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DPing a short horror

Screenshot from A Comfortable Grave

Oxford Film Shed recently provided DP (Director of Photography) and colour grading services for a short horror film. Set entirely in a small bedroom, we chose to shoot the film using the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC). Compact and lightweight and offering an incredible filmic image, with the ability to shoot lossless compressed raw video to SD cards, the BMPCC was groundbreaking when it was first released in 2013, and four years later it remains one of our favourite cameras for narrative work, particularly in confined spaces. The script called for the majority of the film to be lit entirely with a mobile phone. This type of low-key lighting works really well for horror films, creating plenty of dark areas for monsters to lurk. But it’s also very challenging, and as the BMPCC is not the best low-light performer, we knew we’d need a fast lens. Over the last few years, Sigma has released a series of stunning lenses in their Art range, with the 18-35mm f/1.8 being one of the most flexible. Ultra-sharp, fast and wide, this is the lens we use most often on the BMPCC. But 18mm isn’t that wide on the BMPCC, which has a sensor size equivalent to Super 16mm, much smaller that the APS-C sensor size that the lens is designed to cover. Enter the Metabones Speedbooster, a high-quality focal reducer that makes lenses wider, giving us the equivalent of a 10-20mm, the perfect focal range for Super16. But that’s not all. The focal reducer also increases the maximum aperture to a superfast f/1.0, and increases the MTF of the lens to boot. The BMPCC excludes an infra-red (IR) filter which makes the camera susceptible to IR pollution at low f-stops, below around f/1.6. This causes a muddy red/brown hue to be present over the image, especially noticeable when filming dark fabric. It’s very difficult to remove when colour grading because the pollution is a similar colour to skin tone, and balancing out the IR pollution in post production using a colour grading suite often results in pallid skin. The solution is to use an IR filter in front of the lens - we use the Hoya UV-IR. Problem solved. The film was shot in the CinemaDNG raw format, affording us a lot of flexibility in post production and allowing us to manipulate the metadata of the files directly, including altering the colour temperature and ISO of the footage. Although we were able to increase the exposure of the image considerably in post production, this introduced some noise in certain areas of the video. The secret weapon here was Neat Video, an amazing noise-reduction plugin which works wonders on grainy video. Pro tip: it’s always a good idea to add back in some filmic grain after noise reduction.

You can watch the finished film below or on YouTube.

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