Shooting an Anamorphic Independent Film: Arri ALEXA Plus 4:3 & Optica Elite Anamorphics

At this time I can’t currently post stills from the film, but if you have further questions, feel free to contact me at


Repost of interview for Abel Cine:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your previous work?

Hailing from the South and Midwest, I fell in love with literature and writing before stumbling into film-making in college. I have such a deep and yearning affection for stories and visual story-telling and I feel utterly privileged to make my livelihood as a director of photography, doing something I love. I live in North Hollywood with my wife, Renee, and our neurotic rat terrier, George, who have supported me through the last few years of this crazy journey called filmmaking.

How did you get involved with this project?

I interviewed with the producer and director after hearing a short synopsis of the project, which I found compelling, and I guess we hit it off because they called me back a few weeks later.

Can you give us the name of the feature or any details on the project?

Jackrabbit 29 is an unconventional character-driven thriller by writer & director Kyle Klubal. When a young couple goes missing, a large reward is issued for their return. The reward attracts an eccentric mix of characters to the town including bounty hunters, hitman, and more. We follow them as they cross paths and search for the missing couple. Full of bizarre characters, a nonlinear story-line, and all sorts of twists and turns, it was quite the adventure shooting this picture with my fantastic crew and it allowed us to capture a wide range of experimental photography.


What type of shooting locations did you have and what kind of lighting situations were involved?

We shot everywhere from seedy hotels to the desert to gaudy nightclubs. We had high-contrast daytime exteriors and daytime interiors – where consistency was key. Additionally, we had a range of moody club lighting and bar interiors. In fact we even lit a theatrical play that happens in the middle of the film and utilized a full team of stagehands and theatrical lighting director to pull off a range of colors and cues. Our biggest challenge was lighting for a 5 ½ minute steadicam oner that drifted through the majority of a nightclub. We ended up using all the club lighting and rigging a huge range of our own practicals and units into the club.

Although the film is present day, our locations meant that everything felt aged, worn down, rusted, and squalid. Because of the dark undertones in the story, I wanted to create a contrasty, yellowed palette that went from light to dark as tensions mounted and drifted from the muted tones of the hot Texas desert to gaudy reds and yellows in the saturated nightclub and bar interiors. Our visual journey would let us explore this dark, seedy town and the unforgiving nature of twisted happenstance and fate. My gaffer, Cole Pisano, was my right hand man and trusted ally in achieving these looks consistently, efficiently, and beautifully throughout the entire shoot.

What was your shooting schedule like?

We had a 24 day schedule, which was quite tight with the unconventional length of the script, the amount of locations we shot, and the large number of speaking roles in the film.


Why did you choose the Alexa? Have you used it on any projects in the past and/or are you planning to use it on any future projects?

Production is expensive and it’s measured in time. Independent productions that I’m on rarely have the money for a backup body and with us shooting almost two hours away from the closest reliable rental house, we simply couldn’t afford dealing with camera glitches. That is why I treasure the simplicity and reliability of the Alexa. I’ve used the Alexa previously for narrative and commercial work and was confident it was the right choice for this film. Shooting with the Alexa 4:3 did not disappoint.

In 24 days of diverse conditions and shooting almost non-stop, it performed exceptionally. We were not dealing with glitches, black-shading, overheating, error messages, or corrupted footage. We were not digging through menus to change things. Functionally it is a German tank. And that is to say nothing of the image quality of the camera. Its generous and gorgeous dynamic range captured our daytime exteriors like a refined filmstock and it held so much detail out the windows when shooting interiors we had to make sure our units weren’t showing! Its terrific low-light sensitivity meant that my small lighting package could accomplish a lot and the practicals we set could play in large nighttime interiors where I couldn’t hide units. The grain on the camera is quite filmic even in the most underexposed areas. The sharpness and color rendition present creamy yet defined skintones. Unless the story or budget dictates a more sterile look the Alexa continues to be a great go to camera.

What was your day-to-day workflow like? Did you shoot in ARRIRAW at all?

We shot in 2k ProRes 4444 on SXS cards. We simply didn’t have the funds to shoot RAW and I didn’t want to deal with the extra weight and hassle of the Codex Recorder while shooting handheld. Kyle likes to let the actors explore the scene and we frequently shot 8 – 12 takes, which is very uncommon for a film of this budget. Needless to say we burned through huge amounts of data and shot almost 4 TB a week.

My 2nd AC, Ben Steen, did a fantastic job wrangling all that data. We would dump the footage onto three separate drives which went to separate locations every night and we were able to instantly desqueeze and preview footage with a LUT I created using DaVinci Resolve and a color calibrated monitor. The footage was then passed off to our post-team with the LUT I created accompanying it.


How did this project become anamorphic?

Kyle, the director, and myself are in love with the anamorphic look, and from our very first conversations we were dedicated to making this film in anamorphic. On a digital sensor, anamorphic lenses are beautiful way of bringing a cinematic edge and distinctiveness to the photography. And framing for the 2.40 aspect ratio with anamorphic felt right with these scenes featuring 5 or more characters, the desert, and for the epic scope of these moments.

What lenses did you use and why did you choose them?

With the clean, perfect look of modern digital sensors, lens choices really create character and texture for the image and are a way of making sometimes rather perfect images look organic. I think nostalgia and that are a lot of what’s causing a resurgence in vintage lenses and anamorphic. We decided to embrace the imperfections of the lenses and used them wide-open for certain scenes, letting their flaws add to the intense, off-kilter, and psychedelic world we were creating.

We chose to use the Optica Elite Anamorphics because the set had a huge range from 24.5mm to 240mm and it had such distinctive optical characteristics. These lenses are sharp and contrasty modern Russian lomo anamorphics and are the same make as was used on another intense and perverse film, Dogtooth. Kyle and I used this set on a test short we shot prior to the film and fell in love with its unique look – it certainly defines the imagery of Jackrabbit 29.

The 24.5 mm became one of the signature lenses for this film. (Due to the 2x squeeze of the Elite Anamorphics, the 24.5mm has the same field of view as a 12.25mm spherical lens.) It is obscenely wide and frequently we’d see three walls and a ceiling. Every time I called for the lens, I think my AC smiled and my gaffer would sigh. Although it created many challenges when lighting for it, it let us get these Kubrickian wide shots. At times it created distance from the characters and presented them quite stoically and formally, at other points it immersed the audience right into action.

Would you consider this a low-budget feature? If so did this make it any more challenging to shoot anamorphic? How does anamorphic effect the budget, does it cost more?

This was a low-budget feature with a tight-knit crew where everyone wore many hats. When you shoot anamorphic, you are dedicating to that choice and it does have a monetary impact upon the film. Typically the lenses cost more than spherical lenses, and they are slower lenses, so you may need higher output lights than with spherical and everything that goes along with that. Most the time when shooting anamorphic you’re trying to buy a yourself a couple stops to minimize the distortion, aberration, and softness of the lenses, which are more noticeable wide open. Ideally I was shooting at a T4, but with the locations we were shooting at, we neither had the time nor the money to relight some of the extravagant spaces we shot. Despite that, with the sensitivity of the Alexa and the fast stop of the Elites (T 2.1), we could let practicals and well-placed units do much of the work for us.

Focus is a greater struggle with anamorphic because the 2x squeeze means you need longer lenses to achieve the field of view you’re used to (e.g. 100 mm has the fov of a 50 mm spherical lens). Furthermore, most anamorphics have a close focus of 3 feet which can be problematic to certain shots or require a diopter. My 1st AC, Michaela Angelique, was terrific holding focus during a variety of complex moves shot with longer lenses. Additionally, flaring can be a distraction as the anamorphics have that signature flare which you either love or hate. We never went out of our way to flare the lens, but it happened plenty on it’s own.

The size and weight of the lenses is another challenge for the anamorphics especially with the lenses we used. These lenses were all varying sizes and weights and lens changes took longer than a more standardized spherical set. Handholding and steadicam work had to deal with the weight of the lenses, especially when I would handhold a 100mm anamorphic for a 10 minute take or when my steadicam operator, Orlando Dugay, did a 5 ½ minute steadicam oner 17 times in one scene! In fact the lenses are so big that they each require there own case, so transportation becomes a little more complicated.

I think we proved that you can shoot a low-budget independent feature film on the Alexa with anamorphic lenses!

How did AbelCine get involved in this project? How far along in the process were you when you started working with AbelCine?

AbelCine was my go to choice from the very beginning. My first introduction to Abel was through their many online resources for filmmaking. Additionally, a number of my classmates from filmschool work at AbelCine LA in both the rental and sales department. Abel worked with my tight budget to provide me with a terrific camera package with the best price in town. We never once in 24 days had issues with Abel’s gear and the prep techs were devoted to helping answer our questions and figuring out reliable, pragmatic solutions for our camera package.

Did you use our checkout bays? If so, what was your experience like?

Abel Cine provided a comfortable, professional atmosphere to prep gear with the space necessary to test and pre-configure our various rigs. Additionally, we were able to schedule a series of camera tests during preproduction that helped us finalize the image of the film.

Did AbelCine Rental meet or exceed your expectations? Do you find anything unique or exceptional when working with AbelCine?

In my experience, AbelCine cares about empowering filmmakers to make great films. Whether it’s provided high-end cinema tools to independent features or training seminars or hosting their documentary contest, Abel wants to be a part of great films getting made. I loved working with Abel and can’t wait to work with their team again.

It’s an honor to make films for a living and it was a privilege working with my terrific crew and all our various vendors to bring this project, Jackrabbit 29, to life.

(to view more of Nicholas Matthews work or get in contact with him visit

Vendors: Abel Cine LA, Slow Motion Film and Digital, Inc., Acey Decy Lighting, Camadeus Film Technologies


A Candid Review of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera

The video below was a Poptent Finalist for the Airheads Bites Campaign. It was concepted, shot, and edited in the span of 48 hours using the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, DaVinci Resolve, Adobe Premiere, Cinegrain, and Protools. This was a perfect chance to test out a brand new camera that I’d never used and see how it held up in a real world production.

Director: Casey Shelton

Director of Photography: Nicholas Matthews

Producers: Dave Schellenberger, Casey Shelton, Nicholas Matthews

Starring: Dave Schellenberger, Aaron Blake Elliot

Sound Design: Aaren Neely

Location Audio/PA: Ryan Tudor

PA: Leyla Elliot

The Backstory & Execution (skip this if all you care about is my review of the camera):

This was a whirlwind project where Casey, Dave, and I met on a Wednesday night, realized we all had a free weekend, and decided to collaborate. Casey settled on a Poptent competition with a deadline of Sunday night. By the time we could meet again to discuss concepts for the commercial it was 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning. We would have less than 48 hours to script, cast, secure locations, shoot, edit, grade, mix, and post a 15 and 30 second spot. In my mind this was a crazy experiment with a group of extremely fun and talented people.

Our initial concept was much bigger, involved green screen, and a much more fleshed out story. After two hours of searching at 6 different stores for Airheads Bites, we finally found them and purchased 40 bags of the candies. Between gear prep, setup, casting, securing props, finding green screen materials for our initial idea, getting caught in an hour long traffic jam, and all that…we found ourselves trying make a location work (both lighting and art design) that just wasn’t right for the piece. Too top it all off, the location was an hour away from our base camp.  It was 10:00 p.m., when the small troupe of us re-gathered and decided whether we should call it or keep going. We all agreed—keep going with the experiment. We paid and sent home a hired actor and called up a good friend and asked if he wanted to be involved in a crazy experiment.
 _MG_9770 _MG_9767

While we unloaded equipment, set up lights, and the camera, etc, Casey, Dave, and Aaron re-wrote our initial concept for the new space we were in and for the amount of time we had left to shoot. The lighting was simple and sterile to match the office environment with the overhead fluorescencts doing most the work, two desk lamp practicals to add something to accent the desk and kinos punched through 4x4s of 216 to fill in the actors and create a stronger backlight. The Blackmagic Cinema package we were working with was a very bare bones package without external battery power, with 1x 120 GB SSD, and no rigging.

_MG_9896 _MG_9777

Under Casey’s direction, the two actors improvised a hilarious routine that fleshed out further and further with each take. I found it hard to hold in laughter at their charismatic tom-foolery (yes I just used that word) and out-laughing of one another. After shooting, we sent everyone home while I transferred, synced, and transcoded the footage. Once this was complete (hours later), Casey and I edited the two spots. As I began grading the footage, we brought a terrific sound designer onboard to finish off the piece, before finally submitting the video an hour before it was due.

This experiment was certainly not an ideal shooting environment with plenty of prep, but it served as a perfect real-world environment to test the BMCC.

What I loved about the Blackmagic Cinema Camera?

I’ll admit when I first saw images from the BMCC and heard the specs, I was highly intrigued–2.5k, 13 stops of dynamic range, unbelievable sharpness and RAW—all at the perfect price tag! As images slowly trickled out, I was hooked and very interested in purchasing, but I refuse to pre-order a camera sight unseen (and thankfully I wasn’t stuck on a year-long waiting list). I reasoned that here was an afforable camera that could take over any DSLR job I shoot and can work well as a B-camera on higher-end shoots.  While I won’t say I still don’t feel this way about the camera, I have not purchased one.

What I loved about the Blackmagic was everything they sold about it from the beginning.  It is terrifically sharp with it’s 2.5k resolution.  It holds enormous amounts of detail in the highlights and shadows.  It nearly stands up to cameras that are 10x the price.  It is RAW and therefore incredibly malleable.  You can take this footage places you’d never dream of taking DSLR footage.  It’s gorgeous and filmic.  I do like that it’s so overwhelmingly simple.  It feels solidly built and has a number of helpful mounting points.  I like the focus magnification, which can be used mid-record to double check critical focus.

In the end of the day what is the Blackmagic?  It is a great sensor stuffed into an aluminum box with a record button. It’s nothing fancy–but it delivers gorgeous images.  As I mentioned Blackmagic hit all the major marketing specs–great dynamic range, great resolution, great codec.  Seemingly, this is a camera that can deliver gorgeous images for the price of a dslr, but what’s the catch?

The catch if you could call it one is that this is a less expensive camera that requires expensive accessories and an extensive post-production workflow to work. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can just buy the body, 1 SSD, and use the internal battery. Much like the DSLRs, you need $5,000 – $10,000 to fully kit this camera out. In the end of the day, this may be perfect for your needs, but you’re buying into a roughly M4/3rds system if you purchase the BMCC EF or M4/3rds (is this ever going to be released?). Furthermore, these cameras feel like prototypes with poor ergonmics and limited on-board tools.

Ultimately, it’s everything I thought it should be for the price; a very capable camera with a gorgeous image and lots of quirks. It’s just another tool in the tool kit.

Potential shortcomings of the camera?

Every shortcoming I’m going to mention is the result of this camera being built to hit a specific price point. Blackmagic decided that they wanted a $2500 camera and chose resolution, dynamic range, and RAW over ergonomics, slow-motion, sensor size, etc. Pointing out these limitations just makes you aware of what you have to be prepared to deal with when choosing this particular system.

Sensor size. The crop factor is bloody annoying…you have to specifically buy lenses for this camera and system that you will likely not use on other cameras. There is a very limited wide angle selection currently for EF mount if you’re someone that likes using S35 18mm – 32mm equivalents as your primary selection. As they’ve not yet released the M4/3rds mount version (as far as I’m aware), you’re stuck to a frustrating wide angle solution. I personally don’t want to buy great M4/3rds lenses as they’re not interchangable with the S35 cameras I’m more likely to rent and use. As I only had a 17 – 35 mm I never quite got the shot I wanted for our wide angle. Admittedly, this isn’t the camera’s fault per se, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re coming from a full frame sensor or S35 sensor.

Difficulty of stealing shots vs. DSLR. This is a major unaddressed limitation of this camera and can be chalked up to the fact that it was designed as a cinema camera. This camera looks weird; pull it out and take it to a city street and people will notice you’re shooting with it. Blackmagic’s marketing has been so good that you may even encounter some fanboyism wherever you head. 🙂 Alternatively, with a DSLR you can hide under the radar and it’s assumed you’re taking photos.

Data-centric.If you shoot raw, expect a lot of data. A lot. It’s 7 gigabytes a minute. That’s going to require an expensive number of hard drives to properly transfer, protect, and backup. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that this won’t have an impact on that indie feature you’re going to shoot with this camera–this will cost you in time and money.  But that’s the trade off of their fantastically malleable image.

Color-correction is essential.This is not a shoot and edit image. This is the price for RAW or log flexibility. You have to color correct and that requires a computer system capable of running the full version Da Vinci Resolve (one of the major selling points of the BMCC). Don’t expect that just because the camera isn’t expensive that your post-production system can be. A bad grade will destroy well-photographed images and all the work the DP and crew put into developing the shot. On the flip side, just because something is raw, doesn’t mean it can salvage poorly exposed or poorly lit images. Furthermore, what’s the point of shooting with a raw camera if you’re not going to tap into it’s ability to capture maximum information? Why not shoot with another camera that better meets your needs?

Slow turn-around. The fact that the camera is data-centric and requires color correction means that your post workflow is a more extensive process. Same day delivery is very difficult without a lot of prior planning. I had to copy, backup, and transcode big files. I imagine this will get faster as technology progresses, but for now, you have to calculate that time into your schedule. Mid the wee hours of the morning, we were sitting around waiting on our 1 SSD to dump 120 GB to a RAIDed drive.

Few in-camera tools. While you can preview a REC 709 look on the back of the camera, you cannot send that out to your external monitoring system. This requires you to disply ugly log for clients or to find a monitoring solution that can display a LUT. Additionally, there are limited exposure tools in camera–only zebras for IRE 70 – 100? I’d prefer a waveform or false color (I know you can connect thunderbolt to a computer and see all these helpful tools….but who’s going to do that?). Furthermore, you cannot internally re-format SSD drives or delete clips, which means you won’t overwrite data you’ve previously shot, but it also means you have to have a computer handy to clear your drives.

Reliability. I don’t like trusting my time, my story, or my production to a camera system that I don’t trust, and right now I have doubts about SSDs which are not custom designed for the wear and tear of set. They get hot in this camera, and there are stories of them bricking. This is the unfortunate side effect of Blackmagic trying to make an open-source camera. Because of Blackmagic’s terrific marketing, they’re in a catch 22, because these cameras can’t live up to the buzz and Blackmagic can’t seem to live up to delivering products on time, which has seriously undermined my interest in their camera products.

Ergonmics. Ergonomics are horrible; trying to shoot run n’ gun out of the box has similar problems as many of the other major players (RED!). One of the reasons the C300 is so popular is you can actually take the camera as is with a lens and run out and shoot, while gauging exposure, focus, and not worrying about rolling shutter. Pick this camera up and you can shoot handheld, but good luck running around with it. All the ports and cable connections are on the wrong side of the camera and will stick in the operator’s face.

No viewfinder and a reflective screen. Good luck shooting in the sun.

Touch screen. I like dedicated buttons. They make you faster as a shooter, since you don’t have to dig through menus and can use muscle memory to locate essential actions.

Power. To some degree the 90 minute internal battery doesn’t bother me, since every other camera requires external battery power. But it’s something that has to be factored in, and given the build style of the camera there is no quick, compatible solution for powering the camera. It would be great to have both the option of powering the camera through Anton Bauer batteries and through a small battery that fits inside the camera much like a DSLR when you need that low-profile setup.

Audio. No XLRs or in-camera metering means you’re stuck with another solution.

Rolling shutter and studder. While it’s no worse than other cameras at this price point, it’s something to be aware of if you’re planning to shoot handheld. It’s not great.

Moire. Not terrible, but not great.  Worse than I expected for sure.

No Slowmotion. 60 fps would be great, but hey, it’s a $2500 camera.

When would I use this over a 5D Mark III?

If I want to shoot in low-light, need the full sensor size look, need to steal shots, or have a quick turn-around, then I’d go with the 5D Mark III. If I have the time for a proper color correction, a lens kit designed for this sensor, and lowlight won’t be an issue, I’m going to choose the BMCC every time. I’m not into 3rd party hacks just yet and would rather trust my production to a reliable image-capture device built for shooting RAW.

This is one of the reasons I feel this camera will fit well onto full fledged productions as a B or C camera over DSLRs. A full fledged production already has an established workflow to deal with high amounts of data, they already have the accessories rented, and this camera captures an image that will intercut well with the ALEXA or RED, unlike DSLR.

I’ve jokingly told friends, “If you want a camera with a gorgeous image, but where everything else about the camera is awkward, this is the camera for you.” I never ended up buying a camera system and have been content renting the appropriate tool for each project.

After all that, I’d love to shoot on this camera again and think it’s one of the best sub $10,000 options out there.

A Final Note.

Guess what? It’s just a $%@# camera! 5 years from now you’ll feel the same things about the BMCC, that people feel today about the XL2 or the HVX200. In the end of the day, I’d rather shoot something that touches people on an Iphone than sloppy filmmaking on the Alexa.

5 Recent Independent Films That Changed My Life

The first time I saw a movie on the big screen was in college.  That’s one of the tragedies of growing up under the iron curtain of Christian fundamentalism in the deep South.  Most the films I saw as a child were blockbuster hits with saccharine characters and tidy endings–this is not to say they’re lacking in conflict and great fun.  Films with graphic violence or nudity were strictly avoided (there’s much more discussion to be had about this, but it’s not for this post).

It’s no shock then that I never wanted to be a filmmaker.  When I was kid, I wanted to be a Jedi Knight or a seafaring adventurer or the Lone Ranger….I didn’t know people worked in the movies.  Then in middle school and high school, I fell in love with the literature of the 1920s modernists and the dark romanticists.  I couldn’t stop reading Kafka & Hawthorne & Hemmingway–they grappled with all the hardship, pathos, and horror of life that I’d only just experienced with the deaths of both family and friends.  They captured my feelings of insignificance in the grand and perilous universe.

About that time something else happened.  I saw The Elephant Man–and it changed my life.  That started a journey into Battleship Potemkin, Metropolis, Wild Strawberries, Seventh Seal and others.  They were the first films I’d seen that dealt with the world in a nuanced way and that affected me with the same severity of literature.  (Just so you don’t think I’m too much of a snob, I did love Lord of the Rings in 5th grade when I first read it and continue to have a fanatical knowledge of obscure Middle-Earth details.)  That was the beginning of my journey into filmmaking.

I love independent films that tell human stories that challenge our notions of existence, that show us a slice of life we would never have otherwise seen, that create a memorable, authentic experience, that are bold and personal.  While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, these films did that for me.  (Many of them are on Netflix and should be in your instant queue.)

I’m greatly inspired by the minimalist cinematography of each of these films.  Visually they are gritty, poetic, unassuming, and genuine–beautiful in their realism and unrefined photography.  It is the sort of cinematography that never calls attention to itself, while always subconsciously guiding the viewer through the story.

1. Tyrannosaur

Director: Paddy Consindine
Cinematographer: Erik Alexander Wilson

2. Fish Tank
Director: Andrea Arnold
Cinematographer: Robbie Ryan

3. Hunger
Director: Steve McQueen
Cinematographer: Sean Bobbitt

4. Marcy, Martha, May Marlene

Director: Sean Durkin
Director of Photography: Jodie Lee Lipes

5. Blue Valentine
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Director of Photography: 
Andrij Parekh

Creating Worlds (Bringing the Ancient Middle East to the Midwest)

Ark Encounter Teaser :60

Director/Producer: Benjamin Wilt (
Director of Photography: Nicholas Matthews (
RED Epic & Cooke S4s with ¼ BlackPromist
Graded in DaVinci Resolve & Cinegrain added

Frequently, I’m working on locations where space is highly constricted, the walls and ceiling don’t move, and the lighting and schedule dependent on controlling, shaping, and blending available light and film units together to tell the story. When Director Ben Wilt showed me the script for this teaser and said that we’d be shooting in Cincinnati in a warehouse, I knew we’d have the exciting challenge and joy of working on a stage (albeit a fabricated one in this circumstance).  We’d be transforming a drab warehouse interior into an another world.


Ben wanted to set up Noah as a major character of the park and hint at what some of what people might see in the upcoming attraction, without revealing too much. (For an insider look at the director’s perspective check out!ark-encounter-teaser/c1lpq.) This was a perfect opportunity to paint with light, enticing the audience with the mystery of the main character and the world. The lighting had to enhance the authenticity of the set, feel motivated emotionally and physically, and set an underlying tone for the teaser. While we hoped to capture a Disney-esqe mystery and flair, the eloquent text that the dialogue was pulled from, dripped with raw emotion. This informed the camera-work and the low-key lighting.  Ridley Scott’s films Gladiator & Kingdom of Heaven were among the references we discussed–particularly the authenticity of the art design and the moody yellowed palette of Gladiator.

_MG_1810 _mg_1675


Initially (and very briefly) we considered trying to find a location that we could redress for Noah’s workshop, but given our fast-paced timeline, the specificity of the space, the lack of Ancient architecture in the Midwest, and our budget, it simply wasn’t feasible. After shooting tests in a variety of halls, we met with the production designer for the Ark Encounter (and this teaser) and settled on a specific set of dimensions for Noah’s workspace that felt psychologically appropriate and pragmatic for our budget. I had no idea how they would take this initial list of dimensions and transform it into such a beautiful, organic, and authentic set. It was a blast collaborating with such a skilled design team to bring this world to life.

_mg_1721 _mg_1727

Working with the Art Department from the beginning, allowed us to create a unified color palette and have the set work for the lighting rather than competing against it. From the start, we wanted broken shafts of light that we could pass through, adding mystery, creating realistic atmospheric elements, solidifying the illusion of 3D space in a 2D medium with depth cues, and obscuring the film tools just outside the windows. To accommodate that goal, they built these large bay windows with ornate lattice-work to break the shafts of light apart. Additionally, I was able to have the production designer build these handmade, period-accurate oil lanterns, which worked as accents on the wall and our key light on Noah. The lantern smoke motivated the fogged atmosphere (created with a fog machine which we fanned prior to each take) and allowed us to see the beams._mg_1670img_1488

The tighter a budget is, the more carefully you have to invest every dollar. With our budget and the small size of our G&E crew (myself, one grip, the director, and our camera-operator and one day for pre-light), I needed to know how much power we’d have/needed, how many and what units it would take to achieve this look, and how much cable we’d need to run. If I made a mistake, there wasn’t more money or time to rent additional units. As a result, I drew up a lighting plot as the rough basis for where we’d generally place the units.

We needed an affordable parallel beam option that packed a punch without requiring a generator/best boy or a mess of units, stands, and wires. We had Mole Richardson ship 3, 2k Molebeam Projectors out to Cincinnati to create the effect in the main windows and we used a few Source 4s to punch through the final window on the right (given that we wouldn’t see the double shadow they were casting).

_MG_1814 _mg_1819 img_1515

These were the perfect units to create a realistic look of hard evening sunlight punching through the windows and lighting the room. We backlit the fog as much as possible to emphasize the beams on camera. Additionally, we paired dimmed down 1ks with chimeras to softly bring up the ambient levels of the space overtop of each beam. And we keyed Noah with 3 spotted fresnels bouncing up off his architectural blue-print.  This reinforced the illusion that it’s a variety of flames (not just one light on a dimmer) keying his face.  The units were run through Magic Gadget 2k flicker boxes to give us more precise control over creating a realistic flame effect.


Checking the frame during our pre-light.


Because we were doing effects work and shooting in very moody light, the Red Epic provided the optimum image quality for the best value. We shot wide-open on Cooke S4/is with a ¼ Black Promist at an 800 ASA base. The Epic captured this warm, low-lit color palette and stylized look quite well.


Camera department sets up another shot.


Camera Op and AC prep the Epic

On a side note, the power of raw is never more apparent than in the quick montage of workers building the ark, where we matched closeups shot in daylight with closeups shot within the Creation Museum under artificial lighting simulating the sun.

I love projects like these where it takes everyone working together from the director, dp, production designer, matte painter, makeup artist, compositor, carpenters, camera operator, G&E, etc, to fulfill a singular vision. It was a privilege to take a small crew with a modest budget for a period-piece commercial and to try and create a big spot. And, at the end of the day, it’s always great to hear the investor say, “Wow.”


A photograph I snapped while metering exposure on “Noah”


Another Noah shot I snapped. Love the look in his eyes.

We worked with a variety of terrific vendors including: Gripmeister Lighting, the Camera-Department, Hammer TV Grip and Lighting, Mole-Richardson


Nicholas Matthews is a director of photography who specializes in story-driven commercials, narrative films, and music videos. To see more of his work visit

Wartman Boxing Commercial :60 – Execution of the Vision (Part 3 of 3)


Director/Producer: Benjamin Wilt
Director of Photography/Colorsit: Nicholas Matthews|
RED Epic & Cooke S4s with ¼ BlackPromist
Graded in DaVinci Resolve & Cinegrain added

(to view an inside look at the Director’s vision for this project visit!wartman-brothers-boxing-/cwzs)


Given these two important variables that I was balancing (creative storytelling & pragmatic execution), I decided that we’d spend the night before our shoot pre-rigging the gym to highlight and hide what we wanted for our stylized, moody boxing commercial.

img_2087img_2163img_2488 img_2533

We didn’t have the crew or money for a generator, so we were stuck with the power in the gym.

For our main setup in the gym. You can see we chose to mount Tweenies to the ceiling over the ring. This gave us a hard, controlled toplight that didn’t spill all over the room. It spotted the ring, kept us from relighting for each setup involving the ring (a good thing when you have limited time with talent and a small crew), made sense for the location, and gave us a lot of light to overcrank. I was nervous about flickering, but we didn’t see any in the monitor for the ring shots. We hit the backwall and trophies with more Tweenies gelled with ½ CTB and filled in the ropes in the foreground of the ring with a diffused baby. We cut off any daylight leaking in from the door. Lastly, we filled the room with fog before each take to bring out and diffuse the lighting a touch.

Location Scout_mg_9885Behind the Scenesimg_2044 img_2095Production StillsWS - RingWartman Boxing Gym 1080 - FINAL

For the setups with the speedbag and punching bag, I loved the idea of using a strong backlight to really bring out the shape of the boxers—making it more about their form than the boxers themselves. We lit with a single leko which dramatically flared the beautiful Cooke S4s; we used negative fill to enhance the dramatic look. This created an elegant interplay of the silhouetted boxer and the bag. With the light bouncing off the bag up onto the face of the boxer, flaring the lens as the bag bent with each blow. We fogged the room up for this as well.

Location Scout_mg_9879 _mg_9880Behind the Scenesimg_2550Production StillsHeavy BagSpeedbag

Lastly, our setup involving Charlie was pre-rigged to keep him moving between shadow and ¼ sidelight, just until we finally see his reveal. We wanted to present him in a way that captured the intensity and character he exhibits. We used a mixture of lekos and Babys to accomplish this.

Location Scout_mg_9872 Behind the Scenesimg_1970 img_1966 img_1968 img_2602 Production StillsCharlie 2 Charlie 1


It’s beautiful. 🙂

We really pushed the Epic with our use of Tungsten lights, cool blue look, and the slow-motion material. I for one feel that the camera performed fantastically. It especially handled the high-contrast imagery beautifully—I love the way the overexposure blooms with the softness of the Cookes and the filtration (¼ BlackPromist) we used.

Personally, I love starting with a sharp image because it can be softened however you desire. Though the RED Epic isn’t a perfect camera, it offers so much at such a considerably low cost. We rented for one day and received the ability to shoot slow-motion & normal speeds with a cinematic sharpness, dynamic range, and resolution. It’s a no compromise sort of camera. You’re not constantly fighting with the camera’s weaknesses to achieve cinematic imagery, you’re working with it. For us with such a small budget and crew, being able to know what we shot instantaneously is so powerful. We don’t have to worry about an expensive re-shoot because we buzzed the focus—you can see exactly what you got in 1080 on the confidence monitor.


Are there things I would change about this spot if we weren’t shooting a fast-paced, low-budget, commercial with a small crew? Yeah, but I’m thrilled with what we achieved with our time & budget. I think lighting has the ability to make good stories great, but it can’t save a bad story. I love telling good stories with light and I want to keep doing so. To do so means making creative choices that are pragmatic for the project. Great storytelling has to be creatively and fiscally responsible and inspired.



Nicholas Matthews is a director of photography who specializes in story-driven commercials, narrative films, and music videos. To see more of his work visit

Wartman Boxing Commercial :60 – The Power of Lighting (Part 2 of 3)

Writer/Director: Benjamin Wilt
Director of Photography/Colorsit: Nicholas Matthews
RED Epic & Cooke S4s with ¼ BlackPromist
Graded in DaVinci Resolve & Cinegrain added

(to view an inside look at the Director’s vision for this project visit!wartman-brothers-boxing-/cwzs)


After the location scout, I knew that it was essential for us to strategically re-light the entire gym to capture our little moments.


While we could have used and augmented pre-existing light, we would be fighting with color spikes & flickering from the fluorescents in our slow motion footage, light spilling over a rather visually-busy location & distracting our viewers from what we felt was important, and constantly battling flat-lit underexposure.

In this digital age, we have the luxury of very sensitive cameras (boasting unheard of usable ISO ratings), which have huge creative possibilities, because it allows us to see when before it was impossible (and to use practicals more to light scenes!). This has also created problems. You’ll here statements like “we don’t need lights, anymore” or “why are you wasting production time (MONEY) setting those units, when we could be shooting.” Additionally, just because certain environments can be brighter doesn’t mean they should be. If it’s nighttime and we’re in the city, when you overly raise the exposure without clear aesthetic reasons, it feels quite unnatural psychologically.

Ultimately, lighting is about more than just getting an exposure; it has shape and feeling. It determines what we see & when we see it & how we perceive what we’re seeing. To quote Gordon Willis ASC, A cinematographer is a visual psychiatrist – moving an audience through a movie … making them think the way you want them to think, painting pictures in the dark.” This is why lighting matters so greatly—it’s storytelling!



Telling stories is a privilege, and cinematic stories—no matter how small—take money. We as Dps have a huge responsibility. Deliver a look that accentuates and propels the story…while staying under time and under budget. We certainly bear a certain lion’s share of the responsibility for staying on schedule. So, while we’re interested in achieving a look, don’t fool yourself into thinking certain looks & styles don’t cost you a certain amount of time and money.

To quote the master, Roger Deakins, ASC, “I am finding that my lighting becomes more and more simplified as I gain experience, which facilitates moving the camera more easily. I always operate myself and so I am very aware of the flexibility I need as an operator. With that in mind I have always tended to light for the situation and not a single shot. It is hopeless to light a close shot, however brilliantly, only to find that the lighting used can in no way be justified in a wider view.”

I believe this is just as important as creative vision and it’s a huge consideration in your marketability as a DP. Keep in mind, If you stay on time and under budget you usually get to keep making stories—at least that’s Woody Allen’s secret.

Furthermore, there’s a certain staleness to lighting that’s too exact and too precise. Consider what Conrad Hall ASC, said, “There’s a certain beauty to imperfection.”


Nicholas Matthews is a director of photography who specializes in story-driven commercials, narrative films, and music videos. To see more of his work visit

Wartman Boxing Commercial :60 – The Backstory & Vision (Part 1 of 3)

Writer/Director: Benjamin Wilt (
Director of Photography/Colorsit: Nicholas Matthews
RED Epic & Cooke S4s with ¼ BlackPromist
Graded in DaVinci Resolve & Cinegrain added

(to view an inside look at the Director’s vision for this project visit!wartman-brothers-boxing-/cwzs)


This was one of those exciting pop-up projects that came together one week prior to shooting and was shot on the heels of a much larger week long production. It didn’t have a lot of money; we had a small crew; and we had one day to capture all essential material, and most of our talent would only be around in 1 & 2 hour blocks.

So why did I say yes to an ambitious project that I knew would require working late into the night pre-rigging after a full day shoot on another project, as well as a grueling 14 hour next day.

I believe that great cinematography is great storytelling, not just fancy gear, cool shots, and awesome lighting. And after meeting Charlie Wartman, I felt he was an awesome subject, I believed in frequent collaborator & fantastic director, Benjamin Wilt’s vision. (Admittedly, I’ve been fascinated with boxing since I was a kid.)




We set out to create something that would stand apart from boxing gym commercials both visually and as a storyline.

It wasn’t about the gym, it wasn’t about the individual boxers; and it wasn’t about the bashing & pummeling we associate with the sport. It was about Charlie & his view of boxing.

Visually we wanted elegance, something slick & beautiful, but with character—more like a stylistic documentary than a grungy commercial. It wasn’t going to be a rapid fire montage set to hip hop, instead we were capturing snapshots of the boxer’s form.



Nicholas Matthews is a director of photography who specializes in story-driven commercials, narrative films, and music videos. To see more of his work visit