Master Shots Author Christopher Kenworthy Returns to Filmmaking
Shoots "Aftermath and Melody" with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera
A Love / Hate Relationship
Based in Western Australia, Christopher has been dabbling in filmmaking since the 80s, shooting his first films on 8mm. Though he loved the medium, after making the transition to a full time filmmaker in 2000, he only worked with film once during his professional career, which culminated with his feature film, "The Sculptor's Ritual."
"I love the look of film, but the cost is usually prohibitive. It's a love / hate type of relationship, and I dreamed of a day when I could get the look and resolution of film on an affordable budget, but I had to wait a long time. I never thought I would see that day," said Christopher.
With numerous short films and music videos under his belt and even some festival success, including a WA Screen Award for Best Director, Winner of the Grass Roots Film Festival and second place at the Ohne Kohle Film Festival for his short "Some Dreams Come True," Christopher managed to raise the budget for his first feature film, "The Sculptor's Ritual," in 2008.
"It felt amazing to walk onto a film set and have everybody working for you, but I found the filmmaking process frustrating. Most of the day went to setting up, and we barely spent any time actually filming. It didn't feel like a creative process so much as a panic to get the job done," explained Christopher.
"The Sculptor's Ritual" had a brief run on the festival circuit, where it garnered strong reviews, but never found a distributor. "Our timing couldn't have been worse," said Christopher. "We completed our film during the global financial crisis, and distributors who once screened just about anything suddenly closed their doors. 'The Sculptor's Ritual' will be released online this year, which is amazing to finally see it come to completion."
Embracing Digital Cinema
Over the next few years as digital cinematography began to develop, Christopher shot numerous commercial projects and the occasional music video using DSLRs. "I loved the idea of digital cinema, but you still needed a full crew and a big budget. So my plan was to retire from filmmaking and keep writing Master Shots books to help other filmmakers learn how to get a good camera setup."
The Master Shots books proved to be international bestsellers and are now used in more than 800 film schools in nine languages. Interactive Master Shots eBooks were released recently, with video used to illustrate the clips. Shooting the video for the eBooks reignited Christopher's interest in film, but he remained wary of the big budgets it required.
"I remember David Lynch saying that he loved making 'Eraserhead' because he could do everything the way he wanted, but by the time he got to 'Lost Highway,' he couldn't understand why there were so many people to deal with. There are huge crews and lots of producers and financiers looking over your shoulder. It's an uncomfortable feeling for a creative. The bigger the production, the slower you go, the more people you have to please, and it's all about the money," noted Christopher.
Cut to a chance encounter with a Blackmagic Cinema Camera, and Christopher's entire perspective had changed and his plans for retirement were out the door.
A Renewed Passion for Filmmaking
"I had the chance to test the Blackmagic Cinema Camera for a couple of days, and I thought the best way to give it a full test run was to shoot a short film. With a script ready to go, I assembled a small team of actors and began shooting the surreal comedy, 'Aftermath and Melody,'" said Christopher.
The short film is about a singer/songwriter who dreams about the most beautiful song she's ever heard. After forgetting the song upon waking up, she goes to extreme lengths to remember it. Along the way, she gets involved in a terrorist attack, and her reality becomes distorted. However, it just might prove to be the key to finding the song she's so desperately trying to remember.
"When you own a good camera, you can make a film the way you want, and that's how independent filmmaking should be. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera's price point is very affordable, and I couldn't believe the results we were getting with it; cinema quality footage that holds up on the big screen. I like the feel and size of the camera, how easy it is to expose and shoot and the incredible beauty of the footage," said Christopher.
Using an extremely basic setup, Christopher found that he was able to shoot at an unprecedented speed.
He explained: "The speed I could work at was insane. There was no crew, apart from myself, but I got more setups and shots done than when I had a full crew. I stuck radio mics on the five actors, set up the lights, and then we just rolled and rolled. It's ideal for actors and directors because you can experiment with performance, and you get to try out virtually any shot you can imagine. It allowed to me to try setups that I wouldn't normally have time for. I could be adventurous with my directing and push the actors to new levels. The days of compromise are over.
"The Blackmagic Cinema Camera's flexibility and ease of use meant I could go out and get a pickup shot whenever I needed it. The camera is small and light, and that's no trivial matter. I remember going out to get a pickup shot when shooting my feature, 'The Sculptor's Ritual,' and it took five people to get the camera set up and to shoot a car driving past. For just two seconds of screen time we spent a small fortune. With the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, if I thought of a pickup shot, I went out and got it, and it was dropped into the edit as soon as I get home.
"The main shoot took two days and both were short days, being under eight hours. We also did a few hours of pickups here and there, but for 15 minutes of finished film, we spent no more than 24 hours on set. That's at least three times faster than I've ever worked before, but it never felt like I was rushing."
Christopher also benefitted from Blackmagic Cinema Camera's flexibility in latitude. Shooting in Australia can be difficult because of the extremely bright natural light, but working with Blackmagic Cinema Camera's 13 stops of dynamic range solved this problem. "I could shoot in forests at midday, which is impossible with a DSLR because you lose the shadows or blow out the highlights. But we were able to get everything we wanted with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera's latitude," said Christopher.
Better still for Christopher was the camera's low light performance. Shooting at dawn, dusk and using available light in the city, he was able to gather useable footage without a problem.
"Low light footage shows all the flaws of a digital workflow, but with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, I was able to get stunning low light results. When there was extremely low light, I found the noise structure reacted really well to noise reduction software, so I got perfectly sharp images. I was also able to light foreground subjects brightly and let the background remain dark without losing image quality. It was easier than working with film, much faster, and I prefer the way it looks," he concluded.
With "Aftermath and Melody" in the final stages of post production, Christopher now owns his own Blackmagic Cinema Camera and is planning three additional short films for the first part of 2014. For a director who was about to retire, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera was the inspiration he needed to get back behind the lens and start shooting again.