Society for Cinematographers of Color talk with DP, Carlos Bradley, SCC
Q. This is your first action film, how did you end up joining this production?
“Kicking off 2022 with a bang! That was my mindset going into 2022 and what better way to approach something you have no experience in doing? To say the least I was a bit both nervous and excited about learning a genre that I enjoy watching but I truly had no experience in filming action sequences. There is definitely a level of prep work that goes into a lot of complex details just to make sure that you are still honoring the tone of the project and matching the esthetic of the world you are creating visually. Most importantly, how do you pull this off with everyone still being safe on set. Luckily, our director Edward Varnie is one a very few director/writers who truly cares about the crew, talent and story overwhelmingly and that is why it was such an easy decision to join the production."
Q. What were some of those challenges that you mentioned and how did it impact pre-production and production?
“So unfortunately for me I was never one of the young filmmakers that always wanted to shoot action films so I never acquired all of knowledge regarding the camera tricks to sell a lot of the action sequences. Many times I never had the actors to really practice those types of things so for this production I knew that I was going to need a really good refresher on all of those YouTube tutorials on how to sell these fight sequences. I will say, when the director and I would speak during our pre-production meetings, it was definitely made clear from the both of us for the need of a fight choreographer/action director if we truly wanted to do this short any real justice. The last thing you want to do is have an action movie that stands out for really bad action. Audiences can be forgiving for certain things but weird fights are definitely eye soars. Action design was very purposeful and thankfully we got to work with two very seasoned Action Directors - Daniel St. John and Nick Dekay.
Working with Action Directors allowed for our fight sequences to make sense around the surroundings. Edward and I talked about a small quarters fight and the specifics of not trying to design the fight to resemble an overly fantasied spy action fight. We really wanted the actions to have a bit of a story to them and that's where Daniel St. John and Nick Dekay came into play. Daniel was awesome to work with because of the amount of time he put into recording a previs of his fight sequences in the kitchen (pictures above)…I illustrated that the fight should be close quarters and not be as clean as the fight Dekay and our lead has at the beginning of the film. Dekay's perspective comes from a world where him and the lead are both some form of professional assassins' so their fight would be more refined than Daniels. These are the type of conversations Edward and I had in pre-production and he was very instrumental in bringing his vision to life while collaborating with other perspectives."
Q. This may become a trend but it's important to be aware of the size and scale of indie productions. Going into the making of this film, how was that discussed between yourself and the director?
“Scale is always the conversation starter in my line of work regarding micro-indies. I think the term indie has now become so vast in comparison to the indie scale 10 and 15 years ago. Meaning, budgets that are considered indie seem as though it is still unattainable. So one thing I like to do in order to bridge this gap is really have a deep conversation about the story and the expectation of scale. I've found myself as a DP really enjoying collaborating with writers and directors that focus on crafting a unique story in which we don't need a ton of actors or background talents or huge set pieces to say to Hollywood "Hey, you can take me serious as a filmmaker!" - Times are different now. I feel the true testament to creating stories of scale is by focusing on the story itself and expounding on how to make the little things seem bigger.
Discussions I had with Edwards really focused on locations and how could we possibly cheat our locations as well. Ultimately we only had two locations for the film and we ended up cheating our second location for 3 separate locations. So although we shot in two physical locations, we shot for a total of 4 locations in the script. This allowed us to save a tremendous amount of time on setups and made it easier to schedule our shoot for two days without any "company moves".
I was really glad that Edward really backed the idea when it came to scheduling and cheating locations. This really assisted us with the production budget as well as cut down on the production days. We definitely wanted to be respectful to everyones time and not have 12 or 15 hour days and burn our talent, crew and property owners.
Q. What are some of the technical aspects that you implemented for the fight sequences in "Wanted"?
“One thing I learned when filming actions scenes, there are a lot of camera techniques that employ a great action response. Many techniques live in the way that you capture it from the hand held or shaky camera to filming at and different frame rate and shutter speed. One trick that I learned actually came from the Fast & Furious movies where they shot all of the car sequences between 21fps and 22fps. This way in post conforming these in a 24fps timeline will speed up the footage to show cars that were filmed driving 30 mph appear even faster as if they were racing through the streets at 90mph or higher.
After a lot of research I found a few (ASC) cinematographers sharing this information on a discord thread online and I really wanted to implement this into the fight sequences. These effects can be implemented in post by editors as well by dropping frames to emphasize the impact or collisions but I knew that I would not have control over post and wanted to provide a way to still capture this for post workflow.
Q. Do you see yourself building on the experiences of working on an action film?
“The action genre is a very fun and popular genre and I would love to continue building on my experience from "Wanted". I would love to be in the position to continue bettering myself as a DP and overall filmmaker. I take action seriously because it relies on so many individuals to bring the best out of the scene . I think when the story is crafted in a way that people just focus on the true moments up until and action sequences is where working on action films will serve the best collaboration. I would never want to make a mindless action film for the sake of just making it.
Carlos Bradley is an Atlanta based filmmaker, and the founder and President of the Society for Cinematographers of Color. His work can be seen on network digital platforms, and in various publications. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram and reach out — "I love meeting new filmmakers!"