Capturing CODEGIRL with AMIRA
Inspiring girls to embrace science and technology is a trend reflected in media, and director Lesley Chilcott has had the good fortune to direct two such projects recently. She directed a Cover Girl spot, "Girls Who Code," and she's currently at work on a documentary -- CODEGIRL (formerly titled #GIRLSINTECH) -- that follows high school girls around the world competing in the annual Technovation Challenge.
Both projects were shot with the AMIRA. "It's a privilege to shoot on an ALEXA for a documentary at all," says Chilcott, who notes the AMIRA has the same 35 mm sensor as the ALEXA. "With the AMIRA, we get everything the ALEXA does, with the advantage that it’s faster and lighter."
Cover Girl, “Girls Who Code” commercial was directed by Lesley Chilcott and shot by Maryse Alberti on AMIRA.
On the Cover Girl job, cinematographer Maryse Alberti shot the girls in a studio environment and was then able to seamlessly switch into documentary mode to follow them into their classrooms. "The AMIRA came in handy because it was a combination of studio work and documentary cinema verité," Chilcott says. "Having the sliding glass filters is huge when you’re following someone indoors and outdoors. It's minimally disruptive and saves not just the time you’d spend changing lenses but time in post, because the cinematographer can correct things while shooting."
The CODEGIRL documentary came into focus two years ago when Chilcott was making a short documentary about girls who code for Code.org and learned about Technovation, a group intended "to inspire and educate girls and women to solve real-world problems through technology." Technovation began as a small pilot program to teach girls how to create a mobile app "startup" that solves a problem in their community. By the time Chilcott came across it, Technovation had evolved into a global competition.
Inspired, Chilcott asked the Technovation founders if she could document the competition. "They were thrilled because they saw the earlier Code.org film and knew that it got 20 million online views," she says. "As soon as I heard that there would be 5,500 girls, working in small teams, participating, I knew I had to do it that year."
The winner of last year's competition was a group in Moldova that developed an app to report and test contaminated well water, a major issue in their community. Several features of the AMIRA came in handy during the shoot there. "We were driving from one location to the next and I’d see something wonderful out the window," Chilcott says. "I like to shoot driving at 40 fps, and with the AMIRA, my cinematographer Logan Schneider could immediately change frame rates, which saves a lot of time. And the AMIRA goes up to 200 fps, which is pretty cool too."
In another scene, a girl drops a bucket into a well and cranks it up. "Logan was able to jump on top of the well, because the camera weighed less," she says. The AMIRA, adds Schneider, also offers easily accessible controls, including internal ND filters. "I get a wide shot of the girls entering the well from the exterior, then run onto the well to see the bucket with tainted water coming up," he says. "By the time the bucket comes up with well water, I was in place with different ND setting and right exposure and ready for the shot in less than 5 seconds."
Schneider notes other advantages of the AMIRA's lighter weight. "I can hold it for longer, especially weird angles, and it lets me be more mobile," he says. He notes that they shoot on Primes most of the time, because "it feels more cinematic." "We're trying to shoot wide open as much as possible but isolate the shots to make it more painterly," he says. "Having that flexibility at my fingertips is a huge advantage in terms of being able to keep shooting and not compromising what I’m doing. All these features on the AMIRA let me keep focused on what I'm doing instead of the toys."
After Moldova, Chilcott and Schneider are preparing to go to a couple of cities in the U.S. as well as Mexico or Morocco. She expects the shooting to be done by end of June and plans to edit over the summer. The goal is to have it out by end of the year, with distribution to high school students across America with a wide digital release. For Chilcott, documenting the process whereby the girls transform from "passionate consumers of technology to passionate producers of technology" has been fun and inspirational. And she agrees with Schneider's assessment of what’s made that possible. "The AMIRA is a wicked awesome camera," he says.