SHORT: The Tenth

CharlesPapert

Director of Photography
We are in the midst of screening this year's Messhall Film Festival in Los Angeles, thought I'd post my film. This festival was schemed up by a server and a bartender at Messhall Kitchen, a gastropub in Los Feliz (my local spot for the past 10 years). Knowing that the majority of the staff there were also actors/writers/directors at various stages of their journey, as is the case with so many restaurants in LA, and also knowing how many industry folks like myself are regulars, these guys thought it would be great to bring them all together into teams to make a series of short films shot at the restaurant. We did this last year and it was a great success, so repeated again this year. Each team had from 10 pm to 7 am on a given night to shoot the films then a couple of months to edit. Then we have a series of screenings of all the films at the venue and a great time is had by all. David Fincher is a regular at the restaurant and he came to our premiere screening--let's just say it was a tad surreal watching him watch my film...?!

Last year I was given a pretty somber drama so I decided to lighten things up with a bit of a romp. I wrote with these actors in mind, all playing versions of themselves and their actual jobs at the restaurant. Executing it as a Steadicam one'r allowed us to roam around the building and grounds. It's a historic building, continuously operating as a restaurant for 93 years, and was one of the legendary Brown Derby's in the 40's. The space was divided in two in the 90's and the other half became the Derby swing club, memorialized in the movie "Swingers". A nod in that movie to the Goodfellas Copa sequence had Favreau, Vince Vaughn and co. enter through the back stairs and kitchen, most of which is intact and is the same kitchen seen in this film.

Anyway, shot on my Varicam LT and a Sigma Cine Prime 20mm. I enlisted my good friend and legendary operator Dave Chameides to do Steadicam duties. I have plenty of one'rs under my belt from my Steadicam and later DP days, but had never written or directed one prior to this and it was an interesting exercise. It's much closer to theatre when you can't affect pacing and pick selects on a line by line basis!

I thought the edit was going to be lightning fast due to the limited amount of cuts, but ran aground with the transition from kitchen back to dining room. The kitchen was a good 4 stops hotter than the deep background and we did a remote stop pull on the way through, but due to distance and transmission errors there were a series of exposure jumps within the stop pull. I painstakingly keyframed those into a smoother transition, then isolated the background from foreground and pulled it up in level, then isolated the actresses walking in front of it to keep them from being affected by that lift. It was a ton of work to get it seamless (I am OK with Resolve but don't have any VFX skills to speak of) but it did push my system to the brink, especially once I added noise reduction to help with the pushed background element, and I had several days of constant crashes before I finally rendered clips out in stages to reduce the load.

vimeo.com/papert/tenth
 
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Hey Charles, great film. I enjoyed getting to see so much of the space and the operating was fantastic. I’m curious what stop you were shooting at throughout? With so much going on and all of the actor movement and camera movement, did you stop down quite a bit? I know the focal length certainly would help with things….or maybe your focus puller is just a savant.
 
Good question and yet, one that I don't necessarily have the answer to (I didn't DP this particular project, too many other things to focus on). To the best of my recollection we shot the main room at around a T1.8. I think we probably adjusted the ISO a little once we went outside for the second part, however that resulted in a series of remote stop pulls, the most aggressive of which was the kitchen which as I mentioned above was all the way to a 5.6 or thereabouts. Would have been nice to have done it as an ISO pull, but that wouldn't have been this camera.

Yes, the 20mm is quite forgiving and we weren't doing Birdman-style super closeups on it, so not terribly difficult for the focus puller. He still had to pay attention and did a great job. No buzzes that I can recall. We did have to discuss a few of the racks on dialogue and make some decisions on who to go to and when.
 
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Nice work, Charles. I'm normally not a fan of the one-shot style (Birdman, 1918, etc.) but I think it works very well here in short film. I assume it must have been fun to work out all the choreography and then to pull it off so prefectly. If the transition at 3:19 from kitchen to dining room is the one you struggled with, I'd say you did an excellent job of fixing it. I didn't notice any problems. Well done.
 
Thanks for sharing Charles. Well done indeed. Superbly executed. Love watching one'rs, especially by such skilled operators.

My favorite lines:
"Maybe they're expecting to shit themselves before dessert".
"Vaginal Itch? It's doing much better now, thank you. Thoughts & prayers".

And I agree with Doug - did not have any problems with the kitchen transition. Cheers! :beer:
(and also congrats on hopefully getting back to work on your "regular day job").
 
Thanks Mark and Doug. Yes that kitchen transition starts around 3:40. I should put up the non-corrected version of that section for comparison.

It was an interesting process because I designed the camera move as I was writing the dialogue, so it was almost like fitting in words to match the timing of the move. I walked around the restaurant staring into corners and perplexing the other patrons, but churned out a very passable draft in 90 minutes. Punch-up included pitches from the actors while we were rehearsing, but it's probably 85% the draft I turned in for approval (glad you liked those lines Mark, and they were in that first draft!) Once I brought in Dave I thought he'd have a lot of thoughts on how to improve the move, but ultimately it was only little timing beats and tweaks so it was probably 90% what I first came up with.

My goal is to keep working on the writing side. The short gets a few laughs at the festival but not nearly as much as some of the other films. It's more amusing than funny, apparently. As I mentioned earlier, this project made me realize how much harder it is to land jokes while the camera is continuously moving and not cutting, so in a way it is swimming upstream.
 
Wow. Loved it. I am so impressed. It had great flow and transitioned from space to space and character to character so fluidly. Solid acting. And having waited tables myself, it captures that mood after the last customer has just left well. What you posted about writing the dialogue while planning the camera moves makes sense -- it's hard for me to imagine what this even looked like on the written page. I mostly know you as a skilled DP but you've got some real talent as writer and director as well.

Have you sent this to Tarantino's folks yet? He might get a kick out of it.
 
The folks running the festival did go out to Tarantino's people and let them know there was a film he might be interested in, but haven't heard back yet. The reference "must have spent all his money on the Vista" refers to the classic theatre Tarantino bought, renovated and just re-opened this month (the inaugural screening was True Romance, which has a scene shot at the Vista). It's in the same neighborhood as Messhall, so it's a hyper-local reference and gets a good laugh at the screenings!

As far as what the script looked like--pretty standard stuff. Because I was also directing, I really didn't need to go too deep into the stage directions (which aren't meant to be technical anyway). Attached below.

The major change on the night was that the exterior portion was supposed to have been a drone shot, that took over from the Steadicam on the transition through the wall from inside to outside, and went up and over the canopy in front of the building and through the trees on the way to valet, dropping down to meet up with the character as he realizes they are gone. Unfortunately the drone team, although highly recommended, couldn't pull off the shot we had discussed so we quickly revamped it into a Steadicam shot. The bonus with the new shot was tracking across the Messhall sign which is a crowd-pleaser moment at the festival screenings.

View attachment The Tenth.FINAL SHOOTING SCRIPT.pdf
 
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Very fun! It's nice to do an "inside baseball" piece when everyone involved is thoroughly on the inside.

Exactly. I designed this from the very beginning to play to the hometown crowd at these 6 screenings and not really have a life beyond that. That's quite liberating.
 
If the transition at 3:19 from kitchen to dining room is the one you struggled with, I'd say you did an excellent job of fixing it. I didn't notice any problems. .

Here's an after/before of the kitchen transition with the issues I detailed above--so many stops between the kitchen and the dining room that it blocked up in the background, then the remote iris control experienced interference and jumped open in stages.

https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/eghx...tion.mov?rlkey=08m5zlvhyfbz455qx3s9150bu&dl=0
 
Yes, very impressive work. Compensating for visible jumps in exposure or noise can be really hard to clean up.
 
Thanks! Pulling roto mattes via the magic mask in Resolve is simultaneously great and frustrating--it can do the job but with erratic results that need a lot of massaging. It would definitely benefit from more AI integration, I think. I probably adjusted and re-tracked elements 300 times working on this film (I had to also use it on the transition going out the front door as there was a lighting mismatch on the exterior that I corrected out). That said: a few years ago I wouldn't have been able to do it by myself at all, so I'm glad it exists.

I'm sure there would be a more automated way to adjust exposure but I did it basically frame by frame, by comparing waveforms.

When I get through one of these projects that pushes me technically, it feels kind of nice to have "unlocked a new level" in my skillset.The trick is to use it again soon enough that I don't forget everything I figured out!
 
Great short! I like nod to the divisive nature of QT films - how the men were deeply impacted by PF and remember it like it was yesterday and the women weren't interested at all. It reminds me of when people who haven't seen Seinfeld come across people who have seen every episode more than 50 times (me). There's going to be so much pressure for the tenth film, poor Quentin!

That's such an interesting comment about swimming upstream given the format of not using editing cuts. I wonder what the funniest oner examples are!? I've never thought in terms of comedy and oners being more difficult to pull off. Not that they're not friends, but maybe requiring extra thought and even an entirely different style.

Other random notes:

- The pacing going past the messhall sign was perfect, I could read the big letters easily - not a major discussion point but I'm sure that was no accident.
- More subtle briefcase lighting tribute was really nice. Didn't blast the actor with an obnoxious amber glow like so many others.
- Nailed the Tarantino voice.
 
Great notes Rob! I have to really think of what would be a great example of a comedic traveling one'r. There are surely some moments represented in the Sorkin walk-and-talks (Sports Night, West Wing, Studio 60) but generally not wall to wall comedy.

- The pacing going past the messhall sign was perfect, I could read the big letters easily - not a major discussion point but I'm sure that was no accident.
- More subtle briefcase lighting tribute was really nice. Didn't blast the actor with an obnoxious amber glow like so many others.
- Nailed the Tarantino voice.

The Messhall sIgn: not even discussed. Dave Chameides, my camera operator, is so experienced that he just did it at the appropriate speed from the get-go. There is incidentally a wee hidden cut right afterwards, I just removed about four seconds that was mostly foliage. I keyframed a wipe with the trailing edge of the sign.

Briefcase lighting tribute...uhhh...if there was one, it wasn't intentional. Which part of the film were you thinking of here?
 
Briefcase lighting tribute...uhhh...if there was one, it wasn't intentional. Which part of the film were you thinking of here?

Lol, that's hilarious. At 04:25 to 04:27 when Pack answers the front door the lighting clearly changes on his face. I instantly thought it was a nod to the briefcase "glow" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvy4YH9--Vw&t=100s), except instead it was QT emitting light, without drawing too much attention to itself. But I guess not!
 
Ha, OK I see what you are referring to now! My DP and I had something of a disagreement about that light outside (really, our only one, he did great!). The area by that door was quite dark and he wanted to key through the door without other fill. I felt that this would make for too much contrast so I suggested a tube rigged above the wall plus a little front fill, and hoped the door push would be more of a kiss than a key. The first time Gabe walks out the door to walk to the valet area, that light became a problem for matching in the edit as it wasn't flagged off the exterior wall seen outside the door, and thus created a continuity issue when it disappeared for the B part of the shot after the "travel" through the wall. I was able to mask and knock down that wall, but I couldn't do anything about the highlight on Gabe's face that magically disappears (and changes color) as he walks through. My concern also about that exterior push being a key was that for the scene you mentioned where Pack and later Gabe are at the door that they might stack up on each other, shadowing the person behind.

So the compromise was that he brought that level down and augmented with the other interior lights. I still think it could have been toned to match the warmer light existing under the entrance canopy (as seen on the B side of Gabe's exit) because it feels like it is coming from nowhere, but obviously most people wouldn't notice it. It is funny that you translated this as an homage though! I like that!
 
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Ha, OK I see what you are referring to now! My DP and I had something of a disagreement about that light outside (really, our only one, he did great!). The area by that door was quite dark and he wanted to key through the door without other fill. I felt that this would make for too much contrast so I suggested a tube rigged above the wall plus a little front fill, and hoped the door push would be more of a kiss than a key. The first time Gabe walks out the door to walk to the valet area, that light became a problem for matching in the edit as it wasn't flagged off the exterior wall seen outside the door, and thus created a continuity issue when it disappeared for the B part of the shot after the "travel" through the wall. I was able to mask and knock down that wall, but I couldn't do anything about the highlight on Gabe's face that magically disappears (and changes color) as he walks through. My concern also about that exterior push being a key was that for the scene you mentioned where Pack and later Gabe are at the door that they might stack up on each other, shadowing the person behind.

So the compromise was that he brought that level down and augmented with the other interior lights. I still think it could have been toned to match the warmer light existing under the entrance canopy (as seen on the B side of Gabe's exit) because it feels like it is coming from nowhere, but obviously most people wouldn't notice it. It is funny that you translated this as an homage though! I like that!

Don’t take this the wrong way, because I thought the entire piece was great, but is that one of those things that you file under “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, so to speak? Or “happy accident”?
 
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