Up-and-coming DP, Eve Cohen, who is also the co-founder of crowdfunding film financing company Seed&Spark, recently released BE SOMEBODY using the Canon C300 Mark II. BE SOMEBODY tells the story of pop superstar, Jordan Jaye and his budding friendship with small-town girl, Emily Lowe, and is directed by Joshua Caldwell. Both Eve and Joshua sat down with ProductionHUB to discuss the film, Virtual Reality and why they chose to shoot with the Canon C300 Mark II.
ProductionHUB: Between independent films, documentaries and VR, which type of film is your favorite to direct? Why?
EVE (DP): *favorite films to shoot:
My favorite types of films to shoot are ones where I get time to sit down with the director and talk about everything under the sun regarding the film we are about to create. I love shooting all types of films, but I also love prepping a film—talking about look, feel, vision etc, and that can happen on an independent film, a documentary or a VR film. I welcome them all.
JOSHUA (DIR): Since I’ve never directed documentaries or VR I guess that leaves me with feature narrative films (though not necessarily independent). I think I just prefer the canvas of narrative. I find VR is too much theater which doesn’t interest me – I’m too grounded in the auteur theory. And documentary just isn’t something I’ve been inspired to pursue – it doesn’t speak to me in the same way narrative does.
PH: How do you choose which camera to use for each film genre?
EVE: I choose cameras based on the conversations I have with the director during prep. First we talk about tone, vision, feel and style—this is paramount and should always be discussed without a specific camera in mind. Then based on those conversations, I start to formulate what an ideal camera package would look like, and everything else is a trickle-down effect: I start thinking about the size of the budget, which dictates the size of the crew, which dictates how much gear I can use and even the kind of cameras or kind of cameras moves we can utilize. Then with the key crew positions, I discuss the locations and how much control we have over them. And lastly, I need to know what is the final delivery for the film, this mostly applies for independent films where you can save a ton of money if you’re not required to shoot a high resolution.
JOSHUA: Tantamount to me is how a camera handles natural light, natural artificial light and high ISOs. Over the years, I’ve increasingly place importance on allowing for as much performance time as possible and often at the expense of lighting time. I really don’t like the model of “let’s spend an hour lighting and then we’ll get three takes with the actor.” An audience doesn’t care how well something is shot if the performances are terrible. One of my “test” questions for Eve before she signed on was: “You walk into a location, turn the existing lights on and turn the camera on. At 3200 ISO, the image is unusable and you’ll have to replace all the existing lights and add supplement lighting -- It’ll take you 1.5 hours, giving us 30 minutes of takes. Or, you can bump the ISO to 5000, add one or two supplement lights and start shooting in 20 minutes, giving us 1 hour and 40 minutes of takes. What do you do?” With only 12 days to shoot a feature there’s only one right answer and fortunately for Eve she chose wisely. I’ve never been happy with the former scenario because I’ve never had shoot schedule that allows for it. So, I have to ask myself, “am I really willing to trade perfect lighting and camerawork for some kind of honesty and truth in the performance?” The answer is yes, always, so cameras that require a ton of light and don’t look good at high ISOs are usually out. Low-light capabilities are my new benchmark when it comes to cameras.
PH: Why did you choose to shoot with the Canon C300 Mark II for "Be Somebody?" Did this camera capture the storytelling better than another camera could?
EVE: Absolutely—for this film there were no better cameras to capture the storytelling in Be Somebody. Early conversations Josh and I had about movement and feel, revolved heavily on being able to give the actors freedom to move around the space, not limiting them, but moving with them and capturing what we can in the moment while not compromising the frame. I knew we were going to be handheld and I wanted a camera that would allow me to move quickly and fluidly—basically I wanted the smallest, most flexible camera package with the most powerful punch. I’ve used the original Canon C300 on tons of documentary shoots and just before Be Somebody, had gotten my hands on a C300 MKii for one of them. I really loved the dynamic range of the new sensor and the color space, the fact that I could record a really beautiful 2K 12-bit 4:4:4 image internally without needing any external recording device was a game changer for me. Because we had to move quickly, I knew there were times when I wasn’t going to have as much control over the image during filmmaking as I would normally want—so I was relying on the higher bit-depth to help me out during the color grade. (I’m comparing here to the internal 4K which is only 10-bit, I tend to opt for a higher bit depth over higher resolution when given the choice) After Josh and I discussed how we were to shoot Be Somebody, I knew I could build out this camera a bit more, transitioning it it very easily for narrative filmmaking. Thanks to Canon and The Camera House, we were able to get two PL-Mount versions made of this camera specifically for our shoot—this was back in Dec 2015 when no-one had a PL mount version anywhere yet! I really pushed for this camera knowing it would be a great fit for this raw, heightened realism that we wanted for Be Somebody. Also - at times I knew Josh might want to operate a few shots and I also wanted to use a camera that he felt confident shooting with, he’s been filming with Canon cameras for years, so was very supportive of my decision.
JOSH: I love the image quality and color space of Canon’s cine cameras. I’ve been a Canon fan my entire career, all the way back to the GL2 so it’s been a natural progression. One of the features I really love about the cine line, and specifically the C300mkII, is it’s low-light capabilities. It can get a very, very clean image well above 3200 ISO, which is very important to me, as I mentioned above. I own the C100mkII and was really loving the image I got out of it, but it only shoots 1080p. Initially the producers wanted us to capture 4K on this. We talked them down to 2K and with the C300mkII shooting 2K 12-bit there was no other choice, in my opinion. It’s size, sensor, image quality, low-light capabilities and variety of format options, made it the ideal camera for this shoot. Plus, thanks to Canon, we were able to use the first C300mkII’s with PL mounts in the country.
PH: What was your inspiration for this movie?
EVE: This might sound a bit off given the topic of this movie, but our visual inspiration for this film was a combination of Meadowland, Spring Breakers and Blue Is The Warmest Color. We wanted something that felt raw and natural without losing a sense of consistent storytelling, allowing for imperfections and making them a beautiful part of the story.
JOSH: From a story point of view, I’ve been pitching it as a modern day ROMAN HOLIDAY. Visually, we referenced a lot of films that were heavily saturated, impressionistic, and aesthetically unique – and a lot of stuff that either utilized natural light or looked like it made use of natural light. As this was the first time Eve and I had worked together, it was important to get on the same page, so we used the movies she listed above as a starting point for our conversations. From a script point of view, we were dealing with a fairly conventional storyline and one of the things that Eve and I were excited about was taking that conventional storyline and shooting it in an unconventional way – lots imperfections, hand held, natural lighting, etc.
PH: Besides the idea that opposites attract, is there another underlying message that you hope to get across to viewers?
JOSH: I think it’s about believing in yourself. So many of Matthew Espinosa’s fans (the star of the film and an ‘influencer’ with 17 million fans online) are young, in middle school, a time when so many of them are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be – and so much of that experience is marked by dark times: bullying, social status and more. Having Matt’s first movie convey a message of acceptance and individuality was really important. We wanted his audience to come away inspired to “be somebody” and “be themselves.”
PH: Seed&Spark believes that "the art of storytelling is about expanding imagination, shining a light on a work inside and deepening empathy for the world outside," how was this accomplished in "Be Somebody?"
JOSH: BE SOMEBODY is the story of an artist who doesn’t feel like she’s capable of “putting her art out there for people to see.” She meets a boy who doesn’t feel like he’s earned the audience that he has. Together, they use each other’s strengths to overcome their weaknesses. Even though Seed&Spark wasn’t involved in the making of the film, I think that element of the story certainly speaks to S&S’s statement about the art of storytelling
EVE: I think that this film is an amazing example of a modern teen romance, that rarely employs the stereotypical story beats or trite moments that we see all over and over again. It is contained, and it is real, and it absolutely is an example of how to tell a traditional story in a new way—in my opinion, a much better way than we’re accustomed to seeing, we scaled back to what was real, rather than trying to make it “bigger and better.” And to clarify, Seed&Spark did not participate in the making of this film, but I try and keep that belief in mind through every film I shoot.
PH: Are there certain criteria that you have when creating your next film? For example, would you rather create a film compatible for VR?
EVE: There are some stories that are meant to be told in an immersive VR environment, but not all of them. I would love to work on a film that was able to cross over. Notes On Blindness is a wonderful example of a documentary film that also has an equally amazing stand-alone VR component. However, I would argue that the VR element of Notes On Blindness is more of an experience than a film. It would be really exciting to work on a story that needed to be told in both a 2D and VR way.
JOSH: Not particularly. Fortunately, I’m starting to move beyond budget too big a part of that criteria. I’m always reflective after a project. I think a lot about what I liked, what I didn’t like, what was missing, what I could have done better. I don’t dwell on it but I find myself wanting to address those things moving forward. Right now, I’m in a place where as I think about the next thing, I know I want to expand the scope of the story, challenge myself from a production standpoint, and craft something really emotional and powerful.
PH: Were there any cons shooting with the Canon C300 Mark II? If so, what were they?
EVE: I would say the only con is the high speed filming, the center crop factor is pretty extreme. We did have a few montages that we shot in-camera slow motion and it would have been nice to have been able to maintain the same shooting resolution and specs, but it wasn’t a deal breaker. And it still looks pretty good.
PH: Do you believe VR is the future for film?
EVE: I think that VR is A future of storytelling. I don’t think it’s THE future of storytelling and certainly not the future of film. Theater did not go away when filmmaking came around, filmmaking is not going to disappear now that VR has emerged. VR is an entirely new medium and we are just cracking the surface of it’s potential for storytelling. I could go on forever about this...but I’ll hold back for now!
PH: Do you only use cameras that you have experience with or do you research which camera is the best to use and then educate yourself on how to use it?
EVE: I love to research cameras! I think to be successful as a cinematographer, you must educate yourself on everything. I always tell directors and producers, if they don’t know something - ask their DP. If the DP doesn’t know it, or isn’t willing to figure out the answer, get a new DP. All cameras have their benefits and their flaws; I see them all as tools in my ever-growing toolbox. The goal is to find the best camera for what it is you are working on. Since I’ve got a bit of VR shooting coming up, I’m researching every single VR array out there, none is perfect, but it’s about finding the perfect one for the application you need. And that takes education.
PH: What challenges are there for using VR?
EVE: Ah! So many challenges for working in VR. First let’s clarify that I am talking about Cinematic Virtual Reality for narrative storytelling. And for now, let’s just address the basics of narrative storytelling and how to guide the viewer through the story when the viewer herself has agency. Attention agency is granted to every viewer of VR - they can choose where they are looking at any given time - the goal is to make sure you are helping guide their view whenever possible. This is mostly achieved through strategic blocking, lighting and audio cues.
PH: In a movie theater, viewers cannot see past the frame of the screen. With VR, they can see all around them and actually immersed into the film. Do you think this will enhance or decrease the value of filmmaking? Will there be a time that moviegoers will only want to see VR films or is the old-fashioned way of watching films going to survive?
EVE: VR filmmaking is a different kind of filmmaking. VR will not replace traditional cinematic storytelling, radio did not disappear when television viewing came around, it just shifted. There were be films that should be told in a traditional 2D “framed” environment, and there will be films that should be told in an immersive 360 environment—some stories should be told as podcasts/radio and some as TV or film. As humans we are trying to connect with those around us; regardless of how we advance technologically, we will always come back to this fundamental desire of sharing an experience and we do that through storytelling. VR is just another way of telling a story.
PH: Are you looking forward to using the Canon C300 Mark II again on upcoming projects? And what are your upcoming projects?
EVE: Right now I’m most excited about a narrative short film that we’re just starting post-production on called MRS. DRAKE (dir. Caitlin FitzGerald), this was shot on the C300MKii as well as the Canon ME-20...which was really rad to use. I’m also in midst of shooting an independent documentary (withholding title for now) with dir. Allison Berg, working with both the C300 and C300MKii. And I'm shooting a docu-TV series/reenactment show with JNB Entertainment called Three Days To Live (will be airing on Oxygen in the fall). And of course, in early prep (aka research phase!) on a VR feature film MEMORY SLAVE (dir. James Kaelan and Blessing Yen) that is slated for fall production.
JOSH: I just finished directing and DP’ing NEGATIVE, a feature I shot with C100mkII and loved it. It’s only drawback is that it can only shoot 1080p so that can be limiting once you get into distribution. I would love to advance to the C300mkII as my main camera for projects moving forward. It’s an incredibly versatile camera, whether you have a lot of control or very little control and I think that’s important. I can go out with just myself and the C300mkII and get something really, really great.
PH: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Think we’re all set!
About Eve Cohen
Eve M. Cohen is an award winning cinematographer whose work ranges from independent feature films to reality TV and documentaries, and most recently cinematic Virtual Reality. Eve just finished post-production on the feature film “Be Somebody” (dir. Joshua Caldwell) where she was the first cinematographer to use the C300MKii with PL mount lenses in December 2015. She has also filmed a variety of projects for A+E, MTV, Sundance, Lifetime and History, and is currently working on films for VICE, CNN and ESPN. Her most recent Virtual Reality project “The Visitor” (dir. James Kaelan) is currently appearing at select film festivals. Eve was the director of photography of the truly independent film “Like The Water” (dir. Caroline von Kuhn) which was the catalyst for the creation of crowdfunding and distribution platform Seed&Spark. Eve is co-founder at Seed&Spark where they believe the art of storytelling is about expanding imagination, shining a light on a world inside and deepening empathy for the world outside.
Eve is also proud to be a G-Technology G-Team ambassador. Read more about her on the G-Team site.