Blog

"Bespoke" wins Mercedes-Benz Award in Cape Town

Each year, Mercedes-Benz sponsors a fashion film contest at the Bokeh International Film Festival in Cape Town, South Africa. Director Ashley Avis Winters and producer Edward Winters are regulars at the festival but had not planned to enter this year due to a conflict with the production schedule of their most recent feature. However, when Bokeh extended their submission deadline, Ashley gave me a call and we hit the ground running to shoot a two-and-a-half-minute Mercedes spot in a matter of days. 

The producing team secured some great locations and an incredible crast: the beautiful Natalia Barulich and the suave Miklos Banyai. We discussed the tone and pace for the film, however, since there was no time to scout locations, a lot of the specifics were worked out on the fly. Steadicam operator Wael Shukha joined us for two half-days, allowing us to move efficiently through the more involved setups. Gaffer Chris Tonkovich and I devised minimalist solutions to light each sequence. Chris brought along a small assortment of battery-powered LEDs which we used to light most of the film including the night exteriors. We shot with an Arri Alexa Mini at 48fps, Zeiss Ultra Primes and a 1/8 Soft FX filter. Below are a few production stills describing some of the challenges we encountered and how were able to work through them.

For Natalia's preparation sequence, our set was located on the third floor of a warehouse so we were unable to place any lights outside the window. Fortunately, the direction of the sun worked in our favor and it was streaming through the window when we arrived on set. We were shooting splits so by the time Natalia was finished with hair and makeup we had about 30 minutes to shoot the sequence. We added a little haze in the room to get a beautiful shaft of light and managed to shoot out the wide shots before we lost the sun. The Steadicam really helped us move through this efficiently and even after the sun had dipped down over the horizon, there was still a beautiful soft key to get close-ups with Natalia at the window.

For the tailor sequence, we set an M18 full-stick outside the window through a small opening between some exterior stairs. We used a Skypanel S-60 chimera through a frame of 250 to key the tailor and Chris (gaffer) brought in a handheld LED LiteMat 3 when we needed an additional edge for Miklos.

The banquet hall where we shot the party sequence had some existing incandescents and a small assortment of LED fixtures. We found a base level for the incandescents and dialed the LEDs to a nice Cyan color which contrasted well with Natalia's red dress. The hero shot where she comes down the stairs was a long Steadicam move and we were not able to hide a key light for her. Chris (gaffer) and I decided to create a spotlight using a 26 degree LED Source 4 from the opposite balcony. We softened the edges to make it less prominent. We employed a big book light with the Skypanel S-60 for the close-ups in the sequence. We began with about 40 extras but lost many as the night continued so we had to be proactive about placing them in the right spots to make the party appear full.

The art department had initially set up the red carpet inside the banquet hall since it would be easier to control. However, Ashley (director) and I loved the look of the exterior upon arrival and realized that we could reveal the Mercedes and red carpet in a single shot. Chris (gaffer) put the Skypanel S-60 on the roof of the banquet hall to key Miklos and the Mercedes as it arrived. He used 2 LED Source 4s to pick up detail on some trees down the street to add depth. Realizing that it was totally motivated to have practical lights in-shot for the red carpet sequence, we placed Natalia's key light on a stand next to the red carpet for the arrival and departure shots. We gave digital cameras with practical flashes to several of the background "photographers" and encouraged them to flash them as often as possible while rolling. 

We knew we needed at lease a few driving shots to tie the sequence together so Ana (1st AC) and myself popped the Alexa on a high hat in the trunk of a Jeep while Ashley (director) and Ed (Producer) led the Mercedes around the 6th Street Bridge area of Los Angeles. Chris (Gaffer) rigged the ceiling of the Mercedes with LED strips. Initially, we noticed some weird double-highlights from the headlights of the Mercedes but these went away when we pulled the 1/8 Soft FX out of the camera. We also noticed a little bit of strobing from the streetlights which was remedied a bit by going to 40fps but is still a bit noticeable in the final edit.

Nick Carter music video "19 in 99"

When a rare spout of bad weather in Los Angeles dashed plans to shoot Nick Carter's new music video "19 in 99" in different sunshiny parts of the city named in the song (Santa Monica beach, Hollywood, etc) director Kevin Estrada, producer Paul Bock and I went back to the drawing board. Instead, we found a nice suburban home and pondered what a mundane husband/father would do when reminiscing about his carefree days with the house to himself. Pack that with cameos from AJ Mclean, a high-key poolside performance and a few shoutouts to the Backstreet Boys and you've got yourself a video!  

The day was completely overcast and rainy but we still wanted the feeling of a bright throwback song. We shot on the RED Epic Dragon at 4k, using 120fps for several of the story beats in the house. We keyed Nick primarily with a Skypanel S60-C and chimera with 1/4 CTO which was quite handy to use for quick resets with limited grip support. For the pool performance, we used 800 Jokers as cross-backlight, one of which was manned to pan on and off the pool for a moving flare light. For the rooftop sequence, we put an Arri M18 in-frame to act as a sun flare and removed the edges of the light in our color grade. Enjoy!

New "Seed" trailer

For over a year, I've traveled throughout California and Japan to tell the incredible story of Koda Farms. Here is the trailer for "Seed."

Emerging Cinematographer Awards

September 27 was a magical evening. It was an incredible honor to be recognized as one of this year's Emerging Cinematographers and was even more special to spend the night at the Director's Guild in the presence of family, friends, colleagues and mentors.

"The Other Side" to receive 2015 Emerging Cinematographer Award

Daniel Cotroneo was selected as one of eight recipients of the 2015 Emerging Cinematographer Award.  The EC Awards are hosted by the International Cinematographers Guild and select honorees based on short films submitted to a panel of ICG members.  The Other Side is an action short directed by Akiko Izumitani and starring James Kyson, Tanner Thomason and Peyton McDavitt.

PRESS


Seed

Throughout 2014 and 2015, I've been shooting a feature documentary about the story of Koda Farms, a family-owned and operated rice farm in central California. The founder, Keisaburo Koda, lost the farm when he was interned during World War II, but rebuilt everything from the ground up.

Koda Farms is currently operated by Keisaburo's grandchildren, Ross and Robyn Koda. Director Masa Baba and I spent time several weeks at Koda Farms throughout the various stages of their rice harvest. We also flew to Japan to visit Keisaburo's home in Fukushima, Japan. Trailer coming soon! 

Music Video - Lieutenant: "Believe The Squalor"

"The Strain" promo

Recently, I worked with director Mike Parks and producer Allison Biggar to shoot some creepy plates for the trailer of FX's hit original series, The Strain.  Mike converted his garage into a mini studio and under blacklight, we did high-speed plates of various chemical reactions with the RED Epic Dragon.

Here is the cut of finished promo:

PRODUCTION COMPANY
melodyproductions.com

CLIENT
fxnetworks.com

REDS, gimbals and drones. Oh my!

Spent 4 days in my hometown doing a spot for EDCast with director Henry J Kim.  We shot on the RED Scarlet in some fantastic locations from a rooftop in the heart of downtown, to Crissy Park in front of the Golden Gate bridge.  Special shot-out to Adam Fine and Pete Zabelin from Dropcopter who brought out their x6 drone and two Phantoms for some fun at the park shooting aerials.

PRODUCTION COMPANY
emptykingdom.com

CLIENT
edcast.com

Fukushima, Japan

On location in Fukushima, Japan to continue shooting a documentary which will be released later this year.

Inside: THE wHOLE

Recently, I had the pleasure of DPing an exciting new pilot with director Ramon Hamilton and the team at Think Ten Media Group.  This is without a doubt, the most socially-charged production I've been a part of and it involved many personal and creative challenges.

THE STORY

"The wHOLE" follows prisoner Marcus Edwards, a man who has spent countless years in solitary confinement.  Moved by his story, a young human rights lawyer offers to represent him in his effort to be released from SHU (Special Housing Unit) and serve out the remainder of his sentence among the general prison population.  Through vivid flashbacks, the harsh realities of solitary confinement and the surprising reasons individuals are placed in it will be brought to the forefront. Every aspect of "The wHOLE" is based on real incidents.

OUR VISUAL APPROACH

Ramon and I had many discussions about how to capture this story and provide the viewer the most authentic experience of solitary confinement. We agreed early on that the camera should see the world as Marcus sees it, and should be confined to the cell with Marcus throughout our pilot episode.  Perspective plays a huge roll in "The wHOLE," and as the season progresses, viewers will notice that even when the camera leaves Marcus' cell, it is confined to other spaces within the prison.

One of the many challenges with shooting "The wHOLE" was to capture the utter boredom and monotony of solitary, while also keeping the viewer engrossed.  We shot in a small practical cell about 10'x10.'  Obviously none of the walls were wild (moveable) so we decided to shoot on wider lenses as Marcus is first introduced to his space.  We then consolidate the space with longer lenses as Marcus' world starts to take ahold of him.

While interviewing solitary inmates, Ramon discovered that what drives many prisoners to madness is the fact that the cell's fluorescent lights never turn off.  This became a crucial motif in "The wHOLE" and even while Marcus' world takes a turn for the dark and gritty, it is still played under the flat mundane light of an overhead fluorescent.

Overall, shooting "The wHOLE" was a humbling experience.  Hearing the horrific stories of ex-prisoners Five Mualimm-ak (co-producer) and William Brown (lead actor) and just being confined to a small cell for the better part of four days takes a toll on you mentally.  However, it was equally encouraging to see the people and organizations that are fighting to change this.  Groups like Solitary Watch, Amnesty International, ACLU and of course Think Ten Media Group.  I only hope "The wHOLE" will continue to spread awareness as we work towards ending the practice of long-term solitary confinement. 

GoPros and airplanes

We just began production on a feature documentary about the rich history of Koda Farms, a family-owned rice farm in central California.  This phase of production involved capturing the "sowing" of the rice fields - dropping seeds by airplane to cover the several thousand acres of land.  We mounted a GoPro Hero4 to the plane in various positions in addition to capturing the action from the ground with a Canon C300.