Shooting Alexa for Remember Your Death, a short film by Greg Croteau

Writer/Director: Greg Croteau Director of Photography: David Kruta

Remember Your Death is the story of three men hired to clean up after a banker's bloody shotgun suicide. In a brisk, macabre and witty thirteen pages we meet John, the young boss; Joe, the dim-witted second-in-command and Tom, the fifty-something former white-collar contractor whose first day back on the job finds him face-to-face with more blood than he could ever imagine, a second decomposing body, and an irate widow whose entire life has been a lie.


Interestingly enough, I met Greg via Twitter - this was the first time social networking had not only connected me with another filmmaker, but actually led to shooting something. I mention this because social networking was such an integral part of making this shoot happen - much of the budget was raised via Kickstarter, which was promoted by friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter and other Internet-based avenues.

Greg and I prepared extensively for this project - we discussed in depth the look and feel that would do justice to the story. Each scene was meticulously storyboarded, and we spent several days with my 7D scouting locations and planning out each shot. Since the budget was so low, we could not be too prepared come shoot day. We also spent a lot of time discussing mood, and gathered a collection of images from various films and photographers that eventually became a multi-page mood board.


When the project was first described to me, one thing that struck me was the description of colors: white on white on white. Characters would be dressed in white in a house painted white, filled with white furniture and lit with white light. The only contrast would be the scarlet blood adorning the bedroom. Having recently worked with the ARRI Alexa on several projects, I instantly knew we would have to use it. Greg had had experience with the Red One MX before, and mentioned the idea of using it, but I was convinced that to be able to not only be able to achieve the fine differences in all the whites on the screen, but to also be able to expose properly, we would need a sensor with enough range to capture that detail.


Another aspect of the look we were trying to achieve was isolation of the character Tom, and Greg wanted this to be accomplished with the use of shallow focus. Taking other aspects into consideration, such as our low budget (meaning a meager lighting package), we decided to use Zeiss MKIII SuperSpeed lenses, which at a T1.3 across the range, would allow us to reach insanely shallow visuals. 1st AC Jeff Melanson was not happy with this decision, but he nailed the focus regardless.


With the Alexa and SuperSpeeds locked, we could afford to take more risks with lighting, and I pushed for a very natural look. Our lighting package consisted of two ARRI M18 1800w HMIs and a small, assorted Kino kit. Gaffer Jordan Parrott also brought along a Joker 400 w/ Bugabeam adapter, which came in handy to mimic the hard edge of sunrise for closeups. However, this ended up becoming more of a grip-show: many setups involved little to no lighting, focusing instead on modifying and shaping the existing light coming in through the windows. A significant amount of negative fill was used to achieve contrast, and we would see entire walls and floors covered in duvetyne.


I rated the camera at 800 ASA to achieve the most balanced results, but did move this around in certain situations. Outdoor daytime shots were typically at 400 or 500 ASA, although we did go as low as 160 ASA to compensate for a shortage of ND filters. Nighttime and low-light was a bit more interesting - I’ve found that shadows actually look nicer when you shoot at 1250 or 1600 ASA. Switching to a higher ASA moves the sensor’s middle grey point up, actually giving you more latitude in the shadows - for example, this helped us light entire scenes with nothing but flashlights. There were a few surprises for all of us as well - a couple shots were lit with one or two Kino bulbs bounced through Light Grid. Jordan was reading less than f/1.0 on his light meter, and would constantly come to me amazed that we were actually picking up detail. If there’s one thing this camera does well, is that it sees more than the naked eye can.


Remember Your Death involved a fair amount of VFX work as well. An integral part of the story is an attic above the bedroom where the banker committed suicide, but unfortunately we could not find a suitable location that had a trap door to an attic. The decision was made to shoot in a bedroom without this feature, and shoot plates and green screen and composite this door in later. All shots that would require interaction between the rooms were planned carefully and extensively, and we were lucky enough to have both Jon Mercer and Jeremy Brown on set to supervise.



We shot the actual hole to the attic in a separate room using a set piece mounted on stands. Careful measurements for camera height, placement, angles and lighting were taken to ensure that our shots would match and the compositors’ jobs would be made easier. I made it a point to shoot it as close to the final composite as possible so that the effect could sell easier, and preliminary reports from post say that we’ve achieved above and beyond our intended goals.


All in all, Remember Your Death was a blast to work on, and I enjoyed working closely with so many talented people. Stay tuned as I’ll be posting stills and video as they are completed.