Shooting Bats With Canons

Now we have the final cut of the film and we can start working on sound, music, visual effects and color grading. As a cinematographer I’m excited about everything that concerns the image and look of the film, but we have such great people on sound and music that I actually have to admit to looking forward to listening to their work, just as much.

I thought I’d write a little about the technical part of shooting “Crime Alley.” I’ll try to keep it short. As with all other aspects of this project, we’d like to share as much as we can about how we’ve done it. This is so that people who are or will be doing something similar might find something of value in our project for making their own.

We shot “Crime Alley” on a Canon 5D Mark III, on loan from the good people at Canon. As if that wasn’t enough, they also graciously provided us with three L-series zoom lenses: 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8. For these loans I – and the whole “Crime Alley” team – will be eternally grateful. We shot in dark locations and as our budget was very limited, we couldn’t afford to rent lots of lights, either. Here, the low light capabilities of the 5D Mark III – and the lenses mentioned earlier – came in real handy. During the more difficult fight scenes, we shot with two cameras, of which the second one was a Canon 7D. The same 7D was also used for underwater work and can be seen as a prop in the film.

“Crime Alley” is shot in 16:9, but the final film will be in 2.40:1. As the camera was on loan, we didn’t want to risk messing with it by using third party firmware. So to get crop marks I photoshopped, a photo taken with the 5D and copied to the CF memory cards we used. Then I cut out suitable pieces of slightly frosted plastic, painted the edges red and taped them onto both the camera and the on-board monitor, using the image from the memory card as reference. If you use this technique, I suggest you use gentle tape and stick the tape onto your palm a couple of times before applying it to the camera or monitor. This way it’ll stick more gently to the camera or monitor and come off easier without leaving any streaks, marks or residue. I did also make a crop mark picture to use with Magic Lantern on the 7D, as the image on that camera jumps up and down when you change between “record” and “playback” mode. I couldn’t find any good ones on the Web, so I’ll add it here if anyone wants to use it themselves.

Click for full size

Click for full size

We used tungsten light for everything other than exterior day scenes, props and effects, because most of the locations had a light quality close to tungsten and – again – our budget was very limited. We mostly used Arri 2kW and 1kW, Filmgear tubes, Dynacore Redheads and 1×1 foot LED panels. In the tunnel locations we used 1/4 green gels to balance out the fluorescent lights in the ceiling, and to channel the light where we wanted, we built skirts around the lights with tar paper.
In a couple of scenes, we had police lights, of which we had two different models. The on-screen model seen in Gordon’s and Driver’s unmarked police car is a red-and-blue strobe light. I ordered it from eBay and it has two panels with 22 white LED lights in each, so I just covered one with red gel and one with blue gel, connected it to the 12V socket in the car, chose the desired strobe mode and that was it. Search eBay for “white 22 LED strobe” and you’ll find it. It doesn’t cost much, either.
The other model wasn’t actually a light, though it was before I modified it. I opened up one of those revolving lights you see on tractors and replaced the light with a piece of cardboard covered with aluminum foil. This way I could bounce a heavier light, covered with blue gel, from the spinning reflective surface to get that distinctive “police strobe light” to wash over a wider area. We had two of these and the idea was to have two light sources, one in blue and one in red. Unfortunately, one of these two cheap lights broke down on-set. Luckily, we hadn’t shot anything using it, avoiding continuity gaffs. If you are going to do something similar yourselves, I recommend checking the construction of the revolving light; it should be able to hold the weight of a piece of cardboard. You can, of course, also just spin a reflective surface in front of the light source by hand, but then the motion won’t be as uniform and you have to have a separate person tasked with doing just that when you shoot.

LED panels

As a monitor we used the “Lilliput 7″ 663/O IPS 1080P HDMI In & Out” and it worked great with the 5D, especially when Canon released the firmware update that allowed for clean HDMI output. This combination helps pulling focus on dimly lit sets. Trust me.


Lots of “Crime Alley” is shot hand-held with a shoulder rig, but where we wanted stabilization we used the Secced Reach 3 and the Glidetrack HD Hybrid Slider 2m.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my entire camera crew and light team for all the hours you put into this project! I’ve also been handling a lot of other responsibilities – other than cinematography – in this project; I’d like to thank the good people at Varusteleka for being so helpful when we needed a Quick Response Team, not to mention Muovisotilas, for providing us with all the gun replicas we could ever need!

– Mathias

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