Project Case Study: Using PreVis for GRAMMYs Reimagined

Project Description
I’ve worked with fashion and commercial director Brian Choy quite a bit in 2016, and he brought me onto a shoot with a long time client of his, the GRAMMYs. They’ve been shooting a series called “Reimagined”, where up and coming artists perform covers of chart topping songs. Most of the series has been shot in LA, but there has been a need for NYC crew for East Coast talent. Brian was selected to direct a couple of pieces for Devvon, an NYC based performer with a huge social media/YouTube following.

With his fashion background, Brian drew inspiration from fashion shows with small hanging light fixtures (also reminiscent of indie music vids). He also had in mind a long camera move that would open the piece, and asked me the best way to do it within the budget that was given to us. I recommended using a dolly (originally wanted a Fisher, but due to space and budget we had to do Dana) move across the stage, with an operator on a fluid head tracking the talent (who would be standing in one spot), and using an operator controlled zoom on a cine zoom lens. I could tell the team was ambivalent about my recommendation. What do you do as a DP when your verbal recommendations aren’t met with full confidence?

This was our final outcome, but how did we get here? Photo by Tom @ Mastershot Films

This is where the power of PreVis comes into play. This was the second project this month I was able to plan for using Cine Designer in Cinema 4D, and convince the director/producers how we were going to pull it off, all before ordering any equipment or me having to jump on any complicated conference calls to try to explain what I was thinking. I was easily able to get the dimensions from the studio we shot in and mocked up the entire camera move on a dolly with a fluid head and an automated zoom. I was also able to calculate the distances from the dolly to the artist and order the proper zoom with the focal lengths we needed. In this case we ordered a Canon CN-E 30-105. This is the mockup I did in Cinema 4D:

With these calculations there was no doubt that we could pull off the camera movement Brian wanted. Using PreVis as a DP is groundbreaking. A big thank you to Matt Workman and Cinematography DB for creating this amazing tool for DPs to stay relevant and save time and money in pre-pro.

Now that we had the camera A move and cameras B/C placement locked in, we went onto the lighting. My assignment was to get a cooler color on the background and a softer key. We ordered some Lagoon Blue gels and had some 2ks with 216/250. The look still needed to look like a live performance and not like a music video, so we had to balance the look of stage lighting with the inspiration from the brief.

We worked with set designer Espen Øydvin, a young, up and coming designer hailing from Norway and currently in NYC. He was able to string up all the bulbs manually (which I think took him a couple of days!). He also gave me the information I needed to calculate the footcandles all the bulbs would be giving off in a given area, which was helpful in determining the brightness of the lights we would need for proper exposure on talent without completely losing the bulbs.

Gaffer Thomas Chaves from Mastershot films also did a great job, given that he had dual Gaffer/Grip roles. It was challenging but he got the job done. He even recommended the Lagoon Blue to us when we were originally thinking of a colder blue, like steel blue, but the lagoon was really nice, still cool but a little more inviting that steel blue.

I had top notch AC Kyle Forbes on this project and he helped me get situated with the Microforce zoom to get me the automated zoom I was looking to achieve.

We had a hazer on order but we found out the day of that the ventilation system in the studio wasn’t able to be turned off, so the haze kept leaving the room. This actually worked out; even though we didn’t get the stream of lights from the lekos that we wanted, it created a live atmospheric haze that the client actually really liked, so we rolled with it.

We had a great team that was able to get it done despite a limited amount of time/space that we had to shoot in. Here’s the final outcome:

In Retrospect
If I could do it over again with a slight bump in the budget, I would definitely have used a Fisher vs Dana dolly. Danas are great for small moves, but it was challenging to repeatedly push the dolly across 20 feet of speedrail, operate the pan/tilt to follow the talent, and control the zoom all at once on my own. It was doable, but not preferable for repeated shots over time. Luckily Devvon was great at getting his songs done in a few takes so we didn’t have to roll all day and possibly get less accurate on the camera moves.

Directed by Brian Choy
DP: Arthur Woo
Production Design: Espen Øydvin
Key Gaffer/Grip: Thomas Chaves
1st AC: Kyle Forbes
Camera Operator: DiDi Lin
Audio Engineer: Marc Smith
Production Assistant: Ryan Mitchell

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