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    "The Steam" | railroad documentary shot on FX9 + SLR Magic
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    Member mattmealer's Avatar
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    I directed & DPíd this short for a regional documentary film program sponsored by the Central Valley Community Foundation in Fresno, CA. This is an extended cut of the original, which was limited to 5 minutes and had a broadcast premiere on the local PBS station last week.

    The film tells the stories of the oldest and youngest engine crew members at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad in Fish Camp, CA, right outside of Yosemite National Park. The railroad is a recreation of a historic logging line that was abandoned in the 1930s. All of their equipment, including of course the locomotives, dates to the early 20th century...amazing machines!

    This was shot over three days in July-August on the FX9 in full-frame mode, using three SLR Magic Micro Primes (25/50/75mm), a 1/4 Black ProMist throughout, and an EasyRig. I had hoped to shoot on the Amira, but with a very limited budget, it just wasnít going to happen. That said, as a current FS7 owner, I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with the newer model. It was obvious from the start that, apart from anything else, the FX9 colors are a major step up from the FS7.

    This was my first time shooting doc-style content on primes, and I absolutely loved it -- both the creative limitation and of course the savings in weight. I use primes for travel photography and have always preferred that way of working for stills, so I decided to take a risk and abandon my customary zooms for this project. Iím very pleased with the results...as far as Iím concerned, it totally paid off. I honestly canít think of any specific shots that I Ďmissedí by not having a zoom on the camera.

    Everything except for the two interviews was shot in natural light, very much run&gun style. I think there are only three Ďstagedí shots in the final cut -- the two portrait-style shots near the end, and the shot of the enginehouse door being closed for the night. I had to move quickly to keep up with the engine crew as they went about their daily schedule. A challenge for sure, but definitely exhilarating with such a fun subject.

    The interviews were lit with a Astra 6x bicolor through a softbox and 4x4 silk, a Hive Wasp 100C for BG fill in one setup, and a ton of negative fill. Between budget limitations and coronavirus concerns, I was able to hire only one assistant, so our setups needed to be lightweight and manageable for two people. With a little planning and a trusted AC, we were able to stay on schedule from start to finish and get everything we needed.

    Would love to hear your thoughts, and Iím happy to answer questions. Enjoy!

    Assembly - Long V3.00_15_07_20.Still038.jpg
    Assembly - Short V5.00_02_10_22.Still009.jpg
    B-roll for Orlando.00_02_29_14.Still024.jpg
    Assembly - Long V3.00_13_00_02.Still031.jpg
    Photos 16-9.00_02_44_01.Still036.jpg
    IMG_3456.JPG


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    Senior Member scorsesefan's Avatar
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    Congrats. Must have been some tight spaces in those locomotives with that rig...


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    Very nice! Looks great and very cool subject matter and approach.

    Were you shooting in the S-Cinetone profile or something else? And is the texture in the image applied in post or were you relying on the camera's innate noise characteristics (or both)?

    I'd also be curious to know if you were able to monitor with the stock LCD or if you relied on an external monitor or EVF. Thanks!


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    Senior Member Grug's Avatar
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    Really enjoyed it, and some lovely shots (I got a real Heaven's Gate vibe in some of them).

    I feel like the step-up Sony's made in the colour science is apparent in the fact that you simply don't notice it anymore. There's nothing strange about the colours, nothing that takes you out of the imagery - it just looks lovely.


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    Thanks for sharing. Great job and great images. I agree that the color science is up to the level where one does not think about it, it is just correct to the eye.

    My only thoughts are surrounding the interview/narration aspect. I would prefer a little more light on the main subject for the shots he is shown. I found myself deciphering the image because it is kind of dark. Also, I would prefer his audio to be a little more intimate. It has a bit of a distant sound. These are nit picking as the final is without issues. Just sharing, not judging!


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    Member mattmealer's Avatar
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    Congrats. Must have been some tight spaces in those locomotives with that rig...
    Thanks! The only real issue was the height of the EasyRig inside the locomotive cab...it tended to snag on the whistle and bell cords if I wasn't careful. That was easy enough to avoid though -- no inadvertent ringing or whistling this time around! The locomotive in operation during our shoot has a much larger cab than the one parked in the shop. Had it been the reverse, I might have had to rethink the rigging.

    Very nice! Looks great and very cool subject matter and approach.

    Were you shooting in the S-Cinetone profile or something else? And is the texture in the image applied in post or were you relying on the camera's innate noise characteristics (or both)?

    I'd also be curious to know if you were able to monitor with the stock LCD or if you relied on an external monitor or EVF. Thanks!
    Much appreciated! This was shot in S-Log3/S-Gamut3.Cine and colored in Lumetri + FilmConvert (where the grain was added). The images out of the camera were pretty clean, even the shop interior scenes (shooting in daylight in midsummer helped for sure!), and I wanted to add back a bit more 'grit' to match the vibe of the location. I was monitoring with a SmallHD 501, which I've found convenient for EasyRig work. The HDMI obviously isn't ideal, but hey, I got it for cheap

    Really enjoyed it, and some lovely shots (I got a real Heaven's Gate vibe in some of them).

    I feel like the step-up Sony's made in the colour science is apparent in the fact that you simply don't notice it anymore. There's nothing strange about the colours, nothing that takes you out of the imagery - it just looks lovely.
    Wow, thank you so much! I'm not very familiar with that film, so I'd love to know which shots/sequences brought it to mind. Totally agree about the FX9 color.

    My only thoughts are surrounding the interview/narration aspect. I would prefer a little more light on the main subject for the shots he is shown. I found myself deciphering the image because it is kind of dark. Also, I would prefer his audio to be a little more intimate. It has a bit of a distant sound. These are nit picking as the final is without issues. Just sharing, not judging!
    Fair enough! I definitely made a conscious choice to push the interviews as dark as I thought I could get away with, particularly the one you refer to. I get that might not work for everyone. However, it did seem to suit the existing lighting in the location.


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    Wonderful story well told. Nicely done.


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    Member mattmealer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Razz16mm View Post
    Wonderful story well told. Nicely done.
    Thanks so much!


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    Quote Originally Posted by mattmealer View Post
    Much appreciated! This was shot in S-Log3/S-Gamut3.Cine and colored in Lumetri + FilmConvert (where the grain was added). The images out of the camera were pretty clean, even the shop interior scenes (shooting in daylight in midsummer helped for sure!), and I wanted to add back a bit more 'grit' to match the vibe of the location. I was monitoring with a SmallHD 501, which I've found convenient for EasyRig work. The HDMI obviously isn't ideal, but hey, I got it for cheap
    If you don't mind a couple more questions: how do you find the FX9 stock LCD, both in general and compared to the FS7? And for grading, were you using Sony's LUT to bring the footage into Rec709, another LUT, or doing it fully manually? Thanks!


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    Member mattmealer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by drboffa View Post
    If you don't mind a couple more questions: how do you find the FX9 stock LCD, both in general and compared to the FS7? And for grading, were you using Sony's LUT to bring the footage into Rec709, another LUT, or doing it fully manually? Thanks!
    I only had the camera for a brief rental period to shoot this particular project and ended up not using the stock LCD at all other than for initial menu setup. Sorry I can't be of more help! It did seem pretty similar to the FS7 LCD, but honestly I wasn't paying much attention to it.

    I used Alister Chapman's 'less green' S709 LUT for grading and the camera's built-in S709 LUT for monitoring.


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