The Making of ‘Ellston Bay’
A New Short Film in VistaVision
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The 70mm Newsletter
and photographed by: Nicholas
Nicholas Eriksson alongside John Rhys-Davies and Richard Kovacs
Principal photography on the ambitious
large-format short film ‘Ellston Bay’ concluded recently, marking the first
time in a very long period that the 35mm VistaVision format has been
utilised exclusively for a dramatic production. Below, Director and
Cinematographer of the project Nicholas Eriksson talks further about the
challenges of originating on VistaVision, and the benefits of using such a
large negative area. Nicholas Eriksson on ‘Ellston Bay’...
It is a great relief to be writing this after an extended period of testing
and planning to ensure that working with VistaVision would be a smooth
experience. It is a little surreal to discuss working with one of the
greatest motion picture formats ever devised, especially after such a long
campaign to get the project off the ground. Working with VistaVision was a
relatively painless experience, but I did need to adapt my usual shooting
approach to accommodate some of the eccentricities of the format.
I always felt that Ellston Bay needed to have a great sense of grandness to
the imagery, and not on a panoramic scale as is common to films shot in the
2:35:1 aspect ratio. I have always found the native IMAX origination and
projection aspect ratio of 1:43:1 to be the most visceral and cinematically
immersive way to experience a film.
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Gallery: Photography at the Pinewood
Studios' Underwater Stage
"Ellston Bay" - in
Gallery: "Ellston Bay" - in VistaVision
VistaVision presented in
Director of Photography
+44 (0)7858 568 945
Office 2, The Courtyard
30 Worthing Road
Horsham, West Sussex RH12 1SL
cast and crew of 'Ellston Bay' on location in Budleigh Salterton, Devon
When I realised that VistaVision was a good fit for the taller IMAX aspect
ratio of 1:43:1, I decided to pursue originating ‘Ellston Bay’ in the
format. VistaVision is natively somewhere around 1:5:1, though is frequently
cropped to either 1:66:1 or 1:85:1 for theatrical release – (most
VistaVision films tend to be 1:85:1).
Ian Speed at Camera Revolution did a great job in helping us prepare for the
project. Ian was worried that we may have an issue with the shutter
mistiming in the event of a jam, and so decided to only supply us with 400ft
magazines, as this lowers the chances of a jam considerably. Whilst working
with 400ft magazines is preferable in terms of weight and agility
(especially with regards to handheld and Steadicam operation) it did give us
limited running times to work with. A 400ft roll gives about two minutes of
footage, whereas the 200ft shortend loads frequently gave us less than a
minute. This never became a problem however, especially as time was always
against us, and I knew that a couple of takes was all I needed. If we had to
reload then we would just bite the bullet and go ahead, but rarely did I
feel that I was compromising when working with shorter loads.
I decided early in pre-production that I wanted the images to have a
naturalistic quality, and to be free of heavily stylised visual elements. I
also wished for the audience to be able to survey the scene as our
protagonist is free to do. In terms of framing and composition, this meant
regularly sticking to wider focal lengths, and avoiding unnecessary
close-ups where possible. In order to fully realise the potential of the
VistaVision negative, I began researching the possibility of utilising
Hasselblad V Series stills lenses on the camera. Hasselblad lenses are
frequently utilised on IMAX and 65mm productions. The lenses exhibit
excellent sharpness characteristics, and were built for medium-format usage
in stills photography, so the back element can easily cover the requirements
of large-format cinematography.
AC Julian Sharma lines up the VistaVision frame during testing at Arri
I set about importing a Hasselblad V Series > Leica R-mount adaptor from
Chicago, USA, as I knew this was our only affordable chance to mount
alternative glass to the camera. With the kind assistance of the entire team
at Camera Revolution, and Bob Campbell at Arri Rental, we managed to remove
a lot of the excess metal that made mounting the adaptor difficult.
Following extensive lens tests with Camera Assistants Andrew Bradley, Karl
Hui and Julian Sharma, I was relieved to discover that the lenses performed
very well, and gave us the crisp, sharp imagery I had been looking for.
Whilst re-housing the lenses was completely out of the question, Bob very
kindly assisted us in mounting metal gear mounts to the outer section of the
lens, replacing the rubber, which was there for the use of stills
photographers, but not suited to motion picture production. The new gear
mounts would allow us to use standard follow-focus accessories, and also
remote-focus where necessary. This was a great relief, as part of me did
expect that my 1st AC would need to pull off the barrel, which would have
been far from ideal.
One of the greatest challenges in originating on VistaVision is the noise
produce, the Beaucam was never intended for sync-sound shooting, and it
sounds like a
woodchipper when running! The script was always intended to be sparse on
dialogue, but I did
worry that we would need to ADR the brief moments of dialogue that we did
have. I decided
early on that I did not want to ADR under any circumstances, as it never
sounds quite right.
I knew that both blocks of dialogue took place outside, and so we wouldn’t
with reverberation. In addition, I really didn’t mind how silly the setup
looked as long as we
captured crisp, clear dialogue. In the end, we sourced three sets of duvets!
Camera / Steadicam
Operator Abramo De Licio was positioned underneath the blankets, with myself
sat in front to
both watch the action on a wireless monitor and to block any sound that
would come out of the
front of our makeshift barney. In the end we managed to get some very clean
dialogue, and I
am thrilled that we won’t need to ADR these crucial scenes.
Nicholas Eriksson on the beach with the slate.
As the Beaucam is a belt-driven camera, there is always a chance of the belt
slipping out of position when run at higher speeds. This can cause the
shutter to mistime and create what can only be described as a ghostly
double-image of sorts. We were warned against this possibility early on
prior to principal photography. On our final day, I decided to run off the
remaining short-end we had in the camera at a higher-speed to capture waves
crashing onto the shore. Almost as soon as we started running, we heard an
unusual sound and the film had completely jammed up inside the transport.
1st AC Andrew Bradley did an exceptional job in fixing the transport and
getting the camera up and running again. However, the shutter was now out of
sync, and the final couple of rolls that we shot have the shutter mistiming
issue. Fortunately, it’s not the end of the world, and we can make it work
without the two scenes that have the issue. I knew that the likelihood of
experiencing a technical issue was high, so rather than feeling upset, I
actually feel fortunate that the issue didn’t occur earlier in the shoot, as
that would have put us in a very difficult position, especially after
mounting such an ambitious production.
Manager & Assistant Producer Beth Moran with Stills Photographer Sofia
Following principal photography, Kodak Lab in London performed processing
and scanning duties for our offline edit. I would like to thank all the team
at the lab for their assistance in making this project possible, especially
Sam Clark and Nigel Horn, who have been there every step of the way. The
offline images look wonderful, with a great crisp and clean film look. I am
particularly looking forward to seeing how these images hold up on the IMAX
screen, especially when we return for our online 4K scan in the near future.
The VistaVision negative is extremely clean, but doesn’t lose the organic
tactility of originating on film. In a couple of months time, we will be
locking our edit and grading the film with Colourist Toby Tomkins at CHEAT
in London. I look forward to updating all of our followers with our progress
as the project progresses.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Thomas Hauerslev at
in70mm.com for his kind support of the project and my sincere thanks also to
our many Kickstarter backers who, without their help, this project would
simply have not gone ahead.
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Gallery: Photography at the Pinewood
Studios' Underwater Stage
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