Shooting HELLO I MUST BE GOING
When director Todd Louiso and cinematographer Julie Kirkwood discussed how to shoot the new indie feature HELLO I MUST BE GOING, they decided the ARRI ALEXA would be the perfect tool. "We considered shooting on film at first," Kirkwood recalls, "but when the producers looked at the budget, factoring favors, discounts and post costs, it just made much more sense to shoot digitally. We knew what the ALEXA could do and that if we went digital it would be the ALEXA."
This character-driven dramedy premiered on the opening night of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Amy Minsky (Melanie Lynskey) a recent divorcee in her 30s, ends up reluctantly moving back in with her parents (Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein). Dispirited and facing a gloomy future, Amy suddenly finds her life thrown in a whole new direction as a result of an affair with a local teenage boy, Jeremy (Christopher Abbott).
The project benefited from a partnership with ARRI and the Sundance Feature Film Program, receiving support from ARRI CSC in NY with cameras and Ultra Prime lenses.
Kirkwood used the ALEXA bodies and UltraPrime lenses and captured to ProRes 444 on SxS cards. A pre-built LUT was applied to dailies allowing the filmmakers to view something close to the look of the final film after being graded at Company 3.
"We wanted the film to have a unified look, but with some variety," Kirkwood explains. Much of the film was shot in a real house on the Long Island Sound, which was used for Amy's parents home, a place the character doesn't really feel at home. Much of the rest of the action takes place in more remote areas near the house or inside the Infiniti sedan Amy spends a great deal of time in. Though the film contains comedic elements, the filmmakers did not want to shoot it with the standard high-key approach people often take to comedies. "When people think of comedies, they tend to think of bright images with saturated colors. Our film has some of that, but I also had the freedom to go dark and desaturated when it fit the story."
Kirkwood delineates her basic approach to covering different facets of the story. "Amy's time with her family, especially early in the film, has a more static and controlled feel. When the camera does move -- as in a dinner party scene with Amy's parents and their guests -- it's on a dolly or slider. Amy's time with Jeremy needed to have more 'life' to it. Todd wanted the mistakes, the messiness, to stay in so that we could capture that feeling of life being a bit out of control. Most of their scenes together are handheld.
"I also wanted the lighting to add to that separation," the cinematographer adds of the styles. "It's always naturalistic, but some scenes are a bit more stylized than others. At the Minsky house and several other locations where the action isn't about the affair, the lighting is clean and soft -- very flattering. When the two are off on their own I let things go a bit more raw -- again, I let some of the messiness in."
The cinematographer says she was impressed with the ALEXA's latitude throughout the shoot but never more than for scenes set inside the Minsky house, with its lovely views of the Long Island Sound. "The huge windows facing the water are just beautiful, but not so easy to shoot at noon when the sun is hitting the water," says Kirkwood. "I definitely didn't want to waste that amazing view and let the windows clip. On another digital camera we might have just had white outside, but the ALEXA held some of that detail."
As with all indies, the resources were limited and Kirkwood had to make do with a very small lighting package. "Our biggest light was a only a 4K," she recounts, "so lighting up some of our larger locations was challenging. We also seemed to spend a lot of time shooting in small cars -- it was all about big houses and small cars on this shoot!"
Director Todd Louiso talks about his latest project, HELLO I MUST BE GOING, which premiered at Sundance 2012. Shot on ALEXA by DP Julie Kirkwood, the comedy-drama stars Amy Minsky (Melanie Lynskey) as a recent divorcee in her 30s who ends up reluctantly moving back in with her parents (Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein).
Of the Infiniti, she says, "It doesn't seem like a small car until you try to get actors, a camera, a DP, a director, and a focus puller inside. We did some car rigs, as in an early scene in the film when Amy's parents drive her to a family dinner at her brother's house. We had the parents in the front seat and Melanie in the back, with a hood mount and then a hostess tray. We were lucky to get an overcast day because we weren't allowed to rig any lights to the car. But the ALEXA's latitude helped us retain detail inside and outside the car."
When Amy and Jeremy drive around in the same car, Kirkwood explains, "We wanted their time together to feel less rigid, with a bit more life. So I shot their scenes mostly handheld. When the car was parked I was able to light, but with the daytime driving scenes I just went with available light. I didn't feel the need to bring up the interiors because the ALEXA handled the contrast at the house so well."
Kirkwood notes that she was very pleased during the color grading process with colorist Shane Harris, in the flexibility he had to work with the ALEXA-generated images. "Shane has a great eye. I feel very fortunate to be able to work with him at Company 3 and I hope I get to take more projects there!" However, at the premiere screening the DP was shocked to see the projected movie looked drastically different from how she timed it. Thankfully the problem was remedied for other screenings and the film has had favorable reviews for Lynskeys nuanced performance.
Kirkwood is excited about the potential of shooting with the camera system soon. "I'm eager to shoot with the ALEXA again," she says, "but I would like to be able to work in the full ARRIRAW format next time to retain every bit of information, rather than shooting ProRes to SXS cards."