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Sidewalk Traffic, The Little Film with a Big Heart

Posted on by David Kruta

Sidewalk Traffic centers around Declan Martin, a struggling filmmaker coming to terms with becoming a stay-at-home dad. Played by the gifted actor Johnny Hopkins, we see his day to day battle with the forces out of his control that intend to squash his dreams of becoming a director, all the while faced with responsibilities at home that he does not want to shirk.

Loosely based on the experiences of director Anthony Fisher, Sidewalk Traffic is at its heart a story about family, love and the American dream. Set in New York City, one cannot deny the juxtaposition - what once was the symbol of pursuit of dreams now serves as the backdrop to this poignant story.

As a cinematographer, I could not have asked for a better project with which to be involved. Under the open-minded guidance of Anthony, coupled with the guiding hand and logistical prowess of producer Robyn K Bennett, it was smooth sailing from the onset. We very quickly developed a language, leading to an incredibly smooth shot-listing process and the setting of visual rules, and rolled right into production with a plan that allowed both efficiency and inspiration.

One of the facets of cinematography that I think about most is the idea of perspective. Although we have a job of lighting and photographing performances and spaces, we have a responsibility to not just document, but to guide the audience where it is necessary. In our conversations about perspective, we wanted to feel like we were in the head of Declan. His character is constantly being rejected, and we wanted to make the world feel distant and disconnected. We wanted to feel like we were there with him along for the ride.

To achieve this very cerebral and personal feeling, I set out looking for the widest lenses possible. To me, perspective is overwhelmingly a lens choice - short focal lengths used for closeups distort the foreground, and make the background feel like it is a million miles away. The choices were narrowed down to Zeiss Ultra Primes and Cooke S4s, both of which have a comprehensive selection of wide lenses. I initially leaned towards the Zeiss lenses, because of the cooler color palette we were aiming for, and because there are a few more at the wider end: the 8R and 12mm, to name a couple. Unfortunately, we would need different matteboxes to employ the wider Zeisses, as they have much larger fronts than the longer lenses. This would have a butterfly effect on both our schedule and budget, so I elected to go with the Cooke S4s, choosing a 4-lens set composed of a 14mm, 18mm, 25mm and 32mm provided by Mike Nichols at Abel Cine. 

An interesting tidbit on depth of field and focal lengths - there seems to be a common misconception that wider lenses inherently have a deeper depth of field, and longer lenses are shallower. This makes sense until you consider that wide lenses are more often used for wide shots, where everything is in focus, and long lenses are often used for closeups, where the subject is the only thing in focus. When you match the field of view, the depth of field is equal (assuming all other factors, such as sensor size and T-stop) are equal. With this in mind, I often placed my camera mere inches from an actors face, and with a 14mm lens, you can see the world around them, but they are in a closeup shot.

I had the pleasure and privilege of working with a wonderful crew as well. Production Designer Muhammed Dagman, Costume Designer Saffuyah Fattin and Makeup Artist Guillherme Junquiera were excellent collaborators. From the start, we had an idea of a color palette emphasizing greens and purples, so Muhammed would put green and purple sheets on the bed, and Saffiyah would dress Dalia, Declan’s loving wife (played brilliantly by Erin Darke) in purple dresses and green shirts. Guilly and I would take a moment during downtime to test what certain lipsticks would look like on camera. Small examples of a greater effort, but the attention to detail is what made this movie what it is.

In addition, my long-time 2nd Assistant Camera, Jeff Clanet, stepped into the role of 1st AC for the first time on a feature. Anyone who has ever worked with me can say that I don’t like the use of marks and measuring for focus - I tolerate it. There is a beauty in shots that are technical and executed perfectly, but to me there is a greater beauty in the organic nature of feeling the actors perform and using the space to the betterment of the film. Since Sidewalk Traffic was entirely shot handheld, and with actors given rough notes for blocking, it was to both my surprise and delight when Jeff would nail focus on take after take, whether crammed in narrow hallways or running down a sidewalk. This film was so much about reacting to what the characters did that marks were not only impossible, but would ultimately become a burden. Jeff took this in stride and since has gone on to be 1st AC on a great deal of projects.

Coming from a DIT background, one of the most important aspects of capturing the image is not only to get optimal exposure for post, but also to create a look on set that will be carried through the edit and color grade. It’s extremely important for me that the director sees at all times as close to the final look possible that I intend for the piece. Having the luxury of a DIT on set that can grade in real-time and distribute close to final images to the monitors and dailies is incredible, but on indie films I have turned towards the use of in-camera LUTs to emulate what is, in essence, a modern-day film stock. We shot on the RED Epic, and I was able to go out and shoot a few test shots with one of our crew members in direct sun, overcast sky and nighttime scenarios. I pulled the footage into RedCine-X and built a basic look that boosted the greens in the midtones and purples in the shadows, along with a slight increase in overall contrast. Combined with the production and costume design, and serendipitous location choices, our imagery on set was met with pleased reactions, leading to renewed energy and inspiration for the following days.

I was not able to do a proper DI test prior to the film, but having shot on Epic so many times before, I’ve learned that a small amount of underexposure, along with taking extra care to protect highlights in certain situations, leads to wonderfully dense images that are full of life. My base exposure hovered around ½ to 1 stop under, which in my opinion, brings skintones to life and creates deep, rich blacks. As long as you’re not pushing the image, it takes on a filmic quality, and although digital has yet to rival film, it is becoming quite close.

We lit with a very small G&E package, which consisted of a Spider-light, a softbox in which sit 6 100 watt Edison soft-frost bulbs, an Arri 150 watt Fresnel, and a small complement of solids and diffusion. The entirety of our daylight scenes were shot with available light, slightly modified, and our night scenes consisted of the Spider, Pepper and a couple of 150 watt bare bulbs. The only scene with additional lighting was our nighttime exterior, where Declan shares a moment with his neighbor, in which we used a 1k Open Face to mimic a street lamp. With no gels to work with, the sodium-vapor look was achieved in post.

For the final grade, we worked with Colorist Andrew Francis with Sixteen19. We were incredibly lucky to grade on their Davinci Resolve system in front of a 60’ screen at Steiner Studios. I owe the final look of this film to Andrew and the wonderful folks at Sixteen19, who made the experience smooth and pleasant. Andrew took my ideas and turned them into a film that exceeded my expectations. Andrew comes from a telecine background, but quickly adopted RGB offset corrections for feature film to maintain a more filmic approach.. Due to deadlines, our DI took place in 4 days, a rapid pace for a feature film, and it turned out looking stunning. He also happens to be a kind and inspiring person and I, and with this film, were lucky to have his contribution.

Indie film is alive and well, and this is a project that proves it. I am incredibly grateful to everyone that participated and contributed in making this the little movie that could.

Sidewalk Traffic premieres at 9pm, Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at Sunshine Cinema, 143 E Houston St, New York, NY, 10002. For more info and tickets, please visit the following link:
http://www.lesfilmfestival.com/schedule/2014/6/18/tough-love-night-9pm-feature-sidewalk-traffic#

Keep up to date with Sidewalk Traffic at sidewalktrafficmovie.com

International Cinematographers Guild Selects 18th Annual Emerging Cinematographer Awardees

Posted on by David Kruta

The International Cinematographers Guild (ICG, IATSE Local 600) has named eight honorees and two honorable mentions for its 18th annual Emerging Cinematographer Awards (ECA). The ten short films will be premiered at the Directors Guild of America Theater in Los Angeles on September 28. A New York premiere will follow on October 26 at the School of Visual Arts.

The honorees, selected from almost 90 submissions, are Frank Buono, Camera Operator, whose film is 1982; Devin Doyle, 1st AC (Lancaster Stomp); George Feucht, Camera Operator (Une Libération); Sidarth Kantamneni, Camera Operator (Saerto Ena); Kyle Klütz, 1st AC who was also an honoree last year (Sequence); David Kruta, Digital Imaging Technician (Wallace); Bartosz Nalazek, Preview System (Making a Scene: Forest Whitaker) and Greta Zozula. Camera Assistant (Immaculate Reception).

The honorable mentions are Chris Heinrich, 1st AC (Sure Thing) and David Jean Schweitzer, Camera Operator (Good Luck, Mr. Gorski).

The purpose of the ECA is to nurture talent within the Guild and to give promising cinematographers the crucial exposure they need to succeed in the motion picture industry.

 The ECA is open to any member of the Guild who is not already classified as Director of Photography. Members are asked to submit films they have photographed with a running time of 30 minutes or less. The ICG is the only organization in the entertainment industry that offers its up-and-coming members the opportunity to be recognized and the chance to further their careers.

The films are selected by a panel of ICG members from across the country.

Steven Poster, ASC, president of the ICG said, “These 10 aspiring Directors of Photography truly represent the future talent in our industry. Each of the films that they helped to create is an example of inspiring and creative cinematography. They also demonstrate a mastery of the new technical skills required by our craft. Our judges had a difficult time choosing the winners from the high number of entries this year. These films without a doubt are extraordinary achievements and deserve the recognition they will receive at this year's Emerging Cinematographer Awards.”

Jim Matlosz, who has been chairman of the Guild’s ECA committee since 2008, added, “Once again we had a great turn-out for submissions to the ECA.  And again our members have proven their talent.  It seems as though we always have more great films than we do winners. This means we usually have about 20 top films that all come very close in numbers and votes, culminating with the 10 we choose based solely on judges’ votes.”

Sponsors of this year’s event include Canon USA Inc., Tiffen, Technicolor, Sony Electronics, ARRI, Zeiss, K5600, Kodak, Lite Panels, Panavision, Aadyn Technology, Blackmagicdesign, AbleCine, Assimilate, Band Pro, LumaForge, Birns & Sawyer, Chimera Lighting, The Rag Place, Cinelease, Clairmont Camera, Illumination Dynamics, JL Fisher, KinoFlo, Light Iron, Mole-Richardson, Rosco, Sekonic, Sim Digital, Matthews Studio Equipment.

About the International Cinematographers Guild:

The International Cinematographers Guild (IATSE Local 600) represents more than 7,000 members who work in film, television and commercials as Directors of Photography, Camera Operators, Visual Effects Supervisors, Still Photographers, Camera Assistants, Film Loaders, all members of camera crews and Publicists. The first cinematographers union was established in New York in 1926, followed by unions in Los Angeles and Chicago, but it wasn’t until 1996 that Local 600 was born as a national guild. ICG’s ongoing activities include the Emerging Cinematographer Awards and the Publicists Awards Luncheon. The Guild also publishes the award-winning ICG Magazine. www.cameraguild.com.

Parallax Blog: Three Weeks into the Future

Posted on by David Kruta

“Would you mind jumping in and reading the Tarot Card Reader’s line with these guys?”  Director Alan Chebot asked the red-haired young lady behind the camera at our casting session. That question proved serendipitous. From over 25 women who came in to read, it was Courtland Jones, the assistant casting agent, who rose to the top as the obvious choice for our lead actress… and she wasn’t even there to audition! With casting complete, we had exactly three weeks from the day the elaborate concept was given the green light until delivery of an epic mini-movie.  It was a Parallax land-speed record, so a little serendipity was welcome.

Collaborating with agency Mechanica, we were excited to bring PTC’s vision of the future of products and manufacturing to life.  The brainchild of Creative Directors Jim Garaventi and Ted Jendrysik, the concept centered on a business executive visiting an alluring fortune-teller to find out the “keys to the future”…But did he actually visit her?  You be the judge.

DP, Dave Kruta, checks the shot as Courtland and Sean rehearse on the parking garage set

To give the piece a cinematic look, we chose the Red Epic Camera with our own Canon C300 as B-camera. Our Art Director was quickly combing shops for candelabras and woven tapestries to create the rich, layered look of a fortuneteller’s lair. Our Wardrobe Stylist was on the hunt for funky antique jewelry and gypsy garb. Three Location Scouts scoured the Boston area for manufacturing facilities open to the idea of a film crew invading their space. Everyone dove right in and did their part. And, voila! We were ready to roll by 6:00am on the first of two long days of filming.

Alan steps in to direct Courtland while at the manufacturing facility

If you’ve ever been to the Commander’s Mansion in Watertown, you know any room there would make an ideal setting for a tarot card-reading session… and it did. Then, day two took the cast, crew and clients from a factory building in Mansfield up to PTC’s headquarters in Needham for the three remaining scenes. In each setting the original tarot card-reading table needed to be recreated…continuity was vital. In all, we moved the entire operation to five locations over two days, and each worked seamlessly with the vision. The stars just seemed to align.

Creative Director Ted Jendrysik, Director Alan Chebot and Script Supervisor Joan Ganon stand by as Courtland reads the cards to actor Sean McPherson

Courtland helped move things along by nailing her lines and hitting her mark on every take. She even threw the tarot cards down on the same spot, take after take, which thrilled our AC-focus-puller! The film was directed by Alan Chebot, and lensed by Director of Photography David Kruta. Rob Engel designed the set and Team Parallax’s Tara Haggett, and Taylor Wieluns produced.

DP Dave and Director Alan "see into the future" to align the perfect shot

Upon wrap, we had the goods to take back to our editing suite at Parallax where Editor Cameron Femino put together an intriguing and beautiful piece. “See The Future” had its debut at PTC Live Global 2013 to rave reviews…and it all happened in three weeks!

Watch the final "See the Future" spot below.

Read the full article on the Parallax Blog here.