Federico Rea (aka Fee The DoP), writer and director of last year's Audience Choice-winning short film Battered Dreams, talks to us about shooting his first feature film as Director of Photography, how Irish weather can make you turn the air blue, and his appreciation for a dodgy alleyway.
So, you’ve just finished shooting your first feature film – how do you feel?
Surprisingly full of energy! I thought I’d be exhausted but totally the opposite. I’m raring to do it all over again.
What was the project, where did you shoot and what did you shoot on?
The film is called Christmas Perfection, written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin (two of the writers Disney’s new live-action remake of Mulan). It's Christmas Day everyday when Darcy magically wakes up in her perfect Christmas Village in Ireland.
The film was produced by Julie Ryan of MK1 Productions (The Young Offenders), and Executive Produced by Margret Huddleston and Jennifer Westin for Mar Vista Entertainment Studios.
We filmed in Ireland for 3 weeks with a mixture of exteriors and interiors around Dublin and Wicklow, Ireland. I'm from Dublin so being familiar with my surroundings was a really useful. On the tight schedule we decided to shoot with two cameras; the Red Monstro 8K Vista Vision and Red Helium S35.
(Warning, this next part is not for technophobes...)
Using these cameras together created minor problems in production because of the different sensors they both have. In pre-production, I decided to film in 5K instead of the camera's native 8K. This was mainly because of the crop factor. With the Helium’s crop factor at 1.42x and the Monstro at 1.03x, it's a big difference between both cameras. The easiest way to explain is a 50mm lens on the Helium is the equivalent to a 70mm lens at 5K, but on the Monstro it is the same equivalent to a 50mm. Shooting at 5K gave me a reasonable and even range with the set of lenses I had available. Also shooting at 5K allowed more drive space and faster uploads of dallies to be sent to Los Angeles after each shooting day.
How did you get involved with the project?
Funnily enough, Exit 6 played a part! Last year I chatted on the Exit 6 blog about my role as both DP and director on Battered Dreams, and after the interview was shared on social media, the Irish producer Julie Ryan contacted me after reading it and we've stayed in touch ever since. She invited me on as DP and I happily accepted.
The director was David Jackson, a very experienced storyteller who has worked on (Miami Vice, One Tree Hill, Charmed). Tell us about working with him.
David was an absolute pleasure to collaborate with. He's extremely experienced and very easy to work with. I believe we complimented each other very well to tell this story. I learned a lot from him from a directing perspective and shooting style. For example, in certain scenes you can tell the story in two or three shots, there's no need to over complicate it. Many up and coming filmmakers that I've worked with tend to overshoot a simple scene and in the end fail to capture the moment or tell the story. I guess it is down to experience.
How did shooting the feature compare to your short film work?
Same principles apply, its just a larger scale. There are a lot more people on set doing their part to make the film. The schedule is a little more strict, and wrapping on time is really important because it allows us to get all the shots we need without running over time, potentially leading to cutting scenes later. On a short on the other hand, no one goes home until this scene is done! Who cares if it’s 2am in the freezing cold on a Friday night in a dodgy alleyway? There is nowhere else I'd rather be.
What was your toughest experience on the shoot?
Ireland has a lot to offer to the film world, locations, actors and storytellers. But the one thing that drives us filmmakers up the wall is the weather. Within 2 hours you get all four seasons. This was challenging because of the films Groundhog Day motif, where the main character lives the same day over and over again. As you could imagine I had to keep the consistency the same throughout each repeated scene but what can you do when the first take is sunny and blue skies, the second rain and the third snow. All you can do this laugh and cry, but we plowed through it and made it work.
What was the biggest lesson you learned shooting this feature?
As it was my first feature, I wanted it to go perfectly, with no slip ups. I wanted all the cast and crew to know that I could do it. I made sure I was prepped before the shoot, that I was on time every morning. I made sure that my team and I were ready to shoot before the actors came to set. As the DP you take on a huge responsibility. In one instance, I thought I had messed up because of not having the right lighting for the scene. It was a big scene in a big park at night and it needed a lot of light which we didn't have. Myself and the director had a quick word off set, and with a quick tweak we made the scene work with the lighting we had. As a DP you've got to think on your feet. Next time I step into a similar situation, I'll know what I need to do to achieve that shot. There's always something to be learned.
Also, having a very experienced camera, lighting and grip team that you trust is important on a project like this. Everyone put in 100% and I was lucky to have such a great team.
What advice would you give other DoP’s going into their first feature?
Make sure you're prepared, make sure you know the ground you're stepping on. As head of department, show leadership and command but also listen to your team for suggestions. Know the equipment that you are using, its capability of what you can and can't do with it. If something goes wrong or a light blows, don't panic. Think on your feet and you can solve it in a matter of minutes. That's what the prep and tech days are for. And remember, just have fun - you're making movie!
You can follow Federico on Twitter and Instagram.
(he loves a hashtag - #feethedop)
For more info and contact details visit his website.