When the pandemic hit, filmmaker Nate Strayer left LA to quarantine with his family in Michigan. While meandering the unique grounds of their cottage on a lake, Strayer got the idea for a film that could become his first feature.

Luckily, he had brought his Blackmagic Cinema Camera Pocket 6K to shoot it on.


With a small group of friends and family, Strayer shot on the 6K, and edited at night on SSDs in Resolve. What started at first as a fun challenge became the feature film Outlier.

Strayer spoke with No Film School to share the nuances of shooting in 6K on the Pocket, and handling post-production of a feature film, from start to finish, in Resolve.

How 6K changes the way you compose a shot

No Film School: When you decided that you would be shooting on the Pocket, did shooting in 6Kchange anything in the way youconceptualized this film?

Nate Strayer: We had a really small crew and not really much of a budget, so we didn't have dollies and we didn't really have a tripod that had a super fluid head, or anything. Having the 6K, we could keep in mind, "If we need to do a slow push in, we don't actually need to do a slow push in, because we have so much room with 6K, where we can do it digitally," and everything. And then, same, with just basic coverage of dialogue.

It was easier to not have to worry about the cam op following every little head movement on a tight shot. We would just keep it a little bit wider. And then we could key frame in any small movements, because of the 6K. So we had that in mind the whole time, that there was a lot more room in post than it would have been if we were shooting in 1080 or even 2K, or anything.

Why it’s [almost] impossible to screw up lighting in Blackmagic RAW

In the middle of the pandemic, Strayer was on a tight budget, with no options to get a big lens or light package. He managed by going raw... BRAW.

Strayer: We didn't have a budget for a lot of lights or anything. So we ended up using a lot of bounce boards, and just reflecting the light that was coming in from the windows. Or if we were outside, we would just wait until it was cloudy to inform the look of the movie. The Pocket is really good in low light, so it worked.

And then, really it was about the range our colorist had in forming the look at the end. Our colorist kept asking, "Are you sure this was Blackmagic?" He thought it was an ALEXA, the first image that he saw when I sent it over. Because we didn't really have the luxury of crafting each image with a bunch of lights, post-production was super important. What Blackmagic RAW, as a format, allowed us to do in post was super important to the look.

Outlier_bts_still_0Credit: Outlier

When we started the film, we weren't sure what was going to come of it. The pandemic caused us to shoot it. But we didn't know if in a week it would be over, and everybody would have to go back to work. Everybody was lending their time to us, and we didn't know how long we had that for. So at the very beginning, we didn't really pay much attention to the look, because we didn't think we'd finish it. It was kind of just a fun thing to do.

Then, we started realizing first, the pandemic was going to last for longer than we thought. And second, this movie actually has some potential. Because we worked with the 6K a bunch of times, we knew the crazy amount of information it keeps. In one scene, the sky was completely blown out. And you switch it back to RAW, and you can see everything behind. In low-light situations, you pull up false color, you know everything's still there.

There were a lot of scenes that we were really worried about. Like, "Is there still information here? The face is a lot darker, and the background seems to be super blown out," and we were able to just go in there and fix it because there's just so much information. We had these beautiful locations, but if the windows are blown out, and you can't even see outside, then it just feels like you're in a stage.

But we were able to get that information back, and it added a lot to the production value to the film.

So there's lots of room to play around. It's just a natural light look we were going for, with the knowledge that, in post, the 6K holds a lot of information we could do a lot with. It allowed room to think more about performance, and more about composition rather than data.

The trick to good movement with the Pocket 6K

As the plot thickens for the main character in Outlier, the cinematography transitions to handheld, and it's the small, nimble stature of the Pocket that really helped.

Strayer: I really like handheld. When you don't have a dolly, you don't have a steady camera or anything, camera movement is kind of gone unless you go handheld. We decided that, for the story, it made sense that when she's kind of more comfortable and we're not sure what's going on, we're going to stay on sticks and it's going to be real smooth, with digital zooms that 6K allows. But then as soon as things start heating up for her, we drop the sticks and the rest of the movie is completely handheld.

Logistically with the 6K, we could do a whole 12-hour shoot day and between the two cam ops, which was using myself and my DP, we could go even longer if we had to with the 6K because it's such a light camera. We had grips and a shoulder pad, and then it's just the camera, the V-mount battery, and another monitor. We even did a car scene and we didn't have any rigging for the car, so we had to be holding the camera. That would be really hard if you have a big ALEXA, or a RED, or something all rigged up.

But you can just hold the Blackmagic right in front of you and pretty much put it anywhere. Even if you have to hold it with one arm up, for a minute shot, you're going to be okay because the camera is so light. The size was really good for having actual locations, and not a set. And then, the weight was just good for having a small crew and having to shoot hours every day.

Outlier_bts_setCredit: Outlier

Why recording on SSDs can mean the fastest dailies ever

Fast dailies for Strayer meant that after the cast and crew (who he was quarantined with) went to bed, he could stay up cutting each scene—only a few hours after it was shot!

Strayer: That probably helped the movie more than anything else, honestly, recording straight to an SSD. The Blackmagic Pocket 6K lets you, with USB-C, record straight to an SSD hard drive. As soon as you're done shooting, or even in the middle of a shot, right after you yell cut, you can just unplug it from the camera and plug it into a computer, and look at it.

We were all living in the same house, we were quarantined together. Every night after we would shoot, I'd go upstairs and just start cutting the scene that we shot that day. Immediately. So, without having to transfer anything, without any waiting. DaVinci Resolve handles Blackmagic so well. Literally every single night, I would cut a scene that we shot that day. And then if we needed to, we would re-shoot it. Or if we needed to get pickups or inserts or anything, it was right there.

It wouldn't have been that big of a problem to record onto a card that you have to transfer to a hard drive or anything. But the fact that I had the DaVinci project and all the RAW footage on the same thing that I'm using to record onto, that was pretty cool.

Outlier_still_nate_strayer_directorCredit: Outlier

Preparing upfront for your files to be huge

One of the biggest challenges of working in 6K, according to Strayer, is the file size. But preparing for that becomes one of the benefits.

Strayer: The file sizes of 6K Blackmagic RAW, even at the most compressed, are really big. You need a lot of storage. It depends on what you're shooting, but on a feature film, that's a lot of footage. Since we didn't spend much money on the movie, we did spend a couple of grand on getting those Samsung T5 SSDs, just because we needed so many to hold all the footage.

I mean, we were dumping into a backup drive too, but you don't want to edit off of a hard drive. It's just not fast enough, especially with that big of stuff. I ended up having a USB hub with about seven Samsung T5s, all hooked up to it. It's the fastest way to do it, keeping the footage on those super quick SSDs.

Cutting in Resolve, start to finish

Strayer eventually saw that the film had the potential to be finished professionally. He was able to secure funding to take the film back to Los Angeles and get talented people to finish it. And he demanded the film stay in Resolve because it made for a smoother post-production.

Outlier_film_poster

Strayer: The first thing I would tell everybody is, I cut it in Resolve. And a couple of people were like, "Oh, if you work with me, we're going to have to switch it over to Avid or switch it over to Premiere," or something. I didn't feel like doing that. I did the working cut in Resolve.

I found a super talented editor, Mike Hugo, who wanted the challenge. He had cut, if I’m right, one other film in Resolve. He was super surprised at how intuitive it had become. Being able to go back, with the rough cut was just a tab away, was great for workflow.

The colorists were super excited about having the project in Resolve, obviously. There was no transferring to be done. It was just, "Here's the project straight up, just mail a copy of a hard drive.” It was nice to just send them exactly what I had, and they could color my actual project.

When it comes to your movie, don’t wait to start

Strayer: Start with what you have. Yes, I was a little disappointed in the glass that we had. Lenses make a huge difference, and you can throw some beautiful lenses on the Pocket 6K. But we didn't wait or use that as an excuse not to do it.

I think it helped that we didn't know if anybody would ever watch the film. We didn't have high expectations. But now we have distribution. So, looking back, I'm going to need to have that mentality on every project of, "Let's just start." And then once you start, things fall into place.

If all you have is one camera and you don't even have a monitor, or handheld gear or anything, whatever it is, just start with what you have. And then, if your story is compelling and you have the passion for it, you'll find people who want to help you.

Keep an eye out for a distribution announcement from Strayer Pictures to see the 6K indie-thriller for yourself.

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