Russell Carpenter, ASC recently took time out from his feature film docket to shoot a luminous short film titled The Calling: A Portrait of Life in the High Country. Photographed at high altitude in the Rocky Mountains with a very small crew, the project was designed to stand on its own as a film while also putting Canon’s EOS C700 4K camera through its paces. Denizens of western Colorado — a cowboy, rock climbers, and a distiller — are shown at work and in their community, usually bathed in natural light that is sharpened by the relatively thin atmosphere. Slow motion sometimes lends a lyrical feel — and allows for a close examination of the image structure.
“Given the poetic way that Tyler [director Tyler Stableford] presented it, I thought it might be actually kind of fun, as opposed to the standard product roll-out film, which often doesn’t quite hit the mark,” Russell says with a laugh. “The setting was beautiful, but the contrast up there is brutal, and I felt that if anything was going to put the camera to the test, that kind of brutality would do it.”
The shoot itself had a light footprint. The crew was two or three people, augmented by representatives of Canon and Codex, among a handful of others. The cameras and four or five lights were loaded into cars and driven up to the location. Three days of filming meant that the timing had to be carefully planned according to the sun, and the small crew had to nail everything without a hitch.
A potpourri of lenses included Canon cinema primes and cinema zooms, a Cooke S4 12mm prime, and Cooke anamorphic lenses. Russ mostly worked with a Canon CN-E 30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L cinema lens, and Stableford often shot with primes. Codex digital recorders handled the data in a RAW codec. Post was done at SHED in Santa Monica.
Regarding the shoot, Russell says, “I would always try and set something up with Tyler that forced a very good look at what the camera was capable of, and I was really surprised. We got a little time to make what amounted to a basic dynamic range test. I was just really impressed by a few things — how much information was held not only in the highlights but way, way deep into the shadows. The camera’s rated at ASA 800 but I could see easily shooting that ASA 1600 because whatever noise was there was very hard to see, and looked almost like 5219 film grain. I thought it was very attractive and if for some reason you wanted to dial that grain out, it went invisible immediately in the DI suite. So I was impressed by that. And I was even more impressed by what I saw when the project was finally finished and put up on the Canon HDR monitors.
“The lack of atmosphere makes for a deeper blue sky, and because there’s no haze at all, when the sunlight back-side-lights a cloud, it almost turns white to the eye,” he says. “When we did our first standard dynamic range passes, we saw those clouds burned out and I thought ‘Oh, bummer.’ Then we saw it in HDR. Everything was fantastic. There was no detail lost. I mean it was shocking how much was there. We could shoot up into the clouds with somebody in the foreground with no fill at all, and we were able to create really, really nice-looking images.
“It’s obvious to me that it’s not the camera anymore that is the bottleneck in terms of what we can see,” says Russell. “Whatever Canon is doing with the secret sauce in their processing, it really feels very, very film-like. When Canon introduced the C100, I heard cinematographers working in the feature arena express the wish that Canon had gone further in releasing the potential of their sensor in a way that felt like a cinematographer’s ‘go-to weapon’ right out of the box. I really feel the C700 has remarkably fulfilled that wish, with a camera that is in form and ergonomics a cinema camera, while delivering a rich and subtle imagery. I could see using this camera on any feature film, no matter the size or budget.”
The Calling was recently screened at Canon’s new facility in Burbank as part of a grand opening event. Guests were treated to a flawless presentation in a brand-new, HDR-equipped screening room, one of many such amenities designed for cinematographers and other filmmakers.
A behind-the-scenes film is available here: