In case you already forgot “The New Romantics“, I’m working on a similar project, with pretty much the same team. “Pickfair” is a murder-mystery comedy set in Hollywood’s early 20’s. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on something with such strong visuals. We shot it all at my place, with a tiny crew and super cool gear. I wrote a bit about the gear part for the production design and you can find that below.
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“Friends gather for a murder mystery dinner party, each playing a Hollywood personality. The theme: 1920s Luxury, like the exclusive dinners at Pickfair Estate. When they discover the “bodies” are actually going cold, the group turns amateur sleuth to solve the mystery so they can leave the party…. alive! Everyone is a suspect. Everyone has a secret. With the same zany, slapstick comedy as beloved classics “Clue” and “The Pink Panther” and the twisted reveals of an Agatha Christie novel, ‘Pickfair’ will keep you guessing — and laughing — until the very end.”
Vintage setting, vintage optics
Modern lenses are all about embedded circuits, visual perfection, and lightning-fast auto focus. Efficient and easy, sure – but for “Pickfair” we decided to go in the opposite direction and use 40 year old all-manual lenses. These came all the way from the Soviet Union era. Under my hands they were cleaned and modified in order to boost certain artifacts. These artifacts or “imperfections” are key to setting the mood for the story.
We used three different lenses filming the teaser for “Pickfair”, one from 1971, another from 1985 and the newest one is from 1987. They’re a famous Russian trio of primes – Mir 1B, Helios 44-2 and Jupiter 9. I call them “ambers” because of the tinted glass and pieces inside the lenses that create warmth in the image. Like an endless golden hour!
Anamorphic: not a choice, a requirement
In early Hollywood movies needed distinction from TV. Anamorphic lenses created the legendary Cinemascope aspect ratio and remain in use to modern day. In combination with our vintage amber lenses we are using an anamorphic adapter to build even more character into the raw footage. We like to cook our look in-camera, not in post. Flares? Check. Lovely bokeh? Check. A more intense arms workout? Check!
Low lighting, practical lighting
To balance out all these old-timey optics, modern electronics come into play. we use the best camera technology available for shooting without massive light setups. Scratch that. For shooting exclusively with practical lighting; from meters and meters of twinkly lights, candles, small LEDs, flashlights and regular household bulbs combined with low-powered dimmers. I’ll use the lights that anyone can get their hands on. Practical lighting also strengthens the bond with the Art Department towards visual unity – not to mention the time saved when changing setups without the need to hide tripods and wires!
Flowing movement, character intimacy
The opening shot of the teaser is exactly the feel we want to imbue in our audience, making you feel like you are a guest in the party, one who has maybe seen a little too much. To assist us on the technical side of that kind of movement we will be using a light gimbal. Using a gimbal frees the crew from big, heavy, gear (like steadicams), and needing special training. The gimbal is straightforward and allows movement over any type of terrain, in any way (on foot, bikes, cars or even airplanes!) – all while keeping the movement butter-smooth.
The gimbal is key to long, super-dynamic tracking shots that draw the audience in, melting the disconnect between the screen and viewer, keeping you in the action as if you were in the room – something you’ll be sure to see in the “Pickfair” short!
Lastly, here’s that opening shot, without any cuts, just for the sake of dynamic tracking shots fetish. We have mobile light sources, dimmer-controlled lights, wi-fi controlled LEDs and 30 meters (100ft) of twinkly lights. Oh, and candles.