After making his first feature film on the Blackmagic Pocket 6K, Nate Strayer shares what’s possible for the indie world.
When the pandemic broke out, filmmaker Nate Strayer left LA to quarantine his family in Michigan. While strolling through the unique grounds of their cottage by a lake, Strayer came up with the idea of a film that could become his first feature film.
Fortunately, he had brought his own Blackmagic Cinema camera Pocket 6K for recording.
With a small group of friends and family, Strayer shot on the 6K and worked on SSDs in Resolve at night. What started out as a fun challenge turned into a feature film Runaway.
Strayer spoke to No Film School to explain the nuances of on-pocket shooting in 6K and post-producing a feature film from start to finish in Resolve.
How 6K changes your composinga shot
No film school: when you decided to pocket photos, you got in 6K. turned change something in the way of you conceived this film?
Nate Strays: We had a very small crew and not really a big budget, so we didn’t have dollys and we didn’t have a tripod with a super fluid head or anything. With the 6K we could keep in mind: “If we have to do a slow push-in, we don’t actually need a slow push-in because with 6K we have so much space where we can do it digitally” and everything. And then, the same thing, just with basic coverage of the dialogue.
It was easier not to have to worry about the camera following every little head movement for a close shot. We’d just keep it a little wider. And then we were able to keyframe all the small movements because of the 6K. So we had in mind the whole time that there was a lot more space in the post than if we had shot in 1080 or even 2K or something.
Why it is [almost] Don’t screw up lighting in Blackmagic RAW
In the middle of the pandemic, Strayer was on a tight budget and unable to get a large package of lenses or lights. He did it by going raw … BRAW.
Strays: We didn’t have a budget for a lot of lights or anything. So in the end we ended up using a lot of jumping boards and only reflecting the light that came in from the windows. Or if we were outside we would just wait until it was cloudy to determine the look of the film. The Pocket is really good in low light so it worked.
And then it really came down to the range our colorist had when designing the look. Our colorist kept asking, “Are you sure it was Blackmagic?” He thought it was an ALEXA, the first picture he saw when I sent it to him. Since we didn’t really have the luxury of adding a bunch of lights to every picture, post production was super important. What Blackmagic RAW gave us as a format in the post was super important to the look.
When we started the film, we weren’t sure what would become of it. The pandemic made us shoot at it. But we didn’t know if it would be over in a week and everyone would have to go back to work. Everyone lent us their time and we didn’t know how long we had the time. So we didn’t really pay attention to the look at the beginning because we didn’t think we could handle it. It was just a fun thing.
Then we first realized that the pandemic was going to last longer than we thought. Second, this film actually has some potential. Having worked with the 6K many times, we knew how much information it contained. In one scene the sky was completely blown out. And you switch it back to RAW and you can see everything behind it. In low light you pull up false colors, you know that everything is still there.
There were a lot of scenes that really worried us. For example, “Is there any information left here? The face is much darker and the background seems super faded,” and we could just go in and correct it because there is just so much information. We had these beautiful locations, but when the windows are blown out and you can’t even see outside, you just feel like you’re on a stage.
But we were able to get that information back, and it added a lot to the production value of the film.
So there is a lot of space to play. It’s just a natural ray of light to strive for, knowing that the 6K in the mail has a lot of information that we can do a lot with. It left room to think more about the performance and more about the composition than the data.
The trick to good mMovement with the Pocket 6K
While the plot for the main character condenses in Runaway, the cinematography switches to handheld, and it’s the Pocket’s small, nimble stature that really helped.
Strays: I like handheld very much. If you don’t have a dolly, sturdy camera, or something like that, camera movement is as good as gone, unless you’re using a handheld. We decided it makes sense for the story, if it’s a little more comfortable and we’re not sure what’s going on, let’s stick with sticks and it’ll be really smooth, with digital zooms that 6K allows. But as soon as it gets hot for her we drop the sticks and the rest of the movie is completely handheld.
Logistically we could do a full 12 hour day of shooting with the 6K and between the two cam ops that me and my DP were using, we could go even longer with the 6K if we had to because it’s such a lightweight camera . We had handles and a shoulder pad, and then it’s just the camera, V-mount battery, and another monitor. We even shot a car scene and didn’t rig the car so we had to hold the camera. That would be really hard if you got a big ALEXA or a RED or something all put together.
But you can just hold the Blackmagic right in front of you and place it pretty much anywhere. Even if you have to hold it with one arm up for a minute, you’ll be fine because the camera is so light. The size was really good for actual locations and not a set. And then the weight was just good to have a small crew and to have to photograph for hours every day.
Why recording on SSDs can mean the fastest daily newspapers ever
Fast daily newspapers meant for Strayer that after the cast and crew (whom he was quarantined with) went to bed, he could edit any scene – just hours after filming!
Strays: That probably helped the movie more than anything, honestly, recording straight to an SSD. The Blackmagic Pocket 6K lets you record directly to an SSD hard drive using USB-C. Once you are done recording, or even in the middle of a recording, right after screaming, you can just unplug it from the camera and plug it into a computer and watch it.
We all lived in the same house, we were quarantined together. Every night after we shot I would go upstairs and just start editing the scene we shot that day. Right away. So, without having to transfer anything, without waiting. DaVinci Resolve is so good at Blackmagic. Literally every single night I edited a scene that we shot that day. And when it was necessary, we shot it again. Or if we needed pickups or side dishes or anything, it was there right away.
It wouldn’t have been that much of a problem recording onto a card that you need to transfer to a hard drive or something. But the fact that I had the DaVinci project and all that RAW footage on the same device that I’m recording on was pretty cool.
P.repair in advance to the your files to be huge
One of the biggest challenges when working in 6K is file size, according to Strayer. But preparing for it becomes one of the advantages.
Strays: The 6K Blackmagic RAW file sizes are really large, even at the highest compression. They need a lot of storage space. It depends on what you’re shooting, but in a feature film, that’s a lot of footage. Since we didn’t spend a lot of money on the film, we spent a few grand on the Samsung T5 SSDs just because we needed so many to hold all of the footage.
I mean, we dumped to a backup drive too, but you don’t want to edit from a hard drive. It’s just not fast enough, especially with so much stuff. I ended up with a USB hub with about seven Samsung T5s all connected to it. This is the fastest way to store your footage on these super fast SSDs.
C.utting in Resolve, from start to finish
Strayer eventually realized that the film had the potential to be professionally completed. He was able to secure funding to bring the film back to Los Angeles and get talented people to complete it. And he requested that the film stay in Resolve because that made for smoother post-production.
Strays: The first thing I would tell anyone is that I cut it in Resolve. And a couple of people said, “Oh, if you work with me we’ll have to switch to Avid or Premiere” or something. I didn’t feel like doing it. I made the working cut in Resolve.
I found a super talented editor, Mike Hugo, who wanted the challenge. If I’m right, he edited another film in Resolve. He was super surprised at how intuitive it had become. Being able to go back with the rough cut was just a tab away was great for the workflow.
The colorists were of course super excited to have the project in Resolve. There was no transfer. It was just, “Here’s the project right here, just send a copy of a hard drive.” It was nice to send them exactly what I had and they were able to paint my current project in.
When it comes to your movie, don’t wait to get started
Strays: Start with what you have. Yes I was a little disappointed with the glass we had. Lenses make a huge difference, and you can throw some nice lenses at the Pocket 6K. But we didn’t wait or use that as an excuse not to.
I think it helped that we didn’t know if anyone would ever see the movie. We didn’t have high expectations. But now we have the distribution. In retrospect, I have to have this mentality on every project: “Let’s just start.” And then, once you’ve started, things fall into place.
If all you have is a camera and not even a monitor, portable gear, or whatever it is, just start with what you have. And then, if your story is compelling and you are passionate about it, you will find people who want to help you.
Be on the lookout for a sales announcement from Strayer Pictures to see the 6K indie thriller for yourself.