Jon Joffin has always been open to new technologies. He was among the earliest to shoot on the Sony F900 and the ARRI D20, the latter of which he used in 2008 on four episodes of The Andromeda Strain, earning an Emmy nomination in the process. “Log was not even a thing back them,” he says with a laugh. “I liked shooting on that camera. It was like shooting 50 ASA film because it had very little light sensitivity. I’ve always liked new tools, but only when they help tell the story effectively, in a new way. Technology can be overused, and it can be a blanket rather than being used to create a precise meaning or effect.”
Joffin has always been fascinated by very early photographic technology, too, such as the daguerreotype. Knowing how these older processed worked sometimes comes in handy when he’s trying to achieve a certain effect using the latest digital tools. One recent assignment, the series Aftermath, takes place in a world that is coming apart at the seams. Civilization is threatened by storms, meteors, earthquakes, plague — and supernatural creatures.
“Even though everything has gone wrong and there’s a threat of losing the world as we know it, we wanted it to look really beautiful and rich, so there was something worth fighting for,” Joffin says. “So during prep, we got all the old film filters, which I really miss, like the antique suede and the chocolate and the sepias and the tobaccos, and we shot color charts. My DIT, David Skidmore, was able to emulate them for me so we could apply them digitally.”
Joffin describes Aftermath as a “very tight-budget show with very little time to shoot it.” Showrunners Bill Laurin and Glenn Davis, as well as pilot director Jason Stone, wanted a looser feel, as if the events are unfolding before the audience in real time.
“I thought that was a good approach given the story and the schedule,” says Joffin. “But I didn’t want it to be a show where the camera is handheld, shaky, and moving around randomly all the time. We wanted it to feel natural, and we didn’t have a lot of time to spend lighting. I was pushing for dollies, and I moved some things around to make it work, but in the end we had to go without it. Then our A camera operator, Chris Fisher, brought in a new device called an Artemis Maxima.”
Joffin says the Artemis Maxima is similar to a Movi or a Ronin, but on steroids. He now shoots 90% of the show using two of them. The head stabilizes the image. Panning and tilting is easy via three-axis wireless remote wheels, and the rig fits in with the “as it happens” aesthetic. Arri distributes the product. “It’s the craziest thing,” says Joffin. “It’s smooth and stable, and before long we were blocking shots knowing we had this device. We’ve got shots on a 50 mil that are rock-steady, and our B camera operator Jos Oman is on a 135mm and that is steady like a dolly too. It’s like having an endless Technocrane that can just keep going where you want it. There’s huge range on the wireless. We did car rigs where we would be in the follow vehicle with wheels. We would routinely rig it on the front of a pickup truck and do low tracking shots behind vehicles. It was perfect for running and gunning. And with this smooth movement, it looked like we had laid dolly track all the time.”
The cameras are two Arri Minis and one Amira along with a Canon C300 Mark II. The package includes Leica primes and a full set of Canon cinema zooms and primes. Jon uses a lens mount adaptor to shoot the EF-mount primes on the PL-mount cameras.
The stripped-down combination of the Arri Mini and a 14mm Canon lens comes to eight pounds without the transmitter, which allowed Joffin and his team to rig the camera to stunt people and launch them 150’ in the air. “The Canon primes work great, and I absolutely love the 30-300 zoom,” says Jon. “We used that quite often, and it was good to reach in. The C300 was really handy, too.”
Aftermath stars Anne Heche as a U.S. Air Force pilot and James Tupper as a humanities professor. The show is produced in the Vancouver area. The first season, which consists of 13 episodes, began airing on the SyFy network in September, 2016.