Project: Hearts on Fire Director: Alan Chebot
DP: Peter Simonite
DIT: David Kruta
Shortly after wrapping on Fairhaven, I had the opportunity and privilege to yet again work with DP Peter Simonite, under the leadership of Director Alan Chebot of Parallax Productions. Alan tasked us with slowing down time for Hearts on Fire, and we jumped into the project eagerly.
The concept of the spot explores the hard work needed to reach perfection - we see a figure skater practicing day in and day out, persevering until she accomplishes a difficult move perfectly. It represents the journey of a diamond from a rough stone in the ground to a perfectly cut sparkling gem, worthy of carrying the name Hearts on Fire.
From the very beginning, it was obvious that the only way we could get the slow motion footage at the quality Alan wanted was to shoot Phantom. Luckily, many things fell into place at the right time, and we found ourselves on the ice less than two weeks later, with a brand new Phantom Flex and a figure skater who could nail every move over and over with precision and grace.
Below, Director Alan Chebot and DP Peter Simonite discuss the next setup.
Running and gunning with the Sony F3 and Canon 5D
We had the privilege of being the first production to use their brand new Sony PMW-F3L, Sony’s answer to the AF-100, and I presume, RED. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to spend as much time with the camera as I would have liked, so this is more of a first-impressions report instead of a review.
Our camera package was provided by Rule Boston Camera. We used a Sony PMW-F3L, an Optimo 24-290 zoom and Cinedeck Extreme recorder, supported by the O’Connor 2575 head and Fisher 10 dolly (dolly supplied by High Output).
More or less, the camera struck me as an EX1/EX3 with a big chip and a proper PL lens mount. Much of the buttons and menus would be familiar to those experienced with the EX series. Another drawback of using it so early on is that Sony has not yet released their firmware update, which would have enabled both S-log and proper dual link HD-SDI outputs. We recorded single link HD-SDI to ProRes 422 HQ on the Cinedeck Extreme. Without thorough testing, my guess is that dynamic range is somewhere around 11 stops. This is mostly a guess comparing the image to my experience with RED and Alexa. Overall, I was not too impressed with the camera - for the price, I expected to see something more impressive than what is effectively a dSLR in a real body with an HD-SDI spigot. I’m reserving my judgement on this camera until the updated firmware is released, as I felt that there was a lot of potential that we were unable to explore.
In addition, we shot with two Canon 5Ds and a Canon 7D as rotating B-camera. We had a Lensbaby Control Freak on the first 5D, a Canon 24-70mm 2.8L on the second and a Canon 24mm 1.4L on the 7D, which I was using for overcranked shots. This was my first time using a Lensbaby, and was by far my favorite lens to work with as it provided a unique and different look that helped differentiate my footage from Peter’s on the F3. Yet again, these “cheap” little cameras proved to be a formidable match to a much more expensive system.
Below is our rig from Day 2, providing video village with monitoring, and getting some longer lens closeups with the Canon 70-200 2.8L IS.
Our first day was not without its hiccups, but we managed to solve them quickly and gracefully, and ended up with tons of footage. I’m looking forward to using the F3 again so I can really put it through its paces, and hopefully by then it will have the updated firmware.
Finding perfection with the Phantom Flex
Prior to the shoot, I met with Alan and the rest of the Parallax team to discuss Phantom workflow, both on set and in post. The first thing to note is that it’s not a cinema camera, so a lot changes in the normal flow of the set. It’s constantly recording, so no one calls “Roll camera!” - you just cut (or trigger) once the action ends. Most of the time, it’s so quick that no one calls “Cut!” either. Once the camera had been triggered, we usually played back the take to make sure we got what we wanted. I would trim, send to the Cinemag, and we would be ready to go again.
Hoping to relieve post of some heavy computing work and dealing with the raw Cine files, we decided to output to an external recorder: the Cinedeck Extreme. Originally we had planned to record dual link HD-SDI to ProRes4444 to give the colorist the most room with which to work, but it became apparent after the first take that the SSD in the recorder couldn’t handle such data rates. We switched to ProRes422 HQ and kept rolling.
We worked closely with David Kudrowitz of Rule to work through technical concerns on the Phantom Flex and Cinedeck. Both devices require a bit of TLC to get working right, but Dave and I were able to test and prepare for any situation we might encounter, and created backup plans as well in case anything went down or didn’t work as expected.
Overall, the Phantom Flex offers many benefits over the HD Gold, which I welcomed. It features a High Quality (HQ) mode, which reduces the need for constant black balancing, and let us spend more time shooting. When I did have to black balance, its internal shutter would close, and seconds later we would be ready to go. In addition, the menus are simpler and the buttons are more intuitive - or at least, less confusing.
If you need to shoot on a Super35 sized sensor at speeds greater than 60fps, the Flex would be my go-to camera in a heartbeat. The footage was stunning, workflow was relatively painless, and everyone was able to walk away happy.
It was an absolute pleasure working with the Parallax Productions team and our amazing crew. I’ll post the final commercial once it’s released.
Below, some more photos from the shoot: