How do you get great sound and light while shooting in a windy, difficult location?
This post was written by the filmmaking team behind Marlowe.
In Fall 2020, we set out to make an ambitious horror-thriller short film Marlowe on the coast of North Carolina.
We wanted to share some technical insight from our team about how we brought this indie coastal project to life—specifically how we dealt with the elements and got footage and sound on a windy beach.
Below are tips from our cinematographer Jared Freeman, as well as our sound recordist and boom operator Christina Fowler.
Jared Freeman (Cinematographer)
One of the most difficult things about filming on a beach is communication. When your staging is tucked away in a beach access, far from your set, and the wind makes hearing nearly impossible, it's important to have a really clear understanding of the blocking for the scene so that you can give your team exact placement for lighting.
A big portion of our movie was shot after dark, and if you have ever seen the beaches on the east coast, they are typically very flat. A challenge that you run into when filming at night with a location that is very flat is motivating light. If you look toward the ocean, it's completely black. And if you look toward the shore, if there aren’t any houses, mountains, or dunes tall enough to enter your frame; you have no background. You will be looking into blackness.
Our starting point was motivation, so since our characters were searching for crabs, we gave them flashlights. Next, we talked about the world of the story and the character's house in a small beach community, so we decided to place a lamp post at the edge of the beach access. In our wide shots, we tried to frame with the hero house, the lamp post, or some sections with taller dunes so that we had a background to light in order to give our image more depth.
When we moved to mediums and close-ups, we used bounce to return some of the flashlights, and we shot a lot of walk-and-talks with Asteras to punch up the flashlights.
Working inside of houses so close to the shoreline means that the house is most likely on stilts making the first floor of the house two stories off the ground. In a three-story stilted house, this means in order to light through a window, you need to be able to raise a light between three to five stories high. On a windy beach with a small crew, there is just no safe way to do that.
Illumination Dynamics in Charlotte, NC, hooked us up with a four-ton grip package and a mix of HMI’s no bigger than a 4K and LEDs. Most of our interiors were lit with a combination of practicals, a Literate 2L and 4+, and Skypanel S60s.
For our nighttime exteriors, we generally started with a 4K HMI as high and as far away as we could get it, and then tried to use Asteras and Skypanels when we moved in closer.
We shot on the Alexa Mini primarily with Hawk Anamorphic V-Plus lenses. With our nighttime scenes, I knew that we would be fighting to get an exposure. Most anamorphic lenses can be very dream-like wide open, especially when you introduce flaring.
During our lens test, our director Andrew Rose and I liked how the Hawk Class-X lenses reacted to flaring while wide open, so we decided to shoot all of our nighttime exteriors, with the exception of one shot, with this one lens.
Christina Fowler (Production Sound Mixer)
In regards to doing sound on Marlowe, being on the beach presented a few obstacles.
Firstly, wind will always be a factor when filming outside. This is a relatively easy problem to solve as long as you have the proper wind protection for your microphones. I used Rycote Overcovers for the lavalier microphones and the Rycote BBG Windjammer for my boom microphone.
Waves are another problem less easily solved. In order to reduce the noise caused by the waves, I tried whenever possible to place myself at a point between the water and the talent and point the boom microphone from that direction instead of pointing it toward the water. I recorded some wild tracks of the waves as well so that the editor could layer it in if they needed to.
In the end, communication and the willingness to adjust to the circumstances were integral in making this film sound as best it could in the environment. Whether it was recording wild lines after the fact, or making sure we got a close-up in the moment for the best audio, the crew came together to make it work.