Posts in Filmmaking
A few words on the importance of being practical.

IN THE BEGINNING
To my millions of imaginary readers and adoring fans,  I have an anecdote with spirit for you.  If you knew what my life was like growing up, if you knew me from back in the day, you'd probably have said something like this:  "Face facts, young KDC. the only way you're going to be let in through the front door of the Clubhouse, that is, the American Society of Cinematographer's Hollywood Clubhouse, is if you're cleaning the toilets or delivering bags of weed.  Other than that, it’s impossible for a guy like you.  And as a matter of fact, you would be smart to purge those silly delusions of grandeur from your vivid imagination immediately. Right?"  "Um, right. Sorry man." I would have told you.  And you would not have had the minority opinion. And I would have had no reason to believe that you wished ill of me.

Yet there I was, in summer of 2013, through the front door, inside the temple to American Cinematography, not as a drug dealer or janitor, but by invitation as a cinematographer by a female director who believed my work to be on par with her high production values. A documentary of sorts featuring none other than Dean Cundey, ASC!

 

YOU’VE SEEN HIS WORK.
Dean Cundey, ASC is the cinematographer who shot Halloween, Escape From New York, Back To The Future, Jurassic Park, Romancing The Stone, Big Trouble In Little China..., the very films that I watched growing up that made me resonate with emotion, and in awe of the magic that was bestowed upon me. So smitten was I,  that at the age of fourteen, I forged a work permit so I could get a job as an usher at the Mann's Village movie theater in Westwood Village- just so I could be around movies all the time.

DAZED AND CONFUSED.
Reflecting as we all must do from time to time, my first "paying" job was an unrealistic initiation to the adult workforce, simply because it never felt like work.  Who cares that the money is crap when you're too busy laughing with your fellow cinephiles to complain about it? 

Add to the equation, the bonus of coming home well after the 3am late show screenings to the shocking approval of my hardliner, working-class father who walked uphill and barefoot to school, a man who cultivated a solid reputation for reading me the riot act, too mystified that I was not "fucking off in front of the television” to give me what for. 

And It seems strange to say it now, but putting on that royal blue polyester jacket, ill-fitting gray pants and  “punching” the time-clock was never embarrassing.  And feeling the ground shake and shudder to the THX trailer put me in a state of euphoria every single time.

END FLASHBACK SEQUENCE
Many years later, I can still experience the same sense of euphoria, but no longer as just an audience member. These days, I'm only happy/breathing/alive when there’s a camera in my hands.  Whenever I’m shooting, I become impervious to long hours, bad weather, fatigue, and all the many, many perils of my adult life.  I’m forever addicted to this feeling- which is better than any drug or drink I’ve ever had, and I have no intention of kicking this habit, even as the days in-between gigs become tougher to endure, and I find myself jonesing for the inspiration or reason to pick up my cameras again. And again. And again. 

And yes I do realize, that even with all that I’ve managed to accomplish, being a guest shooter at the ASC clubhouse is still a long, long way from being an actual member.  The thought of writing my name, followed by a comma, followed by the letters ASC is so far away, it feels impossible.  And I would be smart to purge those silly delusions of grandeur from my vivid imagination immediately.  Right?

-Keith Fucking DeCristo

The mirror behind the bar at the ASC.

The mirror behind the bar at the ASC.

 

American Sharia - how I learned to love Sony prime lenses.
2nd one on the shelf!

2nd one on the shelf!

Producer Couni Young gets her way. Every time. 

Producer Couni Young gets her way. Every time. 

Tax incentive or no, Detroit Michigan is a great place to shoot your indie feature- but it does help to have a Rock n' Roller of an EP, local to the area and connected up the wazoo to come in and keep your production from capsizing. Those police cars (up there in the poster) are real, and came as a favor from the great folks of the Dearborn police department, who were kind enough to let a film crew drive them bonkers (the first and last time they will make that mistake), as we shot in every room in the building, including the jail cells.  More than that, they served as protection when we went filming in neighborhoods no sane person would be caught dead in after the sun went down.  In the film, there's a shadowy alleyway scene lit by a single 4K that would not have been possible had it not for the DPD keeping the peace.  

But- this is a story about glass. Specifically Sony glass, which I used to think were complete crap. And much like the congregation at the Westboro Baptist Church, my misguided prejudices were borne out of ignorance, lack of education,  way too much Pabst Blue Ribbon, and just enough stupid for me to believe that the yellow frothy liquid I was drinking was not the piss being reported by my tastebuds,  but the product of fine, fermented American hops and barley. 

1st AC's Andrea Boglioli (left) and Petra Bakos

1st AC's Andrea Boglioli (left) and Petra Bakos

As It was explained to me, these were first generation Cine Alta, with barrels made not of metal, but of composite materials. And since any lens made with anything but metal usually rates fairly high on the inferiority scale, I had plenty of doubts.   But then I got to know them out in the field- and, well,  they kinda won me over. First, they are super light in both weight and touch. You can actually feather the f-stop and focus rings with one finger, which took some time for me to get used to, not only because I was used to harder pulls off the barrel (and I'll wait while you pull your mind out of the gutter), but mostly because I was paranoid about them breathing.  After a week of solid shooting I realized that the f-stop and focus had no intention of going anywhere unless they were asked, even when strapped to the hood of a moving Detroit police car.  

A Sony F3 with a CineAlta 85mm, on a film set that just ran out of coffee, and the crew that just found out.                  Photo Petra Bakos

A Sony F3 with a CineAlta 85mm, on a film set that just ran out of coffee, and the crew that just found out.                  Photo Petra Bakos

My buddy Joe White, the owner of the kit and the 2nd unit DP, juggled the 35, 50 and 85  between us and we sent the Japanese glass through a gauntlet of long days, multiple setups,  hot and cold weather, and a myriad of unspeakable horrors that only an independent film can bring. These little guys not only put up with everything, but they yielded a cinematic feel that's good to look at, and flared beautifully.

Battle - shot on the RED EPIC in 5K Anamorphic!

Every operator, AC or DP who has worked with a RED knows about it's many idiosyncrasies. Even sound guys hate them for the racket they make. They're prone to crashes, they're impossible to hold steady (unless you kit them out), and don't even get me started on the god-awful workflow.  And on this shoot, we had TWO of them. 

Me (with the crazy hair) and 1st AC Joshua Butt (in the cap), on set in the California desert. Photo Will Potter 

Me (with the crazy hair) and 1st AC Joshua Butt (in the cap), on set in the California desert.
Photo Will Potter 

But what other camera can give you a gorgeous, 2:40:1 using 35mm vintage Nikon glass?  Once I started to look at the footage, all was forgiven. 

A delicious and dark RED 5K Anamorphic frame.

A delicious and dark RED 5K Anamorphic frame.

With a little time in a DaVinci suite, I could make an entire reel out of what we shot on this project. Of course it helps to have rockstars in your G&E department- who tackled a myriad of never before seen power problems, killer mosquitoes, stayed relatively calm even as that thing in the forest made noises like an angry monster bringing hell along with it, and who had the discipline to remember the union rules- two shots of whiskey for every hour past the 12th. 


Me, You and Five Bucks - One Movie, One Lens.
Whoa!

Whoa!

The Poster - Me, You, Five Bucks

It was at times very difficult to make, but I love this little indie movie. it took home a quite a few film festival awards including a nomination for best cinematography, and there's nothing like peer-reviewed accolades to remind you that you're not so crazy after all (Or I could be a total nut-job, not a single faculty within my possession, which makes much more sense, is also the simpler answer, and four out of five ex-girlfriends can't be wrong).  

90% of this film is shot on a single lens- a vintage Nikkor 50mm f1.4 circa 1967 that was given to me by my father. An amalgamation of vintage Japanese steel and glass that, in my humble opinion, could easily stand up to the aesthetic pedigrees of Zeiss and Cooke. Mated to a Canon 7D and a Zacuto Z-Finder, it became the weapon of choice for me and a small crew of lovable misfits. For weeks straight we waged war against multiple, 11 page days in the middle of a cold November on the streets of NYC, and managed to emerge victorious, in large part to that EXTRA STOP (f1.4) that came in very, very handy shooting exteriors during a time of year when the sun comes around the shortest. 

A vintage Nikkor 50mm f1.4 - the new normal. 

A vintage Nikkor 50mm f1.4 - the new normal. 

Much love to my AC Andrea B, and the rest of the crew, but the MOST LOVE goes to the producer who disrupted the shoot with unforgettable, infantile, screaming fits like, seven or eight times and became everyone's poster child for bi-polar. Even years later, we still tell those stories.  If I had to do it again I would, because at the end of the day crazy is part of the modern skillset in this industry,  and, if I'm really honest,  I've done much, much worse.  May all of us laugh joyfully and hysterically at our past transgressions.  You're the best, boo, wherever you are. 

Watch the trailer: Me, You and Five Bucks  now available on Amazon and other fine content aggregators.


-KFD