Making DAY 3 (Part 2) – Principle Photography

August 6, 2013
In case you missed it in Part 1, Day 3 is a character driven piece that happens to be set months after the zombie apocalypse. The majority of the film takes place in one interrogation room. There are five actors present, which means we have to light for all of them and their anticipated blocking. The remaining segments of the film are told via flashback, and it was clear from the very beginning it needed to have a very different visual style to it. Having a DP you can trust is a tremendous plus on any given shoot, and it’s a relationship that’s generally strengthened with each successful project.  Nolan uses Wally Pfister, Aronofsky likes Matthew Libatique, and Robert Rodriguez has Robert Rodriguez.
Here cinematographer Joe Simon (JS) discusses the look of DAY 3  and the crazy steamy gossipy sex scandals that never took place on our set…
Q: What originally drew you to the project? 
JS: Hussain and I work on a lot of commercial projects together so we have a great working relationship. When he approached me with the DAY 3 script I was stoked! The script was awesome and I’m always looking for great films to be apart of; being asked to DoP the project was perfect as it’s my passion.

Q: Any influences in creating the color scheme? What lead you to choosing the look for this film? 

JS: We played around with a few options for the color palette of the short. We worked between blues and greens to create a sterile creepy feel but ultimately choose more blue than green. We wanted the room to feel like it was a basement lab were the Infected were being interrogated and the cold blue definitely lent itself to that. For the look and lighting, I put together a set of lights all at 5600K so we could keep the skin tones as natural as possible (this let us push the blue tones further in post). We shot on the Canon C300 in C-Log, mostly on tripod with Canon L lenses — except for the flashback scenes where we used old Nikon primes.

Q: Was there a reason for sticking to tripod shots for the majority of the film? 
JS: We went for a mostly static camera approach to let the story unfold naturally in front of the lens instead of introducing any unnecessary camera movement. The cinematography was influenced by the work of Robert Yeoman (Wes Anderson), Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (Terrence Malick) and Robert Richardson (Quentin Tarantino). I love the styles of each of those cinematographer/director combos and pulled inspirational elements that I really thought would fit well with this film. It was a lot of fun putting the shot lists together and then making everything look just as I envisioned.
Q: Were there any challenges while filming? 
JS: For a majority of the film we shot in a very tight space, so getting lighting where we wanted it was not easy. It took a quite a bit of finessing and testing to get the look perfect. Trying to get the light to fall off properly was also very hard, we had a lot of flags up that we had to constantly adjust to make sure light wasn’t spilling everywhere. The biggest asset for this was two 4×4 floppies that we had in use. We used one medium pancake lantern overhead of the table and a 2 Lowell Pro pro lights for key/fill as well as a homemade 300watt spot that we used overhead for the scientist and senator. We had a very small budget to put everything together so this meant trying to get the best lighting on the shoe string budget and I love how we got this to work.

Shooting in the tight space was also hard as trying to get the camera exactly where I wanted it with the lens I wanted to use but also being restricted by the walls. But after a bit of set moving we were able to achieve all the angles needed.

Q: What are your thoughts on shooting this short with a C300?
JS: The C300 worked amazing on the shoot. Especially since we were in a low light environment (lots of diffusion and CTB really cut down the output levels of the lights) the camera performed awesomely. So I’m really glad we chose the platform to shoot with.

Q: Obviously they have a different look than the rest of the narrative – can you talk about the flashback scenes?
JS: For the flashback scenes we wanted it to have a look that told you it was a flashback, something that looked old and had a “golden” aspect to it. When you see the flashback it screams love and warmth. I chose to shoot with old Nikon primes as they have a nice vintage look to them. I also did all of the flashback scenes with the “lens whacking” technique to push the dream state even further. These are some of my favorite shots from the film.
Q: Some people say that Big Head would make an excellent producer. True or false?
JS: Big Head would make an excellent director, but I don’t think he’s the producer type…. He’s a bit disorganized… But he loves to yell orders! He’s the BOSS.
To add on to Joe’s statement about the flashbacks — the glimpses into the past are also the only time we went handheld with the camera. So in addition to everything looking cold and blue in the present, it’s also fixed and rigid in a way. Going back to fond memories brings that handheld feel back (along with warmer tones) that conveys a sort of natural humanity you miss from our present day.One of the trickier parts of our night-shoot was just keeping up with continuity.

We have our zombie (played by David Hess) being subjected to what is essentially a “science experiment” by government agents (Mike Gassaway and Chase Joliet). During his interrogation, he undergoes transformations going from undead to more human. We just had to make sure we scheduled a shotlist conducive to his makeup schedule. In zombie form, we had him with maximum gross skin (gray, peeling, wounded, veiny), black contact lenses, and we discolored his teeth some too. In human form, we brought some red back into his face, lost the contacts, and had less veins emerging. The most efficient way to shoot involved filming all his more human scenes first, where the makeup was a lighter base — and then moving on to do another phase of makeup, pop in those black lenses, and have him look just god awful for the zombie scenes. Fairly common sense, I know — we just really had to make sure exactly what shots we needed with him in which condition before we started shooting or the whole plan is ruined. And your makeup artist will hate you.

Thanks for reading! The film is not publicly online yet, but it will be in the future. PART III is next Tuesday where we discuss the final steps in bringing DAY 3 to life — post! We’ll go over our editing process, the beauty of sound design, color-correction, and some things I’ve learned regarding film festivals.


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