The One-Offs: A Short Film Made with the Canon EOS C300

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A perspective on Canon Cameras…

In high school I bought my first Canon camera. It was a silent Super-8 film camera that shot at 18 frames a second or, for stop motion, single frame. I think it had a 3x zoom ratio. I made a number of films with it before I upgraded to a more sophisticated silent Super-8 camera with a larger, motorized zoom and more speeds. I loved those cameras. They were well designed, reliable and fun to use. In college I moved on to 16mm and into a world dominated by CP16s, Bolex, Arriflex and Aaton. Those are all great cameras and they necessitated a more rigorous approach to the craft, as they were incrementally more flexible and professional.

But I got into filmmaking because it was fun and I’ve never ever, even on a client project, wanted to work on a project that wasn’t, in some way, an enjoyable experience. So as the cameras became larger and more complex I mastered them (with the help of great assistants) and the original kick I got out of shooting never waned, even if we had to stop all the time to ‘check the gate’ for random microscopic debris stuck in the aperture.

Digital video, in the form of Canon’s XL1, XL2, and XL H1 harkened back to something closer to the Super-8 form factor I first loved. Cleverly designed and ergonomically comfortable, they seemed to reflect Canon’s understanding of which controls I needed to use frequently and they were right there on the camera body. At a time when most video cameras resembled a toaster with a lens mount, Canon seemed to understand that engineering should accommodate a human operator, both in physical design and intuiting which shooting options were most important.

I’m relating this love letter to Canon as a form of full disclosure. I’m a lifelong fan. I’ve used and owned other great cameras from the Sony EX1 to my current Panasonic AF100. Those cameras have served me well. The Sony EX1, for instance, was the primary camera we used for INCENDIARY: THE WILLINGHAM CASE, a documentary I co-directed with Joe Bailey, Jr. I’ve stared at the footage from the EX1 (which was intercut with footage from the 5D MarkII and a Digital Rebel T2i) for years both in post and in the theater, scaled up to 2K resolution as a giant DCP file, and it really holds up.

But every time I have to dive down three layers into a menu to change something I need to change often, I wonder why I’m not shooting on a Canon camera.

So when I got the opportunity (thanks to Canon and DV Info Net) to test the Canon EOS C300 I was genuinely thrilled. I’d read the propaganda and watched the original debut shorts and even handled the camera at a Canon event at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse on January 11. Watching the demos and playing with the camera I found myself grinning like a 12-year-old. Astonished and delighted and convinced that I was seeing a re-invention of my old Super-8 camera. They were serving the Kool-Aid and I was willingly gulping it down.

So there is it is. My full disclosure. This article is my account of using the C300 to shoot a short film. It is a complete chronicle of the effort, including stills and video clips. For those who would prefer to skip ahead, I’ve broken the piece down into hyper-linked sections:

I’ve included all the details I think are essential to not just the camera and it’s function, but the script and process as well, compete with names, dates, work flows and strategies. We’re finishing post production as I write this, and the film looks great. We had a delightful time shooting, thanks to a genuinely bright and funny cast, a small, industrious crew and an amazing new camera, the Canon C300.

Thanks, DV Info Net and Canon, for the opportunity.


Project

I’m always working, whether teaching or on client projects or my own pieces and I always try to keep an eye out for talent, people I find interesting and who have something “different.”

Last fall I saw Alex Dobrenko in a comedy improv show at Austin’s Hideout Theater. Among a troupe of funny people, Alex was easily the most interesting and comic actor on stage that night. A few weeks later I saw Eva Soldatova in a short film made by a student of mine at the University of Texas. I got to visit with her at an after-party and found out that she was hysterical, something that didn’t come across in the short I’d seen her in.

Above: Alex Dobrenko in a frame from the cafe scene in The One-Offs.

I met with Alex a few weeks later to broach the idea of developing a feature length project for him. We worked through several ideas and agreed to meet again, over several months to develop a project. Meanwhile, Canon announced the EOS C300, and the opportunity to do a test film with it emerged.

Having written an article for DV Info Net about HONORARIUM (a short I made with the Sony EX1 and the loan of an early Canon 7D), I offered to do the same for the Canon C300 if I could get a loaner. Chris Hurd agreed to find a way to make it happen and I set about writing a script.

The project that became THE ONE-OFFS originated with the talent, Alex and Eva, a small shooting window and no budget. Whatever we were to make would have to fit those parameters. An early meeting with Alex and Eva revealed two interesting things: Alex was born in the Ukraine and moved to the U.S. at age eight and Eva was from the Czech Republic. These facts seeped into my mind and eventually, in a mutated way, into the script. I can’t remember how I got around to developing the plot, but it started with an uncomfortable attempt at reconciliation between a couple who’d had a fight the night before and evolved into something more complex and, hopefully, surprising and fun. It’s a short, so I can’t tell the whole story here for the obvious reasons. A log-line might be: “Making up has never been harder to do.”

Below: Behind-the-scenes during production, provided by Texas Media Systems.

Next page: Pre-Production, Production, Postproduction, Color Grading Example.

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