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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

SXSW Feature Film I’m Fine (Thank You For Asking) Shoots and Finishes with Blackmagic

Blackmagic Design has announced that the independent feature film ‘I’m Fine (Thank You For Asking)’, which had its premiere at this year’s South By Southwest Film Festival, was shot on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K in Blackmagic RAW, and graded in DaVinci Resolve Studio.

Written by Kelley Kali, Angelique Molina and Roma Kong, and codirected by Kali and Molina, the film follows a recently widowed mother who, after becoming homeless, convinces her eight year old daughter that they are only camping for fun while she works to get them off of the streets. A micro budget feature not only about the trials of a mother during the pandemic, the film was actually shot in 2020, providing unique challenges for production while ensuring a safe set. “We had to shoot a lot in a little time,” said producer Capella Fahoome. “Our crew had to be nimble, which was what led us to our choice in cameras.”

The filmmakers chose the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K not only for the quality of the image, but also because of its design. “One reason I picked the Pocket 6K was the physical size,” said cinematographer Becky Baihi Chen. “Since we were shooting exteriors a lot, we didn’t want to draw too much attention. My first AC (Junyi “James” Song) and I put the Pocket 6K on a Ronin S and added another handle to the rig for an easier grip.” With the lead character Danny, also played by Kali, roller skating throughout the film, Chen had to find creative ways to keep the imagery organic, yet simple and easily managed, considering the small crew.

“Early on there was a scene where Danny skates to the nearby kids’ playground,” added Chen. “I realised it could be impactful to follow her as she skates. Because I had a small camera on a small gimbal, I was able to move easily with Kelley, even ducking down under the slides to get some fluid shots as she skated. That moment I realised the Pocket 6K was the perfect camera for this film. It gave me the freedom to move as much as I wanted.”

Production remained organic and creative, and Chen enjoyed going with the flow as she worked with Kali and Molina. “We had some improv in the film, so we usually decided the shooting angles on the day of the shoot. Kelley and Angelique gave me a lot of freedom to be responsive and spontaneous with my camera during the takes. With the Pocket 6K I could move freely, but not be intrusive as the scene flowed. You can’t do that with a bigger rig.”

Chen also chose to shoot Blackmagic RAW, Constant Bitrate 5:1, which gave her confidence to manage the challenging lighting conditions of a small production. “We had a lot of day exterior scenes, so during the shoot I checked false colour in camera regularly to make sure the highlights were not clipped. There were challenging times where the characters were standing in the shade, but the light coloured walls behind them were hit by the bright morning sun. We didn’t have much crew or budget to bring in the big lights for the scene, so we had to shoot with what we had. Exposing to the false colour in the camera and knowing that I’m shooting Blackmagic RAW gave me confidence that I would be able to balance the exposure and bring back the highlight details in post.”

Once the film was edited by Katie McLellan and Angelica Lopez, the film was conformed in DaVinci Resolve by Lopez. “I loved utilising the program for conform because it also opened up the opportunity for our colourist to manipulate any of the camera metadata, as opposed to receiving a VAM ProRes 444 file that bakes in the colour bit depth and removes the ability to manipulate the exposure, camera shutter and any additional camera information to allow the flexibility in our colour sessions.”

Working in DaVinci Resolve, Lopez appreciated the wide set of tools available. “I relied heavily on the edit page for my split and completed stabilisations,” said Lopez. “The recent addition of the timecode overlays makes it much more flexible to confirm embedded source timecodes of any media that didn’t conform upon the import of the AAF. Once I was able to media manage all of our footage, I set up a colour project for our colourist, which was essentially duplicating my conform project and then relinking to the newly consolidated media. This part I loved, because it retains all of my metadata when it comes to any resize/repos, but especially my approved stabilisations. This way I know our colourist is seeing what I am seeing in finishing.”

Colourist Harry Locke IV was pleased with the Blackmagic RAW footage once he began the grade, working in DaVinci Resolve Studio. “I couldn’t have had a better experience working with the footage. I was blown away with how good of an image the Pocket 6K was able to produce untouched, and combined with Becky’s talent, the Blackmagic RAW dailies were rich in dynamic range with wonderful preservation of highlight, skin tone and detail information that would have easily been lost in a lesser codec type.”

While Chen, Kali and Molina worked with Locke using various film references for a look, the team ultimately found their own style. “I feel we ultimately crafted a grade that is specific and unique to the feel and flow of this film,” said Locke. “I always stress to filmmakers I work with that while colourists may seem very technical, at our core we are also very keen to what is going on in the overall narrative, and we’re doing our best to make sure the look we are dialling in is serving the purpose of boosting the storytelling. In this film, heat and temperature are unseen antagonists that weigh down on our lead character, so it was imperative that the look made this an almost tangible force to the audience.”

Locke graded the film in DaVinci Resolve Studio and enjoyed its flexibility, as well as the extensive tools available in the system. Using PowerGrades, Locke developed looks that could be shared across the project, maintaining consistency. “The look of the film itself was the first time I created a specific PowerGrade to emulate 35mm film, and I was pleasantly surprised with the flexibility PowerGrades gave me in working quicker and more effectively than when I utilise creative LUTs.”

“Especially during the review colour session, where the filmmakers would sometimes want to either increase or decrease the amount of film grain, halation or saturation that my look generated. The PowerGrade kept all the elements of the look spread to individual nodes, instead of baking them all into one, so I was able to quickly jump into a shot and fine tune it without needing to break the wheel.”

Locke appreciated not only the tools on the colour panel, but the added flexibility of other panels, including Fusion. “Sky replacements were also a huge part of the process for those tricky shots where the colour qualifier alone was not enough to cut through overcast or ashy skies. It was seamless for me to take clear sky plates, do some advanced tracking in the Fusion tab, and create rich blue sky compositions that fit much better with the overall look of the image and kept things feeling sunny and bright.”


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