Shooting an ambitious but tightly budgeted indie feature on the streets of New York City in just 20 days with big-screen cinematic quality was the goal realized by writer/director Jono Oliver for Home, his tale of a mentally troubled young man seeking to live independently. Essential to the success of the project was not only the cooperation Oliver received from friends and supporters of this inspiring story, but also his use of two EOS C300 PL digital cinema cameras and a CN-E30-300mm cine zoom lens from Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging solutions. Home was shot cinéma vérité style in Brooklyn and Manhattan by director of photography Sung Rae Cho.
Oliver, an experienced first assistant director on a major episodic television series produced in New York City, and producer Daniela Barbosa knew that choosing the right camera would be a crucial decision. The camera would have to be lightweight for maximum mobility, unobtrusive for location shooting, low-light capable for dimly lit interiors, and able to deliver exceptional image quality for theatrical distribution. Familiar with the latest digital cinematography cameras, Oliver and Barbosa were especially interested in the EOS C300, which had recently been evaluated by the show they both worked on.
“In order to make sure that the EOS C300 was right for Home, Sho [Sung Rae Cho] shot tests with it, including shadows and interiors,” Oliver recalled. “We projected the tests on a 20 ft. screen and they looked fantastic.”
Mobility, Realism, and Speed
Engineered to deliver full 1920 x 1080 HD images, the EOS C300 digital cinema camera integrates Canon’s unique Super 35mm CMOS sensor, which is modeled on the Super 35mm motion picture film standard. This sensor, combined with Canon’s sophisticated DIGIC DV III image processor, and a 50 Mbps 4:2:2 MPEG-2 codec, provide exceptional image capture even in low-light environments. The EOS C300 is available in the user’s choice of EF or PL lens mount versions. The EF lens mount model provides access to more than 70 Canon lenses, including a growing range of EF Cinema lenses that are optimized for motion picture production. The PL mount version can be used with a wide variety of cinema lenses from various manufacturers including Canon’s own EF Cinema zooms. In a multi-camera shooting environment, both versions of the EOS C300 can be used side by side for maximum versatility.
With a camera body that weighs less than 4 lbs., the EOS C300 provided the extreme mobility Oliver and Sho needed to shoot in a wide variety of practical locations. “The small body of the EOS C300 let us tell a better story because we were able to get into real places, among real people in real situations without calling a lot of attention to ourselves,” Oliver related. “That’s the kind of filmmaking this movie needed, where you can blend your drama with the reality of the world. We had a very ambitious schedule with a long shot list, but we were able to move incredibly fast. I have to give a lot of credit to Sho for this, who is great at maximizing setups, lighting, and getting coverage. He usually shot with two EOS C300 cameras at a time, and their mobility and minimal lighting requirements meant we seldom had more than a ten-minute turnaround between setups.”
Oliver and Sho shot 110 pages over the course of 20 days, most of which was on-location in actual houses and apartments, inside subways, buses, cars, and on city streets. Much of the action took place in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, where Home’s main character, Jack, lives. “It’s a crazy, loud, and colorful world that a lot of people aren’t familiar with, and it was great to be able to capture it all in the way that I wanted to,” Oliver enthused. “The small size of the EOS C300 enabled us to walk down the street with our main actor without calling a lot of attention to ourselves. We had a lot of great actors doing great work, and the EOS C300 never got in their way.”
The compact size and low-light capabilities of the EOS C300 also proved essential for scenes photographed in moving vehicles, Oliver explained. “We were able to mount our EOS C300 practically anywhere,” he said. “We shot a pivotal scene in a moving van by mounting one EOS C300 inside on the front of the truck and another one outside. We shot four actors inside the van and it all looked incredible. We did a car shot on another day and saved six hours by using the EOS C300 for all of the same reasons.”
From Wide to Tight
Leveraging the advantages of using the PL-mount version of their EOS C300, Sho and Oliver outfitted their “A” camera with a prime lens and their “B” camera with a Canon CN-E30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L SP cine zoom lens. “Using the PL-mount version of the EOS C300 enables you to choose from a broad variety of existing lenses,” Sho explained. “One lens is never better than another; it’s all a matter of your own taste and what you need to tell your story. I can truly say that the CN-E30-300mm cine zoom lens worked extremely well for Home.”
“I love the Canon 30-300mm zoom lens because it enabled us to get the shooting style I wanted, which included scenes of people walking on city streets,” Oliver noted. “The 30-300mm zoom enabled us to capture the streets by going wide, and then seamlessly go super-tight on people working in that environment without having to stop and change lenses. We got a lot of great coverage that way.”
“Jono likes the flexibility of being able to go from wide to tight in the middle of a take if he sees something interesting,” Sho elaborated. “The Canon 30-300mm zoom was also light enough that I could put the EOS C300 on my shoulder and it felt good. The lens can be hand-held despite the fact that it looks big. If you were limited to using only one lens on your production, the Canon CN-E30-300mm would be perfect because it covers pretty much the entire range you can think of.”
Revolutionizing Independent Film
Designed to acquire the amount of image data needed for film-style dynamic range between shadows and highlights – essential for achieving cinematic subtleties in post-production color grading – the EOS C300 can be set to record in Canon Log, which is provided with the camera at no extra cost and helps to ensure capture of the full 12 T-stop exposure latitude of which the camera is capable. The EOS C300 also employs the industry-standard MXF (Material eXchange Format) for smooth workflow compatibility.
“We shot the entire film in Canon Log to give us more room to play with in post,” Sho said. “People who’ve seen footage think it was shot on film. I used the View Assist feature of the EOS C300 to gauge what the image looked like during production, and what I saw on the EOS C300 LCD screen looked great. What we’re seeing now in the editing room looks even better. It’s surprising how much information the EOS C300 recorded, and it all came off the CF card.” Sho also used an external recorder for backup, except when it added too much weight for hand-held shots.
“The EOS C300 provides the image texture you would get from a traditional film camera,” stated Home producer Barbosa. “There’s no reason why every independent filmmaker shouldn’t get a EOS C300 and start shooting. It will totally revolutionize the independent filmmaking market.”
“The EOS C300 has been great,” Oliver adds. “In 20 days of shooting, we had to stop maybe twice for reloading, and that was because I was doing ten-minute takes. Otherwise, I never had to think about reloading or batteries, and there were never any software glitches or re-starts. Everything we’ve gotten with the EOS C300 and the EF Cinema 30-30mm cine zoom lens has been exactly what I have envisioned as the writer and director of Home.”