The Samsung NX1 is an odd, powerful little camera. In the hands of an artist, however, it becomes something much, much more.
Our good friend Ed David, a working DP based out of NYC who was one of the first to share thoughts and footage from the Sony FS7, has been playing with another camera as of late. This time it's the Samsung NX1, a mirrorless camera that shoots 4K internally, encodes to h.265, and has an APS-C sensor to boot. Ed recently put together an introspective, insightful short film about his love/hate relationship with New York City, and he shared his entire process with us.
We often make a whole lot of fuss about the cameras that we choose because of a fairly widespread belief that the camera and its specific sensor are largely responsible for the final aesthetic of an image. For The Quiet Escape, however, Ed chose to focus his energy more on his post production and grading processes in order to achieve an aesthetic inspired by a combination of French New Wave directors and the master himself, Gordon Willis.
The inspiration came from the films of Chris Marker and Godard and Agnes Varda of Paris back in the 60's and 70's - the way they shot film stock back then, the 16mm stuff had deeper blacks and lots of grain. Even though I love that look, I wanted the film to feel like it was shot in any era because it's a timeless American issue - loving/hating New York. And of course, I tried to pay tribute to Woody Allen's "Manhattan," shot by Gordon Willis, which is perhaps the most beautiful look at New York City ever committed to film. I just love that film and everything Gordon has ever shot. He was a tried and true New Yorker and he inspired me so much with everything he does.
In order to create an aesthetic akin to the grainy, kinetic new wave films of the 60's, Ed chose to shape it in the grade instead of pursuing a look that might not have been possible in-camera. Of course, it's relatively easy to shoot noisy, high-contrast images with most of today's digital cameras, but to say that those images aren't particularly pleasing might be the understatement of the year. Ed's process for shooting and grading this piece is as follows:
1. I shot as flat as I could on the NX1 - this was before Gamma DR [introduced in a recent firmware update] - so I made a profile like the Prolost profile that exists on the Canon 5D Mark II and III (contrast all the way down and saturation minus two).
2. I converted with Wondershare to ProRes HQ. Brought it into DaVinci resolve and applied a FilmConvert grade over it - Fuji Neo for the black and white sections and Fuji Eterna for the color.
3. I went in and modified the FilmConvert settings - gave it a more aggressive curve - raised the mids, and in the black and white footage lowered the shadows. In the color stuff, I kept it flatter, less deep (inky) blacks and softer. So the color footage feels more peaceful.
4. I put an overlay of Gorilla Grain over the footage - using dissolve and kept standard contrast.
Here are a few examples of what the raw footage looked like out of the camera compared to the final graded images:
Ultimately, I think the visual tone in this short works miraculously for its subject matter. By combining the angsty, energetic camera work of many new wave directors with the focused, romantic aesthetic that Gordon Willis captured for Manhattan, and by using color to differentiate the two vastly different worlds in the film, Ed was able visually convey the dissonance that he feels about the city of New York, while also paying homage to some of his favorite filmmakers.
If you have any questions for Ed about how he shot and graded the film, leave them down in the comments!