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Filmmaking

Autumn 2014 Round-up

2:AM Poster

Occasionally an individual photo will be released here and there, but it doesn’t validate a blog post of it’s own. Instead I’ll just quietly add them to the Gallery page. With the release of 2:AM’s key poster today, I figured that it’s a good time to show off  some of what’s been released recently.

2:AM [Link]
2:AM Poster

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HUD

"HUD" by Cosmo Leigh HUD by Cosmo Leigh

 

Like what you see and want me to shoot awesome photos for your film? Email me at marc@marchankins.co.uk and say hello!


Suddenly, a Film!

A couple of months ago I worked with Chris Cronin to produce my first ever short film called “The Gardeners Go To War” on behalf of Roots & Shoots to be displayed at this years RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Somehow, as if almost by magic and time travel, we have delivered a finished film, despite both me and Chris having worked on-set in numerous other films during the post production of Gardeners.

With it being the first public day of the Chelsea Flower Show, the film has also been released! Have a looksie! Cast entirely of students and staff of Roots & Shoots with no prior acting experience, “The Gardeners Go To War”  is a story about how the community surrounding a 1914 era manor house is transformed by it’s men being recruited into the army to fight in World War 1.

I would also like to take a moment to thank the key crew involved, Chris Cronin, Alex Stone, Sheara Abrahams, Lilly Hale, Joel Catchatoor for their hard work on this extraordinary project. Without these people the film would’ve been virtually impossible to pull together. Still looking for more WW1 era goodness? Here’s some more stills for you to eat up at your leisure.

If you have any comments or questions about “The Gardeners Go To War” please feel free to drop me an email at marc@marchankins.co.uk

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Cinematographer Alex Stone

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Cinematographer Alex Stone

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A Blimp What Now?

Photographing a film set has both unique opportunities and boundaries. You’re given total freedom, except when you’ve got none at all!

During a take (recording a performance) the stills photographer is quite rightly on bottom on the list of priorities. Any noise or significant movement is an absolutely terrible offence, taking pictures is a very quick way to make enemies on set.

That is, unless you have a camera blimp!

A what now? A flying camera? How does that help in being quiet and unassuming?

Despite it being a staple piece of equipment for an on-set photographer, many people, even filmmakers don’t know what they are. So, in the vain hope of having to explain myself less often in the future, I’m going to show you what I use to stay quiet on set.

No, it’s not a flying camera.

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A blimp is actually a box that’s designed to encase a camera and render it nearly totally silent while taking pictures. This particular one I own is actually a custom-made blimp that I stumbled onto in ebay. It’s a bit ragged from heavy use by it’s previous owner, however I intend to fix it up a bit and give it a sheen of polish.

Made of metal, with a lining of lead and foam, it’s designed to reduce the slapping noise of the mirror and shutters inside the camera. Here, take a listen!

Noisy

Quiet!

For me, the silencing is the least interesting part using this equipment. It does what it says on the tin, makes the camera quiet. Even though you can here it in the video, a shotgun mic turned away will never pick it up over dialogue or environmental noise.

For me, the things worth spending time to think about is how if affects my shooting style and workflow while on set.  There are a lot of small, but important things that will change the way I shoot.

One thing, is that the blimp does not have neck strap loops on it, meaning it can only be handheld. Now I use two cameras on set, because changing lenses is a fantastic way of making sure you miss everything important, a terrible distraction. However that means that at any time there’ll be at least one camera hanging off my body in one way or another.

This now has to change, and now I’m going to be spending time making sure that the blimp is placed somewhere safe when it’s not being used. Film sets are busy, highly dangerous and variable places, even if I plop it between my feet I need to be aware of anyone that might be headed my way in case I need to move it off the ground. The last thing I want is a camera operator or gaffer to trip over my blimp when handling heavy, expensive equipment. A sure fire way of upsetting insurance companies. Additionally, I’ve also had to remove the camera strap from the camera itself to fit it inside the blimp, so even when I’m not using it, I have to worry about a strapless camera.

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Another consideration is that I’m forced to change auto-focusing (AF) habits when using the blimp. By default DSLR’s tie AF to the shutter button, which is fine for casual use, however I deliberately use a custom setting to place AF on a different button, disengaging focusing from shutter release / exposure lock. It gives me extra creative freedoms for little extra complication. With the blimp however, I’m forced to reset that back to the default setting, because only the shutter button is accessible. This means that I must automatically re-focus every time I press the shutter button, a rather frustrating time waster.

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The other minor frustration is the lack of monitor window at the back. To check exposures or focusing of previous images, I need to crack the blimp open. Another time-waster. Fortunately I’m confident enough to not require checking too frequently, however If I have 10 seconds to spare, I’m now far less likely to double check that everything is cool. It’s a bit of a hassle when I’m also tackling a focusing system I haven’t really used in a long time.

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The last issue, is that the blimp is pretty heavy! It easily adds another kilo to an already pretty heavy collection of equipment. This in itself isn’t a huge problem, I could sure do with the exercise. However when you’re outside in a freezing cold winter, or roasting in a small studio that’s filled with cooking hot studio lights, that extra bit of manual labour can seriously detract from my mental sharpness. It means that I’m going to struggle to hold the camera steady for longer, which can be tricky when having to wait for that right moment I need to perfect a picture.

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Fortunately it’s not all negative. Despite all these issues and restrictions, it’s easily worth the ability to take photos during a take. There are many situations that won’t occur when the cameras aren’t rolling. I can take photos of actors giving their best performances with the lighting at it’s most dynamic! It also means that people are less aware of when I’m taking pictures even when we’re not rolling. This helps in reducing self awareness in the subject, and enables me to photograph more naturalistic portraits. Interestingly, when I shoot without a blimp, people tend to block out the incessant clicking, however with one camera in a blimp people will now immediately pick up when I’m using my second camera due to the sudden alien noise in the environment.

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The blimp can also affect the relationship between photographer and subject, especially when the subject is aware of DSLR’s but not blimps. DSLR’s are so common that the cameras themselves carry no sense of authority to the person using them, however I’ve seen that people will pay attention to someone photographing with such a weird piece of equipment. It seems to be that one must know what they’re doing if they’re capable of working with such an odd looking camera!

On the flip side, because it’s so bulky and awkward, it can slow me down, and block my face from the subjects perspective. It makes a physical barrier when I’d rather be spending time communicating face to face with the subject, instead of being a voice behind a black box. If I have time I’d prefer to take the camera out of the blimp to shoot a portrait where I need to communicate with or direct an actor.

So there you go! Camera Blimp! If you found this post interesting and would like to know more, or if you’re suddenly inspired to work with me, fire me an email at marc@marchankins.co.uk – I’d be grateful!

 


Stepping Above The Line

I’ve always dabbled a little bit with the production side of movie making, mostly out of just giving a hand where one is needed in the complex process of making a film. However I’ve never, ever took charge of an entire project. Until now that is. For some reason I answered the beckoning call of endless work and chaos wrangling!

I’ve been asked by the London based charity Roots & Shoots to produce a  high quality creative media supplement as part of their display at this years RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Working with director Chris Cronin we’re creating a <5 minute B&W silent movie that shows the story of a 1914 manor house and how the community handles the loss of it’s gardeners who are sent off to fight in The Great War. The awesome part is that all the cast are students and staff or friends of Roots & Shoots, which gives it a charm that would be difficult to obtain with professional actors.

We’ve just wrapped on Principal Photography and are now in post-production! If time isn’t too hard to find, I’ll write about my experiences of heading a highly non-traditional short production.

In the mean time I’m going to let the power get to my head and enjoy the power of releasing my stills without having to worry! Believe it or not, these photos were only taken in last week! Have a look at this wonderful, beautiful location!

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There’ll be plenty more where these came from! Keep an eye out for more news and information!

Any questions? Email me at marc@marchankins.co.uk


New Year, New Photos!

It’s a huge shock to the system to get back into the swing of things after spending the entire Christmas period away from the computer, having one of these rumoured things normal people call “holidays” where your work brain switches off entirely.

Couple of things to show off! First off – New Large Format photo! Secondly – Exclusive stills from the next work in progress Chris Cronin film! Woo! Content releases!

Tech Hunt – Large Format

The first photo today is one of the successful Tech Hunt experiments from over a year ago! Originally shot as an examination to my critical focusing skills with a large format camera, it’s been decided that the photo is good enough for you, the wonderful public to enjoy! (Image actor – Michael Collin) – Click to embiggen!

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Also, because I cannot get enough of it, a 1080p anamorphic crop!

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I’ll be writing a follow-up article about the techie stuff behind these Large Format photos over the coming days – I didn’t want to clog up a sweet collection of photos with boring details.

Exclusive!

Next up are a smattering of key stills from the next, mysterious Chris Cronin film, hinting at things to come! This first still really should be viewed as big as your screen can make it! Click and embiggen it up! Exclamation marks!

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If awesome actors (Cameron PrudamesNatasha Goulden) aren’t enough for you, have a look-see at some awesome crew too!

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Did you like these photos? Want to tell me you liked it? Maybe you even want me to take photos for you? Give me a shout at marc@marchankins.co.uk


Sunday Radio

Slowly waking up and gurgling around on a Sunday morning after a good night’s drinking is not a time when I expected to hear my own voice.

No, I’m not still drunk. I’ve been listening to an interview I had with an old friend of mine who runs a film-based podcast. Having listened to my own rambles, I’ve decided that it’s coherent enough for the general public to have a listen too!

http://www.hipcast.com/podcast/Hqc71yRQ (~35 minutes long)

It’s actually a fairly in depth conversation about my experiences as a unit stills photographer, how I work and my career as a whole. So if you miss my voice, or have never even heard it before, click that link and let my silky smooth voice entertain and educate your Sunday afternoon.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you think I performed, having never done a radio style interview before feedback would be really useful. Let me know what you think at marc@marchankins.co.uk


The Making of a Poster

So the team behind Tech Hunt have finally released the main poster for the film! (click for the full-size image)

Tech Hunt Movie Poster

Unsurprisingly, this is a poster that contains photos I’ve taken! More surprisingly, is that I created the whole image! One is not normally tasked with creating posters, they tend to be crafted by professional graphic designers. However this time the director Chris Cronin was clear that he wanted a single photo to be the key focus for poster, rather than a graphic heavy collection of different images that is frequently the case.

Believe or not, the final result looks almost nothing like the original photograph! So, for the sake of shameless self-promotion, lets go on a journey of discovery and learn about how this poster came to be! Find out how we went from nothing but an idea – to this:

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Then from that image* how I created the final poster!

Before The Shoot

“Marc. You’re going to take a photo of a rough cowboy lookin’ type leaning against a shot up wooden wall. Red light shafts will be running through the bullet holes. I don’t care how. You have an afternoon in a farm to make it happen.”

The whole shoot was also highly experimental, we had no idea how it was going to turn out! Mostly because we were all primarily concerned with the filming of 30+ horses and the stunts they were performing, planning for the photoshoot was low in the priority list. We had no choice but to figure everything out on the day and then decide how to tackle any problems in post-production.

No matter how busy I am, there'll always be time to take vain self-portraits.

No matter how busy I am, there’ll always be time to take vain self-portraits.

Performing The Shoot

It was a cold time of year. Very. Cold. The air was filled with flurries of snow and icy drizzle. Me and my crew were also exhausted from several days of filming horses causing all types of mayhem from the back of a pick-up truck. However the job needed to be done, otherwise a lot of money was going to be wasted.

Having spent the past few days shooting in this farm, I had a rough Idea of the kind of props and locales that were around for us to borrow. There were numerous barns, sheds and buildings about the place, however the owners were not going to be particularly happy if they found us drilling bullet holes through their favourite horses stable, so we had to think quickly and creatively!

Terrible weather aside, I needed to have total control over the lighting, so an external location was not the answer. We also needed lots of space and zero daylight.

Luckily, we had the perfect location for my needs. There was a large stable with a dirt floor!

See how it's pitch black in that stable? That's how I knew that light pollution won't be a problem in there.

See how it’s pitch black in that stable in the background? That’s how I knew that light pollution won’t be a problem in there.

All we needed now is some kind of wall to lean our actor against. This is where we were really lucky, the farm had a few disused buildings and the owners were generous enough to let us have a dive through their old junk where we found an old wooden barn door! Short of permanent structural damage to their property, this was the best we were going to find.

I'll admit, it's not quite a wall, but the barn door did an excellent job of playing the role, great acting.

I’ll admit, it’s not quite a wall, but the barn door did an excellent job of playing the role, great acting.

So the basics were starting to take place. We had a location, some lights and a dressed actor, from here on, it was all down to making sure everything looked good and was suitable for later editing. My plan was to create a series of locked-off photos where we blast out some smoke and move the lights behind the barn door around so that I could merge rays of light together in photoshop later.

Glamorous.

Glamorous.

Reflectors are a great way of producing soft lighting when lights are limited.

Reflectors are a great way of producing soft lighting when lights are limited.

Post Production
So we’ve taken the pictures and got the assets we need to make the poster, now we just gotta piece the puzzle together. First of all, to prove that the idea doesn’t look hideous no matter how much work I put into it, I threw together a proof of concept. I created a normal coloured photo and a pink/red version and blended the light rays.

Production still from the set of Tech Hunt. All rights reserved.

It’s pretty rough, but it proves that the red rays of light could be created without looking like utter trash when more care is taken. Obviously we quickly decided that it would look better to have the whole scene looking red rather then just the shafts of light.

Feeling confident that hacking everything together would be worth my time, it was now a case of collecting a number of photos where the rays of light played nicely and extend the wall using various wood textures I had previously taken pictures of at the farm.

Boy, what a task that was!

This is my workspace, there are many like it, but this one is mine!

This is my workspace, there are many like it, but this one is mine!

The final .TIFF file is a whopping 350mb large and consists of well over 100+ layers. I’m sure there are graphic designers laughing at these pithy little numbers, however considering the most I do to photos is cover up blotches and liberally splatter colours about, this is a huge job!

I’ll spare you the boring gory details about the edit, there are plenty of sterile tutorials online that you can fall asleep to if you want, however I will give you a glimpse into the magic that took place. Rather than using words, let me show you a graphic of the various stages the poster went through. It reads left to right, from top to bottom. Hopefully this wont ruin the magic and show me up as the terrible photochopper that I am.

You really do need to click it.

CLICK TO EMBIGGEN!

One of the biggest jobs there is actually really hard to witness in that image, late on in the process we decided that we should shift the actor about 6 inches to the left, forcing me to create details that were never there before!

So there you go, another glimmer of faint light in the dark and dangerous world of working as a stills photographer. If you have any questions, (or even want to hire me) feel free to email me at marc@marchankins.co.uk.

*This photo has actually been manipulated pretty heavily already, but it’s the first coherent and recognisable photo compared to the final poster.