The Making of the Battle at F-Stop Ridge
By now, nearly 700,000 people have seen the short film Battle At F-Stop Ridge. Ever since the video launched I have been asked for details on the filming of our little ad. The idea came about six months ago. The opening shots, slow motion flash pass, and grenade toss were my initial concepts. I found that it was pretty difficult to explain to people and I sat on the idea for a few months, until the snow was gone and we had a nice brown landscape.
The star of TheCameraStoreTV Chris Niccolls was the first person to really latch onto the idea, and we started discussing the specifics of shooting the film. I have been working extensively with HDSLRs lately and really wanted to use them to get a cinematic look, particularly in the opening shots. However, I wanted to use slow motion, and more importantly, CMOS sensors cannot capture flashes firing in a way that looks at all pleasing. This led to me using a dual camera system, with a Canon 5D Mark II as my primary camera (outfitted with Zeiss ZE 35 & 100mm lenses), and the JVC HM700 as my secondary camera for slow motion and flash segments.
I pitched the shoot to the TCS staff a few weeks before shooting. Everyone brought great ideas to the table. For example, Peter Gold suggested using a beauty dish as a satellite, an idea I loved. Dave Paul designed a huge Canon 1D Mark IV/Profoto D1 rig that looked amazing (Though it was never used, since we were missing a battery pack on the day of shooting). Sean Chamberlain suggested the spotting scope seen in the opening sequence, and he and Chris came up with the scene where they run to set up the tripod. Brent Taylor wins the last minute inspirado award, with his Glidecam X-10/500mm lens setup. Stephen Lemmer’s decision to play his character in the opening as a terrified photographer was a smart one. The title of the video was a last second addition. It was only while uploading the file to YouTube that Chris Niccolls and I started thinking of a title. Mine were all uninteresting plays on 'Serious Photography'. Fortunately, Chris was thinking of it less as an advertisement and more of a short film. He came up with 'Battle At F-Stop Ridge', a great tile which has certainly helped get our video out into the world. The entire film was a collaboration in the best way.
Sound design was key to making the film work. There are never more than two people in a shot at one time, so if we were going to make it seem like an epic battle, we would have to create it aurally. We spent a week recording camera shutters firing at different speeds, and I created a sound bed of background camera chatter. Then on the shooting day, we recorded the live sounds with a Sennheiser K6/ME66 kit in a Rode blimp. This was recorded externally into a Zoom H4n. The sound design was by far the most time consuming part of the editing. The most common question I get about the video is why there is no music. I considered using some, but decided against it as it would detract from the intensity I was going for. Looking at a video posted online, someone added a score to the video, and I don’t think it plays nearly as well.
Shooting Battle At F-Stop Ridge was quick process. The entire shoot took four hours. We spent quite a while shooting the initial four shots, as I wanted to give the film the illusion of high production values to hook people in, before things start getting ridiculous. From there we just focussed on getting as many shots as possible in a short time. I think a large part of the ‘action movie feel’ comes from two things. As soon as the first frames are fired, we take camera off the tripod and shot handheld, and I used a fast shutter speed for a jerky, hyper realistic look. I’m actually not a big action movie fan, and these are two techniques that can drive me crazy, but they worked great to emulate modern action films. The opening is shot at a standard 180 degree shutter, and the camera is locked down on a tripod or slider. I shot at 24P to give the movie an even more cinematic look.
The shoot was good fun with everyone throwing ideas out and getting far more into the performing side than I expected. Most bad takes were caused by mid-shot laughing. The look on Peter Gold’s face when he throws the grenade is my favourite moment of legitimate acting. Brent Taylor’s camera shaking on the Glidecam rig was a great touch as well.
I edited the film on Final Cut Pro, in about 7 hours straight. I cut the sequence so it got progressively more outlandish, until my favourite part, the flash grenade. There was some grading done within Final Cut to desaturate the images, and improve the blacks.
Battle At F-Stop Ridge started as a fun way for me to try some new filming techniques and have fun filming with my co-workers and it wound up becoming something much more than I could have ever expected. I hope this little article helps answer any questions you might have about the movie, and keep an eye on our channel, we have some cool stuff coming out soon.