The Monster Hunter Short Film
Behind the Scenes of Monster Hunter Video Blog
Making movies. I’m sure all who read this blog loved doing it when they were kids. No script, just a crazy idea and a bunch of insane imaginations. Grab a camera and start shooting. No lighting, bad acting, horrible shot sequencing, crash edits, but in the end… we are all just tried to tell a story. Some of you probably still love doing it. I don’t do it enough!
I have been working in sports television for a long time. Unscripted, live sports television. I do not intervene or alter the action, I simply document it as it happens in front of me. History in the making without any re-takes or pick-up shots. It is fun, pays the bills, but it can get very boring very fast.
I started shooting commercials, which I compare to short film making… very short 30 second film making. Sometimes I get enough footage to tell a longer story. I control a lot of what is happening and how it shakes out. There is time and the means to do so. Usually there is a beginning, middle and end and there is always a script and a ton of pre-production. Plus I get to work with a team of people hunting down a common goal… to bring the stagnant black and white lines of text to life in a moving visual (and auditory) medium.
“So lets make a movie.” That is what Chris Nicini, Joe Francazio and I said in locker room 7B at the TD Bank North Garden in Boston. We took a break for coffee in the “TV lounge” while setting up for the Bruins network television broadcast. Chris and Joe made a bunch of movies when they were kids and even a few recently. They are both audio guys by trade, but I found they have a few hidden passions and skills that compliment my own cinematography. This project was going to be an interesting creative collaboration. Joe came up with “Franco Film Works“.
I tossed out the idea that I always wanted to shoot a “moon-lit foggy woods” scene that looked like it was straight out of the X-Files. It did not need to be a UFO crash site, but we brainstormed a few ideas. Joe wanted a vampire film and Chris was glad to write it. Monster Hunter was born.
We asked a few trusted interns who were working with us at the time, Jared Lennox and Dustin Sylvia, if they wanted to work a 24 hour day for free. They said yes. The college students were both excited for the experience using a Sony F3, Kessler gear and other cutting-edge expensive cine equipment. I was happy to have them on board because I could have never kept on schedule without their tireless efforts.
We used an 8 foot Kessler Crane with a battery powered Revolution head and controlled everything with an Oracle joy stick. I viewed pictures from the Sony F3 using my beloved SmallHD DP6-SDI monitor powered with a Switronix PowerBase 70 battery pack. The dolly moves where created with a 5 foot Kessler CineSlider. We only needed a few jib and slider shots for the film, but I wished I had worked in a few more.
Joe tapped his pool of actor friends from around New England and did all the logistics for the film. I did nothing except organize a gear list and pack my truck to the gills with kit. This was a big job since I had pretty much every light and bit of support gear I own on location. We all donated something. I donated gear and my time and others did similar things. About $300 was spent on food, props and costume.
We decided to shoot this film on the Sony PMW-F3 with S-LOG installed. The dynamic range of this camera with this firmware update is incredible. I call it a baby ARRI Alexa. I would guess I was getting about 14 stops of latitude between the darkest part of the picture and the brightest using S-LOG. I’m sure the internal Sony codec did not help me, but when Joe looked at the compressed XDCAM footage off the SxS cards on his edit system, he was blown away. It looks amazing and holds up quite well.
I chose the Zeiss compact CP2 prime lens kit because of the sharpness and lightweight design. I own the 21mm, 35mm, 50mm, and the 85mm. I wish they were a bit faster, but the sensitivity of the F3 made up for their t2.1 and t2.9 maximum aperture openings.
I used the excellent Letus follow focus system on the prime lenses. This FF is super smooth and responsive. Letus also makes the Master Cinema Series rigs for going hand held. We decided early that this film would not have much shaky handheld. The only scene was when the hunter was running up to the house. I just held the F3 out in my arms for this brief shot.
We all met up around 3pm at Joe’s parents log home in the deep woods of New Hampshire on a chilly Saturday afternoon. It was the late fall and the trees were void of leaves. The sun was filtered through clouds and the wind was light. The fact there was just a bit of breeze would help keep us on schedule. We had big plans to make these woods have some moody atmosphere.
We planned to shoot the seven page script (you can download it at the bottom of this page) in a 20 hour window of time, with few breaks. No sleep, just work and shoot the scenes as the sun set and night arrived. Then wander around in very cold conditions within dense forest behind the house. Eventually we made it inside for a break, and I was impressed by an unknown spread of food that Joe had laid out in the kitchen. But the gorging time for Twizzlers was short. Our biggest enemy was the breaking dawn, that would be quitting time whether we were done shooting Monster Hunter or not.
Joe’s parents house was perfect and so was the weather. The neighbors did not seem to care when I plugged in an ARRI SUN 1.2k watt HMI light and covered the place in an eerie low lying fog. I had so much fun as a DP pretending the moon was low in the sky casting long shadows in the trees. With just a breath of westerly wind, I managed to back-light the haze from the Rosco Alpha 900 fogger. We powered everything with about six very long extension cords that ran through poison ivy and other hazards, like a swamp. I let Dustin take care of that, he has a knack for safety and uses his head to keep us all out of trouble. (sarcasm implied)
After getting everything we needed from the fading light at dusk into the dead of night, we moved inside the house. I had many lights set up outside so I kept them near the windows to simulate moonlight streaming into the cozy interior. If there was a real DP on location, he would have probably asked me, “So… how many moons are shining down on this planet of yours?” Well…there was a moon at every corner of the house, painting blueish white light all over the actors inside. The biggest moon of them all was the HMI light that lit up the entire front yard and the entire front portion of the dwelling. Every now and then a car would slowly drive by wondering where the Police Line – Do Not Cross yellow tape began.
The actors were great. They actually remembered their lines! I was impressed as we did take after take, focusing on best performance. Joe was holding the SmallHD DP6 and I was monitoring audio coming off the wireless Sony UWP body packs hidden on each actor. We chose to record the sound to SxS with the pictures so that Joe would not have to sync the audio in post. I love the TRAM 50 mic heads made for the UWP series, they sound excellent and make little noise buried inside clothing using the included “Vampire” clips. We had a fishpole and shotgun, but did not end up using it.
We had some issues with the vampire fangs and it took a bit of time to get them to look realistic. Jen struggled a little! Also, keeping the vampire’s reflections off the sliding glass door behind Chris’s antique organ was a pain. Joe had to edit around a few good takes in post production to avoid it. Vampires apparently do not have reflections.
Another hurtle was getting the arrow catch and wooden stake stabbings to look real. I did my best to reveal them in my camera work with whip pans or a snap tilt. Joe made the effect take on a whole new life by doing some creative foley in the sound sweetening process. I think we pulled it off.
Towards the end of the night (or early morning), things got slightly chaotic. I was exhausted and vaguely remember asking Joe, “just tell me where to point the camera…” The sun was rising and our artificial moonlight was slowing degrading. We had to finish the film. Things were going to start to look drastically different inside that house. We cut parts out and thought that we may have to get the entire group back together to re-shoot the ending. Fortunately, (since we all have crazy schedules) this was not the case and Joe found a way to put a big red bow on the whole thing.
Chris and Joe recorded a few pick-up shots with a Canon 60D that Joe matched the best he could to the F3 footage. They were mostly fast cuts and tight shots so you can’t really see the difference in the quality of the two cameras. The flashbacks early in the film were all shot on Chris’s 60D. But since they were heavily effected by filters in post, the little shallow depth of field DSLR looked great.
Please take the time to read the script for Monster Hunter. Chris formatted it so that we could easily take notes for camera blocking. Read it along with the film and check out what we cut out of script!
I also put together a quick alternate edit of the film to tease it and show the actors and crew some dailies. This is an HD 1080p file and it really shows how sharp the CP2 lenses are on the F3. It also demonstrates the power of S-Log and the amount of latitude the super 35 sensor is capable of. I only slightly graded the image, crushing the blacks and bringing up the saturation. The Vampire poem is read by Tom O’Bedlam. Please do not distribute this on the web. It is for your “Pixel Peeping” pleasure only please!