Sony F55 4K CineAlta Camera used for Turkey Shoot
The newly-released Turkey Shoot is an homage to the 1982 cult classic of the same name. Directed by Jon Hewitt and shot by DOP Warwick Field the movie used Sony’s F55 4K CineAlta™ Camera to achieve the distinctive look and feel required for such a unique project.
Warwick Field explained, “Jon had envisaged quite a violent, action-packed world for this film which would require a fair amount of VFX work given our tight shooting schedule and what we would not be able to achieve on set. We managed to capture a lot of the gun fire, bullet hits and stunts in camera on the day but also needed to create additional post-produced shoot-out fx and explosions, CGI aircraft, face replacement, green screen elements and some props and backgrounds to be rebuilt in post. Steve Cooper from The Post Lounge in Brisbane who handled all the VFX was keen to have 4K images to work with and so we decided we definitely needed a 4K camera for this production. The Sony PMW-F55 is a well-featured camera, and although early in its build-version at the time, it suited the project well as we could record onboard 4K. Its form factor was quite compact and we were confident that it would be reliable in the field under conditions that promised to test the ruggedness of the camera. I had to work fast and I couldn’t afford downtime or cumbersome camera procedures that would slow the shoot. I had the Sony F55 fitted with the AXS-R5 RAW on-board module so we could record to AXS cards that could be quickly and easily swapped out allowing us fast turnarounds between takes. Simply, I needed a camera that would give me solid RAW images with film equivalent latitude in exposure, a good looking colour space and also be small and fast enough to work with to be able to shoot an action movie in 15 days with a small crew and a heap of locations. I was DP on the movie and I also operated the A Camera. So both the picture and the camera form factor were important to me and my style of working.”
The main camera equipment rental was supplied by Lemac Melbourne where Brett Dwyer and Charlie Ward looked after the production and all their requirements. To keep within his tight budget Field had to be prudent with the camera accessories and lens packages.
He continued, “The advantage with the Sony F55 is that it’s a cheaper rental digital cinema camera than many other options and that cost saving can go towards a greater range of lenses, filters, monitors and accessories. So the price point of the F55 is a definite bonus. You get a lot of bang for your buck for a 4K camera. The smaller size of the body was a necessity too. I was going to be hanging the camera off an EziRig for a lot of the shoot, and also fit it into tight spaces, so I didn’t want a bulky, heavier camera for Turkey Shoot. The F55 still has most of the features of the larger F65 so I wasn’t going to compromise the image in any way that would affect the finished film.”
Warwick Field is the current President of the Victorian Branch of the ACS and comes from a film-based cinematography background having worked the majority of his career with film. That said, Field draws his comparisons of digital cameras from film cameras and the medium the images are captured on – film emulsion versus electronic sensors and their adopted codecs.
Field continued, “When I look at the large variety of professional digital cinema cameras available now, the first thing I want is a pleasing image – an appropriate image for the project. The whole digital discussion can quickly descend into tech talk which has its place but ultimately there are things about the image aesthetic that can't be verbalised, and for me the proof is how the image looks on screen without a barrage of post-production correction. When we shot more film, the DP's choice was the brand and model of camera and lenses you liked to shoot with. And then you loaded the film you liked. There were three separate choices. In digital cinematography you get the camera body and sensor (film stock) combined and a choice of lenses – so it’s now two choices. We get the look and the camera’s form factor rolled into one.”
As a highly experienced professional, for Field the choice of camera on any shoot is critical and a decision not taken lightly. For Turkey Shoot this was even more important due to the look and feel required and the fact they were paying homage to such a cult classic.
Field added, “For Turkey Shoot we were always going to shoot digital. We needed 4K so that ruled out some possible camera packages straight away and left me with a list of digital cinema cameras that met the criteria. I have shot with other cameras in 4K or 5K a lot and like the look for certain productions. Some other cameras’ sensors have certain traits that I felt may not service this shoot and what I needed to do on the run as well as the Sony. As I’ve said we had only 15 days, many locations and a small crew so, from my experience, other cameras could have required a bit more ‘loving’ from time to time that I couldn’t afford. Plus the other cameras have a higher rental cost which would lose me lenses. So the F55 came about as a balancing act of all those factors. In the end the pictures look great and The Post Lounge was able to do all they needed with the RAW images.”
Post Lounge Colourist, Nuala Sheridan graded Turkey Shoot with very limited time sitting alongside Field to get the images into the great shape required for the production.
Field commented, “Nuala was terrific and worked very fast to create the varied looks I needed. One thing to mention is that I had several visual styles for Turkey Shoot because the film follows a kind of linear “platform” order which meant that as our hero Rick Tyler makes his way through levels of the game, I wanted to make new-look “worlds" for each phase. So both in camera and in the grade we made the worlds take on a certain different look. The shot angles and operating also changed through the different worlds. The RAW was a big help because I hadn’t baked anything in so shifting my hues and contrast gave me huge opportunities without the pictures falling apart. And we could pull keys easily to isolate elements of the image to affect as we liked.”
During discussions between Field and director Jon Hewitt in pre-production, it became apparent the film would benefit from a variety of visual perspectives, many of which were quite subjective. Turkey Shoot is set in the near future and the name refers to a very popular fictional TV show in which the contestants play to save their lives. In the movie, the TV show is watched every day by a massive worldwide audience and is played out mostly in realtime ‘live’ to air.
Field explained, “The audience watches the contestant and merciless assailants via live feeds through the hosts in the studio. These shots were to be intercut with our F55 footage to juxtapose the involvement of the film viewer between objective and subjective perspective as a way of unsettling them. My plan was to not only create different looks with the F55 in the different worlds of the game, but to use other types of cameras within the worlds. I tested analogue video, prosumer handycams and even iPhones but for tech reasons it worked best to go with GoPros and a Red Scarlet. On the F55 I shot using a Zeiss Compact 28-80mm T2.9 and a Zeiss Lightweight 15.5-45mm T2.6 and a Canon 300mm T1.8. I really wanted to be able to shoot some scenes around T2 or even T1.4 to keep the depth short to help our sets which were very sparsely dressed in many cases, but our shooting speed meant zooms were an essential choice.”
The Sony F55 was used on Turkey Shoot in many different modes from handheld to dolly and Cinesaddle to EasyRig. Field found that due to the camera’s compact size he could use it in bathrooms full of mirrors and doorways even with camera shadow potential and get away with it.
Commenting on the shooting locations and environment he added, “On occasions the space was so tight I had to operate from a monitor at arms length to the camera to avoid my reflection. Our locations included a tropical jungle (the Dandenongs out of Melbourne), the Middle East (aka Malvern), Shanghai that could possibly remind one of Melbourne CBD, a live TV Studio in a disused office building in Armadale and a shipping container yard to name a few. We experienced everything from hot smoke-filled days to humid forests to dumping rain and icy winds. Despite these assaults, my 1st AC Meg Perrott managed to keep the F55 running without a hiccup. This film had no shortage of shot types. We pretty well needed to do them all – from lock-offs to travelling car interiors and exteriors, arrow-cam, helicopter POVs, handheld, dolly and tripod. All in all the F55 handled everything we threw at it and I’m delighted to say the pictures looked great.”