Bon-zo

Bon-zo was a notable project for a number of reasons. First, there was no script, and minimal preparation. This was a collaborative creation with a local burlesque performer, BonBon Bombay. We had a brief meeting a week or so before the shoot to discuss which of her burlesque stage personas to bring to life, and she had been working on a new character at the time, Bon-zo, a sad clown with an evil edge. We decided that it would be a kind of 'day in the life' montage, moments from Bon-zo's movements around Montreal. Little else was made concrete, other than we wanted to have some surreal  instances, and some vague visual ideas were formulated.
I wanted Bon-zo to exist in this dream-like state, semi-connected to reality, but also in her own frame of existence. We wanted to shoot downtown, in the heart of the city, but having Bon-zo walk around the main street during the day would be difficult, if not impossible, so we decided to shoot at sunrise. This meant getting up and arriving on location before 5am, which was a challenge in itself, but it made for some great shots, having the road light enough to film in, and yet the city center being empty.
To make the shots more fluid and solid, I attached my anamorphic DSLR setup to a 3-axis gimbal stabilizer; the SteadyMaker Tank PLUS. This is a machine that uses gimbal motors in all 3 axis to counteract the operators camera movements in order to make the footage as stable as possible. I had used this anamorphic setup once before with a previous client in the stabilizer, so I knew it could handle the weight of the setup, however, it was on the operational limit with such a front-heavy setup, and also a significant weight for me to carry around during the day and ensure that the takes were as stable as possible.

Technically, this was a challenge and a new type of videography for me also. I was filming with my anamorphic lens setup. For 'film-like' purists that shoot with digital video, it is the closest you can get to authentic cinematic imagery without actually filming with those type of cameras, especially with a DSLR setup. You can see in one of the pictures above, the lens setup on my camera. Basically, the anamorphic setup uses a series of lenses to film in almost 7K resolution, but it 'squashes' the frame vertically due to the main lens being curved. When this frame is un-squashed in post production, it ends up being a cinema resolution widescreen frame. Added to that the layers of glass that are attached to your camera, which results in cinematic lens flares and depth of field.
This is challenging for a number of reasons...it means that focusing is more difficult, as there are essentially two lenses to focus, so getting shots with a tight depth of field is tricky, especially for moving shots. Second, the camera and becomes more bulky and front heavy, so moving around with accuracy is tricky. Third, in post production, the file sizes and frame sizes are much more computer processor intensive, taxing even decent level spec systems.
In order to properly view, process, and color correct the finished piece, which I rendered in 4K (one of the first pieces I worked on in 4K resolution) I bought a 4k compatible monitor, which in itself bought new challenges....it was huge in my setup, as you can see in one of the images above. It takes an adjustment in scale from filming to completion, being aware that there is a much higher level of resolution to play with, both in framing and execution.

We filmed in a number of locations, moving away from the city center as things started to get busy, we walked to a breakfast cafe, without any planning, and got permission to film a little of Bon-zo's breakfast routine. After a break until the afternoon, then we met again in Old Montreal, and filmed in a number of locations around there. We had the idea to incorporate a dream sequence, where her dark side could be unleashed, and we had the idea to add to the surreal nature and film her in a local cemetery.

Finally, we headed to the peak of Montreal (Mont Royal) to film the closing scenes as the sun set. It was literally a dawn till dusk shoot. Again, none of it was scripted or prepared in advance, so it would present challenges whilst shooting.....there were questions of continuity, framing, shot order, narrative that had to be worked out during the shoot itself, which needed some very quick and intuitive decision making, but it was an interesting, ongoing brainstorming process between two creative people in order to bring it to life.

Post production was mainly about learning how to handle 4k (actually, figuring out a workflow where I imported 7k and assembled it with proxies, and then created a final output in 4k). Also, there was no suitable soundtrack in mind until viewing the footage. I contacted a UK musician and got permission to use his cover of 'Love Me Tender' which was a darker than usual take on the classic, which seemed to suit the feeling of the piece in general. 

I am pretty pleased with the end result, considering the collaborative and unplanned nature of the setup and execution, and dealing with a number of relatively new and untested technical challenges. It forced me to think on my feet, be creative, and go out of my comfort zone, and I think any creative person needs to explore those areas from time to time.

Below you can see the finished piece, and also some extra footage that didn't make the main piece.

 

Location
Montreal, Quebec