Jeff Molyneaux, the DP of the new documentary “Bluebird,” that premiered at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, is no stranger to shooting live music.
Based in Nashville, Molyneaux’s resume includes the TV series Music City and Real Country as well as numerous branded spots for Chevy, Ram, Aflac and Reddi Wip. Jeff’s documentary style of shooting has made him a go-to DP on music-doc series for the likes of ABC, NBC, and Rolling Stone; however, shooting at the iconic Bluebird Café was a new adventure.
The Bluebird Café is arguably the most influential listening room for country music in America. Artists such as Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, and hundreds of other famous and up-and-coming musicians, singers, and songwriters have performed there. It has become a music legend, while still being located in a small strip mall and only holding 90 people.
The documentary Bluebird, directed by Brian Loschiavo, captures the underdog story of how the café got its start in 1982 and explores the past and present of the accidental landmark, following some of today’s emerging sing-songwriters that are chasing their dreams playing at the Bluebird Café.
Molyneaux was tasked with shooting the Bluebird documentary primarily in the café, including a large number of live performances and interviews at the venue. To do this, he decided to use Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro cameras.
Shooting Live Music
Bluebird includes more than 50 interviews and 30 performances, all which were captured with multiple URSA Mini Pros. Shooting live performances was absolutely essential in telling the story, not only of the owner and musicians but also of the audience’s reaction and the unique feelings and emotions that the Bluebird Café brings out.
“Shooting live music is always fun and creative. You get to be the conduit to how someone experiences it later on screen,” Molyneaux said. “A big part of live music is the detail and the timing. If you are going to shoot music, you have to feel it. Listen for that moment when that bridge or solo is coming and get there before the artist does. If you can do that, then you are no longer reacting to the performance, you’re becoming a part of it.”
Molyneaux and his crew had to do all of that in a space that only allows acoustic music and sits less than 100 people, but is still guaranteed to be packed since it gets more than 70,000 visitors a year.
To get the footage they needed while not interrupting the performances was a challenge.
“We often had to hide on the floor with the camera in our laps, behind pillars, or under tables,” Molyneaux said. “Shooting in a venue that is live and is known for its intimacy created a big challenge in making this film with several cameras rolling at a time. It doesn’t give you much flexibility to move around and re-adjust once you are set, so having a camera that is compact and light enough to handhold for the entire show was extremely important for us. The URSA Mini Pro is just that – it’s small and easy to quickly jump through settings, which allowed us to always get the shots we wanted.”
For interviews, he shot with two URSA Mini Pros, while for live performances they used three or four URSA Mini Pros, two handheld, one mounted on a slider and one on a MOVI. They were used with Sigma Art Series lenses or K35s. In the end, Molyneaux shot more than 30TB of footage for the film.
“The fact that the camera is priced where it is allowed us to shoot with multiple cameras. With the music venue being so small, and many of the performances being ‘in the round,’ it allowed us to cover all angles without having to move around a lot and disrupt the experience of the Bluebird audience,” he said. “Size, shooting specs, and the simplicity of the menu systems are what I look for in a camera, and the URSA Mini Pro delivers on all of that.”
Premiering at SXSW, Bluebird will continue its festival run throughout 2019, including the Newport Beach Film Festival in April.
For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.