Very special news this week! I’m extremely excited to announce that I am now officially represented by Suzy Johnston + Associates. We have labored hard for the last couple of months to bring to you our latest project: The Red Mistress. Filler Magazine reached out to SJ+Aoffering me the opportunity to direct a piece for them. The idea was to create a beautiful love story personified through fashion and dance.
The challenge: To produce a multilayered visual production involving a short film, a series of artistic still photos, a behind the scenes video as well as a promotional social media campaign.
Love and relationships have always played a very definitive role in my life. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I am, by nature, a passionate person. When asked to tell a love story, it was only natural for me to dive headfirst into this new project and translate my latest heartbreak into a motion dance piece.
This is the result:
How the project came together
Gathering the talent for this production was exciting as we had to take into consideration both the still and motion aspects of the shoot.
Working with talented DoP Henry Sansom and a RED Epic meant that I needed to find a location that would be able to provide us with both a large stage and high end stage lighting to take advantage of the RED’s ability to shoot at 300fps at 3k. By default, this meant that we would also need a lighting technician. Thankfully I knew a skilled lighting tech to join the crew who also assisted us in finding the perfect location: La Maison de la Culture.
From there, I needed to find talented dancers to truly bring this story to life. Having previously worked with Saxon Fraser, international dance choreographer and art director at Soul Projexions, I knew she would be able to infuse her choreography with the intense emotion that I was looking for. I approached her with an initial storyboard that involved a fantasy-esque love triangle where the story was narrated by a larger than life opera singer. She was interested!
The next step was to find an amazing soundtrack to accompany the motion piece. To me, no real motion piece can work with a stock soundtrack. Finding talented composers and a sound engineer was going to be critical to ensure the integrity of the piece. I found Aline Homzy and Andrew Kesler, a talented violinist and meticulous sound engineer – both composers, capable and enthusiastic to participate in the project. There was an immediate connection with them when I explained the nature of the piece and the first draft they sent me was so perfect that I was almost in tears! They soon added Elise Epp, vocalist extraordinaire to the mix, and together, they produced the perfect soundtrack.
You can hear the first complete draft in the soundtrack of the BTS video.
For the fashion elements of the piece, Creative Director Ryan Johnston from Filler Magazine supplied an amazing fashion team. International fashion stylist Cristina Acevedo and makeup/hair artist Ashley Gesner of One Page Management rounded off the entire team.
Finally, I chose Deidre Casey video and VFX editor whom I had serendipitously met on the streets of Seattle a couple months earlier, to be the final piece of the puzzle. She would be the one that would help take all the elements through post production and solidify the creative vision.
We broke down the images into two categories: static and motion.
For the static poster shots, the goal was to achieve a dramatically lit image that would be capable of showcasing the drama of the image along with an eye-catching piece of jewelry. The lighting I chose to use for these shots were a combination of two gridded extra large softboxes on either sides of the model combined with a huge 86″ parabolic umbrella boomed over our models.
To ensure that the models would look like they were not too far from one another, I shot at 200mm to tightly compress the perspective and make it look like they were almost side by side.
Once the safe shots were secured, I invested the rest of the time setting the lights up properly to be able to produce some gorgeous motion blurs. The key to getting clean results here was to not only be able to control the flashes that would be responsible for freezing the action but also the ambient tungsten lights that would be able to help us create the motion blurs from the bodies of the dancers.
I asked Guillaume Briand, my lighting tech, to prepare the lights in such a way that the subjects could be well lit across the entire stage without affecting the black backdrop. Having a black backdrop meant that we would be able to achieve extremely clean motion blurs and solid subjects (as opposed to transparent ones).
For flashes, I had two extra-large gridded softboxes on either side of the models. This would ensure a dramatic edge lighting on my models without having to worry about the light bleeding onto the background.
From there, the secret to getting the perfect shot is a combination of luck and skill.
is to figure out the proper camera and flash settings to get the optimal combination. Set your aperture and shutter speed in such a way that you can maintain a black background while capturing visible motion blurs. From there, bring your flash power up to match the settings to get an appropriate exposure on your subjects. Note: Be sure that your models are in motion when doing this calibration.
Some examples of failed tests:
is to make sure that your camera (or flash) is set on REAR CURTAIN SYNC mode to ensure that the motion makes sense. Simply put, this means that the flash will trigger at the END of your exposure. By having the flash trigger at then end of your exposure, you ensure that the camera will record the motion in a chronological manner (motion… and then final pose. versus a final pose… and then motion). Avoid circular motions that “stack” movements or you lose the ability to have a clean final image.
Once everything is set up and ready to go is to shoot, recalibrate, shoot recalibrate and shoot again. If possible, frame larger rather than tighter to make certain that the amazing shot gets some pieces of movement cut off. Since the flash occurs at the end of the exposure, try to slightly overestimate the exposure time for the dancers to complete their movement.
Since I was using a Nikon D800E with 36MP, I had more than enough megapixels to crop into my image.
And the final result…
Really hope you guys enjoyed this production! I look forward to seeing your comments.