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Shooting RED 8K for Danny Boyle's Yesterday

COW Library : Cinematography : Adrian Pennington : Shooting RED 8K for Danny Boyle's Yesterday
CreativeCOW presents Shooting RED 8K for Danny Boyle's Yesterday -- Cinematography


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What if you woke up one day and realized you’re the only one who remembers the music of The Beatles? That’s exactly what happens to Jack, a struggling singer-songwriter, in Danny Boyle’s romantic comedy with a twist (and shout), Yesterday.

Boyle’s film is based on a story by Jack Barth and screenplay by Richard Curtis.
Produced by Working Title, the Universal release tells the story of Jack (former Eastenders actor Himesh Patel) who wakes up after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout to realize he is the only one who can remember The Beatles and their songs. The hopeful musician decides to capitalize on the situation, and he claims the songs as his own. The film co-stars Lily James (Baby Driver) as Jack’s best friend Ellie, with cameo appearances from Ed Sheeran and James Corden.

Lily James and Himesh Patel in Yesterday
Lily James and Himesh Patel in Yesterday (Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

Yesterday is a romcom with a fantastical element to it, so our challenge was to deliver an aesthetic which is at times delightfully inappropriate but always fun,” says Christopher Ross BSC, who lensed Danny Boyle’s acclaimed TV miniseries Trust as well as features including Black Sea and Dad’s Army.




Christopher Ross BSC with Danny Boyle for Yesterday
Christopher Ross BSC with Danny Boyle (Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

As with Trust, Ross selected the RED HELIUM S35 8K sensor and asked DIT Thomas Patrick, who also collaborated on Trust, to manage the project including the extraordinary amount of data to be captured for the film’s main concert sequences.


(Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

One of these was filmed on the beach at Gorleston-on-Sea in Norfolk, England, with 6,000 extras. Filming also took place at the Latitude Festival in Suffolk.






(Suzanne Hanover/Universal Pictures)

The biggest challenges were the multi-camera shoots at Wembley Stadium and Cardiff’s Principality Stadium during live performances by Ed Sheeran on his Divide tour.

“In our story, Ed invites Jack to play a few songs on stage (including “Back in the USSR” and “I Saw Her Standing There”) in front of 80,000 people, so we hatched a plan with Ed’s team to photograph Ed on stage from a variety of angles and then put Himesh into those angles,” Ross explains.


(Universal Pictures)

Filming was done at night at the end of Sheeran’s performance. Boyle and Ross attended several of Sheeran’s shows to understand where to place cameras without obstructing any audience views and for Ross to study the lighting design.




“We chose moments that we thought would best suit our story,” Ross explains. “We picked 30-second to one-minute segments of Ed’s songs that we would then loop the lighting cues over and over again while Himesh was on stage knowing that we could pull the audience from certain shots at certain timecodes that would match with the other shots.”

Eleven RED cameras were deployed for three nights shooting at Wembley and an astonishing 17 REDs covered each of four performances in Cardiff.


(Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

“I drafted in extra help for Wembley and Cardiff where there were three download stations working away almost constantly,” says Patrick, who works with DIT and digital dailies company Mission. “It was a challenge, but I was quite specific with a plan for RED MINI-MAGs and reloads, and the careful prep meant it was much easier at the time. Mags of certain capacities were labelled and ordered for specific parts of each concert with reloads and collection planned well before shooting.”

Each day of shooting the concerts would generate between 10TB and 15TB data for which a lot of SSDs were needed.

“It was tough finding the balance between what would be ideal, and what wouldn’t bankrupt the movie,” Patrick says. “I wrote out a fairly in-depth plan of timings, reload times, contingency, and turnaround times. I worked with the lab to give preference to clearing the 1TB mags first as I knew we needed those back in circulation quicker to allow for the concert portion of those shoot days. That way we could save on sourcing more of those.”

Mission Digital built a huge viewing station housing 10 FSI monitors, all colour calibrated, for Patrick to monitor on-set with Ross, while receiving pictures from every camera via Cobham wireless remotes managed by the Mission Digital team.


(Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

Most of the film was recorded in 8K at 8:1 compression, but concert footage went down to 5:1 to give the VFX team at Union VFX a bit of extra information in comping Himesh into the scene.

The additional overhead when shooting 8K also provided a better-quality master in 4K. This decision was also made to cover the 2:1 aspect ratio of the Panavision PVintage lenses that were employed. Based on Panavision Ultra Speed Primes, this lens set was rehoused using elements of original glass from the ‘70s and ‘80s with which Ross had a favorable experience on Trust.

“What I like about the RED HELIUM is its ability to give me a slightly idiosyncratic colour response – kind of like using a roll of Fujifilm NC-400 from back in 2005,” Ross explains. “I quite like embracing quirky color response. I wanted a look that was not a clinical representation of the world.”



He continues, “To try to make our film as universal as possible we wanted to ground the look of the film in a very particular reality without making it too glossy. That’s why we made the choice of lenses. The PVintage are all quite quirky and don’t really color match in terms of magenta fringing or response to flares. That’s something I wanted to embrace because I feel like part of what makes a production glossy is its homogeneity. I wanted us to be forced to take footage into the grade that doesn’t quite match. There’s an energy to that I wanted to capture.”

Shooting at 8K made the most of the wonderful character of the lenses from Panavision, with the added advantage of a cleaner image when downscaling from 8K to 4K in the DI.


Hamish Patel and director Danny Boyle on the set of "Yesterday" (Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

“My usual method when working with such idiosyncratic lenses is to match at the camera end,” explains Patrick, who used Resolve on set to manage dailies. “On this movie, however, it wasn’t practical. To add any more processes for the camera team on set combined with the nature of some scenes being fast moving and fluid in terms of lens choice and camera position meant it wouldn’t have been a consistent workflow.”

It was set up as a RED IPP2 colour workflow. Patrick implemented a system where mags went through his on-set rig for color work in Resolve before transfer to the download station.

“I’d create a project each day and match things up with primary tweaks, which allowed for more precise and considered matching than a Livegrade CDL would. I was matching lenses on the fly with LiveGrade, but mostly just for on-set monitoring.


(Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

This project was given to assistant DIT Jon Fenech before a split or wrap, for him to relink his backed-up media to and make an extra check through. Fenech sent this to Mission Digital’s west London lab for them to create dailies using the Resolve project. Ross viewed dailies in Pix and 5TH Kind.

“There were no worries about transfer of color info or compatibility,” Patrick reports. “This kind of workflow is just about timing really. Finding time to grade between setups without delaying backup for Jon.

“Things were kept rather simple after prep. I just kept checking with the lab and having offline media sent back to me to check, and monitoring online dailies for any issues. Archive and delivery to Goldcrest was on LTO.”

Online, VFX, conform and grade was made at Goldcrest Post under supervision of Senior DI Colourist Adam Glasman. He had helped devise the basic show LUT originally for Trust and now transplanted to Yesterday.

“It is essentially a simple Rec709 conversion very similar to RED’s own IPP2-709 LUT with medium contrast and medium highlight roll off,” Glasman explains. “Danny and Chris wanted a fairly naturalistic, slightly documentary look. Where we contrasted it a little was in making a distinction between scenes shot in East Anglia and those in Los Angeles. The East Anglian sequences have a night-time sodium feel to them – warming, yellow but restrained. The color for the LA section is vivid, more saturated.”




The ultimate visual goal was to amplify the fantastical reality of the situations that the main characters find themselves in. “Bringing those two together means having to be beautifully unconventional,” Ross says. “If we’ve succeeded in any way it’s because we found a route through the conventions to a kind of fun way of seeing the film.”


From the New York Times series "Anatomy of a Scene", director Danny Boyle provides commentary on the playful rebirth of the Beatles classic song "Let It Be"





Adrian Pennington is a UK-based journalist, editor and commentator on the business and technology of media production. He has produced and chaired conference sessions, co-written a book on stereoscopic 3D, and edited publications including Sports Business TV and Video Age.




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