A Look Behind the Scenes of “Follow Me”
Scenes from a weekend braving bugs, rain, and early mornings to shoot an awesome short film in Ontario’s northern woods
By the time we got back home to Toronto, I was basically a walking mosquito bite with hair and opinions. Northern Ontario’s woods are an unforgiving place for humans in the buggy months of May.
The Sore Thumb crew went up to Lake of Bays this weekend to shoot a short film written and directed by my lovely partner, Shannon Litt, whose creative storytelling gave me an opportunity to do some behind-the-scenes work.
This is fairly new territory for me photographically, but I had a good time and it really cemented my love of the X-Pro 2 kit I had with me. Besides bugs, my Fuji and I had to contend with rain, smoke, and copious amounts of insect repellant.
I shot the entire weekend using Fuji’s ProNeg Hi film simulation. For some reason it doesn’t seem as popular as Acros and Classic Chrome, but I find that it has a certain intensity to it that was perfect for this kind of shooting.
Film sets are wellsprings of invention. Can’t properly mount a slider on tripods because of the soft terrain? Mount the rails on logs instead!
Fun facts about mosquitos: only the females drink blood (males prefer flower nectar), and when the genders encounter each other, their wing beats synchronize to the same frequency!
It’s almost romantic.
While the newer 35mm ƒ/2 is certainly faster to focus than the older ƒ/1.4 I was using, I have to admit that I never missed a shot due to autofocus the entire weekend.
That’s a testament to the power of the X-Pro 2’s AF system as much as the lens itself. In any event, I chose the older lens because in the woods I needed the extra few stops of light gathering more than the newer lens’ focusing speed and smaller size.
The first day of shooting also included the capture of some aerial footage, which is where Casper and I come in.
Casper (the friendly drone) is a Phantom 4, and we lucked out with some perfect flying conditions. The tracking shots I was working on are difficult to show off in stills, but while I was up there I also grabbed a few scenic snaps.
After a long day of shooting, there’s nothing quite like a refreshing dip into the lake…at least, if you’re crazy and don’t mind the frigid water.
On the second day, we welcomed the youngest member of our team. Lily’s talent, professionalism, and positive attitude were unwavering.
By day two, we were having a harder time taking ourselves seriously with the bug suits on, but we did improve them: by layering pyjamas over other clothes, we managed to create an extra barrier to repel the bugs.
It didn’t really work, but we felt like we’d accomplished something.
Our video work is shot primarily with the Panasonic GH4, and this short film was no exception. The little red box on a stick that it’s attached to is the Atomos Ninja Assassin, an external monitor and video recording unit.
Besides the glorious 4K display that makes framing and focusing easier, we love it for its ability to record 10-bit 4K footage, something that the GH4 can’t do internally. That extra bit of processing leeway is always handy in post, even if it means dealing with bigger files.
Getting good audio is crucial, which is why we went with a two-pronged approach. You noticed Hannah wielding a boom mic (a Røde NTG-3 for anyone who’s curious), but that was secondary to a set of lav mics on each actor.
All of these sources feed into a Zoom H6 unit, and the GH4 records its own audio as well which we use as a reference to help sync everything up later.
We were expecting rain the entire weekend, but luckily only had to deal with it once on set. A gentle drizzle turned into a downpour and we had to seek shelter in the tent we had up as part of the scene.
I was happy to discover that despite not being officially weather sealed, the venerable 35mm ƒ/1.4 shrugged off the rain.
As evening fell, we began to rely more heavily on our citronella candles and bug spray to ward off the army of insects.
The sequence in question also required some fancy footwork by the crew.
Shannon was doing the scene handheld, which meant that instead of a tripod for the external recorder, she had Gio (our prop master and an amazing on-set presence).
In between takes, we all took a moment to examine our respective collection of bites, scrapes, and bruises.
Shooting behind the scenes photos is an interesting challenge. I did my best to capture moments that not only revealed the shooting process, but also some of the spirit of the film itself.
A few of these are candidates for poster/cover art.
One of my favourite shots was a capture of the line that became the film’s title: “follow me”.
A 5am wake-up to capture the last few scenes gave me an opportunity to pull out the 14mm again.
The incredible stillness of the water in combination with the rising sun made for some stunning landscape shots, especially with a circular polarizer helping to cut the glare.
Looking at the final product, it’s easy to lose sight of all the effort that goes into any piece of creative work you look at. It takes a lot of people, a lot of time, and a lot of invisible effort to accomplish even a short film.
When Follow Me is ready later in 2016, you’ll be able to see the result of our labour, but for now I hope you enjoyed a peek behind the scenes at the process of shooting it!
Just before we wrapped, there was an amazing moment between Jake and Lily that I was lucky enough to capture.
While Shannon was reviewing the shot list to make sure we had everything, Jake and Lily were standing watching the sunset and chatting about the day.
Their congratulatory fist-bump was the perfect send-off, and it just goes to show that most of what makes photography memorable isn’t tied up in gear, but in being there, with enough awareness to notice the important moments and enough skill to catch them before they’re gone.