One of the unique things about Band Pro Film & Digital is that their employees are actual creatives in their own right, and working there provides the opportunity to produce projects to demonstrate the latest tools and technologies. That’s just the case with their latest production, “These Angels”, which was co-directed by Band Pro’s own Brett Gillespie and Randy Wedick who also served as cinematographer.
Technically they wanted to give a real-world test run to the Angenieux Optimo Primes along with the full-frame Sony Venice. The limitation: they only had a single lens, a prime 40mm prototype Angenieux Optimo Prime.
“When I found out that it would be a single lens, we focused our project on only shooting medium and close up shots, from my own experience shooting 35mm and 40mm lenses in full-frame still photography,” said co-director and cinematographer Randy Wedick.
The film’s subjects are as diverse as downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood where they were shot, but this is on purpose. “Capturing a wide variety of skin tones was definitely a goal we had right from the beginning. The other main goal was capturing real people, trying to emulate the portrait shots in Baraka or Samsara, which is a tall order but fun to try and achieve,” said Brett Gillespie, the film’s co-director and producer.
Regarding the subjects, Wedick had this to say, “We wanted to do something with lots of different skin tones, so I went to my two favorite sources of portrait photography. Irving Penn’s studio portraits where it’s kind of two studio flats at a 45 degree angle, cool lighting, and a very interesting person in the middle, and Richard Avedon’s In the American West, which is where he took a very high-resolution film camera and lens set up, and set up a white seamless studio backdrop in open shade in the outdoors, and invited local people to be photographed, in the studio style, but in an open outdoor environment. After some talk with my producer/co-director Brett Gillespie, we decided to make something inspired by Avedon.”
Staking out a piece of ground with the agenda of shooting people but not having anybody booked is tough, and in Los Angeles, you never know who you’ll meet on the street. “Probably the most difficult part was knowing that we didn’t have any talent on call. We didn’t know if the people we ran into on the street would want to participate or not. Every shoot has uncertainties, and you can’t plan for everything, but this one you knew up front it would be working without-a-net. But, imagined difficulties are always way worse than actually doing it. Once we got out there it was clear, this is going to work. Knowing what you want and lots of advanced planning help,” said Gillespie.
When asked about the toughest aspects of the shoot, Wedick explained, “Casting people off the street and interacting with them to get the shots. I really strove to catch the light and life in their eyes. I had to work with a lot of people to get them to give me serious or non-emotional faces as most people want to smile when their picture is being taken.”
It’s one thing to work with different skin types in a studio where the lights are consistent, but it’s quite another thing working with so many different skin types and shooting outdoors with the roving sun. To this Wedick said, “The one thing that is constant is that we used a standard white seamless as the backdrop, and we always photographed in open shade, with the sun behind a building. We shot in both Hollywood and Downtown LA, and the light was constantly changing. By shuffling the internal NDs in the Venice around and adjusting the iris plus/mins ½ stop I was able to maintain a near-constant exposure on the seamless. We would bring a big bounce card in just outside the frame to fill them if they needed some additional light to appear against the seamless.”
According to Wedick, who also served as the film’s colorist, grading was minimal, only making adjustments to the exposure and saturation, “This was my first time doing one of our bigger films as the final colorist as well, and in post I used a Resolve system with a recently calibrated Flanders monitor. I used the scopes and the monitor to make coarse and then fine and then very fine adjustments to white balance, tint and exposure, until all of the white seamless exposures lined up perfectly. Once the white seamless exposure was even between all the shots, the rest of the piece came together very quickly. We did not do any secondary corrections, just white balance and the exposure curve. Since this was a test film and not a full-blown fashion piece we didn’t want to make it about the post and color.”
As big as the world and the city are, eventually something will happen to show just how small the world actually is, and according to Gillespie that’s exactly what happened: “Day 2 we were in Hollywood, over by the Hollywood & Vine subway entrance. Two teenage girls were goofing around nearby while we were setting up, with their family standing around chatting nearby. I approached the Mom to see if they wanted to pose for us.
Now, a week earlier I’d been negotiating with the Parks Film Office, trying to get our Venice Boardwalk permit approved, and they asked if I’d cleared everything with this other production that was scheduled to shoot there that same day. I hadn’t, so I called their producer who was boarding a plane at Newark airport when I caught her; a nice lady who said their schedule had changed and they wouldn’t be down at Venice after all: so great, no conflict.
Fast forward to Day 2 of our shoot, me talking to the Mom, and sure enough, come to find out it’s the producer from the other shoot. Her family is in town from New Jersey and she’s showing them around Hollywood. We both had a laugh about it, but how weird is that?”
Every lens has its own set of characteristics and subtleties that make it unique. Of the Optimo 40mm T1/8, Wedick had this to say, “The lens features a multi-aspheric design, this results in the super smooth transition between sharp focus and soft, gentle out of focus imagery. The lens we had was perfect for mediums and close-ups, it’s a 1.8 all the way wide open, but we primarily shot between a 2 and a 2.8. The combo of Optimo Prime and Venice resulted in some astounding images, some of the favorite ones I have shot in a few years.”
After the lenses are released, there will be customization kits sold as well. There is a removable iris cartridge and also a mid group removable optic that allows you to customize the bokeh, diffusion and flare of the image, so what you see in this film is only one side of the type of imagery these lenses will be capable of producing.
Focal lengths for Optimo Primes will include 21mm, 28mm, 40mm, 50mm, 75mm and 135mm for the initial 6-lens production run scheduled for delivery Fall 2020. The complete 12-lens set will include 18mm, 32mm, and 100mm lenses delivering Winter 2020; and 24mm, 60mm and 200mm completing the set in Spring 2021.
For more information about the Optimo Primes, or any of their other great products, go to their website at https://bandpro.com.