MIDNIGHT SUN (2011, Baumgartner)
Today’s post is a simple example of what I talked about in my last Spielberg Raiders post, about tying visual beats together with a pan or a tilt. It also marks the very first shot of my own that I’m posting. How excited I was to type my own name in the header. Hope you’ll enjoy the shot, and the firsthand report of its design and creation.
If you blink, you’ll miss the shot – it’s in the more action-y part of this demo scene I directed for my upcoming suspense thriller Midnight Sun. In the scene, I tried to include a widely dynamic range of moments (action, suspense, quiet performance, loud stunts, gunshots, etc) both because it can make for good cinema, but also because it was a demonstration of my range to show that I could deliver this feature.
The shot is at 3:20 in this scene – but hope you’ll enjoy the build that gets us there. You can hit “HD” to turn HD on or off, depending on your connection. And you can make it full screen with the 4 little arrows button at the bottom right. (Also, beware loud volume!)
The shot in question, while simple in the scheme of things, is more complex than perhaps it seems. 8 people are working in rehearsed synchronization to make a seamless, flowing moment. Add an office-full more if you include the tireless post-visual-effects folk at Furious FX, who created for this shot the blood splattering onto the storage bins, erased the cable, removed some frames, and did some re-timing. (They delivered about 40 effects shots for the whole scene.)
If you ask me, the pan over to the stunt player flying backward out of the galley makes the moment both more chaotic and real. Also, it’s a Reveal, which always makes for a more compelling shot. I think whenever you can use “in-camera” reality for extraordinary moments, the more visceral and real they play. Watching something in real time with the actor on set lets the audience feel that something more weighty is happening.
Shooting it this way caused complications, especially for an ultra-tight schedule/budget. Because of the challenges of the large camera rig back-peddling quickly down the narrow aisle, I was encouraged by my cinematographer, Pete Holland, to parse the moment into 2 separate shots.
I should note that Pete saved my butt countless times with his brilliant insights and suggestions but this time he was reacting to the limitations the technology & space were presenting him. But it shows nonetheless that in the hairy and incredibly stressful crap-storm of the set, delicate artistic impulses can get squashed, and sometimes you only have the faintest lingering memory of the reason you wanted it that way.
Behind the Scene glimpse of the Stunt
But I insisted, and we figured out how to make it happen. Slowing down the back-peddle helped Pete and the camera rig a lot (it would be sped up a bit in post). Then the first assistant director, the camera, the actors, the stunt team & I all practiced the moves on a count down from 4, which you can see in the raw behind-the-scenes footage below. It looks so simple here, but imagine trying to herd all the cats, er, moving parts, while being constantly reminded you have very little time left. I’m happy to say we got it on the second take. (How’s that for a contrast to my post on David Fincher and William Wyler?)
First is a camera rehearsal with “no jerk,” that is, no stuntman flying, and second time is the take in the movie. Rest assured, the stuntman, R.C. Ormond, was fine, even though he sounds pretty agonized right after the stunt!
So that’s the shot. I think it’s a good example of how tying 2 beats together can be far more effective than two separate shots cut back-to-back. In this case, it adds surprise, excitement and chaos to a moment that was all about those very elements.
Thanks to the wonderful cast/crew that made this shot happen, including Pete, 1st AD Jim Simone, stunt coordinator Thom Williams, stunt player RC Ormond, assistant Tyler Poppe, and producer John Ferraro, among many others.