Magazine article American Cinematographer

Short Takes

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Short Takes

Article excerpt

Grace Tells of Emotional Salvation

The short film Grace, directed by Camille Cellucci and photographed by Levie Isaacks, ASC, centers on Rae (Christie Lynn Smith), a depressed woman whose hope is renewed by a young girl, Grace (Joey King). Isaacks jumped at the opportunity to work on the film because he loved the script, and because the project would allow him to shoot with a high-end digital camera. "I've shot film for most of my life, and this was my second opportunity to shoot digital," says the cinematographer. "I thought it was a terrific story, very life-affirming. And for such a simple script, it was very visual."

Isaacks says he "just sort of fell into the business" of cinematography, but he believes his visual aesthetics were forged at a very early age. "Both of my parents were deaf, and I feel my whole visual language comes from them," he says. "They really taught me how to see."

Grace was made as part of the American Film Institute (AFI) Directing Workshop for Women, and the school provided workshop participants with a Sony HDW-F900. lsaacks also obtained a Pro35 Lens Adapter from Clairmont Camera; the system includes an adapter that allows traditional 35mm cine lenses to be used on the F900. "Film lenses help you make a digital image look more like film, because they add a bit of grain," he says.

Isaacks also asked Clairmont's Sergio Huerta to modify the F900's menu settings so the resultant images would emulate the low-contrast look of Kodak Vision 320T 5277, a discontinued stock. "I was able to specify which stock I wanted the image to look like, and Sergio accomplished that by tweaking the settings," he marvels. "It was amazing."

Isaacks shot Grace in the standard 1.85:1 aspect ratio. His lenses included Zeiss Superspeed primes and three longer lenses: a 100mm Zeiss and 200mm and 400mm Canons. Me favored the long lenses for aesthetic reasons and as a practical way to control the background space. He shot in the 50mm-100mm range to lend conversations between Rae and Grace a more intimate feel. For a long shots of Grace walking along the shore, he employed the 200mm and 400mm lenses to place her in the midst of nature, dwarfed by the ocean.

"The story is about a woman overcoming depression, and Camille and I discussed ways to make the film look depressing so that at the end, when the sun breaks through the clouds, it would be an especially stunning moment," says the cinematographer. "That moment is basically a metaphor for Rae's return to reality." Though the filmmakers counted on Los Angeles' "June gloom" to provide overcast skies during their four-day beach shoot, they didn't get a single day of murky weather, lsaacks compensated for that by scheduling wide shots during the morning or late afternoon, when the skies occasionally clouded over, and using ND grads on those shots. During the rest of the day, he filmed close-ups and coverage using the dark hillsides in the distance as the background to help hide the fact that it was sunny. For close-ups, he positioned 12'x12' and 6'x6' silks above the actors to bring down the daylight.

Fortunately, Cellucci and Isaacks had spent a fair amount of time at the beach location. Point Dume in Malibu, during prep, studying how the light played. Isaacks recalls, "Early in the morning we'd shoot out towards the ocean. If we were going to shoot against the hillside, we made sure to shoot it when it wasn't lit. We'd go in and shoot our coverage in the sunlight up against the rock. …

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