Puma Shoot Behind the Scenes with the Red Epic

Director: Stan Lozinsky

Director of Photography: David Kruta wpid-wpid-A003_R013_0710FK_001-2011-07-11-13-14-2011-07-31-22-121.jpg

Several months ago, director Stan Lozinsky approached me with a very ambitious project – a spec commercial for Puma involving a professional hurdler, a chasing Puma, high speed photography and, of course, a tight budget. He handed me a stack of storyboards comprising 48 setups for a 60 second spot. Considering I love a challenge, I gladly accepted and we set about figuring out how to make this happen.

The look of the spot called for an extremely high contrast ratio, with the runner being carved out of the darkness by a hard edge. Sharpness was also paramount, which we achieved with a short shutter angle. Stan wanted the runner’s speed to be crystal clear.

Initially the idea was to shoot the spot on the Phantom Flex, since the director’s vision included shots of the athlete almost frozen in mid-air over a hurdle. Budget constraints eliminated that possibility very quickly – we could not afford the camera package, let alone the lighting we would need to bring in to replace the stadium lights, which would inevitably flicker at those speeds.

We also explored the possibility of shooting on the Fastec TS3 Cine, but it was not yet available, and dSLRs using the Twixtor plugin to achieve the effect in post. This was an interesting idea, and after a bit of research, we decided to take the Twixtor route. Testing revealed that the plugin becomes more effective and exhibits fewer image warping artifacts when using higher resolution video, so we started looking at Red. Again, budget led us to believe that we could do it with the Red MX, but I checked in with some Epic owners and Offhollywood, and after seeing that the price difference was very manageable, we went with one of Offhollywood’s Epics.

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In addition, several shots required the camera to fly over the hurdles behind our hurdler. At first, we wanted to accomplish this with a crane or offset arm on a dolly, but we quickly realized that setting that much track and pushing a 300 lb dolly at those speeds would be time consuming, and more importantly, dangerous. Reviewing the boards, we decided that only 2 shots only truly required this angle, and since the cuts happen so quickly, we could just cut the best part out of a jib shot. For speed, I consulted with Jeff Melanson, and we came up with a plan to shoot as much as we could on Steadicam. This would enable us to move quickly from setup to setup with minimal effort.

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After several months of prepping, discussing and bouncing ideas around, we had formed a relatively solid plan. Stan had organized a track in Queens, NY, and with the location set, we prepared to shoot.

1st AC Darryl Byrne and Steadicam Operator Jeff Melanson were present for checkout at 580 Broadway, Offhollywood’s headquarters in NYC. This was our first experience there, and it was a pleasure working with the various techs and rental agents, who helped us familiarize ourselves with the system and answered any questions. Founder Mark Pederson even came by to say hello and introduce himself to the crew.

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Once on location, gaffer Jordan Parrott and the G&E crew quickly set up two 20x20 solids to block one side of the stadium’s light (one of the drawbacks of the location was that we had no control over which stadium lights were on). We also used a ARRI 1.2k Fresnel with a ¼ grid chimera for a bit of fill on closeups. The vast majority of the shoot was lit entirely with the existing lights, which covered our shooting area spanning over 300 feet of track.

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We arrived in a downpour, so we got set up and had to wait out the rain. Once the weather cleared, we had only 4 hours left to shoot, so we scrambled. Hurdler Andrew Omoregie was a beast, running take after take as Jeff chased him down with the Steadicam on a golf cart. Darryl handled, with ease, switching the Epic between Steadicam mode using the Red 18-50mm zoom, and studio mode using the Angenieux Optimo 24-290mm zoom numerous times during the night.

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The second night of shooting brought clear skies and our jib operator, James Strosahl, with his 30-foot jib. We threw the Optimo on there and and Andrew ran under, in front of, behind and almost through the jib as we cranked out shots. Darryl and I even had a couple runs on the gears, which was challenging but led to some great shots.

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In the end, we wound up with a 60:1 ratio of footage and a thoroughly exhausted but happy crew. The Epic had performed brilliantly, even in the low-light. The crew was top notch and pulled through the long days (and nights), and the spot is already in color correction. I’ll be sure to post it here as soon as it’s released.