Shooting The Underdog - First RED Helium Short - Jonny Mass

Shooting The Underdog - First RED Helium Short - Jonny Mass

Red has been dropping new cameras CONSTANTLY it seems, and if you were on the internet at all this week you probably saw Jarred Land teasing their new White Helium 8k Weapons.

What you may or may not have seen was the first Helium footage released in the wild, a short film called The Underdog. It's a pretty fantastic project about a boxer - all shot on Red's new 8k S35 Sensor.

I was absolutely floored when I found out that the director of this project was 19 years old. His name is Jonny Mass, and he's got to be one of the most talented young filmmakers out there right now. Today I get to bring you an interview with him where we talk about his journey as a filmmaker and his experience shooting with the new Helium sensor.

Jonny Mass (left), speaking with his crew during a training sequence.

Jonny Mass (left), speaking with his crew during a training sequence.

Who are you?
My name is Jonny Mass and I am a filmmaker based out of Roseville, CA. I’m the Director and Co-Founder of Abandon Visuals - a production house that specializes in creating innovative film, TV, and commercial content. 

You’re 19. That’s crazy - how long have you been into filmmaking?
Crazy indeed, however most people that I work with couldn’t guess that I'm under 25. I’ve been into filmmaking for around 6 years but seriously got into it 2 years ago when I Co-Founded Abandon Visuals. From there things took off…

How did you get into filmmaking?
I used to be into lots of different action sports when I was younger and I was always making videos of my friends. That’s when I bought my first DSLR and starting shooting everything I possibly could. Now that I look back on it I can remember a specific time where it went from just filming wide shots of them as they flew by to actually directing the motion and setting them up for different sequences. It just kept progressing from there as I ramped up production quality and talent. I began to get into photography where I started shooting for a few magazines in my area and shortly after that I began shooting weddings. At the time I was still in high school so it was great money and if it meant I never had to work for anyone than it was good enough for me.

I never grew up wanting to be a movie director although I loved the art of cinema. In this day and age it’s different, it’s no longer go to film school and work your way up from a PA. I saw a different route…that’s what ultimately led me to the position I’m in now doing the projects I’m passionate about with clients I’ve dreamed of working with. I love advertising and everything that surrounds it from dealing with agencies to pitching the concepts to executing the productions. I think like anything you need to sit down and think of everything in the most realistic way possible. At what age would I be if I went to film school, amassed a large amount of debt, interned at a large production company, worked my way up, decided to go freelance, and then have to build an entire portfolio and client base? This was the question that I asked myself and what ultimately led to me finishing my senior year of high school early and creating Abandon Visuals. 

Do you consider yourself strictly a director, or do you shoot still?
Not at all, I am a jack of all trades. I creative direct, produce, and DOP as well. I am moving more in the direction of a director as that’s what I feel I’m the best at but I will never stop doing as much as I possibly can. Generally speaking when I get hired onto other peoples productions I’m a DOP but at Abandon Visuals I direct.

What kind of projects do you mainly work on?
My work is split 50/50 with viral web films and commercial jobs. Whether it be a supercar drifting down a mountain in Japan or a CVS commercial it’s within my range of work. My passion is primarily for high action subjects such as cars, bikes, athletes, etc. 

When and why did you go Red?
I ordered the Red Raven the minute it was released and when the Scarlet-W was announced I switched to that immediately. I received the Scarlet-W the first month the camera was shipping. From working with Red cameras in the past it was a no brainer. They are the key to my imagination. Anything I want to create I can create without worrying about the camera’s limitations. Red Digital has got to be the most forward thinking and innovative company in existence. No longer are legitimate movie quality cameras $300,000 and unattainable to the general public. No longer must you go to film school to have access to gear like this. They have created a new age in filmmaking and that’s something I’m proud to be a part of.

It’s not every day you get a camera that isn’t out yet - how did The Underdog happen?
I think like anyone we are all constantly analyzing our work, our relationships, our creativity, and our ability to succeed. This world we live in is sink or swim and if you want to succeed you must be constantly self improving and pushing forward. I did over a year of strictly client projects with nearly zero passion projects and it was killing me slowly. I know from other people in the industry that if there isn’t a healthy balance you can get burnt out very quickly. As I thought about all of this I realized it was time to start creating again just as I had when I first started. Creating just to create. Jarred Land shared the first passion project I shot after coming to this realization on his Facebook. I thanked him for sharing it and sent over a link to another recent film I had created. He replied “I have this thing called Helium and I’m ready to just out into the world and maybe you can be the one to do it.” He is a man of his word.

So Jarred Land ships you his personal Helium which you have access to for 24 hours. Did he give you any parameters? Things he wanted you to do/not do in the shoot or with the camera?
There were no limitations, just pure trust that I would make something great. He said to think of an idea and I said “Any?”. He replied with “Any.”

Was there any particular reason you went with a boxing short instead of something else?
I’ve wanted to shoot boxing for months now. I mean I have pitched multiple concepts to a few different companies and I was actually planning to shoot this in late August with Jared Fadel the DP. The concept however was very rough and there were no locations, talent, crew, etc. I had a day to build out a massive treatment to send to Jarred Land. I will never forget this…he asks me when I plan to shoot this in which I say late August. He then tells me that it needs to be delivered by next Friday and uploaded to the web the same day. When the president of Red Digital gives you the go ahead and tells you he needs it by next Friday you don’t ask for more time you hustle and do everything to make that happen. So I picked the closest boxing gym to my office and went to check it out and it was perfect. The owner of the boxing gym was extremely stoked to be apart of the project and sourced the talent and the extras. I went back to my office and put together a 25 person crew in less than 2 hours.

So you busted out a pitch and crewed up super fast, then you only had the camera for 24 hours - you presumably didn’t have time to shoot a lot of tests, so did you and your DP just go at it and hope for the best?
There were no tests done at all the camera showed up on the shoot 45 minutes before we needed it up and running. Red sent 3 people with the camera so there were no issues at all. I mean do we really need to do tests when we are shooting on 8K Helium with Leica Summicron-C glass? :)

What immediately struck you about Helium?
IMAX quality. Helium 8K is the future. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we powered the camera on and framed up our first shot. The detail is out of this world it really feels like you are there in the image. This camera will change filmmaking forever and I’m honored to be the first person to release a film with it.

You did a lot with it in a day - Easyrig, Drone, Tero… How did you pull so many people and so much gear for a passion project?
Lots of connections and being very efficient. We’re fortunate enough to have built a company that people want to work with as we do loads of cross advertising. We have good relationships with plenty of the top brands in the film industry so gear is never the issue. It doesn’t hurt that we were working with Red Digital on the release of the new Helium 8K camera either…people seemed to jump on board rather quickly.

Pulling focus using the Foolcontrol App on an iPhone.

I noticed in a picture that you were using Foolcontrol to pull focus at one point - how did you feel it compared to a traditional wireless follow focus?
Foolcontrol is amazing! It is so extremely smooth and keeps the camera lightweight for certain shots. It’s great for shots like having it on the Tero or Alta where we can’t afford to have more weight with a traditional wireless follow focus system. If you aren’t shooting on cine glass and are using EF lenses with electronics footcontrol is a no brainer.

What was the biggest obstacle to getting the shoot done in time?
Time was the biggest obstacle without a doubt. There was ZERO time for this shoot as I mentioned in a previous answer. From the moment I got the green light I was working until 3 am every day to ensure everything was ready for our 23 hour shoot Tuesday. This film needed to be shot over the course of 3 days but it just wasn’t possible considering the deadline so it all had to be crammed into one day. I mean I didn’t even have the kid locked down until the night before the shoot. Everything came together quite nicely and everyone pulled through.

So you wrap the shoot, dump cards, and finally get a chance to look at the footage on a big screen - what did you think?All of our mouths dropped to the floor immediately. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We have worked with 6K footage plenty and it’s just in a totally different class. It’s not just 2K resolution more but it’s also a new color science. Everything about the image is just beautiful, I mean even the low light is out of this world. We shot the scene out in the rain over 2000 ISO and there wasn’t a speck of noise. Whomever was able to order the special edition Helium 8K cameras yesterday should consider themselves very lucky.

How long was the post process?
We had 24 hours to edit and deliver the project. We had picture locked within 2 hours of beginning the edit as that’s what proper planning does. From there is was off to sound and color which we also do in house at Abandon. We are used to quick turn around times so it wasn’t much of an issue for us. 

Presumably most software isn’t supporting 8k .r3ds yet. How was the post workflow?
The post workflow wasn't too much of a hassle. We figured that Premiere Pro wouldn't have support since the camera was unreleased. So the RED techs gave us the latest version of REDCINE-X Pro, Which was unreleased at the time. With that version we were able to transcode the footage to ProRes. We did a few test exports with the RED techs in various formats, resolutions, and bitrates and found the fastest option would be a 2K ProRes 422 LT file.  After everything finished transcoding we edited the 2K footage in Premiere Pro in an 8K timeline. Once the edit was locked, we sent an xml of the timeline over to REDCINE-X Pro and batched all the .r3d clips into a bin. Next we created an export preset for 8K ProRes 4444 and exported all of the 8K .r3d files that were used in the locked edit. Once the 8K files were exported, we replaced the used 2K ProRes files with the 8K ProRes files. Finally we graded the footage and then began exporting the final cut. 

Are you going Helium? ;)
The world may never know…just kidding it will be all over our social accounts immediately. Of course we are going Helium, who isn’t is the question you should be asking.

What’s next for you?
That’s a tough question to answer. I’m going to keep creating passion projects alongside my client projects every month just as I set out to do 2 months ago. I’ve got a couple really cool projects I’m working on that I think people will really like. 

That's awesome, looking forward to seeing them! Where can people find you on the internet?

Thanks for taking the time to check this out, I'm super thankful to Jonny for taking the time to do this interview. He was also so kind as to share some 8k frames for you guys to play with! Click here to download those.

If you haven't checked the short out yet, scroll back up and watch it! So good.

I'm personally looking forward to playing with some 8k files ASAP, both from the Helium and 8k VV sensors Red is shipping.

What do you think of 8k and the Helium sensor?

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