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The Making of Les Bohemes: Production

In February Sony asked filmmaker and film educator Den Lennie and director Bruce Logan ASC to make a short film using three Sony cameras. They also asked Lennie to make a series of short behind-the-scenes films about the making of the film to act as a useful guide to filmmakers wanting to find out more about the filmmaking process from pre-production to production and post. In this second of a trio of “making of” films, Den Lennie and Bruce Logan ASC discuss the production stage of Les Bohemes.

The Making of Les Bohemes: Production

Sony asked filmmaker Den Lennie and writer and director Bruce Logan ASC to come up with an uplifting short story shot on three cameras from Sony’s NEX range of camcorders: the NEX-EA50EH, NEX-FS100E and NEX-FS700E.

One ambition of the film was to be a source of valuable tips; useful to any filmmaker regardless of whether they were making a Hollywood blockbuster, a corporate film or a wedding video.

Lennie and Logan came up with Les Bohemes, a light hearted romantic drama which payed homage to French director Francois Truffaut’s 1962 new wave classic Jules and Jim.

The majority of the shooting on Les Bohemes was done in three days on location in Leigh-on-Sea, UK, on the coast of eastern England in March this year. There was also an additional days shooting at London’s Piccadilly Circus.

It was decided to limit the shoot to six locations all less than 30 minutes drive from one another to minimise the time spent travelling from one set to another. That way the whole film could be shot on budget in just three days, plus one extra scene shot on at London’s Piccadilly Circus on a fourth day.

Putting the money on screen

When you are shooting any film - particularly one with a limited budget – it’s really important that as much of the money appears on the screen as possible. That’s what you get remembered for at the end of the day.

Director of photography Den Lennie

Lennie comments: “When you are shooting any film – particularly one with a limited budget – it’s really important that as much of the money appears on the screen as possible. That’s what you get remembered for at the end of the day.”

“In production you can help keep costs down by finding the best and most cost-effective way of feeding the crew. Plus I’d recommend keeping an eye on parking costs, which can really add up.”

Cost effective shooting options

With a limited budget the name of the game was to get as many different shots as possible out of the minimum number of locations. And this meant that even the potential of director Bruce Logan’s hotel room in London was fully exploited as a backdrop.

“The hotel room in London’s Park Plaza, Westminster was high up with a commanding view, so it was decided to use it, shooting with the NEX-EA50 ‘s servo zoom lens for a zoom shot of the window and the world beyond,” says Logan, better-known for his credits on classic Hollywood films such as George Lucas’ Star Wars, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Airplane.

The NEX-EA50’s zoom gave us the option of creating a moving camera shot in camera, saving time shooting the scene,” recalls Lennie.

Creating movement

Other inexpensive techniques were also used to inject movement into the film. For instance, moving camera shots were achieved by rigging the NEX-FS100E to the main character’s bicycle when location shooting in Leigh-on-Sea, UK.

For point of view shots of the bike during the same scene the crew used a lightweight magic arm attached to the bike.

By using the NEX-FS100E’s E-Mount 18-200mm Optical SteadyShot image stabilized lens we saved ourselves a lot of grief in post, recalls Lennie.

Shooting a collision on a budget in Les Bohemes

The majority of the film was shot on the NEX-FS700E – using a variety of glass such as Alpha lenses for a wide field of view.

The ambition with the look of the film was to create an epic feel on not much money and a very small crew, says Lennie. “With the NEX-FS700E and NEX-FS100E we were able to replicate the style of a small footprint DSLR production but with all the benefits of a proper camcorder.”

The film was shot largely on two zoom lenses, accommodated on the NEX-FS700s’ E-mount lens system, which gave the team plenty of flexibility. By using zooms the production could work quickly and was not slowed down by large numbers of lens changes.

For monitoring the production team used a 7-inch monitor, although this was less useful for assessing images shot using the camera’s off speed settings. Here the viewfinder had to be used.

“Working off the camera’s viewfinder at 120fps whist trying to pull focus at 200mm/F2.8 it was tough to see your focus,” recalls Lennie, who recommends investing in a high quality camera head when using long lenses to produce more fluid camera movements.

Slow motion shooting

Lennie and Logan made good use of the NEX-FS700E’s higher frame rate options for slow motion. “Using the 240fps option on the NEX-FS700E gives you a 12 second burst, so it’s important to plan exactly when you need it,” recommends Logan. “Be clear, shout action and get your actors to perform immediately.”

Anticipate that slow motion shots will be more time consuming, warns Logan. “When you shoot sequences above 60fps you have to wait for the NEX-FS700E’s cache function to process the images before you can play them back in camera, so you have to accept that it’s going to be a bit stop and start,” he explains.

Workflow

Using a lightweight magic arm for cost effective point of view shots

Everything was shot on 16GB SD cards in AVCHD format, with the NEX-FS700E also set up with an Atomos Samurai external recorder recording ProRes 422 to give the option of replacing shots that needed to be heavily graded with bigger ProRes 422 files.

Low cost accessories

With no grip crew and little time, laying track was out of the question. Hiring a dolly would have been too expensive, so low cost alternatives were needed.

One piece of kit, which was really useful for introducing low cost movement into the film, was a slider that could accommodate the NEX-FS700 and NEX-FS100.

Another short cut suggested by Logan was to hire a wheelchair to mount the camera on it – which proved a good way of getting more extensive budget tracking shots.

On location stunts

“The script called for a collision between a car and a bike, but we didn’t actually shoot a collision,” reveals Logan.

Action scenes like this are always going to be expensive, partly because of the insurance costs; it’s an expense that can be avoided by careful planning and judicious editing, he explains.

“We got around it by constructing a sequence which would create the idea of a crash, with the bike sliding through frame and the camera actually focusing on a couple of bystanders who witness the crash as it happens. The next shot is a cut to the spinning bike wheel on the ground.”

Lighting

Production locations were carefully chosen on the basis that they would work well in natural light. Where extra lighting was required, there was a Kino Flo LED lamp plus an alternative devised by Lennie. “I used lights from a hardware store for the restaurant scene and put some ND gel on the front of the lamps, letting the full intensity of light out of the back facing the actors. This created a nice light”

When it comes to lighting, you need to create the right skin tones but it’s not all about the lights themselves. Pick locations and shooting angles that you know will work, recommends Lennie.

Shooting in the bedrooms of the artist characters posed a different problem. “We found that there was too much light, but it wasn’t that interesting.”

If the director doesn’t work with the budget, your shoot won’t work. You have to compromise and be prepared to discount some shooting angles because they are not affordable.

Director of photography Den Lennie

“All we needed to do was cover the windows behind the camera to give much better lighting for nothing. What I have found is that lighting is often just as much about taking light away as adding it in,” says Lennie.

“The skill is scaling down lighting solutions to match your budget. You have to work with what you have got and be creative with the resources available, maybe simply shooting at a different time of day when the light is better.”

“One thing I know,” adds Lennie, “is that if the director doesn’t work with the budget, your shoot won’t work. You have to compromise and be prepared to discount some shooting angles because they are not affordable.”

Shooting in London

Lennie and Logan were pleasantly surprised by the experience of shooting the penultimate scene at London’s Piccadilly Circus. “We fully expected that it would cost an arm and a leg, but it was affordable and the organisational process was very clear – something every professional filmmaker should appreciate.”

“All you need to do is approach the relevant council’s film unit and explain what you are doing. Tell them if you are laying track or using a dolly, how many people you are having on location and what safety procedures you have in place.”

“Then you just have to prove you have £5m of public liability insurance and apply for a permit.”