and video up to a pro level with just the addition of lighting. My wife recently got a lot of people asking her to make hair bows and bowties, so she opened an Etsy store. She had been taking photos with her iPhone 6s+ and they were good, but when we created a DIY lightbox (from instructions we found on Pinterest) and added the Polaroid 350 light her pictures really started to get that professional feel.

It was truly amazing at how improved the quality and most of all the color fidelity was just from using a little light. You can check out her Etsy store.

The Polaroid 350 is very easy to use. Inside the box you will find the physical light head, two lithium-ion type batteries (think older Sony camcorder batteries), a dual battery charger, swivel head mounting adapter, barn door with diffusion filter, carrying case, AC & DC adapter, UK- and EU-style plug adapters and a little manual. I let the batteries charge overnight, put them both on the back of the light and began lighting my wife’s bows and bowties.

I immediately noticed some lines on my wife’s pictures; it looked like something out of “Stranger Things” was going on. So I quickly ran out of the house… well, maybe not, but we added the diffusion and noticed a drastic diminishment of the line pattern. Later when we created the DIY lightbox with some tissue paper as diffusion we noticed the light pattern disappeared. We played around with the rotary knob that let us smoothly change the color temperature from a warm 3200 degrees Kelvin up to a cool 5600 degrees Kelvin, and the flicker-free LED brightness that goes from 10% up to 100%. Other than that the Polaroid light was an awesome way to add a level of professionalism to our iPhone footage and stills for $160.

There are a few other versions of this light offered by Polaroid, like one with an LCD monitor on the back to see the exact color temperature and battery-life left but you also pay an extra $20. There are a few versions under the $160 price tag, but a dual-battery operated light is really key when doing a lot of work without the want or need to stop a shoot and swap out batteries. I do wish I had two more lights to create a three-point lighting set-up!

Summing Up
In the end, I was really impressed with both of Polaroid’s products that I was testing, the Polaroid 350 LED light and the Polaroid Electronic GoPro 3-way Stabilizer. I was even more impressed with the prices!

The stabilizer really adds a smooth high-level production value to the GoPro. It is simple to set up, easy to use and with practice you will get some amazing GoPro shots. The Polaroid 350 LED light with variable color temperature and brightness along with dual battery ports really makes a shot jump off the screen. If you’ve never used external lighting in your shots before, now is the time.

Pick yourself up a Polaroid 350 LED Light — it is a portable, dimmable and lightweight LED powered light that will relieve the strain on your camera and give you more flexibility in post production (your colorist will thank you).

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.