I love shooting commercials that make a difference and give back to local communities. Hurlbut Visuals recently collaborated with Vaughn Wedeen Kuhn to lens the next set of Department of Transportation spots for New Mexico. The agency’s storyboards were visually unique and compelling, and we could not wait to bring them to life. They were captured by mixing formats. We combined elements of the Arri Alexa, Canon 5D, AND the C300.
The first, Aftermath, was a DWI spot that showcased the random tragedy caused by a drunk driver. What began as a wonderful graduation celebration for a budding surgeon instantly became a nightmare. Our concept wanted the look and feel to take place at dusk, right after the disaster. We had one day to shoot this commercial that had to take place in a 30-minute period of dusk. To control the daylight, we used negative fill and large solids. This allowed us to block the sun and create a mood that felt like dusk.
I had an Arri Alexa with Leica glass. So, I pushed the underexposed envelope to create that wonderful fragility of light experienced at dusk and or dawn. Then, I cranked the camera to around 4200 K so that the daylight had a coolish tone and used several stops of Tiffen Water White Neutral Density filters to get us around a 2.0. I have found that the Arri Alexa has about a 1.2 worth of IR filtration on its sensor. For anything above 1.2, I use an additional IR filter.
An example would be if I wanted 7 stops worth of ND, I would use a 1.2 straight ND and then a .9 IRND to add up to the 7 stops. The look and feel of the spot was inspired by the photographer Todd Hido. I love his still work of dawn and dusk. His earth tones mixed with muted cyans rocks.
Mixed Format Approach
The tone of this spot was about silence, that dead calm that slowly puts you on edge. These intimate lock-off frames show you an intimacy, an uncomfortable, personal moment in time. We chose to shoot with a mixed format approach with the Arri Alexa, Canon 5D and the C300.
The Alexa was our A camera, shooting all of the graphic wides as well as the medium shots of destruction.
Our third camera would be the C300, which was used for the final twilight shot of the drunk driver being loaded into the car and the empty liquor bottle in the foreground. We capitalized on the high sensitivity of the Canon sensor to extend our dusk light.
“Jekyll and Hyde”: 30
The boards for this spot were in the development stage when we got the job. As co-directors, we loved the idea of the concept, which was Jekyll is a nice guy who develops a Mr. Hyde temperament when he gets behind the wheel. Our vision was a single lock-off shot positioned on the hood of the car. This lock-off would showcase Jekyll’s crazy driving habits in a comedy of jump cuts.
I chose the Arri Alexa as the A camera for this lock-off because of its dynamic range ability. I knew we did not have the time to light the car’s interior, so I would have to go with the available light. This would be problematic with other cameras because of the necessary 14.5 stops of latitude, which is what you need when you have the burning light of a New Mexico day and the dim interior of a Honda Civic. The final footage had a unique Hipstamatic look and feel. Mounted on a hood mount and using a 19mm Leica lens to add to the interior comedy, we embarked on a mission to shoot at all times of the day and night that showcased Jekyll as a crazy man behind the wheel.
Many thanks to Morgan Estill for shooting all the great BTS stills and video.
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About Filmmakers Academy Cinematographer Mentor Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Director of photography Shane Hurlbut, ASC works at the forefront of cinema. He’s a storyteller, innovator, and discerning collaborator, who brings more than three decades of experience to his art. He is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, the International Cinematographers Guild/Local 600, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Hurlbut frequently joins forces with great directors: McG’s Netflix Rim of the World and The Babysitter, plus Warner Bros. We Are Marshall and Terminator: Salvation; Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed and Act of Valor; and Gabriele Muccino’s There Is No Place Like Home and Fathers and Daughters. His additional film credits include Semi-Pro; The Greatest Game Ever Played; Into the Blue; Mr 3000; Drumline; 11:14, which earned Hurlbut a DVDX nomination; and The Skulls. Notably, his television credits include the first season of AMC’s Into the Badlands.