Season of Mysteries

Season of Mysteries

Season of Mysteries started just days after the premiere screening of its predecessor, Season of Miracles when Rusty Whitener, the writer of both the novels and screenplays, gave me a copy of the yet-to-be-released book.  After a few years and several other film projects had gone by, and enough time for the kid actors to grow up to match their respective ages in the books, we finally slated the project for September of 2016.

The screenplay was just over 100 pages and we knew that due to budget and actor constraints, we had a minimal amount of time to accomplish the project.  We settled on a 10 day schedule, which meant averaging just over 10 pages a day.  I have always felt comfortable in the world of 4-6 pages per day and have certainly worked my fair share of shoots with an average of 6-8, but 10-12 was a new beast altogether.  However, the screenplay is a masterful blend of wit and charm, thought provoking dialogue and humor, and thrill and suspense.  It simply was a project that deserved to be made.

camp-walkingVintage 70s Nikon glass gave us the bokeh and soft aesthetic we were looking for

From the initial read, my goal with Mysteries was to create a living breathing piece of nostalgia.  Set in the twilight of the 70’s on a boy scout reservation, the film begged for the look of its era.  But shooting on film, including 16mm, was out of budget and out of the question due to our time constraints.  We also knew that we weren’t making this film entirely for the people who grew up in that period – the film has a predominantly teen cast.  So, to tap into the nostalgia of the screenplay, we decided to evoke some of the great films from generation “y” and “z’s” childhood.  Our goal was to mix the golden exterior tones of the great 70s films with the soft, magical glow of Hook.  For our night shots we drew inspiration from the vividly blue dream-like night exteriors of Moonrise Kingdom with a tungsten campfire dancing as our key.

batman-fireThe blue and orange tones worked well for our shots around the campfire

We had a decent G&E package for the shoot.  Our team had a 1200W HMI Par, (2) 575W HMI Fresnels, and Kinos on the daylight-side and about 10K watts worth of Tungsten.  Shooting on the Red afforded us a solid 800 ISO that we expanded to 1280 when absolutely necessary.  I’m always pleasantly surprised at just how much light a 1200W HMI can throw, especially at night.

thronton-nightThis was lit with the 1200W Par and 2 Kino Divas

Executing Mysteries brought many challenges not unfamiliar to the indie filmmaker; however, one unique challenge was our sizable cast.  On average, it felt as if there were 6-10 people in any given scene.  We solved this problem by shooting only what was necessary.  Wides were limited to intros and outros and in the case of exteriors were lit primarily naturally, with bounce and the occasional overhead with 1/4 grid cloth or unbleached muslin.  The closeups were primarily relegated to the lines actors had in the scene and the places we had storyboarded their reactions.

My biggest complaint with low budget filmmaking is that typically you’re forced to shoot master wides and punch in for mediums or closeups.  Any individual scene might only have 3-4 setups, but when you’re forced into just capturing the action due to lack of time and budget, inevitably the camera doesn’t help move the story forward – the shots don’t change as the scene does.  I wanted to avoid that common problem with Mysteries at all costs.  On average, I had scheduled 50-60 setups per day, meaning we typically shot one setup every 12 minutes.  It was just enough time to get the shot set, rehearse, adjust, shoot 2-3 takes, and move on.  Interestingly, this actually worked to our advantage.  The vast majority of the film (over 75%) takes place outside.  By forcing ourselves to work efficiently, we were able to control the sun much better than spreading one scene out across the entire day.  In the end, we wound up with well over 500 setups in the film – somewhere between 5-10 per scene – and because of that, the scenes stay fresh.

The pace and challenges of this film far surpassed any other film I’ve worked on, but the results are perhaps some of the most rewarding.  Due to our time constraints, there were a few times we wound up with too much cloud cover and didn’t have the luxury to wait on perfect lighting conditions, but we always found a way to make use of what we were given and create an end product that evokes the magic of childhood, the loss of innocence, and the fading light of summer.



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