is a 6-episode series, modeled after the movie Falling Down , written by Brad Gage & Drew Spears and directed/shot/edited by Eric Lombart that also functions as a 30-minute short film. It was my biggest undertaking to date and presented a lot of exciting challenges that helped me grow exponentially as a filmmaker. Though it was the largest budget and cast I had worked with, it was still a very small production team and I shot the whole thing with one light kit or less, except for the police station interiors, which were shot on a sound stage using a 1-ton G&E package.
CREW: one gaffer/AC, one sound person, one production assistant
LIGHTING: Arri fresnel kit (1k, 650, 300, 150), reflector
CAMERA: Canon C300, Log and Wide Dynamic Range; RED Scarlet; Go Pro; 5D mkiii
LENSES: Rokinon primes, Canon 24-105mm f/4, Canon 70-200 f/2.8
COLOR: DaVinci Resolve Lite
Locations played a huge role in this series. My number one priority on Rough Day was to make sure we weren’t settling for mediocre or easy. Any time we were close to choosing a location because it would be convenient for production, I said, “Hold up. Does it serve the purpose of the scene? Does it look good on camera?” If the answer was no for either, we continued our search. I figured if I’m gonna just settle, then why the hell do I even bother spending this much time and energy in the first place? The audience doesn’t give a shit whether or not the location had free parking.
Scouting is 100% what made this film look the way it does. Brad and I are used to cranking out videos with very few people and can, therefore, usually figure out details on the fly. Rough Day, however, required a lot more cast and several crew members who were expecting that we would know exactly what we wanted when we all arrived at location. Not to mention, we didn’t have time to waste on this production. If we hadn’t spent days scouting locations, we would have never found beautiful opportunities at places like the Venice canals, the Silverlake library, Angel’s Point Park, or even the rooftop and alleyway at near Brad’s apartment.
Scouting may seem like an obvious necessity for regular Hollywood productions, but I would say that most no-budget crews do zero location scouting whatsoever, and it’s part of the reason why many web series look so boring. The cost-to-benefit ratio is extremely low. Giving yourself a little time to think through a location results in better blocking, better shots, better set dec, and better time management during the shoot.
The Venice Canals
The Venice Canal scene was originally supposed to be in a Buca Di Beppo restaurant. Of course, logistically, that would have been a nightmare for a production as small as ours, on top of the fact that it was way out of our budget and A LOT less pretty. I realized the scene could take place anywhere and, when Brad and I were scouting Venice, the bridges at the canals immediately struck me as an awesome place to do a scene. When we eventually rolled up with a whole crew, the owner of the house next to the bridge told us we had 10 minutes before he asked for our permit. Obviously, we didn’t have one, so the clock was ticking. Because we had scouted, we knew exactly what we wanted and were able to knock out the entire scene in 20 minutes, including two drone shots, right as the sun was setting.
To say I was rushing to grab this shot would be an enormous understatement. It was absolute chaos. The sun was about to disappear, the homeowners didn’t want us around, and it was my second time ever using a drone. My brother gave it to me as a birthday present, possibly one of the coolest gifts I have ever received, and we happened to be shooting this scene less than 2 weeks later. Luckily, I was able to spend an afternoon getting familiar with the controls because I would have never pulled it off had I not practiced a little. The idea was that it would fly down the canal and pass over Brad right as he crossed the middle of the bridge. I basically had one chance to get it right, but I flew a little too fast on the first try, so we reset in seconds and tried it again to much better success. The light was perfect, reflecting the colorful clouds off of the water, and it was a great ending to a chase scene. Props to Brad, Anna, and Ronnie for hustling their asses off and running back and forth so many times.
Another sunset drone shot that I came back another day to get. It’s funny how you attract a crowd when you’re using a drone. The drone was in the air, I’m trying to concentrate, and, one after another, people came up to ask me what it was and what I was shooting. And it happens EVERY TIME. But I get it…it is pretty sweet.
This alleyway was right behind Brad’s apartment and it had natural lighting that I really loved. It was gritty and colorful at the same time. I debated for a while whether to use an LED to supplement, but in the end, it didn’t look that good. So I shot this entire scene with no lighting on my Rokinon primes at an f/2. I placed the actors in a way that the yellow light keyed their faces nicely and that I would capture the blue light mixed with the blue sky in the background, creating some really nice color contrast.
For weeks, as I drove around LA, I was constantly on the lookout for cool graffiti walls. Low Fare is an old-school, traditional guy who has a plain and simple view of life. His wardrobe was devoid of color, so I wanted him to be surrounded by bright colors as much as possible to suggest, however subtly, that he was being assaulted by his environments and the vibrancy of life that bright colors represent.
The Vape Shop
This is the location that gave me the idea to assault Low Fare with colorful surroundings. Need I say more?
This is one of my personal favorite shots from the series. Another one that I would have never found had it not been for scouting. This scene was also supposed to take place at Buca Di Beppo, but this location is much more interesting. I shot this scene (and much of the Venice scenes) on my monopod and zoom lens so that we could move quickly and be as discreet as possible. The only bummer was that it was so windy, my eyes were tearing up like crazy and I could barely see the monitor. Solution? Close to an f/8 so everything would stay in focus and I would only have to think about composition. That’s how we do when a focus puller isn’t in the budg’, son!
Drew, Brad and Eric after wrapping principal photography. Chillin’ with my monopod setup.
The Glidecam came in handy for a lot of scenes, especially this Venice beach location. My main complaint concerning the Glidecam is that I can’t adjust focus mid-shot. I started the shoot with the RED Scarlet, but one of the reasons I continued with the C300 is because it had autofocus, which I knew would be great for Glidecam. Unfortunately, the autofocus is only in the very center of the frame, so it didn’t help when I wanted to frame their faces on the thirds. Oh well. Just set focus and move on!
I used the Glidecam on the opening shot of Chapter 2. It starts on the phone, tilts up to his face and then rises and moves to the side, revealing the No-Budget-Film-Crew guys. The autofocus definitely played well here. Love that shot. If it was a bigger production, I would have had a Fisher dolly, dolly grip, and a First AC to make this shot happen. Alas, we work with what we got! Glad I was able to pull it off how I envisioned.
This quick scene was done in one shot thanks to the autofocus and Glidecam. I was able to move in close and keep the gun center frame so that it would stay in focus. I must say, I’m quite fond of the result. The only issue was that the weight of the camera caused my arm to shake and the shot looked like it was vibrating. (The Glidecam vest wasn’t in the budget.) But have no fear…slap a Warp Stabilizer on in post and you’re good to go!
This is the car mount we used to shoot the second half of the Kiss Ride scene. It was kind of a pain in the ass to set up and it was shaking like a mofo, but the shots ended up looking perfectly fine. Fun fact: as you can see, we totally filled my car with a smoke machine and it was very difficult to see out the windshield, but I drove slowly and was lucky enough not to hit anything…or anyone. (We picked a quiet street on purpose.)
For the body cam gag in the café, we mounted one Go Pro on the cop’s chest and one on his head, which doubled as both costume and actual camera. By the time we got to this part of the scene, we had about five or ten minutes left before the location kicked us out. We ran through the end of the scene while I dashed around grabbing handheld shots on the C300. Then, while the crew wrapped the lights and gear, we shot his bicycle part outside. Then we rushed through three quick takes of the beginning where he enters, shot on the Go Pros. It worked out perfectly since we couldn’t use lights anyway because the Go Pro lens is so wide that you could see the entire room. We were also lucky it was a high-energy scene and the rushing kind of worked in our favor. It was fucking nuts, to put it lightly. I’m used to making sure everything is perfect and this was very much, “JUST RECORD SOMETHING! DON’T FUCK UP YOUR LINES!” Eliot (playing the cop) is such a pro that he nailed it every time and I feel like you would never know that we literally shot all his stuff in 10 minutes. LIGHTING
This was one of the most challenging spaces to light because the natural lighting of the location was extremely dim, there were not many obvious sources to help motivate and we only had a few hours to shoot several scenes. My basic strategy was to open up to at least f/2 on my Rokinon primes so that the background was nicely exposed and then figure out how to motivate key lights. We originally didn’t want to open the red curtain because that would require lighting a bigger space and we only had the Arri kit, but I eventually realized that we needed it open in order to help motivate light on the actors. We opened the window curtains in the other room in order to fill that space with sunlight, and the 1k acted as sunlight coming through to key Brad and backlight Aaron. I also put pink gels on the track lighting (for the opening café scene) and a teal gel on the light behind the bar in order to add more color to the space since I wanted Low Fare surrounded by color.
The Rooftop Climax
This was one of my favorite scenes to light because I got to make it look like we had a helicopter. Of course, we did not. At all. Obviously. We relied on a combination of sound design and lighting to create the feeling of a helicopter instead of actually showing one. The searchlight was an Arri 1k fresnel at full spot on a c-stand raised as high as it could go while Doug, our PA, moved it back and forth a little to create the effect that the helicopter was hovering above. I overexposed the light on Brad to around the point of 100 IRE to give the feeling that the light was super bright and invasive and there was nowhere he could go that would escape the view of the police. The Arri 650 provided moonlight fill for the moments before the searchlight turned on. This scene was originally supposed to be at Venice Beach, but we realized the logistics of that would not work and that Brad’s rooftop would be an awesome location at night because you could see the city in the background and it totally made sense that Low Fare would try to hide in a building. Again, I based exposure on the existing background and then lit accordingly. I opened up my Rokinons to f/2 and it gave the sky a faint blue tint, which I loved. There was also a bunch of furniture up there that we just moved out of frame so he would feel isolated in the middle of an empty space all by himself.
I’m so happy with how this shot of Ronnie turned out. I aimed the 1k at the ground right in front of Brad so that there would be nice bounce on Ronnie. I didn’t want it exactly as it was on Brad in the reverse shot because the brightness on the puppet would have distracted from Ronnie and I loved the glow that the bounce was giving him. I shot this scene handheld. Since the Rokinons don’t have image stabilization, it gave the shots a subtle shake that added to the feeling of strong winds that a helicopter would provide. The only thing missing was a massive fan to blow on the actors, but you know it wasn’t in the budget.
C300; Wide Dynamic Range. Lowered the shadows and removed a slight green tint on her skin created by the windshield.
This was the first scene that we ever shot for Rough Day. I used the RED Scarlet, set to REDGAMMA3. We had no lighting because we brought the Arri kit, but no CTB 😦 So I used power windows to help shape the light a little more since I couldn’t on set.
Second day of Rough Day production was at the police station set. I was still using the RED Scarlet and I’m glad because I shot the scenes at 4400K, but then thought it was too warm when I looked at it later on the computer. Thanks to RAW files, I was able to change to 3800K without any quality loss. It provided a nicer balance between the blue fill and the orange key.
After that first weekend, we didn’t shoot again for another month while Brad and Drew finished the scripts. In the meantime, I had decided to switch to the C300 for a few reasons. 1) The Scarlet seemed too grainy and the C300 looked sharp and pretty to me. 2) The C300 had continuous autofocus on EF lenses, which I wanted for Glidecam shots. 3) It had internal ND filters, convenient for all the outdoor scenes and fitting a screw-on polarizer. 4) It had better low light capabilities for our night scenes. 5) The files were way smaller and saved us summa dat precious hard drive space. 6) It was less expensive to rent.
We shot the park scene without any tools controlling the light, not even a reflector. The shots facing the film crew dudes were directly into the sun during the morning, so the sky turned up a little too bright for my liking. I isolated it in post and pushed it towards blue, matching it with the reverse shots and making it way more vibrant. Realizing I could “paint” the sky was like discovering Narnia. It opened up a whole new, magical world for me.
Same as Episode 1. Changed white balance to 3800K and increased contrast.
The final shot of the Sunset Junction sign was shot in Canon Log. You can see how it squeezes the luminance data into a smaller area of the waveform, so I just manually expanded it back for better contrast.
Note for those interested in shooting Log: when it’s correctly exposed, the image will appear very dark in order to save the highlights, but this is corrected in post by LUTs and/or manual correction. Therefore, shooting Log is usually only recommended if you know that the footage will go through extensive color grading. I think there are a couple advantages to shooting in Log: nicer/more filmic skin tones as well as more precise control over contrast and greater perceived latitude.
Another example of experimenting with a white balance of 4400K that didn’t work out as planned. I just didn’t like how warm it was so I manually cooled it down since this scene was shot on the C300 and I didn’t have access to RAW data.
The last scene require a bit more manipulation. It looked nicest under the tree, but I knew I would have to even out the lighting of the foreground and background levels in post. Not a big deal since there was no clipping. I also had a reflector on the actors, though I had chosen the gold side thinking it would help accentuate Drew’s spray tan. I was wrong. It looked like a gold reflector being mistakenly used on Drew’s spray tan. So I isolated his face and toned that business down.
Wow, that driver is sexy. The first shot was filmed on a Go Pro and used as the Periscope POV, doubling as a lovely two-shot. It required only minor adjustments. The rest of the scene was shot in Log. Since we were parked, I mounted the camera on a tripod and rested a silk on top of the open sunroof to let in some extra soft light for our faces.
We scouted the Silverlake library and realized that it looked similar to the exterior of the Police station we used for b-roll. We figured we would never be able to shoot a whole scene outside a police station without permission, plus the library looked a little nicer. We scheduled that location on a Sunday since the library was closed and there would likely be less chance of any little old librarians trying to stop us.
This scene required more work than the first scene because the car was moving and the light levels were constantly changing. Our faces were lit well when the sunlight was able to peek through the roof, but otherwise we were in complete shade, like the examples above. We basically just chose an f-stop somewhere in between and hoped that there would be enough information to make it work in post. And wouldn’t you know it…there was plenty. Yay, Canon!
I shot these Prank Street videos using the C300 on the “Standard DSLR” picture profile so that it would feel more like a Youtube video than a cinematic short film. I didn’t do any color correction because I was trying to emulate a crappily-shot video. It’s very tough for me to do, but I managed to succeed 😉 Fun fact: the actress on the left is my cousin, who was just visiting town and was on her way to the airport when she stopped by for a quick cameo. Thanks, Sam!
On one hand, we were lucky that it was such an overcast day. The light was nice and soft on the actors’ faces. On the other hand, it made for some boring, flat color. I basically “re-painted” every frame of this episode by isolating the elements and introducing more color, especially in the sky. I shot in WDR and overexposed a bit, figuring that as long as everything was within exposure, it would be less grainy to bring down the shadows than it would be to raise the highlights.
The police station b-roll was shot on Glidecam (with Warp Stabilizer added as well). I increased the contrast and added some orange in the mid-tones to help separate the sign from the blue sky. The interiors of this scene, shot on RED Scarlet, were really dark and murky. Because I had access to the RAW data, I was able to easily raise the exposure, tweak the white balance and increase contrast to get a much better result.
Another scene that I used my blue sky trick on. If I were to color that fourth shot over again, I would put more of a gradient in the sky, similar to the second to last shot, but it goes by so quick that it looks fine in context and it’s certainly better than the original image. The power of color grading still blows my mind.
Shot using REDGAMMA3, you can see how much contrast corrections help when you don’t have enough power to create the contrast in camera.
Canon Log, baby.
Love this shot. Used one of my favorite lenses, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8.
Stabilized the camera with a monopod in this scene. Also had Casey, our killer sound man, in the seat next to me hold an LED panel to help light their faces.
Pushed some orange into the sand and blue into the sky. I prefer this to increasing saturation because it gives me better control over the exact hue as well as specifying which items are corrected. Too much saturation also looks muddy if color channels get clipped.
This episode takes place as the sun is setting, so I pushed some warmth into this chase scene to suggest sunset, even though we were actually shooting at that time anyway. This whole sequence was a crazy race against the clock.
I barely colored the final two scenes…except for this shot. HOLY SHIT. I’ll explain. It was around 1am and we were being kicked off the roof by security, but I really wanted a shot from my drone as if it were the helicopter POV. So rushed to grab it as fast as possible and wasn’t paying attention to the settings at all. I thought it was on auto WB, but it must have been on daylight so the image came out looking like…orange poop. But a few corrections later and it was totally usable!
Texting and Typing
These graphics were created using a text message kit I purchased that included pre-designed windows for texting, Twitter, etc. (Looks like Rocketstock now offers a good template for free.) I also used the same key frames to animate the Kiss Ride screen.
These are some examples I did of screen replacement, made very easy by After Effects. The bottom computer replacement was only annoying because I had to rotoscope his shoulder and fingers on the left and they’re out of focus. By the way, you can easily learn how to do all this by watching tutorials on Youtube.
My boy, Zac Suprenant, hooked it up big by generously donating some time to make this gunshot-through-the-hand possible. He’s an awesome editor and VFX artist.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Here are some more fun photos from behind the scenes:
Scouting Venice Beach.
The Vape Shop Crew. (from left to right) Brad Gage, Drew Spears, Aram (owner of the location), Eric Lombart, Josh Sasson
The Police Station set at Silver Dreams Factory in Anaheim. We shot all of the police station interiors for every episode in 12 hours total, including set up and tear down. Quite a day.
Planning shots for the rooftop climax.
The cast and crew right after we wrapped principal photography. (Taken on a car with self-timer.)
If you have any budget at all, spend it on awesome locations instead of a better camera. Shooting a blank-walled apartment on an Alexa is still boring as shit. [Second most important place to spend (if not tied for first) would be good sound, especially in post.]