Published on Sunday, 10 July 2011
Director Stephen Kang's short film ‘Blue’ won the Critics Week Canal Plus Grand Prix at
the Cannes International Film Festival. It was shot on a RED camera at 4K, almost entirely
under existing light on location.
|‘Blue’ was one of 10 short films selected to screen at the 50th La Semaine de la Critique at Cannes Film Festival 2011 from among 1,250 entries. It is the story of a former mascot on a children’s TV show who struggles to hold down a job at an Asian restaurant. He always keeps a smiley face on as he serves food. Some people recognise him from the old days but most have forgotten him. Gradually, depression overtakes him until one day, sad news arrives.|
“During the pre-production stage, we talked to the DOP Ginny Loane and the art director about a taking a naturalistic approach to tell the story despite its very fantastical nature,” said director Stephen Kang. “We wanted everything to feel as real as possible including the colours, lights and set. We didn't do any camera testing but we visited all the locations with the DOP without any gear or a director's viewfinder and just observed the light conditions and the architectural structure. We shot it at 4K, all on location except Blue's dream sequence for which we built an apartment set in a studio.
“My production company Curious Film owns the RED camera, which made it a natural choice for us to keep the costs down. The company already had a RED pipeline set up as well, making it easy to do the post production. All of the crew members had worked on RED cameras before except me. It was my first venture with the RED camera. We hired a complete RED package with Superspeeds from Metro Camera Rentals in New Zealand.”
|The design of Blue’s costume was important for the story. “It was designed by a friend of mine, artist Hanna Lee who I also persuaded to put the costume on and act in the film. Talented people from The Costume Studio made it. We also had to build the small apartment set, which features in Blue's dream sequence, first measuring an actual apartment room matching what we wanted to shoot and basing our set on that,” Stephen explained.
“I don't normally storyboard, however I did do some this time – just for the section when we shot Blue's apartment set and only had limited time on that day. We needed to shoot the main actor in both a blue and a red costume separately with a locked off camera for post at the same time. The whole shoot for the project was completed in four and a half days plus one pick up day.”
Many scenes are shot in very low light, contrasting with the white interior of the flat and harsh lights at the hospital and the restaurant. Stephen wanted to maintain the light source on the location as much as possible to keep Blue's world real and let the audience dive into the story. He said, “Of course, some of the locations we chose had virtually no light so we needed to put up lights, trying to mimic an industrial light source and rarely putting lights up unless there was no alternative. The camera holds up very nicely in various lighting situations except extremes like harsh light burn outs and very, very low light.
“We used a Sony 17" monitor with Sony PMW-EX30 HD recorder, which showed us pretty accurately the images we were getting. But sometimes we couldn't even set up the monitor because of very constrained location space so I had to peek at the RED LCD monitor behind our DOP. That’s what the world of short filmmaking is like!”
|Pushing the Grade
The initial rough edit was done after the main shoot, when they fine-tuned the edit as much as possible. They needed to tweak here and there and experiment in various places to feel for the mood and the pace of the story. Editor Luke Haigh said, “We edited in AVID at HD resolution. The project was actually edited in two parts because we shot some pickups after the main shoot and we finished editing remotely on a simple AVID laptop setup while Stephen and I were apart, working in different countries.”
For the final online and grade the production moved into Flame, working directly off of the R3D files at 2K resolution to ensure the best results for the film out quality. Though Stephen had emphasized the use of existing light throughout, the metadata and colour information from the RED footage was enough for Flame artist Leon Woods to push the grade just as Stephen wanted it to look. Luke said, “We were subtly trying to push a little blue into the image without adversely effecting skin tone too much, nothing too heavy but just trying to add that little extra layer to the project.”
In one scene only, split screen work was needed when the main character, played by the same actor, appears in both a blue and a red version of the suit. They wanted the size of the two characters and their movements to be almost identical. “The compositing was straightforward, mainly tracking, joining it all together and removing erroneous shadows or moving objects, and Leon could complete it in the Flame. Both characters needed to sit down at a dinner table having a meal. Because the suit is bulky the performer kept bumping the table when she got up. So we also needed to track and match the table.”
The film out was done at Park Road Post/Weta in Wellington NZ. Stephen and Luke had discussed with them since before finishing the edit how to ensure their workflow would produce the best results. The initial deliverables were two 35mm prints, one to send out to Cannes and one to keep. 'Blue' has been entered into the Melbourne International Film Festival in the International Panorama category. www.curiousfilm.com www.stephenkang.net