I wrote this reply to a friend of mine who asked how we filmed Cats! with such a small crew. Perhaps you might find it interesting.

I’ve learnt a lot and absorbed a lot of influences over the few years (Wes Anderson, Gordon Willis and Roger Deakins for cinematography, with Edgar Wright and Beat Takeshi Kitano for editing). Like Willis/Deakins I tend to just light the room and let the Red Dragon’s wonderful dynamic range take care of the rest. We also faced the challenge of getting cinema quality cinematography on a very tight budget. In the case of this film we used a 3K Arri-clone LED light as the moon and a 2K fluoro softbox with a tungsten balance gel inside the room pointing up at the ceiling to decrease the dynamic range between darkness and the practicals. Going shoulder mount with a Tilta wireless follow focus dramatically increased the speed with which I could setup new shots and angles, and it’s a technique that I really like for its dynamism.

Cats! BTS. The Red all decked out in its full regalia

I don’t storyboard because I tend to work collaboratively with the talent, so there’s no time, and I’ll just work out the blocking and work out which shots I need to tell the story. It helps being the editor, too, so I’ve already edited the story in my head before we start rolling. The bucket joke is a great example of that as it was improv’d on set.

We shot this over two nights, a total of about 12 hours shooting time, including the drone footage. I had two crew, myself and my son Michael. I also deliberately shot for a delivery in a 3:2 aspect ratio, giving it more of a Wes Anderson feel and forcing me to centre the action in the shots so that quick cuts could be easily understood by the audience. Total budget for the short was USD250, which was mostly the hire of the M60 and the purchase of a pair of Ralph Lauren pyjamas.

The nice colouring comes from Red’s new IPP2 workflow, which is a vast improvement over previous colour sciences. All it took was a Philmcolour LUT to bring out the skintones, although I did use a very light Blackfrost over the lenses to soften it a bit. I used 2 lenses, the Contax prime 28mm F2 and Macro 60mm f2.8. Anyone could shoot a feature film using only these two focal lengths.


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