There were no ADs, no honeywagons, no equipment trucks of any kind. The cast did their own make up and the wardrobe was their own. It was a simple plan that writer and director, John Putch conceptualized. Putch said, “I believe that a compelling story can be told without it costing an arm and leg and, in my opinion, that most films have lost touch with the grass roots of the medium.”
Putch penned a hilarious backwoods comedy, assembled an exceptional pool of talent, and proposed we set out to his home town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to create Route 30.
All this great talent came together to create this story. I had a task before me; how do I photograph this story with the parameters set forth, in a way that would compliment the players’ assembled? In a word, preparation!
We scouted the Pennsylvania locations back in May of 2007. The locations were amazing. The Totem Pole Playhouse; The Hyatt’s Farmhouse; The Rock Quarry; Mister Ed’s General Store; The Old Putch House; each location was better than the previous. I can’t tell you how many scout photos I took. I felt no matter where we landed the camera or positioned the characters, the images would be beautiful. I was immediately consumed by the light. The sunlight had a breathtaking quality to it. My goal in shooting was to capture as much natural light as possible. Normally, in these ‘digital’ days, we tend to shy away from windows because of the stop difference. Here, I found myself looking to see out of a window whenever possible. It was a welcomed change which enabled us to create very pretty pictures.
To carry out my goal, I devised a plan to photograph the locations basically untouched. I did my best to capture and translate, into images, exactly every natural beauty as we saw it through our own eyes. (i.e., I wanted to capture Mister Ed’s Store the way is it for real, I wanted to feel dark wood inside the Carl & Will’s cabin, I wanted the audience to know what it felt like to walk through The Totem Pole Playhouse.) It became such an integral part of my cinematography to make the images palpable to the viewer.
We loaded everything into Putch’s SUV, which he drove cross country. Needless to say, space was very limited. I had only half the interior and a roof rack to carry the camera, grip, and electric equipment. Every piece of gear had to have more than one job. My lighting package was basically a 400w Joker, a Mickey, a couple of 300w Fresnels, a K5 Kit, and some China Balls. My grip package was basically a Combo Stand, a couple of C-Stands, a few 6x6 Rags, a couple of Road Rags Kits, and a SunBounce PRO.
We shot on two Panasonic HVX200 Cameras. They proved to be an excellent choice for the job. The P2 workflow was very reliable. There was only one instance where we had a damaged clip, which was easily fixed within the camera. We carried four P2 cards with us, two 16 gbs and two 8 gbs. In the 720P - 24PN mode, this gave us about 120 minutes of shooting time, which usually got us through the day. On some of the big dialogue days, we had to download cards at lunch. Most of the time, I spent about an hour each night downloading. Being able to see the day’s footage that evening was a bonus.
As a cinematographer, there are three attributes to a light source, three things we can control. Position. Quality. Color. On a larger scale, we can place the light where we need it, choose the intensity/quality of the light, and color it at will. In this film we didn’t have that option. We had to work with the existing light, the position it was originating from, the intensity/quality of the light at that moment, and the existing color of the light. This was the challenge. The director and I planned scenes in a particular room, depending on how the light played that room throughout the day. We scheduled and blocked for the atmosphere and the light.
For example, shooting the scenes in Bill’s kitchen, when Martha (Dana Delany) tells Bill (David Deluise) about her experience with Rumspringa. Putch wanted Bill to be sitting across the table from Martha. One week before we began principal photography, Putch and I went to all the locations to discuss blocking in relation to light. There was a large bay window in the room of this location which faces East. I knew I could use the bay window as a source for Dana; Therefore, we planned on shooting this scene in the afternoon. We blocked the scene so that Dana would be in the perfect position to use the bay window as her key. I just had to add a soft edge to her shot to make it perfect. When we turned around on David, it was late enough in the day that the window did not hurt by being too overexposed. I brought in a nice key courtesy of the 400w Joker. Shooting the scenes at the right time of day, enabled the scenes to photograph very well.
The SunBounce was invaluable for our exterior work. The soft side is lovely for a nice soft fill and the hard side provided a great edge or gave a nice glint in the eye for the wider shots. The SunBounce is so lightweight and easy to use that I now prefer it to a 4x4 shiny board on a combo stand. It is a much ‘nicer’ bounce, not to mention the fact that the SunBounce has a larger reflective surface than a 4x4. I was able to bounce light clear across The Rock Quarry. I now bring mine on every shoot.
China balls: I can’t say enough about the 12” paper lantern. They were the perfect light for all of our interior work; small, soft, and low power requirements. We used china balls in just about every scene. We loaded them up with 212s, 213s, or BCAs, depending on the look. They are so light in weight that we were able to tape them up practically anywhere. If we needed more light, we put two next to each other. If we needed less light, we wrapped them in duvytene. The best part about the china balls is that they are a round source. I love the look of a round source in the eye. I have always been a fan of these lights, but this film really turned me into a china ball guy.