AS YOU WERE is a short film written and directed by Trevin Matcek, commissioned by PBS and the Independent Television Service for the fifth season of FUTURESTATES. Set in the near future, AS YOU WERE follows a young soldier who returns home with new robotic prosthetics to replace his arm and leg lost in battle. These new high tech limbs surpass human capability, but he struggles to transition back into family and civilian life.
Captured on ALEXA XT, AS YOU WERE was an ambitious six-day shoot that included a war sequence, along with numerous practical and visual effects. "I was really excited to work with Trevin, who had a very specific vision. It was a chance to help create a world while telling this moving, character-driven story," says cinematographer Pablo Berron. "This is about a man reconnecting with himself and his family. We wanted ALEXA’s image quality, which has a warm, organic look to it that feels human to me. It renders skin tones beautifully and that was important to tell this family’s story."
Captured on ALEXA, AS YOU WERE follows a young soldier who returns home with new robotic prosthetics to replace his arm and leg lost in battle.
Matcek wanted the look to be grounded in realism. "Pablo can do slick and sexy like he does for commercials, but we were both on board that we weren’t doing that for this story. Modern science fiction tends to be perfectly composed. I wanted ours to feel a little more free with the style slightly verité -- less composed with fluid movement. Handheld, but not trying to look handheld."
Says Berron, "We decided to shoot the majority of the film handheld. It gave AS YOU WERE an energy and rawness."
Most of production shot on location in a small house in Los Angeles. Due to power restrictions on the aging electrical system, the crew relied mainly on energy-saving fixtures like ARRI M18s and L7 LED Fresnels from Illumination Dynamics.
For the war zone sequence, ARRI/Fujinon ALURA zooms (30-80 mm and 15-45 mm) and the Wireless Control Unit WCU-4 were employed. Notes Matcek, "The scene needed to feel messy and chaotic. There were a number of visual effects so we also had to carefully plan those shots. We had a small window of time at our location, so the ALURAs were key. They permitted us to improvise and move quickly, while the Lens Data System (LDS) logged metadata like F-stop and focal length. We pulled the metadata from the ALURAs' Lens Data System with minimal effort, which allowed our VFX team to place CG effects in the shot more efficiently. The quality of the ALEXA footage also helped immensely for greenscreen work. On a small budget with a TV delivery schedule, every hour counts. Shooting on ALEXA with the LDS saved us a lot of time, which translates into dollars."
The most challenging scene required keen logistical planning, along with intense performances from lead actors Trey Holland and Christine Woods. "When I read the script, it was an emotionally powerful scene that was really interesting the way it was told – through a wall," says Berron. "The script called for our main character to punch a wall and then for him and his wife to talk through the wall. We couldn’t put a hole in the wall of the location, so we actually built a set in the backyard of that house. Our grip department created a black-out tent all around it since we had to shoot in the afternoon due to the schedule. Art department did an amazing job of building the two rooms and we mimicked the lighting set up through each window."
Describes Matcek, "We shot two takes of Christine in that close-up. She gave a breathtaking, amazing performance. At the end of the shot, I was almost in tears. That shot, it’s such a combination of everything: the set design, the lighting, the camera work, the performance -- all melded together to pull you in."
One sequence unexpectedly required visual effects when the practical shoulder prosthetic was not completed. Matcek had to make the difficult decision to continue shooting and "fix it in post" – a scenario that was far from ideal. "We shot that handheld, without LDS lenses and it was dark. It was a really tough scene. Our own effects team already had a lot on their plate, but a friend introduced us to Hoax Effects. They were game despite the complications and crazy turnaround. That same day, they sent three design options that matched our existing prosthetics. Hoax was able to cover the existing eyesore with a CG version that looked completely real. They saved our ass!"
Once the cut was final, AS YOU WERE was taken to post facility Light Iron and colorist Paul Sage. "Rather than sending reference images right away, I prefer to have a colorist watch the film first. Not knowing what we did during production, Paul viewed the project with fresh eyes," says the DP.
"Paul gave great suggestions on how we could enhance the look," notes Matcek. "He obviously understands color and a subtlety for color with emotion. Being a colorist requires technical skill, but Paul has a sensitivity for the story and characters that is special."
After timing off a theater-sized screen, the filmmakers viewed AS YOU WERE on smaller monitors as well. "We knew this would be viewed on big screens, TV, and online through various platforms. We checked to make sure the look translated and made slight adjustments. That level of attention is what you get from Light Iron," Berron points out. "They care what the final image looks like whether it’s on an iPhone or a movie screen."
Originally from Mexico City, Berron found this first collaboration with Matcek creatively rewarding. "Trevin is also an editor, so it's fantastic working with him because he knows what he needs. Some directors rely on me for that, which is fine, but it can also distract me from my cinematography duties at times. We had a lot of challenges with this ambitious script and not a lot of money. Sometimes things changed, but Trevin could see ahead and adjust accordingly. He has a specific vision and knows what he wants, yet is open to collaboration and ideas."
The director appreciated his cinematographer’s versatility and artful eye. Says Matcek, "I needed a DP who was fearless. It was a really hectic schedule and I had to have someone who could roll with the punches. Other than the Steadicam shots done by Ben Verhulst, Pablo operated everything else. He has a very intuitive eye for the actor’s performances, not just for the image itself. I'm looking forward to our next project together."
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