King me

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  • A chase.  A fight.  One survivor.

    Concept

    King of Spades was conceived for a class project to show both camera and in-frame movement.  After watching a slew of action short films on Vimeo, I decided that the film would look best set in the woods.  This would increase the visual intensity by forcing  the characters to move through the trees to find each other, and it would also create visual interest more so than filming in a parking lot.

    From there, I knew I wanted a variation on a chase scene.  Instead of actually filming the chase, which would have been exceedingly difficult with no crew, I decided to pick up on the action at the end of the chase.  Entering the story late and adds an element of intrigue and throws the audience into the action already happening.

    All that was left was deciding what action and fight choreography I would use.  I’ve always wanted to do a knee crush scene and will probably do so again in future projects if allowed.  I believe that crushing the knee appears extremely painful to an audience and creates a visceral reaction.  The shovel decapitation was borrowed from Secret Window.  Again, decapitation is raw and difficult to watch to many viewers and gives a sense of finality to the action.

    Production

    It took took about three hours between two days to achieve all the shots necessary to piece together this short.  I learned from a lot of my mistakes on day one, so day two was much more economical and much better shot.  Most of the shots that made the final cut were from day two.  Due to the focus on movement, the choices for tripod over shoulder mount were made based on the pace of the story.  I used a Varizoom shoulder rig and Manfrotto tripod with my personal T2i camera.  All sound was captured on a camer-mounted Rode mic, including the sound effects.  The style of camera movement during the action was modeled after the Bourne movies and other action blockbusters that employ the handheld camera to follow action.

    Final Edit

    It took me roughly 6 to 9 total hours of editing, mixing, and grading to get the short where I wanted it.  Granted, I probably over did it, but I’m very happy with the end product.  To increase impact (no pun intended), I sped up some of the action clips to make the hits seem harder.  This is a common technique used in action movies (of particular note, kung fu movies).  All of the contact sound effects (knee hit, bat/ground hit, bat/shovel hit) were built on the real sounds captured in the field.  The knee hit was build on the sound of the bat hitting the ground layered with similar hits made in foley.  The shovel-chest hit was created in post by hitting the shovel on various surfaces including grassy ground and a rubber tire.  The decapitation was mostly the sound of Zane driving the shovel into the ground, layered with a lower and higher pitch version, with a decapitation sound effect I pulled from an online library.  This was the only sound to use a canned effect, for which I was very proud.  The music was a combination of drones I designed and layered with ones purchased from Neumann films.  The string effects are completely from Neumann films, and I’m grateful for the build they helped create.

    The color grading involved three processes.  The initial pass required color matching.  Shots from the first day were decidedly blue due to the overcast weather, while the second day, the shots were warmer and yellower.  Due to the run and gun nature of the shoot, I didn’t white balance during production, but easily matched in post.  For the 2nd pass, I used the S-curve and Cinelook FCPX plugins from Color Grading Central.  I kept the contrast low at this stage to A) avoid crushing my shadows too early, and B) to create an older film look, reminiscent of the 70s.  In the 3rd pass, I desaturated the overall image, re-saturated the midtones (to save the actors’ skin), pushed some blue into the shadows, and pushed some yellow into the highlights.  This really got the look I envisioned when I conceived the short.  After lots of minute tweaking, I locked and exported picture.

    Besides myself and the actors having tons of fun filming, I received full credit for the assignment.  I’d say we succeeded.

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