Cinematography Breakdown: "Preparation"
I’m Dustin Ward, a Director of Photography based in NYC but originally from the Bay Area of CA. I love telling stories and communicating emotion through my work as a visual artist, and have had the opportunity to do so through music videos, commercials, interviews, and short films. I’m always looking to collaborate on interesting pieces, so please feel free to reach out!
For the past few months, I’ve been looking for a project that falls into the thriller genre that would allow me to experiment with moody lighting setups. I came across the script for Preparation, and was immediately drawn to the opportunity to create a look that matched the suspense of the story. I pitched my vision to the director, Mark Clauburg, and briefly outlined the ideas I had for lighting and camera movement. He reviewed some of my previous work and we decided to move forward together on the project.
Preparation was going to be shot over a single 12-hour day from 2:00pm to 2:00am. My primary concern was the need to create day-for-night but transition into night-for-night. We had multiple solutions for this issue, including shooting close coverage in a room with windows blacked out during the day and then returning for window-facing coverage during the night. Sometimes we showed windows during the day that were partially blacked out (duvetyn backed away from window to let sun spill in), and then later used lights to imitate the moonlight for close-ups once the sun had disappeared.
I shot with the Ursa Mini 4.6K with Rokinon lenses and Glimmer Glass. The color temperature was set to 3800K to make the sun-spill look like moonlight. I kept a stylized LUT that I like on my SmallHD while I used basic Rec 709 on the camera’s monitor. I shot at ISO 400 because I really like the blacks on the Ursa at 400 and then I lit the scenes to keep the lenses at a 2/2.8 split. Todd Rawiszer, the 1st AC, worked like a magician to keep me informed of my aperture and kept things in focus with admittedly not the greatest lenses and often single takes.
The team was very slim. Todd and I made up the camera department with a couple assistants to help with G&E. I told Todd beforehand that this project would be a collaborative effort where I would often need his hand with lighting as well as camera. He was essential in pulling off the amount of work that we did. Another factor that made Preparation possible with a limited crew was having a lighting diagram so that I could very quickly instruct everyone where to place the lights. This step was also important since I would not have the opportunity to visit the location before the shoot day. Mark Clauburg, the director, created the floorplan and then I added all the lighting setups using Film Set Objects, a tool that makes it easy to quickly drop in what lamps you’ll be using on set. My diagram shows all the setups at once, which I realize is not ideal, but I didn’t have the time to create a diagram for each setup. There were more camera setups than what’s listed, but these ones correspond with the images in this post. We were not able to find the Leko in our rental on the day, so we used a 1K fresnel instead, which unfortunately did not give the shear patterns on the walls I was hoping to get.
When initially speaking with Mark, I mentioned that I wanted to limit the amount of cuts and instead find keyframes that we dolly between. He agreed, so we began sharing references. The first thing I jumped to was the opening scene from The Place Beyond The Pines (it’s on Netflix right now… go watch it… the whole film), along with some frames from Drive, Prisoners, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, No Country for Old Men, and Nightcrawler. These films by no means have the same cinematography, but collectively they represent an aesthetic that I naturally lean towards.
Like any project, we could have benefited from more resources, but I’m really proud of the images we were able to create within the limits we had. The film has not been released yet, but working on Preparation made me even more expectant for the next projects I’ll work on in this genre.