Under the Law
Irrationally Getting Attached
Originally, I had no intention of shooting this film. Writer/Director Mitsu Miyashima had enthusiastically reached out to me about collaborating with her, but I was a little hesitant because she did not have much experience as a director and I was already committed to a couple other projects.
Time went on and she approached me again about her film. Sounding defeated on the other end of the phone line, she explained how she couldn't find another cinematographer and her deadline was approaching rapidly. I asked Mitsu why she wanted to make this story, and she explained to me her frustrations about the systemic racism toward African Americans within the United States. With racial profiling and police misconduct toward minorities being a common occurrence in our country, she wanted to focus on how an experience like that can affect a human after the fact. She even told me that her Simoan boyfriend feels as though he will never have the opportunity to become a CEO or head of any company because nobody looks like him; they're all as white as their collars. At that point of the conversation, I completely forgot about the rational reasonings I originally had for saying "no". I wanted to be an ingredient of whatever Mitsu's passion was stirring up. Below are some of my favorite takeaways from the project.
Mitsu and her squad of actors
Mounting Kits...The Most Clutch Gadgets On Set
Prior to this film, I had been pretty dang conservative when it came to placing my lights. If I couldn't stem a lamp up or arm it out with a C-Stand, I would probably end up advocating for a change in the scene's blocking or framing to accommodate for my lighting limitation. However with this project, I decided to get a kit full of miscellaneous clamps, ball heads, nubs, and nicnacs to have on standby for any kind of mounting opportunity. Long story short, we were so stoked on all the different mounting options that we used the kit for nearly every scene. These were some of the benefits I found from getting these lights off the ground
1. Superwides in Tiny Rooms? Heckkkk yeahhh!
When working in small spaces, it can be a tedious battle trying to light your subjects while getting the full extent of the action between characters. We often compromise our wide framings in order to hide the PA manbagging the light stand 2 feet from the scene's characters. By eliminating light stands (almost) entirely, we were able to achieve wider composition while allowing actors to move around more within the scene. Which brings me to my next point of....
2. Letting Actors Act
I recently got the opportunity to hear cinematographer Bradford Young speak about his work. Everything that came out of his mouth was incredibly enlightening, but I really vibed with his concept of, "letting actors act within the scene". So many times we fill up an actor's stage with G&E equipment to the point that they can't even move an inch without bumping into a cutter or losing a stop of light from the inverse square law in action. Getting the lights and grip equipment farther away and off the floor can provide an opportunity for better performances from the most important people on set.
Bradford Young kindly dropping knowledge.
3. "We're ready for a take Mr./Ms. AD"
These are one of the few expressions Assistant Directors like to hear from cinematographers (right next to, "we can cut/combine that shot"). Though mounting lights and finding creative ways to run power cables can take longer initially, it really speeds up the rest of the scene's coverage. After shooting the wide shot, I was almost immediately lit and ready for the tighter shots.
Marisssa Roxas, the happy and on-schedule Assistant Director
A couple more of my go-to mounting accessories. Gaffer's Clamps (left) for lightweight light fixtures and Grip Clamps (right) for attaching literally anything.
Shooting a Fight Scene
This script called for a fight between 3 characters. I didn't have much action cinematography experience under my belt, so I was really glad when Mitsu told me we had Ari Lerner to be our fight/stunt coordinator. After having a conversation with Ari and Mitsu, we agreed we wanted to shoot the fight as a one-er. If we did it right, seeing the entire fight in a single take would amplify the intensity while flexing a little more production value into the film. But from a technical standpoint, doing the entire fight sequence in an uninterrupted shot is no easy task. It requires absolute synchronicity between the actors and the cinematography work. If I learned anything from the process, it was that fight scenes are like anything in cinematography, practice makes perfect. Here's how we prepped for it.
Filmed Blocking Rehearsal
I like to film complex blocking rehearsals (even if it's on a cell phone) because it gives me a solid idea of how the actors will be interacting within the space. Later I can watch the video on repeat to figure out the best places to put the camera and lights.
Normally the way I prepare for scenes is to create 3D storyboards. But it's a little trickier to make animated storyboards for a long take that has many changes to the camera's and actors' positioning. Instead, I made the storyboards for the shots leading up to and following the one-er. They're side by side with frame grabs from the actual film.
From the Film
Watch below for the one-er fight segment from the film
Rollin with the punches
This was the first film I've shot that has been accepted into and recognized by film festivals. Since I put a wild amount of my time and effort into these projects, it's immensely rewarding and (self-validating) to know that other people and organizations are entertained by the work. The film has been accepted into the Houston, Texas National Black Film Festival, San Francisco's Black Film Festival, Northern Illinois University's Reality Bytes International Student Film Festival, and Montana's Social Political Film Festival. It took the top prize at Houston's National Black Festival and was 1 of 5 other films to be chosen by Allen Maldonado to be distributed on Everybody Digital, Allen's NBC and HBO endorsed app that publicizes short films.