A Filmmaking Blog | VashiVisuals
In 1992 Francis Ford Coppola filmed Bram Stoker’s DRACULA with no CGI or digital VFX. He fired his Visual Effects team that said the shots he wanted could not be accomplished without modern digital technology. He hired his son Roman Coppola (only 24 years old at the time) and together they shot all the visual effects with either in-camera and on practical sets. The relied upon tried and true techniques that went back to the birth of cinema. The results were beautiful, organic and surreal while using every trick from the previous 100 years of filmmaking. What could have been done digitally was instead created practically by skilled craftsmen that are slowly becoming obsolete in Hollywood.
I hope that day never fully arrives.
Here are the practical techniques used to create the visual effects:
David Fincher is known for his creative and visually ground-breaking title sequences.
From the frenetic and kinetic jagged cuts of SE7EN to the CGI extravaganza of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO to the North by Northwest inspired large static font in PANIC ROOM.
The Title Sequence is a chance for the filmmaker to set the tone and prepare the audience for the world they are about to enter.
In Fincher’s new NETFLIX show MINDHUNTER…the use of subliminal edits is used to cue the viewers to the violent world of serial killers.
As a filmmaker, I always want to challenge myself both creatively and technically. I pursue projects that can stimulate me on several levels. If I am going to commit a year of my life to a feature film…it is crucial that I walk away with new skills, a successful storytelling experience and a lot of fun in the trenches with my team.
When I was asked by director Scotty Waugh to edit 6 BELOW…all my personal and professional requirements were met. All the checkboxes were ticked. The true story of Eric LeMarque, a professional hockey player, that went snowboarding and got trapped in a snowstorm on an isolated mountain for 8 days was riveting.
As fate would have it, Scotty didn’t know I knew Eric LeMarque when he asked me to edit the film. He didn’t know that Eric and I both played professional hockey together 15 years earlier. That only added to the immense sense of responsibility I had to deal with in telling his true story in the best manner possible. The conflict of editor versus friend.
Then Scotty dropped a couple huge technical bombs on me. 6 BELOW would be the first entire feature film in the history of Hollywood to be presented in the Barco Escape format. The 7:1 aspect ratio is the widest of any format in 100 years. Three 2K DCPs are projected in sync onto 3 full-sized movie screens to create an incredibly immersive viewing experience.
On top of that, we also had to deliver a 2.76:1 aspect ratio (same as the 70mm version of “The Hateful Eight”) theatrical version for traditional one-screen theaters. That meant two complete separate feature film edits to accommodate for the different framings of each format.
After all that…there was one more surprise that Scotty had waiting for me…
I spent 10 months editing 6 BELOW and you only need 97 minutes to enjoy it!
It’s in theaters October 12th and available to stream in HD on October 13th.
I will be posting a breakdown of how I created the first ever 6K Native workflow for a Hollywood feature film here on my blog October 14th.
Until then, here’s a some background on the true story of 6 BELOW…
When a snowstorm strands former professional hockey player Eric LeMarque atop the Sierra Nevada Mountains for eight days, he is forced to face his past and come to terms with his personal demons in order to survive.
My mom handed me her Nikon F2 camera when I was 4-years old and I proceeded to snap some blurry photos of my foot and the wall. I was hooked. A contraption that captured the moment. 40 years later I’m still snapping blurry shots but now on purpose.
Recently I purchased a 5-pack of expired Fuji Velvia 100 35mm color slide film for a trip to Montana. I took a Nikon FE and FE2 film cameras with me and a battered Nikon 43-86mm f3.5 (first version) lens known for its distinct and extreme flares. I ended up shooting only Kodak Portra 400 and Tri-X up there but did go through X-ray security with my film.
On my return to Los Angeles, I shot the Velvia 100 in Culver City and the last couple shots in Palm Springs. The exposed film then sat in my car for a week as the temperature was 120 degrees in the desert. I then send the film to The Dark Room in San Clemente for developing. What I got back blew my mind. These are the untouched scans I received from the lab…
Usually I love to add the distressed, grainy and damaged looks in post to my photography as I’m trying to express a feeling and mood as opposed to worrying about sharpness or focus. This first roll of Velvia went through serious torture before it was developed. I’ve reached out to several professional photographers to ask what could be the cause of the beautiful damage. It’s been narrowed down to but not limited to: expired film, overheated exposed film, x-rays, dirty lens, mold, spores, humidity and dumb luck. Here’s a closer look at some of the shots from roll #1. These are untouched scans with no color correction:
AVERAGE SHOT LENGTH
Analyzing the average shot length (ASL) of films / TV / music videos can be very telling or completely irrelevant. Taken as its own metric…it is just a number. The supposition that action / thriller / sci-fi films genres have a shorter ASL is statistically accurate but that does not mean a longer ASL means less tension, action, drama or intensity. I have been deep-diving into ASL statistics for several years and shared a lot of SHAREABLES to help filmmakers and cinephiles further comprehend the mystery behind the numbers.
David Fincher is a precise and peerless filmmaker that accepts nothing short of perfection. On the spectrum of ASL as attributed to directors…he falls on the quicker end. Fincher’s average ASL for feature films can be calculated at 3.87 seconds. No matter what the number and how it compares with other filmmakers…his films never feel rushed. In my opinion, they bloom and play out at a sublime pace that suits each individual film. The amount of craft and care that goes on behind the scenes (and never seen by the audience) is second to none. I’ve been lucky to see the process first hand and helped create the post production workflow for GONE GIRL as his team made the transition to Adobe Premiere Pro from Final Cut 7.
Stephen Follows has an amazing article that further breaks down ASL by genre and number of shots to further delve into the analytics. Here’s a sneak peak at the ASL Genre Breakdown but please visit his site for the full story.
THE FINCHER NUMBERS
Back to David Fincher, it’s important to note that his films I’ve documented have a higher number of average shots than most films. Combining all genres the average feature film has approximately 1200 individual shots. By importing a full-length feature film into Davinci Resolve and using the Scene Detection function…I have been able to automatically recreate all the separate edits in an entire film. I then removed any edits that were created in dissolves or scenes with flashes that would add false edits to the final count. Here are my results.
Click on the images to enlarge to full 8K high resolution:
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – 3.2 AVERAGE SHOT LENGTH
GONE GIRL – 3.7 AVERAGE SHOT LENGTH
Until next time…
His second feature film as a director was The American starring George Clooney. The story of an assassin hiding out in Italy for one last assignment is the short version of a much more layered tale.
Corbijn chose to use epic wide shots to help balance the internal conflict of the lead character and at the same time show his place in the greater scheme of things as microscopic. One of my favorite cuts as a film editor is to go from a close up to a majestic wide shot. It signals a change. Often it is a dramatic change of thought / point of view / location or story point. When done purely through visual means it creates a moment so that you can absorb what just occurred and prepare you for what may yet come.
Corbijn uses wide shots as connective tissue to bridge scenes but to also release tension and remind the audience of the beauty of the Italian locations. Here are all his massive vista wide shots in chronological order:
Until next time…
PIXELS / RESOLUTION / SPATIAL FIDELITY
Steve Yedlin is the DP of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Looper, Brick and numerous other films. His quest and passion for Spatial Fidelity is legendary. He just released an in-depth video analysis of six high-end filmmaking cameras.
His 67-minute video pulls back the curtain on the truths of resolution and image quality that all filmmakers have been struggling with in this constantly evolving technical world. His empirical testing shows that resolution (HD/2K/3K/4K/6K/8K/11k) is not the most important component of image capture and that Spatial Fidelity is by far the most important concept for delivering the ultimate image.
His term “Authoring the Image” encompasses many elements including: resolution, perceived sharpness, pixel count, lens choice, sharpening, compression, perceptual differences, grain, halation, optical aberration and order of operation.
We discussed my journey from professional hockey player to editing 11 feature films in Hollywood and the creative process that spans both worlds.
I share how I starting shooting and editing films with a VHS cameras and decks in the 1980’s all the way up to working on: Deadpool, Gone Girl, 6 Below and Sharknado 2 and more.
Here’s the 16-minute video: