Social distancing has made work in the film industry more difficult than ever. What with all the cleaning and the keeping 2 metres away and the masks and those little surveys that say you know on-set safety. It’s tough starting up again but even more so, it’s tough having a layout for film shoots. But not for Dylan Hryciuk, as he knows just what to do. With the help of Blackmagic Design cameras and great tactics of set safety, Dylan came up with a creative way to film movies again. Not just any movies, but special graduation movies for students who are barely in school at this time. I spoke with Dylan on this matter and he was happy to explain what went into the process.
HNMAG: What inspired you to make these kinds of videos?
Dylan Hryciuk: With COVID-19, we had a 2-3 month break from work just because everything closed down. Luckily Saskatchewan is one of the first places opening up in the country because our case level is so low, and one unique opportunity came about with GSCS to shoot special graduation projects for all their schools. They’re a past client for us, as we’ve done more documentary style work with them to promote certain programs that they offer. So when they came to us about the graduation series, it’s not typically the kind of work we offer, but it was nice to be in a position where we had a job again. So us trying to make something unique and special, it felt like an important task so with all our projects, it sounded like something that could be very by-the-numbers and plain and simple, but we don’t really like to do things as easy as possible so we were trying to think how we can elevate it. Especially since this is the kid’s only form of graduation this year so we came up with breaking some of it down into interviews, some of it is podium style like you would see at a normal grad, and we decided to shoot that as if it was live. But then to light it and add some kind of drama to feel like a movie so when the kids watched it, they knew there was special care put in. It also started with an intro of each of the schools to kind of give the kids the feel of “Oh, this is where you grew up, this is where you all shared your high school experience”, It was just something to make it feel like a unique experience that was 10% what a real graduation would feel like.
HNMAG: Aside from the long lens for social distancing, what other safety precautions did you take while shooting the films?
Dylan Hryciuk: Firstly, we had a very small crew of 3 people. Each of our crew members were required to wear a mask the whole duration of the shoot during setup, actual production, and basically the only time we took off our masks was to eat food. We also supplied each crew member with their own sanitizer, we all made sure our crew wasn’t able to make physical contact with any of the talent, we weren’t even able to come within 6 feet of the talent. We had to take VERY serious precautions and it was just cleaning stuff and wiping it down between shoots. Then when the longer lenses came into play, we changed the style of the way we actually do production. So shooting on a longer lens for our wide shots and our close-ups, we were like 10 feet away for most of our shots.
HNMAG: What kind of lighting and sound equipment was used?
Dylan Hryciuk: So for lighting, we used all Aputure gear, similarly to why we chose Blackmagic Design – because they kind of help elevate the smaller to medium production companies and filmmakers, in which they provide high quality gear for a much more cost-effective price. We use Aputure as well because they do the same for lighting for a fraction of the cost. For audio we were using the Mix Pre6 recorder.
HNMAG: With the way the equipment was set up, what did it take to find a proper stand-in to make sure the lighting in the shot was perfect?
Dylan Hryciuk: So for our stand-ins, we would use our crew members with a mask. They wouldn’t touch the podium or anything else, but they WOULD stand in. If we were using chairs, we would get them to crouch in or just make sure their arms aren’t resting on the chairs. We would kind of light our crew members in their masks and kind of estimate what it’s going to look like and then once our actual talent came in, especially for the interviews, there was some last minute tweaking for the lighting because every face is kind of different. Plus, once you don’t have a mask on, there’s certain things that are revealed to you.
HNMAG: What were some of the bigger issues that came up in the process of making these films?
Dylan Hryciuk: One of the bigger things was post-production because we were making 7-hour long multi-camera productions with different events. Scheduling it was kind of hard because of how we were set up. We did an “O Canada” portion of each of these videos and when were setting up for that performance we kind of had to go through all the school’s versions of that instead of going back and forth between schools for the whole production. We had to break down our production into sections so that each school would provide their singer during a block of 4 hours, and then all the podium stuff during its own block hours, then interviews during their own block of hours. Then what made it really gruelling was we only had a couple weeks to make these multi-cam hour long productions fully finished. What we had to do was come up with the right setup of cameras to ensure that post-production could go a lot smoother. I tend to use Blackmagic Design cameras on all my projects but we ended up renting more Blackmagic Design cameras to make sure that the images match so that post-production was quicker. Because a lot of times we have the URSA Mini and our b-cam might not be an URSA Mini so colour matching can be quite a bit of time, especially working on long-format production. With the cameras we used, you could colour one shot and then copy-paste it to the next in the scene and it was a near-perfect match. That was one of the challenges, but once we got our rentals in and made sure we got our Blackmagic Design camera family was all together, it helped alleviate that problem.
HNMAG: How long have you relied on Blackmagic Design cameras for their services?
Dylan Hryciuk: So I’ve been a big fan of Blackmagic Design ever since their first cinema camera came out. About 5 years ago, I started my own production company and I started it with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K and I was in love. It wasn’t like the perfect camera given its ergonomics factor, but the image you got out of it was second to none. I think a lot of the community decided to build rigs and whatever to make that camera production-ready. So it was just an awesome camera for filmmakers starting out because you got this beautiful image that some people were comparing to very very expensive cameras. You got this in this cheap package, and it kind of changed the game. So I’ve been using Blackmagic Design cameras for the entirety of my business. As we’ve grown as a company, Blackmagic Design has also followed that kind of film community that’s trying to do bigger stuff but don’t have the big budgets. So then they came up with the 4K camera, then the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and eventually the URSA Mini came out and we were in that place where we planned to shoot like the bigger companies but we still didn’t have the budget. So the URSA Mini was just the perfect combination of cameras for us. We’ve even built a community of like-minded filmmakers that follow us and ask us questions and they’re all a part of that Blackmagic Design family. It’s been a long time, but it’s been a really good relationship.
HNMAG: Do you plan to be doing more projects similar to this now that you’ve got a chance to try something new?
Dylan Hryciuk: I’m hoping that virtual grads won’t be needed next year just because they were needed for a really sad reason. It was nice that we could fulfill that void for the schools and it got a really great response from families and students. However, my hope is that we can beat this virus and I’m hoping we’ll continue taking the precautions.
HNMAG: Yeah, but definitely doing regular grad videos once this is all over, right?
Dylan Hryciuk: Yeah, absolutely. Right now we are changing production now that we are allowed to shoot and we are doing more productions. We just released a commercial yesterday and it kind of speaks to COVID a little bit. and for that production we all took very similar precautions except we were working with actors this time so one extra step we took is that instead of hiring actors, we decided to hire real families that are allowed to be together. So casting real families to act in these scenes while our crew stood further and managed production without having to make physical contact, it showed us things are on the way to getting better. The job isn’t done, but there are precautions we can take to put out the same level of work but make sure the way we do it so that we’re not mitigating the problem.