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Operation Avalanche: Faking The Moon Landing With The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

Operation Avalanche tells the story of four undercover CIA agents in 1967 who seek to document NASA and America’s race to the moon. Only problem being that NASA won’t make it in time, so the agents decide it’s time to fake the moon landing before Russia beats them to it. From Writer/Director Matt Johnson, Operation Avalanche required a discreet camera that could allow them to keep filming on the down low, which led them to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

As much of the film is “shot secretly” in places such as NASA and Stanley Kubrick’s London studios, Matt Johnson and his Cinematographers/performers Andrew Appelle and Jared Raab needed the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera to get great footage while being as low profile as possible. “We needed a camera you could have under your coat,” says Johnson. But not just any camera of course, one you could shoot a film on. The Pocket Cinema Camera (which, as Appelle points out, had only been out for less than a month) was their camera of choice for these secretive shoots because of its size combined with its dynamic range. As Raab explains, “When we found the Pocket Camera it just fit both something tiny and compact, where we could do our secret shooting, but it also had the dynamic range that could totally sell this film.”

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With a full budget of $1.25 million and a physical production budget of just $400,000, Johnson and his team needed to keep costs down. This was helped by their need to be discrete, forcing them to use no additional lighting as well as use small lavalier mics with zoom recorders. Their choice of lenses, old bolex glass from the 40s and 50s, also helped keep costs down while helping them achieve the filmic look that was necesary for the period piece. Shooting in ProRes helped save digital space and kept them from needing too many SD cards. The other half of their budget, roughly another $400,000, went toward licensing music for Operation Avalanche, such as tracks from Creedence Clearwater Revival.

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For all their (remarkably successful) attempts to steal shots from NASA and Shepperton Studios (as described in the video above when they are thrown out of Shepperton because of The Avengers), it seems the venture has paid off. Operation Avalanche was accepted to Sundance after what Johnson describes as “a miracle”. Regardless of any divine intervention, it seems Johnson, Raab and Appelle’s previous film The Dirties helped pave the way to Sundance, as everyone was waiting for their next film: Operation Avalanche.

That film has already secured distribution with Lionsgate for 2016, so be sure to be on the lookout this year to see it for yourself. For more on Operation Avalanche, be sure to visit them on SundanceIMDB and Facebook.

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