• Sponsored by
  • AJA
  • ARRI
  • Blackmagic Design
  • Sony

When director John Helde approached me about working with him on Brown’s Canyon, I was immediately intrigued by the project’s inherent limitations. His plan: to shoot a somewhat improvisational feature over the course of two weeks at a remote location in the mountains of Utah, with five actors, and a minimum of crew and tools. It didn’t take me long to sign up for the job. We discussed tone and technique early on and quickly decided that the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera would suit our aims well.

For reasons both creative and practical we decided our approach to cinematography would be minimalistic and documentary in style. We wanted to make a film that felt natural and intimate. To achieve this we needed a camera that was nimble and easy to operate. The Pocket Camera’s small physical size and small sensor made it a great choice for exactly this—what would often be hand-held, improvisational work. For a great combination of functionality and weight we used Wooden Camera’s MFT to PL adapter and employed a compact/lightweight Super 16mm zoom lens (Canon 8-64mm T2.4), as well as, a set of Zeiss Super Speed primes. The greater depth of field of the small format sensor was a benefit when pulling focus, allowing us to keep blocking simple so the actors and camera operator could move and react naturally within a given shot/scene. In many cases John and I agreed to shoot acting/blocking rehearsals and from there would evolve our angles, camera movement, etc. as the takes progressed.

In addition, I knew from experience that the sensitivity and dynamic range of the Pocket Camera’s sensor would perform well in the available light our location afforded. Not only was this a directive of our approach but also a necessity given the project’s limited budget and crew size. Many of our scenes we’re lit solely by the sun, indirect daylight through windows, or, for night interiors, a single source embellished with household practicals. Fortunately, the weather worked in our favor most of the time. On only two occasions I can recall being caught ill equipped by the midday sun amidst the white, snow-covered landscape that surrounded us. Ironically, this caused chaos for narrative continuity, but that’s another story.

The shoot was fun and fast paced, and the Pocket Camera proved to be reliable and never a burden. After a very full eleven days of shooting I was confident we had accomplished what we set out to do. The camera played an integral roll, however, it was by far the cumulative talent and effort of the entire crew and cast that made this film possible. I am particularly grateful to Camera Assistant, Coburn Erskine, Grip/Gaffer, Justin Salva, and, of course, the ring leader, John Helde.

View the full trailer here: https://www.facebook.com/Brownscanyonmovie/videos/1576968472369948/

Ryan McMackin is a Director of Photography based in Seattle, WA. He recently shot the film "Brown's Canyon," a comedy-drama set in the wilderness of Utah. It was created by filmmaker John Helde in collaboration with actors Lisa Every and Jenn Ruzumna.