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Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC and director Frederic Goodich, ASC got together to push the new Sony F65 to its limits. The result is Kickstart Theft, a short film based on De Sica's classic The Bicycle Thieves, which was shot in downtown Los Angeles in a range of challenging lighting and shooting conditions.
Kickstart Theft from Band Pro Film & Digital on Vimeo.
If you've seen Vittorio De Sica's classic 1948 The Bicycle Thieves
, you'll recognize the plot of Kickstart Theft
, a 7-minute homage directed by Frederic Goodich, ASC and shot by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC. The story is simple: in the updated version, a man, Victor, and his son, Kierky, search desperately for the thief of a precious motorcycle that enables Victor to provide for his desperately poor family, who live in a homeless encampment in downtown Los Angeles.
Produced by Band Pro Digital
, the short film enabled Zsigmond and Goodich to test out the new Sony F65
in rigorous shooting conditions and difficult lighting situations. Goodich said the germ of the idea for the film began at NAB
2011 when he saw The Arrival
, a short film produced by Sony and shot by Curtis Clark, ASC to demonstrate the qualities of the new F65. Clark shot The Arrival
using the F65 camera to capture 4K imagery in 16-bit linear RAW format and also relied on Sony's SR-Master field recorder.
"When I saw what the camera could do, I wanted to make something with it as well," recalls Goodich. At Cine Gear Expo
2011, Goodich and his friend and fellow cinematographer Zsigmond talked with Peter Crithary, SONY Marketing Manager, North America, about working together. "After I did the DI on Black Dahlia
, I fell in love with digital in post production," says Zsigmond. "I had wanted originally to stick with a chemical finish for the release, but it didn't work out that way. Since then I've been doing more digital. Before Kickstart Theft
, I'd already shot with the RED
Alexa and wanted to try the Sony F65."
Goodich purposely picked a familiar story so that the viewer could focus on the images and the light.
In thinking about a script, Goodich says he was interested in doing something with social relevance, and eventually thought of The Bicycle Thieves
, which he adapted for an urban Los Angeles setting about a homeless family dependent on a motorcycle to eke out a living. "I purposely picked a familiar story so that the viewer can focus on the images and the light," he explains.
Goodich brought the project to Randy Wedick, technical consultant at Band Pro Digital, and soon Band Pro Digital's CEO/President Amnon Band was also on board. Although the central idea was to tell a story, everyone involved also wanted to test the F65's limits. Lenses were Leica Summilux-C primes, the Canon 30-300mm Zoom and a 14mm Zeiss Master Prime.
"We were supposed to 'break the back' of the camera -- to demonstrate how it performed under daylight, tungsten, neon, fluorescent and mixed light conditions," says Goodich.
"With good lighting, digital can look as good as film," says Zsigmond.
"We picked locations where it would be challenging to manage highlights and shadows. Without good lighting, you can't make good photography." Goodich concurs. "I did a storyboard using the photos I'd taken and sent it to Vilmos," he says. "Time-of-day with respect to the light was as important to us as the action in the scene. We're image-makers. I recall years back hearing Vilmos say that a good movie tells its story with pictures, not words.
The opening scenes were shot late afternoon and at dusk, when the sun gives modeling and creates a chiaroscuro effect. Edward Hopper was another inspiration."
Mickaëlle Bizet as Nayeesha and Kimani Shillingford as Victor. Also above, Samuel Caruana as Kierky.
"The notion was to shoot available light, with little or no little supplementary lighting, and scenes of high dynamic range wherever we could," says Goodich. "Downtown locations are rich in detail, architectural design and texture. I'd written a scene outline that essentially indicated single shots -- each of which would propel the story forward, much like a montage for a movie trailer. The locations included crowded downtown Los Angeles streets, a vacant lot where the family camps near railroad tracks and the concrete basin of the Los Angeles River. Production Designer Lawrence Kim added extra and necessary details to the more intimate scenes whenever possible."
"The idea was to take a Master Shot approach, blocking for one angle, where light could dramatize and convey the mood," Goodich continues. "Original music would link the action. I scouted locations and camera angles paying attention to light." He notes the use of Sun Surveyor
, an iPhone/Android app that enabled him to plot the angle of the sun (and moon) at specific times and locations. "It records details of the sun's position throughout the day and allows you to tie these in with time-of-day photos of the location at a chosen angle. I sent these as JPEGs in emails directly from my phone to Vilmos for feedback. The week before the actual shoot, Vilmos and I scouted each location together at different times of day, and he determined the optimal times and angles we should be shooting."
Although the production had permits, the filmmakers ended up 'stealing' a number of shots. The location where the family makes their camp abutted a dead end of railroad tracks; a railroad guard chased them off the lot and made them move further towards the sidewalk onto Los Angeles-owned land. Other times, they grabbed shots as they happened, with no time to rehearse, such as when Victor and Kierky rotate a 'Cash For Gold' sign at a busy intersection. "We had a permit to shoot on the street, but not in the shops," says Goodich. For another scene, Zsigmond notes how they waited for a bus to go by in the frame so it would read more like a busy city street. Although the buildings in the background do burn out a bit, Zsigmond is philosophical, saying they got what they could under guerilla shooting circumstances.
Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC and Frederic Goodich, ASC
In a turning point scene, Victor steals a bicycle and the owner runs after him, Zsigmond found a way to begin the shot looking through a grimy glass window, and then sliding left past the window and zooming in down the street as the protagonist gets caught. In another stolen shot, we see a close-up of Victor and Kierky buying and eating Mexican food at a street market stand. "We were told we couldn't shoot in any of the outdoor restaurants at the market," says Goodich. "So we opted for the guerilla approach and used the Canon Zoom. The result is more real than if we'd controlled the light; and I like the silhouettes. We did window out some hot areas in post to bring them down."
A turning point scene, when Victor steals a bicycle and the owner runs after him. Kimani Shillingford as Victor and Samuel Caruana as Kierky.
The F65's low light capabilities were on display in a close-up of semi-precious stone jewelry on a piece of black velvet. When the camera pulls back, we see the couple and what looks like a derelict factory building in the background. The scene was shot at 8:45 pm, nearly in the dark, and the lights in the building were the only ones to illumine the background; the night sky outlines the horizon. "We were shooting wide open; but we did light the foreground with a few small LEDs," says Goodich, who says that only a couple of shots were captured at 1000 ASA.
In another shot, the man and woman are riding on the motorcycle at night and approach a gas station. "Vilmos and I liked the light from the gas station; it reminded us of the work of Ed Ruscha
. The scene pans through 180°, and is lit almost entirely with available street lights, except for a 650 backlight we hung out of frame from a telephone pole."
The lighting from the gas station was reminiscent of Ed Ruscha's work.
In an early morning shot, we see the man and his son clean the motorcycle, against the skyline of downtown Los Angeles. "We shot this against the sun and still got details in the shadows and the sky, which included the sun in the frame," says Zsigmond, who notes that he grabbed the shot without rehearsal when a train fortuitously chugged down the nearby track.
Another shot that demonstrated how well the camera held detail was a shot of the Los Angeles River, which was actually a blow-up of the wider master. "It's a 40 percent blow-up and the details holds, even in the ripples of the water," says Zsigmond. "Normally, in video, a blow-up of a shot like that would induce banding and numerous artifacts along the hot kicks in the water."
Zsigmond reports that he used a 14mm Master Prime twice, once in the shot of the man running down a long street in search of the stolen motorcycle. Because of the constraints involved in making the film, the filmmaker used a slider instead of a dolly. "We couldn't afford dolly tracks," says Goodich. "We had to avoid technique. We didn't have the time or money of a feature film."
One of the two shots taken using the 14mm Master Prime
While the shoot pretty much followed the original storyboard that Goodich constructed and Zsigmond approved, during the shoot both Zsigmond and Goodich conferred on blocking while Goodich worked with the actors and Zsigmond operated the camera. "Vilmos loves to use the Zoom lens; it allows for quick modifications of composition based on the actor's movements," says Goodich. "The climactic scene in the LA River Basin involved nine actors and five motorcycles. I was a bit anxious how we would cover it in the short time we had to shoot. But it all worked out. I simply blocked the action with the actors and Vilmos handled the framing. It's the one scene in Kickstart Theft that involved multi-angle coverage. Vilmos is an artist with the Zoom. We ran the scene again and again as Vilmos changed angles to capture key story points. The final edit works as intended."
Frederic Goodich, ASC with Samuel Caruana [Kierky]
The production recorded to SR memory, and DIT Wedick made two copies of the raw files. One of them went to dailies colorist Bobby Maruveda who transferred them to Rec.709 files with a one-light color correction. The editor Gib Jaffe, ACE, using Avid
Media Composer, did a first cut that was sent as a Quicktime file to Goodich and Zsigmond. "Vilmos suggested we should hold on the shots longer," says Goodich. "It looked too much like a music video with fast cuts. Gib made the additional changes. At this point, we could really study the shots and see what the camera could do," Goodich adds. "Vilmos and I approved of the cut. After which, I spent several days working with a sound designer, Ely Akl, who composed the music."
Goodich notes that the F65 offers ACES workflow capability. "We found so many colors and a wide dynamic range that the camera could capture. It made it so much easier to work fast on the set and later to grade images in post-production. Kickstart Theft
was designed to illustrate that capability, even in low light." This was illustrated in another shot taken in almost complete darkness, in which a Gypsy reads the homeless woman's palm. "Vilmos thought he'd have to shoot it again," says Goodich. "To the eye, the scene lacked contrast." Zsigmond concurs. "We were so surprised when we saw the image on the monitor next to the camera," he says. "The camera had even picked up the colors of what the Gypsy is wearing. Although, we couldn't see those colors clearly by the naked eye, the camera saw them. It was easy to bring up in post."
Light Iron Digital
, with colorist Connie Bogdanovich at the helm, did the DI. "She was an artist," agrees Zsigmond and Goodich. "It was a simple, smooth session."
All in all, Goodich and Zsigmond found the Sony F65 "simple to use." "We had a very small crew: a DIT, who also served as Data Wrangler, a 1st assistant and sometimes a 2nd assistant, and a three electric/grips," they say. "We were able to do so much partly because we planned well, but also because the camera didn't require a learning curve."
Zsigmond jokingly states: "In the very last scene, having retrieved the motorcycle, the family walks away from camera under an arch of a bridge. I had set up a shot, but Fred said he wanted to compose at least one image! He made the shot tighter so you only see one arch. And it's good!" He adds that it was nice to work with a director/writer who was also a cinematographer. For his part, Goodich shares how he's always considered Zsigmond a mentor. "Working with him in this way was one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences I've had. He's very collaborative."
Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC