Moon Ring – feature film shooting on Canon 5Ds

When I first heard of Moon Ring from the popular DSLR cinema site planet 5d, I was immediately excited.  The film is being shot only 5 hours away from me in Hot Springs, Arkansas using all 6 Canon 5dMkIIs.  Though not on the level of Twilight in terms of budget, Moon Ring shares some similar story elements that’s sure to be popular with the teen demographics (but NOT about vampires)…and is catching the eye of Hollywood studios because of its sole use of DSLRs and the benefits of doing so.  It’s also the first feature length movie to be shot on the new line of Zeiss Compact Prime Cinema Lenses.  The Director of Photography is Bruce Dorn, a Canon Explorer of Light, who also creates great DSLR products used on the production.  You can read Mitch’s planet5d post about Moon Ring HERE.

Scott Loye, Director

Scott Loye, the Director of Moon Ring, told me in between scenes that the use of multiple cameras to shoot the various scenes drastically cuts down the production time, because they are able to shoot multiple angles of the scene without needing to move the camera for other takes like usual.  Most productions use one camera to shoot a scene’s multiple angles and shots requiring the crew to move and setup the camera several times and run the scene in multiple takes each time.   The cost of a fully loaded Red One camera is in the neighborhood of $50,000…where each of the 5dMkIIs with appropriate lenses and accessories is about $6000.  Hence the ability to use up to 8 5dMkIIs for the same cost.  Scott says this opens the doors for filmmakers to not only shoot a quality feature on a lower budget, but do so in a faster process hereby minimizing the costs that plague a one-camera shoot.

I was honored and flattered when Scott had me come up there this week for a few days and run steadicam (I use the amazing Indicam system…hands-down the BEST stabilizer on the market sans the “real” Steadicams) for the production.  I wanted to share some experiences and observations working with the cast and crew of Moon Ring.  As a dslr guru planning to shoot a feature film solely on Canon 5ds myself, I was very interested to see the challenges and the benefits to using these cameras on a feature.

Me with Bruce Dorn, Canon Explorer of Light and DP of Moon Ring

Me with Bruce Dorn, Canon Explorer of Light and DP of Moon Rin

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The Cameras

All of the cameras used were 5dMkIIs, except for one 1d, which I didn’t see get used while I was there.  I believe they had it there for a backup or a b-camera if they needed it.  Bruce showed me that the cameras were all using the “neutral” picture file setting, with the saturation at -2 notches and the contrast all the way down.  The sharpness and hue remained at the middle setting.

Being a professional film set, they had a sync-sound audio engineer (Dwight Chalmers) so there wasn’t a need to worry about the camera’s audio settings.  Talking with Dwight about the 5d’s on-camera audio recording capabilities, he mentioned that he really liked the Juiced Link as an option for recording sound and that it really sounded great.  I’m sure it’s not as good as the stuff we were using on Moon Ring, but still that’s good to hear from a professional sound man.

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The Accessories

The accessories being used were a real treat.  Bruce had brought some of his products that is for sale on his IDC Photography site.  The cameras were outfitted with his friction follow focus and viewfinder.

5d Standard Follow-Focus

5d Standard Follow-Focus

5D Viewfinder

5d Viewfinder

Quick Release: U-Boat Video Rig

Quick Release: U-Boat Video Rig

I really liked the mini dolly with crank that he was using, outfitted with his U-boat Video Rig.  The U-boat is a fantastic creation because it allows you to mount your camera to ANYTHING and also allow for ANYTHING to be mounted to it.  This is great because we all know there’s a ton of stuff that needs to be attached to the rig at any given time.  The dolly itself can have the U Boat attached to the bottom or top, and the track design is made with brackets that take 1 inch conduit available at any hardware store.  Traveling?  Pack up the track brackets and get the rails after you arrive.  Want a different size?  You’re only limited by the amount of conduit you buy.  The Dolly isn’t available on his site yet, but here’s a picture:

Bruce Dorn's mini-dolly with hand crank. (U Boat Rig attached underneath)

Bruce Dorn's mini-dolly with hand crank. (U Boat Rig attached underneath)

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The Lenses

How awesome that the production got a hold of the new Zeiss Compact Cinema Lenses to use.  All of them had f-stops of either f/2.0 or f/1.4.   Bryan Stafford (1st Camera) and I talked about these lenses and about mixing them with the Canon L-series lenses.  Right off the bat, replacing the L series with one of the Zeiss lenses made a noticeable difference in sharpness.  The lines and creases on the actors’ faces were razor sharp when viewed on the production monitors using the 5d’s AF-assist blowup of the detail.  These are indeed nice lenses.

The sharpness difference, however, wasn’t as extreme as I would have guessed…which tells me how great Canon’s L-series lenses are especially for the money they cost.  They could have been intercut between each other except for the fact that the Zeiss produced a slightly different color gamut than the L series.  Rather than worry about being able to make adjustments in post to compensate, the crew decided to solely use one brand of lenses per scene, depending on the needs of that particular scene.

What's attached to what here?  The lens to the camera or the camera to the lens?  400mm Canon.

What's attached to what here? The lens to the camera or the camera to the lens? 400mm Canon.

Zeiss Compact=Zeiss Compact=

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The Workflow

The production was using Sandisk CF cards and a digital technician was on set offloading the cards onto a Mac laptop.  The Director was able to instantly view the clips on the laptop’s decently sized monitor in between setups and scenes to determine if re-shooting was necessary.

Something I forget about when I’m shooting is the fact that this camera happens to be one of the best digital still cameras in the world!  They took the official presidential portrait with it just a few months ago…why not take advantage of this?  Bruce would take a photo just about every setup and angle.  They have a beautiful hi-res raw picture of every shot which can be used for promotional materials like posters and one-sheets.  Additionally, he also pre-visualizes the framing and exposure by taking a snapshot and showing the other cameramen or director.

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Other Stuff

Mitch Aunger and I at the condo before the shoot.

I was also pleased to be able to spend time with Mitch Aunger, founder and evangelist of planet5d.com.  He flew to the set to get the inside scoop on this feature, and I’m looking forward to reading the details.

I may be a guest on his internet radio show soon…so keep an eye out for that.  Mitch is a great guy and if you really want to most up to date DSLR information and news, planet5d is the place to go.

5d with a 24mm 1.4L setup on my steadicam.

5d with a 24mm 1.4L setup on my steadicam.

Setting up for a shot in front of the Old Hot Spring High School

Setting up for a shot in front of the Old Hot Spring High School

DP Bruce Dorn checks the shot and his assistant looks on.

DP Bruce Dorn checks the shot and his assistant looks on.

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And THANKS to Scott, Sara, Bruce, and the whole cast and crew of Moon Ring for including me in this project.

Wishing them the very best of luck!

The Official Moon Ring Facebook page

Moon Ring Movie Site

OFFICIAL TRAILER:

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