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Wilfred: A Sitcom Shot Entirely on DSLRs

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CreativeCOW presents Wilfred: A Sitcom Shot Entirely on DSLRs -- DSLR Video Editorial


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Russell Einhorn
Russell Einhorn

To say FX Networks' TV show Wilfred is a quirky comedy is an under-statement. Based on a critically acclaimed Australian TV show of the same name, Wilfred is a half-hour live-action series about Ryan, a young man with issues, who forms a relationship with his next door neighbor's dog…which only he sees as a surly and irrepressible Australian in a cheap dog suit.

The show is also unusual in that it is shot entirely with DSLR cameras, more specifically, three Nikon D800s. Wilfred Executive Producer/Director Russell Einhorn explains why. "What dictated the camera gear was that I wanted a shallow depth of field that I could not achieve in Super 35mm," he says. "So I went with a Nikon stills camera because I wanted that incredibly shallow depth of field that you can only achieve with a 70 mm format."

To understand Einhorn's choices on Wilfred it's necessary to understand his evolution from cinematographer into producer and director, with a long list of credits in comedy, including The Office, Parks and Recreation, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shameless, and Nurse Jackie among others.

"I have a very strong cinematographic point of view as a director," Einhorn says. "And while performance is the most important thing, I think the look of the show also sets the tone and feel of the show that the viewer takes away. From being a DP, I understand many facets of what it takes to make a show. I've worked with every single department. Having a base understanding of what everybody does is invaluable and practical, not just theoretical, experience."

He says that being the documentarian on The Office honed his ability to "catch a person at the right moment, punctuating the joke with the camera movement." "That was formative in developing my comedic timing," he says. " A lot of jokes were told with the camera on The Office, and that's how I was able to show that I had a sense of humor, and show I had a strong comedic point of view and good comedic timing, and that's how I ultimately became a director."

Through directing pilots and then staying on those shows, he began to get producer credits, including a supervising producer credit on It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. "On Wilfred, I got a co-EP credit, and on the second season, I got my first EP credit," he says. "Now everything I'm directing and staying with long term will have that EP credit along with it, and that's because I manage a lot of the logistics of the practical elements of running a show. On Wilfred, I became very active in running the show at an affordable cost, and that's how I've managed to move up as a producer."

Shooting Wilfred with the Nikon DSLRs goes a long way to nailing the show's aesthetic, as well as keeping it on time and on budget. But operating Wilfred has its challenges, says Director of Photography Kurt Jones. "DSLRs don't have the best viewing system, which is kind of ironic as the person framing the shot has the worst view in the house," he says. "Also, we cross shoot about 99 percent of the show. So making interesting frames while keeping the other cameras out and not throwing shadows in each other's frames is tricky. Lastly, we shoot between f1.2-f2.5 most of the time so a good relationship with my focus puller was paramount; my 1st AC Matt Brewer is one of the best and we work well together."


WILFRED: Episode 13: Regrets (Airs Thursday, September 5, 10:00 pm e/p). Pictured: (L-R) Jason Gann as Wilfred, Elijah Wood as Ryan Newman. CR: Prashant Gupta/FX
WILFRED: Episode 13: Regrets (Aired Thursday, September 5, 10:00 pm e/p). Pictured: (L-R) Jason Gann as Wilfred, Elijah Wood as Ryan Newman. CR: Prashant Gupta/FX


Jones reports that the show has a good system in place for cross shooting. "On our main set, we light mostly from grids above the set, which frees us from seeing stands on the ground," he says. "We would do shots where Camera 1 pans through the set and the other cameras would fall into place to cover the scene. We have it pretty dialed in."

Einhorn points out another piece of gear they use on Wilfred that he learned to use on The Office. "On The Office, we started off with the traditional three-man tripod and head set-up," he says. "It simply took too much time and manpower to set up, so I looked around and realized that the OConnor 1030D with the CF tripod could be the solution."


(rt to left) Kurt Jones DP, Tim Arasheben C camera operator and Don Carlson C camera assistant on Wilfred
(rt to left) Kurt Jones DP, Tim Arasheben C camera operator and Don Carlson C camera assistant on Wilfred


On Wilfred, he notes, "the set up was even more critical." "The smaller weight and one-man-band set up can handle the heavier long lens work, and still allows the operator to literally pick up the camera package and move to the next shot, without needing to rebalance."

Jones agrees. "While Wilfred is primarily a handheld show, we do quite a bit of long lens work which requires a fluid head," he explains. "That's where the OConnor heads come in. When we use the Nikkor lenses for a long 'oner', we need to know the head will be smooth. OConnor's 1030D with the CF tripod system handles the weight with ease and does exactly what we need a head to do." Being able to move quickly results in the production being able to complete anywhere between 30 to 60 setups a day. "The smaller size and ball leveling of the head, along with the lightweight CF sticks makes this easy," he says. "So do the OConnor lightweight matteboxes. They performed perfectly all season."

The OConnor matteboxes have come in handy for another aspect of producing Wilfred: the use of greenscreen. "The house set is completely wrapped in green screen," explains Jones. "We shoot scenes against the windows and VFX comps in our plate shots. When we don't see the green screen we turn off the illumination as to not get green spill in the set. It's a great system for not using a practical location."



David Linstrom. B-Camera Operator on Wilfred with the OConnor 1030Ds.


Einhorn notes how unusual this is. "The fact that we shoot green screen out of all the windows is very interesting," he says. "I've never seen anyone do that hand held, and then mapping the green screen backgrounds in during post, that's a first on our show. The fact that you can grab the OConnor matte box and hold the camera with it is invaluable, because I want my hands to be what I'm looking through, just like when I'm directing, I'm holding the image in my hand, I'm looking through my hand, and the OConnor gear allows me to do that."

The technologies used on Wilfred – from the Nikkon DSLRs to greenscreen and the OConnor 1030D with the CF tripod system – shows how savvy Executive Producers, in concert with seasoned cinematographers, can make choices that marry aesthetics with practical concerns. The result is visible everywhere on cable TV channels, with a range of great dramas and comedies that might never have gotten made otherwise.


WILFRED: Episode 11: Stagnation (Airs Thursday, August 22, 10:00 pm e/p). Pictured: (L-R) Jason Gann as Wilfred, Elijah Wood as Ryan Newman. CR: Prashant Gupta/FX
WILFRED: Episode 11: Stagnation (Aired Thursday, August 22, 10:00 pm e/p). Pictured: (L-R) Jason Gann as Wilfred, Elijah Wood as Ryan Newman. CR: Prashant Gupta/FX






Title Graphic: WILFRED: Key Art. L-R: Jason Gann as Wilfred and Elijah Wood as Ryan. CR: FX.

Comments

Re: Wilfred: A Sitcom Shot Entirely on DSLRs
by David Linstrom
The Director's name is Randall Einhorn.

dlinstrom
Re: Wilfred: A Sitcom Shot Entirely on DSLRs
by Robert Houllahan
The "Full Frame" sensor on the D800 is 8-Perf 35mm size, also known as Vista-Vision. There is no 70mm shooting format, there is a 65mm Todd-AO shooting format or a 65mm Imax shooting format and the D800 sensor is nowhere near the size of either of those. It would be interesting to get one's facts right before printing an article.

-Rob-

Robert Houllahan
Director / Colorist
Cinelab Inc.
http://www.cinelab.com

2X Resolve With Titans, Wave and Element Panels. Telecine and 4K Film Data Scans 8mm,16mm,35mm film lab.
@Robert Houllahan
by Debra Kaufman
Hello Robert: I guess your beef is with Russell Einhorn, who is quoted saying 70mm. I'll alert him to your comment and perhaps get him to respond. Happy New Year!
@Debra Kaufman
by Robert Houllahan
I have no particular beef, however this article is currently being laughed at over on the CML.

Robert Houllahan
Director / Colorist
Cinelab Inc.
http://www.cinelab.com

2X Resolve With Titans, Wave and Element Panels. Telecine and 4K Film Data Scans 8mm,16mm,35mm film lab.
@Robert Houllahan
by Debra Kaufman
Thanks for letting me know - which forum? I subscribe to several but haven't seen any merriment over Wilfred.
@Robert Houllahan
by Bill Bennett
There is a current motion picture shooting standard that uses 70mm wide film, (NOT 65mm wide).

http://www.photosonics.com/70mm-10ml_psi.htm
http://www.photosonics.com/70mm_10r_psi.htm

These cameras are use by NASA to record rocket launches, as well as being used other manufacturing and testing facilities around the world.

Bill Bennett, ASC
@Bill Bennett
by Robert Houllahan
Kodak does not carry any 70mm camera films in current inventory, so it would be a SO item only if they would make it, technically it could be a shooting format if one wanted to order a pallet of SO 70mm negative whatever that would cost.

65mm camera negative is available today and is the format we all know and love from such upcoming films as the next Star Wars...;-)

Robert Houllahan
Director / Colorist
Cinelab Inc.
http://www.cinelab.com

2X Resolve With Titans, Wave and Element Panels. Telecine and 4K Film Data Scans 8mm,16mm,35mm film lab.
Re: Wilfred: A Sitcom Shot Entirely on DSLRs
by Nathaniel J Opgenorth
Wow this is a great article! I love the vision you guys have on this. I love 70mm look with shallow DoF and while that might seam cliché to say I think the show has a unique workflow and look to it and the DoF is beautiful. Shooting at ƒ/1.2-2.5 is an extremely difficult task even on Super35 let alone on a full frame camera bravo! Honestly I'm just glad to hear someone in TV/film say "70mm look" again since I REALLY REALLY miss the golden age of larger formats like 70mm and hope people continue to keep it alive. How is the D800 with aliasing and moire? 36MP sensor is massive to scale down so just curious...
Re: Wilfred: A Sitcom Shot Entirely on DSLRs
by Neil Sadwelkar
Did you use the Nikon on-board H.264 files for post, or was there an external recorder like a Samurai/Blackmagic/KiPro or some such? Did you use any kind of a log colour space or was it shot Rec 709?

-----------------------------------
Neil Sadwelkar
neilsadwelkar.blogspot.com
twitter: fcpguru
FCP Editor, Edit systems consultant
Mumbai India
Re: Wilfred: A Sitcom Shot Entirely on DSLRs
by Ryan Risley
Very interesting article - thank you!

I am curious as to how they handle the green screen footage - since the camera records to H264 natively - are you using something like Atomos Ninja or Blackmagic Shuttle to capture out a cleaner version via HDMI or something? I ask because I have had horrible luck keying out any footage already compressed to H264 and am very curious to see how this DSLR work flow made viable.

Thanks!

http://www.ryanrisley.com
Re: Wilfred: A Sitcom Shot Entirely on DSLRs
by Marius Klovning
@Kurt Jones... What is the purpose of the tape covering a portion of the matte box in the picture with the three guys?

Marius Klovning
Film Student
@Marius Klovning
by walter biscardi
That's most likely an improvised sun shield to keep the sun from glaring in the lens. One of the thousands of uses of Gaff tape.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author, Chef.
HD Post and Production
Biscardi Creative Media

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Re: Wilfred: A Sitcom Shot Entirely on DSLRs
by Steve Crow
Thanks so much Debra, appreciate it!

Steve Crow
Crow Digital Media
http://www.CrowDigitalMedia.com
Re: Wilfred: A Sitcom Shot Entirely on DSLRs
by Steve Crow
Oh Geez I just noticed how many times I used the word "system" - sorry about that! Embarassing.

Steve Crow
Crow Digital Media
http://www.CrowDigitalMedia.com
Re: Wilfred: A Sitcom Shot Entirely on DSLRs
by Steve Crow
The picture with the three people standing around the camera caught my eye. What's all the extra gear attached to the system? Clearly a rail system, some kind of external monitor but then there's a huge battery system (what's that?) and a mystery piece of gear that looks like two small horns with yellow tape wrapped around the opening.

Is that a wireless remote focus pulling system that Don is holding?

Steve Crow
Crow Digital Media
http://www.CrowDigitalMedia.com
@Steve Crow
by Debra Kaufman
Hi Steve: I sent your question to the DP Kurt Jones and asked him to respond. Best, Debra K
@Steve Crow
by Kurt Jones
the rails are to support the long lens, in that case a 300mm 2.8 Nikkor and the 4x5 mattebox.

It also holds the wireless focus motor in place as well.

The batteries on the back power the Cineflex system the camera is based on.
It runs power to the remote focus system, the on board monitor and the EVF.
It also powers the camera so we are not changing Nikon on boards all day long.

The horns are for a Cinetape, which is a sonar like device that helps the 1St AC judge distances to focus.

I hope this answers your questions.

If you have any more questions feel free to ask.

I am currently in GA shooting the WB TV series "The Originals".

Kurt Jones, DP season III of Wilfred


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