I had 72 hours before departing back to Pittsburgh from a shoot in Ohio. With no concept or plan, Chris Myhren and I spontaneously decided to embark on the journey of creating a mini-doc. Our only problem besides my limited time was the lack of a mini-doc subject. At 9pm Sunday evening through a mutual friend and 3-way phone call we met Tommy Zula. Our first conversation with Tommy was a whirlwind. He was driving back to Ohio from a BMX competition in New York and his ETA was 3am. So after chatting with him and figuring out he had an awesome story worth telling, we asked him if he could shoot at 6am… and I’m pretty sure he responded “dood totally!” Our call ended at 10pm and that’s when pre-production started.
Chris and I both wanted to create a BMX film that was not your stereotypical “trick” video that have become ubiquitous online. The bike was not only a physical transportation device but also a mental and emotional one, which Tommy used to escape the rough part of town and his difficult home life. Tommy’s personality and passion, not his latest BMX tricks, was our focus for the film. Prepping late into the night/morning, we figured out a structure for the film but knew it was all dependent upon Tommy’s interview. We wanted to film at sunrise/sunset with Tommy both days, which meant we were shooting non-stop (35 hours in 2 days). To best utilize our only light source (the sun), we shot all of our exteriors either early in the morning or late in the afternoon around sunset. I wish I could tell all the stories and moments that happened along the way filming for those 2 days in Ohio but unfortunately there is a character limit to video descriptions.
Once we were done shooting and had the edit locked we tackled sound design and then grading the film. As crazy as it may sound or not sound, the opening sound effects of the bike were straight out of camera. The internal microphone on the Weapon did a great job capturing the sounds of the bike as I followed Tommy throughout the streets. However, the rest of our bike sound effects were reordered by our friend Joe with a Sennheiser MKH416 through a Zoom H4N sporadically throughout the second day. In post it was a matter of layering sound effects and adding some ambience/wooshes/impacts when necessary.
The grade was done within Premiere 2017 using Lumetri. Honestly, I was not the biggest fan of how Lumetri handled the RED footage, but I very well may not have been doing something correctly. For some odd reason when I adjusted the RGB curve or other settings it would drastically affect the look of the footage. We never did find a solution other than doing minuscule adjustments at a time. We graded the film using a Lutify.me LUT called Magnetite as a starting point for the look we wanted to achieve. The trick with using most LUTs is to dial them way back until they are only around 20-40% opacity/strength. For the most part those LUTs in particular are very strong and unless that is the specific look you are going for it’s almost always necessary to dial them back. From there we just adjusted the levels in Lumetri to our taste.
The entire film (besides the drone shots) was shot on my RED Weapon at 6K in a variety of frame rates at a 2:41 aspect ratio. For the handheld footage we shot normal speed but for most of the MoVi shots we filmed at 72 or 100 frames per second. There were some instances when we shot 3K/4K to achieve even higher frame rates. I’m a huge fan how 72 frames per second looks with a 180 degree shutter. Balancing the MoVi M15 with the Weapon was very easy using my Leica R lenses and thin Switronix 75w batts. The Leica R lenses gave us a very creamy yet distinct look with each lens’ unique bookeh and flaring. To keep a 180 degree shutter we used a Tiffen Vari-ND filter to maintain exposure. Our friend Brian used an Inspire 1 and DJI Phantom 3 for the drone shots.
Overall, I cannot thank everyone else who had a role in the making of this mini-doc. We honestly could not have done it without the incredibly generous time and input everyone gave us in the process. Finally, thank you Tommy for inspiring us by your story to devote even more time to our passions in life. Until next time!