We had the pleasure of filming on one of the premiere ranches in all of Montana. The Story Ranch. What an amazing story in the history of this family. They built the first sky-scraper in Los Angeles and since that moment every floor was called a story. Rob Story was our location manager, props guy, 1st Assistant Director, cow wrangler, you name it. He knew how to do it. This was an American story, after all. I loved the rawness of his ranch. It was not a Hollywood typical. We settled on a gate and vista.
The Concept: America
The concept of the Marines spot is really about capturing America. While the Marines raise the morning colors, we go about our daily lives. While they do 3 and 4 tours in Iraq, we go about our daily lives in America. Likewise, while they risk their lives in Afghanistan, we go about our daily lives in America, and while they defend us across the globe, we go about our daily lives in America. This sequence was a rancher tending to his cattle at sunrise.
The Camera: Canon 5D MK II
I wanted to employ the Canon 5D MK II not only because of our limited budget but also because of that amazing sunrise feel that you can capture with this camera. The power of 7.5 stops in the underexposure is impressive. We showed up at 4:30 am for a 6:01 am sunrise. We had found the shot and set the crane the night before, so all we had to do was to get our rancher and rig the camera on the crane and we were ready to go.
When casting our rancher, I took one look at Justin and knew he was the guy. He said he had a dog named Billy and that she was his right-hand man. I wanted a dog to show the American expanse and when Billy shot up through the cows sending them running, it was epic.
The Equipment: Filmlites
We used Filmlites in Bozeman, Montana to assist us with a crane and grip truck. JP Gabriel is the owner/operator of the crane, grip, and lighting house. JP and his amazing crew rocked it out. We shot with Kowa glass and brought the American art of ranching to the forefront.
One problem we encountered was getting the camera low enough. I had a hard time holding the foreground gate and our dog Billy that raced underneath it, while at the same time holding the tops of the Tetons. So my Elite Team member/Grip extraordinaire, Dave Knudsen had an idea. He took apart our ball mount hi-hat and flipped it upside down to get us lower.
I have to say that normally I am not a big fan of the onboard monitor. If I am going handheld, then I reach for the Zacuto finder and show playback to the agency and client after I shoot. If we are on a crane, dolly, or on sticks then I fire up my 24″ HP Dream color and operate off of that. One of the weakest elements of this camera system is the mini HDMI output. This is what we set out to perfect. HDMI splitters, HDMI repeaters, everything so that I could treat the monitor like it was my film camera viewfinder, and then the splitter/repeater was sent to the agency and client. It worked so well.
Enhancing Client Collaboration
I operated the shot. If the sun came up a little I was able to adjust under my hood of black and the agency wanted to see it back. No problem, I became the video playback guy. They viewed it in full HD, not SD output captured off of a bad BNC cable. This system created intimacy and collaboration with the client that I had never been able to do before. They came up under the black hood and we would discuss the action and how they felt the shot looked. AWESOME!!!
The long lens Leicas came next 280mm and the 560mm. That afternoon we set up a long lens side angle of our Rancher and Billy making their way through the rolling hills, the cattle, and to the gate. Dave Knudsen, my Elite team member Key Grip/Operator, and Jamie Stephens our 2nd AC took turns lensing.
We needed to find a waitress for the spot. Someone who would help us paint our portrait of America. As Greg Haggart (Elite Team producer) and I ordered our lunch the first day, Crystal came up to our table and I knew she was the one to be our waitress in the commercial. Period, the end.
Crystal, our waitress, delivered coffee to us on the scouting day. We knew we struck GOLD, twice!!!
Lighting Anywhere, America
The next day we were lighting the interior of a diner that was supposed to be anywhere in America. Filmlites supplied the lights and we created an amazing sequence at this restaurant.
We all know that the over-exposure with the Canon 5D is not that of film. So, how do you not show that weakness? We waited to shoot this after 6 pm when the light was lower and the contrast was not as steep.
Middle American Restaurant Lighting Setup
I used a 12 x 12 double net out the window at the end of the bar to bring the outside down a little so that you did not get that summer-hot overexposed video look. We did the same to the two windows on the right side of frame. Then, we used Filmlites 12k HMI Fresnel, a 6k HMI Par, and a 4k HMI par to blow through the windows and create the early morning sunlight feel.
I had two ambient lights inside to soften the contrast. A 4 x 8 sheet of foam core in the corner near the front door with 2- 1.2K Pars bouncing into it.
Then, a 2500 par bouncing right near camera to wrap into their faces while they looked up at our waitress.
The 2500 is shooting right over the camera to help with their faces when they look away from the windows. I kept it parallel with the wall so that it felt like another window and not a forced bounce light. Here you can see at the bottom of frame how I am employing my double Dream color and HDMI splitting technology.
3 other lights remained outside. 1-6k HMI par, 1-4k HMI par, and 2.5k HMI par which were bouncing into 2- 12 x 12 Ultra bounces to bring in that north light soft ambient light from outside. The cool reflection on the countertop was the sky.
We brought in diffusion smoke to give subtle shafts of light. All the lights coming in the window have Rosco Half CTS to give us that warm morning texture of Anywhere, America. I shot this at 160 ISO and at a 5.6 with a 75mm, 50mm Kowa lens.
We are now off to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to capture C-22 Ospreys taking off. Then onto Washington D.C. to lens the last 4 shots of the commercial at the Iwo Jima War Memorial. Here is a little taste of what is in store.
Looking for mentorship in the film industry? Schedule a 1-on-1 meeting with Shane Hurlbut, ASC today! This is where you can get expert advice from an industry professional on your career or a particular project.
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.