NZ Filmmakers Take on Ticklish Subject with Sony
Perhaps Tickled will be related to film school students as an example of the way documentaries are supposed to happen. You scrape enough together to start chasing a story but then you uncover something much bigger. So much bigger that the movie is catapulted from a somewhere-on-the-web release to a full scale theatrical release, a Sundance Film Festival premiere, and a Hollywood Reporter review that calls it captivating and jaw dropping.
The sudden expansion of the project called for a big step up from the stalwart 2/3 inch Sony PDW-700 XDCAM with which the two New Zealand filmmakers David Farrier and Dylan Reeve had begun the shoot. For the big screen quality and look they would need, they now turned to a Sony CineAlta PMW-F5 camera.
The project began back in 2014 when television reporter David Farrier saw a cash offer for athletes to fly to Los Angeles for ‘Competitive Endurance Tickling’. Teaming up with Reeve, whose day job is post-production supervisor, the pair headed into a project that sounds like a comedy, but turned into a story of fear, mystery and intimidation.
Their first US shoot exhausted their funds but was brimming with potential and the pair took their footage to New Zealand Film Commission CEO Dave Gibson, immediately winning enthusiastic support.
It was time for a rethink, and with cinematographer Dominic Fryer now on board, they sought a camera that was small enough to be practical with specs that would encompass the big screen. They quickly homed in on the Sony CineAlta PMW-F5 fitted with a Fujinon Cabrio 19-90mm T2.9 zoom lens that would give them speed and flexibility, while calling on a set of Zeiss Compact primes in the US when time allowed.
The camera not only had the resolution and technical quality for the big screen, the Super 35mm CMOS Sensor would offer a 35mm cinematic look.
“We talked about how we would want to shoot it,” says Reeve, now the co-director. “We all agreed that it needed to be a big sensor camera, it needed to be reasonably portable, it needed to be available, and it needed to be affordable.”
Alongside the Sony F5 CineAlta camera, they chose a Sony NEX-FS700 with Canon EOS lenses for occasional use as an economical B camera.
All this took place back in January 2015 when the 4K option for the Sony CineAlta F5 camera was just becoming available.
“So we shot interviews in 4K because we knew we would be able to push the shots in post,” says Reeve. “We could reframe them slightly, and in interviews you have the ability to bump up the size to give a little bit of flexibility in cutting smoothly between dialogue segments.”
For the rest of the shoot, they shot in XAVC HD 1920×1080 with a lot of off-speed for the interior traveling shots and tracking shots used in the film. They pushed the rushes through DaVinci Resolve to DNxHD files for editing, and again though DaVinci Resolve for grading.
Behind the camera, director of photography Dominic Fryer says the easiest thing about the camera was the ability to quickly put it on the shoulder and start shooting without having to worry. He also likes the ability to quickly select built-in ND filters.
“Luckily, there wasn’t really anything crazy that I couldn’t control lighting-wise except maybe in Michigan where we had bright snow. But the camera coped very well. Shooting S-log3 enabled me to move from bright situations into dark ones without having to worry too much. Having 14 stops of dynamic range helped a lot,” says Fryer who had no assistant and pulled focus himself.
“Over all we didn’t find ourselves hampered by the gear, and there weren’t really any cases where we were struggling technically for any reason.”
“For example, we spent a day travelling on the New York subway and walking, and our kit was small enough and versatile enough that we could do that. We caught the subway over to Manhattan, we wander around did a lot of shooting in Manhattan, and then we literally walked back across the Brooklyn Bridge, with all our gear. There was only four of us on the shoot the whole time, so it was nice and simple.”
Reeve says that they’ve had some really good feedback on the cinematography, but ironically, there is a downside due to the quality of the images.
“Sometime people look at the trailer or the film and think that because the images are so good it’s not real,” he says. “Their evidence is that it looks too good, it is too well shot.”
But he says they all went into the project not knowing what to expect.
“When we started, we’d never heard of competitive tickling, and we imagined a Vimeo online documentary. A few years earlier, it would not have been possible to make it look the way it does with the cinematic quality that we got on screen.”
Reeve says the Sony F5 was a perfect choice, but that doesn’t make it an automatic choice for his next documentary shoot, simply because of the extended options now in the Sony range compared to when they shot this film.
“If I was doing some technical camera tests for another documentary the Sony F5 would definitely be in the room, the Sony FS7 would be in the room, the Sony FS5 would be there, and for certain a Sony a7S,” he says.
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