5 Tips for Crafting Epic Film Shots on an Indie Budget

They’ve been selected as Screen International Stars of Tomorrow, and listed on the Tracking Board’s Young and Hungry List as two of the top 100 new writers in Hollywood. They’ve worked with actors including Game of Thrones’ Joseph Mawle and Bella Ramsey. Now their latest short project, Zero, has premiered at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, and screened at Edinburgh Film Festival and Sci-Fi London in the UK.

Self-styled as The Brothers Lynch, writer-director duo Keith and David have built a reputation for creating impressive shots on an indie budget. Using everything from advanced CG-previs to their own sheer inventiveness, the brothers have become well known for creating incredible shots on an indie budget.

Well executed mirror transitions as featured in their short film, Trial, have become their stock and trade. This behind the scenes video highlighting the immense challenges and planning that goes into creating a scene like that.

ANATOMY OF A MIRROR SHOT – TRIAL short film from The Brothers Lynch on Vimeo.

“Zero” BTS / Images by The Brothers Lynch

We asked Keith and David reveal their top five steps towards crafting unique shots below.

  • Do your research

Remember that you aren’t the first filmmaker to want to create interesting shots on an indie budget. While we write a script, we’ll watch behind-the-scenes featurettes from movies that have inspired us. We learn how our favourite shots were made, then use that to inform our ideas for what to recreate on set. For Zero, we were inspired by the long uninterrupted takes in Children of Men.

We wanted to play the entire opening scene in one continuous zoom-out, gradually revealing the first major plot point of the story. We used Blackmagic’s Ursa Mini Pro in conjunction with the 18-100mm zoom from Cooke. It was quite a tricky job to maintain the pace of the zoom, running the full length of the lens in timing with the scene, but we did three takes and got two that worked very well.

  • Think About Your Characters

The best cinematography helps to inform and reflect a character’s narrative arc. Think about perspective: do you want the audience to see purely through the eyes of your hero? One of the reasons we used the mirror shot in Trial was to emphasize the fact that our main character’s life had been completely flipped around.

For Zero, we wanted to create a sinister, overbearing environment that reflected the claustrophobia, relentlessness and struggle of our heroine Alice’s situation.

We tested the URSA Mini rigorously, and by the end had a very specific visual progression to support this. With the help of accessories such as solid camera mountings, the cinematography was really controlled and restricted at the beginning when she’s living within the rules of her father, then it becomes more erratic and handheld when she breaks free.

  • Find a Cool Set!

Never underestimate what finding a great location can do to unlock your imagination. Our very talented production designer on Zero, Jason Synnott, found this amazing decrepit old house which acted as both haven and prison for the characters inside. The property was very fragile, which meant that working with moving sliders and dollies was prohibitive. We also did not have the budget for large light sources on machines that we could bounce.

Instead, we worked off of a small package of 2.5K and 4K daylight HMI sources dotted around the exterior of the location.

This was also designed to play to the latitude performance strengths of the URSA Mini Pro’s 4.6K sensor as you can easily shoot without the need for large lighting sources. We adapted a strategy whereby we would diffuse the exterior of the windows, and play the sources direct, allowing us the freedom to move the camera handheld within the house without having to stop for a great deal of relighting.

We would then bounce and use negative fill within the space to wrap and shape the light. This created a strong directional, soft light, whilst enhancing the sense of claustrophobia by eliminating the outside world from view.

Images by The Brothers Lynch

  • Pre-vis in CG

3D software can be used throughout pre-vis to ensure that even the most unlikely of shot ideas will work perfectly during production. We don’t often get to spend a lot of time on our sets before we begin filming, so taking a digital version of the location away with us buys a lot of time and scope to be creative with our shots.

To do this, we normally use Cinema 4D to rebuild a 3D model of our set down to the exact measurements, then we virtually dive right into the shot with a CG camera. We even add real-world lens effects to our 3D camera to test which would work best. From a functional perspective, doing this ensures you avoid unexpected problems such as a low ceiling getting in the way of a shot. It also helps add a sense of scale, and provides reassurance that you can pull off some really unique angles or camera movements.

In the future, our aim is to incorporate virtual reality technology into our pre-vis pipeline, so that we can use VR headsets to virtually jump into the scene we’re building and be even more immersive while crafting shots.

  • Learn about VFX

Even as a writer-director, learning about visual effects will be invaluable to the crafting of an interesting shot. It was thanks to visual effects that we could create the visuals in Zero’s final sequence: a sudden reveal of the epic landscape outside the building where Alice has been living. It’s a wide shot of her walking into marshland dominated by the remains of a giant humanoid robot, its massive fingers poking out of the ground.

We used the Ursa Mini Pro to shoot tracking tests on the marshes and started building in Cinema 4D. We also used After Effects for compositing and Mocha for 2D match moving.

Even if you’re on a budget of nothing, and aren’t creating work in a genre that is typically associated with 3D, it’s completely free to download software such as Fusion or Blender, and they allow you to remove mistakes from set like signposts or equipment left in shot through rotoscoping.

ZERO – trailer from The Brothers Lynch on Vimeo.

To see more of The Brothers Lynch’s work head over to their Vimeo page.

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