June 8, 2015

Capturing Beautiful Human Stories on the RED DRAGON: Glitch's Story Comes to Life

Glitch's Story RED EPIC DRAGON
Even the most macho of modern digital cinema cameras, the EPIC DRAGON, can be used to tell the most touching and delicate of human stories.

I was recently contacted by John Ford, head of film at Contra, a British video production company. He had shot a lovely little film for XLP, a UK non-profit that focuses on providing brighter futures for youth in need. The film centers on Glitch, a young girl who found herself homeless at the age of 15. With the help of XLP and a newfound passion for spoken word poetry, Glitch is now well on her way to a brighter future. This is her story:

Though Contra was hired to shoot this piece about Glitch specifically, the team had no idea what approach they would take or even how the story would unfold, and their budget was such that they would only have one day of shooting in which to capture it. However, the director of this piece David Hayes told us that once he read some of Glitch’s poems, everything started to fall into place.

As soon as Glitch gave me some of her poems to read I became set on featuring her work in the film. Having her deliver those cutting words directly to the viewer offers a very powerful framing device for the narrative.

Hayes also talked about how the RED DRAGON helped his team achieve their goals for this piece, both from an aesthetic perspective and a practical one.

Working on a tight charity budget meant that we had to capture everything in one shoot day with Glitch. The flexibility of the RED was ideal in this situation. Stripping the camera back to a small handheld size allowed us to get very close to Glitch as she led us around her old estate and through the busy streets of Peckham. Plus, we knew that the RED would handle the performance closeups perfectly with its stunning skin tones. The depth of the image, particularly with Glitch's eyes, works brilliantly to draw the viewer in.

Glitch's Story RED EPIC DRAGON

John Ford, the DP for this project, also shared some of the technical choices that he made in order to not only deliver the piece on time and within budget, but to make the visuals shine brightly and work to tell Glitch's story to the fullest possible extent:

We shot using the Canon C-NE primes, 24, 50 and 85 using the Schneider Hollywood Blackmagic pro 1/8th on the poetry, but we kept the rest of the footage un-filtered for a gritty, real look. We shot everything 6k WS up to 100fps. Audio was recorded direct into the camera using Sound Devices Mix D going into the Action Products EPIC/SCARLET XLR Audio Adaptor.

Negative fill helped to control the lighting where we didn't want to use extra lights. [We mostly used] two Felloni Bi-Color Light Panels. The interview was carefully placed to make the most out of natural light - no other lighting was used, just the two broad windows, giving a lovely soft natural fill.

In terms of editing and grading, the post-production team at Contra used Premiere Pro CC 2014 and DaVinci Resolve, and they used only the native 6K media from the DRAGON in their timelines. Here's Will Hammond, Head of Post at Contra, to explain why they kept it native with high-res RAW files.

"When it came to post it was no hassle editing the 6k RAW footage natively. Using Premiere Pro to cut and DaVinci Resolve to grade we were able to stay in 6k timelines all the way up until exporting the final film. When working on a project with tight deadlines and a low budget there's no time for technology to slow you down, so being able to start work as soon as the rushes are on your machine makes a massive difference. Using RAW footage was especially powerful when grading, giving us so much flexibility with the look of each scene. This ensured that every frame reflected the mood and feel of the narrative and allowed us to show Glitch's story in the best and most powerful way possible."

Glitch's Story Premiere Pro CC
Glitch's Story DaVinci Resolve

To learn more about XLP and Contra, head over to their respective sites here and here. If you have any questions about this lovely little production, leave them down in the comments!      

Your Comment

22 Comments

Really beautiful story and image. I guess the big thing that everyone is looking at with cameras now are stops/latitude. I wonder if they shot at the full 16.5+ stops? I can still see the sky blown own a bit in some shots. Which I don't personally like. And it happens a ton on Canon cameras (depending on the day). A graduated ND filter might be in my future. Thoughts?

June 8, 2015 at 10:50PM

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Donovan Vim Crony
Director, DP, Editor, VFX, Sci-Fi Lover
279

Thoughts every camera has its limits. A graduated ND is fine as long as its used for landscapes. Blown out skies aren't that bad watch saving private ryan theres blown out skies all over the place. Just a thought

June 9, 2015 at 1:36AM

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Charles C.
Editor/ Director/ Director of Photography/ Wannabe Thinker
748

I honestly couldn't find any sky blown out in the video. But even so, my eyes overexpose parts of the sky and they have like 22 stops of Dynamic range. I like the highlight play they used. I'd suggest against a Graduated ND because it often creates a visible line on the image if you move the camera like many of the shots in the film. Also 16.5 stops on a Red? I love red cameras, but I doubt it.

June 9, 2015 at 3:44AM

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Zachary Will
Cinematographer
716

Thanks for all your comments, really good to hear your thoughts on this!

It's worth noting that this is essentially and Ob Doc, and the first time we approached a subject like this with a camera like the Red... and felt that the Red really helped the story. In the past, I would never have approached a subject like this with the Red as in the past I've found them too unstable, clunky, slow and needing lots of lights. I chose to go with the Dragon on this shoot (partly because we own one, haha) mainly because I love the way it handles skin tones and being able to capture raw meant I could film in a very natural way on a day with drastically varying lighting conditions without interrupting the relationship between the Director and the subject.

However, it's interesting that a couple of folk have mentioned the latitude in our film. It was all shot Red Log Film, indeed being raw it is inherently Log anyway. During the shoot, there were only a couple of points where the image clipped. For example, the shot over her shoulder pointing to the sky - this was used in the edit as a deliberate bleach-out to tie in to the narrative at that point. What I loved about the latitude on that camera is that we can really play with the exposure in post, for example the sequence where she steps out from the shadow into the light, we actually pushed the highlights far brighter, again to match the narrative and for creative effect. Filming documentary in a natural way with cameras like the Red is so satisfying because you don't, any more, need to throw too many lights around. (although it isn't anywhere near as good in low light as many other cameras... but that's a separate issue!) The sequence in her room where she is folding her clothes - again, bright sunshine outside and very very dark inside with no fill... I didn't need to interrupt the shoot to rig a whole bunch of lights and I'm a huge fan of the way that sequence looks! There are a few shots that I used a Tiffen 0.9 ND SE grad because I really wanted the stormy clouds that we had in the morning. But there are a great many shots in that sequence where you just aren't aware of how awesome the latitude is on current cameras like the Red. From a story telling point of view, I love that!

June 9, 2015 at 10:37AM

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In the interest of turning this into a discussion on the creative aspects, here are my thoughts on the video. I watched it a few times.

First, what I liked. I thought the overall look was really pleasing/soft and fit the narrative quite well. Opening with the poem that talked of how life experiences help shape you and then repeating it at the end after we learn what experiences she went through was smart...made the point really well IMO. And some of the CU shots were beautiful and interesting.

However, I didn't quite get the overall message. If it was that XLP can help you get back on track (which I presume was the intent, given this was done for them), it didn't quite come across to me (what was that about XLP not forgetting her?). And in spite of seeing the devastating experiences (being forgotten to be picked up, asked to leave home, being homeless), strangely I didn't find myself rooting for the her. Perhaps it's the narration (it took me some time to figure out who was in the hospital), perhaps it was that she had full make-up on; or perhaps it was the music.

And some of the decisions seemed quite odd too. E.g., the shot of her walking at 02:03 was NOT flattering, quite a strange composition; the music change at 02:12 when XLP was introduced was way too subtle; not sure why she was out of focus in the OTS shot at 03:12 (hope it wasn't to focus on the XLP tea-shirt back); and the composition at 03:18 with the two way at the bottom seemed weird.

June 9, 2015 at 2:50PM, Edited June 9, 2:50PM

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Thanks so much for your thoughts Sekhar, I'm always glad to hear a range of opinions! It's what refines us and makes us stronger film makers! It's always nice when someone is able to give their feedback in a friendly and professional way.

June 10, 2015 at 8:14AM

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It'd be cool if you pointed out where you saw "blown out skies". Just look at 2:52 and some scenes around that you can see the clouds and the blues of the sky. Are you just trolling??
There's also that sweet show at 2:59 where you can see all the details. And at 4:12, you can not only see she was exposed, but the outside isn't blown out which you would see in most digital cameras. It's either one of the other, and since the creators said they were stripped down run and gun shooting, I find it amazing you can see the details of the trees outside in that shot.

June 9, 2015 at 4:51PM

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Tony
272

And if you are only mentioning the shot at 1:30, then you need to get over yourself. That shot is definitely one of those walk into the light type of shots.

June 9, 2015 at 4:54PM

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Tony
272

Latitude? Blown out highlights?? Are you guys kidding? I know this is a site centered around both sides, the technical and the artistic ones. But it nonetheless makes me wonder why people are arguing rather on a meaningless point on this project. It puzzles me even more that the filmmaker chose this way too oversized camera on a project with a tiny budget (that he unfortunately doesn't reveal).

June 9, 2015 at 6:28AM

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Right on point. Remember, if the story is decent it can be shot on a couple of Iphone5 now. So I don't care that somebody had access to a RED cam. I care that somebody had a story worth telling. It's nice for a change, no zombie, nobody being run after by some creatures in the woods, haunted houses and other stupidities. That's what should have been noticed instead of the dynamic range. Each time I run into some DR discussion I know I'm hearing to people who have nothing to tell as far as their story.

June 9, 2015 at 7:24AM

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Well, he said he personally doesn't like blown skies...no arguing with that. It must look distracting to him and take him out of the story. Besides, this article is technical, from the title talking of RED to lenses and filters to grading. I'm not a fan of always obsessing about crushed blacks and blown highlights, but in this case it seems like a fair observation.

June 9, 2015 at 9:48AM

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Sometimes I wonder about some of you dudes on this site... The story was beautifully shot, and creatively told and the first thing you want to talk about is dynamic range? If all we care about is the technical aspects of the film and not the film itself, we are doomed as indie filmmakers.

June 9, 2015 at 10:27AM

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Terrell Lamont
Director, Director of Photography
443

This x 1000.

June 9, 2015 at 11:08AM

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Scenes
Shooter / Cutter
85

Hit the nail on the head.

Further than that, I often wish people would stop talking about which cameras and lenses shot which video altogether. It's so irrelevant. If this piece was shot on a dslr with the same attention to detail and the same music/production it would be just as powerful.

June 9, 2015 at 12:11PM

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Liam Martin
DP, editor, part time director
600

People would stop talking about cameras and lenses if NFS stops talking about cameras and lenses. Much of this article, including the title, was technical - what would you expect in the discussions?

Besides, for all the bashing of the tech talk here, not a single poster (other than the filmmaker) said a single thing about any creative aspect. This is a common pattern on most forums: someone mentions tech (most popular is blown highlights), others pounce and say it's the story, you can shoot with iPhone, whatever (but they always seem to want Alexa for themselves). Nobody ends up discussing anything creative.

Want to promote meaningful, creative discussion? Then we need to stop bashing tech talk and start making creative talk.

June 9, 2015 at 12:34PM

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FYI I'm not against talking about the technical aspects of filmmaking, I just think sometimes we focus so much on that aspect of it we miss the beauty of storytelling. Most every camera out now can make pretty images, so cameras don't matter as much now as they did 5 or 10 years ago. Now let's tell good stories and make good films, because 1 or 2 stops of dynamic range isn't going to make or break any story.

June 9, 2015 at 4:46PM

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Terrell Lamont
Director, Director of Photography
443

There's nothing wrong with technical, it's the manner how people bring up technical aspects of the film. We have this powerful story of this girl. And in the whole article, the technical aspects was to try and use natural light to keep the emotion of the story.
Which, personally, I think helped the story tremendously cause of the dark cloud skies and the slow motion to dwell on that emotion.
Then some random person says something dumb like "there's too many blown out skies" which I find untrue. I think what Terrell is eluding too is that some people on this site have no idea what story means. They expect their camera to makes lattes for them.
And I want to point out to a post by NFS about Stillmotions Muse program, where tons of people attacked it and said their are other references. Too me, that completely shows how people don't care about story or are just trolling.
I also want to point out to another post by The Tiny Filmmaker where she pointed out that shooting RAW wasn't her thing cause she wanted to focus more on just the editing aspect and not worry so much about the many steps to get RAW working. Many of NFS commentors attacked her ruthlessly. For all we know, that could have been an award winning film but now we don't cause some of you scared her away.
That's why no one discuses anything because people like that seem to get attacked ruthlessly.

June 9, 2015 at 5:07PM, Edited June 9, 5:07PM

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Tony
272

Agree, this story is powerful and there were many beautiful shots.

June 9, 2015 at 4:58PM

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Tony
272

Love what you guys are doing at Contra! And really love this film!
What was the budget for this film? (it's okay if you can't say it publicly)
I'm in the process of building a computer for this, what's your computer build to edit/grade this?
Thanks!

June 9, 2015 at 7:25PM

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Sam K
72

Hi Sam, thanks for your kind words! This story sits right at the heart of what we do at Contra and We're so glad that Glitch shared her story with us. It's also a privilege to work alongside such inspiring charities such as XLP!

I'd rather not disclose the budget publicly, basically we worked at sub cost to make it happen. We had a crew of 3 and the Red was stripped back to it's basics. Really light weight and fun to use!

Our post is handled on a Mac Pro, running the Adobe suite. Our editor Will Hammond is very happy!!

Thanks again for everyones comments! Always happy to hear feedback!

June 10, 2015 at 8:46AM

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Nobody has bothered to mention the great sound track and awesome sound quality of her voice. I could look at blown highlights all day if I didn't have to suffer through popping p's, crappy echoes and A/C noise. It obviously doesn't apply here, but while I'm mentioning it, why is the absolute worst sound quality in a crowdsourcing trailer for what some beggar always claims is going to be his best film ever?

June 11, 2015 at 4:54PM, Edited June 11, 4:55PM

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Zan Shin
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