The Future of Storytelling
As hybrid photographer and filmmaker, Giulio Meliani planned his stunning short-film debut, Aion. FUJIFILM X-H2S arrived to give it lift-off
“The thing about storytelling, is as long as it’s your passion, you can do it in any medium,” begins Giulio Meliani. Defining himself as a hybrid storyteller, spanning filmmaking and photography, Giulio is well placed to know. “I studied at art school,” he continues. “And whether it’s in drawing and painting, stills or movies, that gives you the tools you need to communicate. But they’re just tools. They can’t tell you what to say.”
In fact, Giulio’s approach is inspired more by his family than his teachers. “My grandmother in particular was a great storyteller,” he recalls. “She would read, or just talk about her experiences when putting us to bed. It was captivating – and must have awakened something within me.”
That familial influence, and the emotion for his loved ones, will be clear to anyone who sees Giulio’s latest project, the short film Aion. It was created this February in his hometown LA, using FUJIFILM X-H2S and FUJINON Cabrio Cinema Zoom Lenses. Wrapped up in the power of human interactions, Aion tells how the strongest memories are more than souvenirs or echoes of the past. They can be like time travel, bringing you together with loved ones long gone, or separated by thousands of miles.
“Making something that was pure fiction was quite a departure for me,” he continues. “The majority of my filmmaking has been in documentaries, and of course story is vital in those too – along with the voice of the author, it’s what connects to the audience. But unlike documentaries where you have facts to follow, fiction is a blank slate. A story has the potential to go anywhere, which can be both enticing and overwhelming. So, when I took on the project, I knew I had to do certain things to rein it in, focus it, then define what I wanted.”
That process of restriction began in the writing stages. “We had about three weeks to get through first, second, third, and final drafts, creating behaviors and limits to the characters. How they acted and spoke; what they would or wouldn’t do. It was a really cool learning experience. And as a creative, I know those restrictions are actually stimulating. I always work better with directives and limits, than with a blank page.”
Where restrictions change, says Giulio, is in the tools creatives use to tell these stories. “As a hybrid photographer and filmmaker, I need a camera that can follow me down either path without fault,” he explains. “From project to project, I might require completely different attributes, depending on whether I’m expressing the story through photography or filmmaking. In short, a camera needs to be capable of a lot to keep up with what I need.”
Fortunately, X-H2S did exactly that. “Filming Aion, we had access to two pre-production X-H2S bodies,” says Giulio. “But we only ended up using one, because it performed so flawlessly. I think this is gonna be my favorite camera ever! What’s amazing is the versatility. The body is so compact, yet powerful, so it’s a dream for hybrid creators like me. I can use it for my photography if I want, but it’s in filmmaking that it really shines.
“Even though it’s not the maximum quality X-H2S is capable of, for Aion we used the ProRes HQ F-Log 2 and recorded in-camera. I’m glad that’s the route we took, as the editing was so much smoother and quicker than RAW video. With F-Log 2, the dynamic range was insane and so useful in grading. The ability to add the level of contrast is a wonderful tool, because there are times, long after filming, when you realize you want something to be darker or moodier, or more vibrant. Without good dynamic range in the footage, you can’t do any of that in post.”
The effortless control that X-H2S footage provided over color grading was most obvious in several of the film’s pivotal scenes. “There are these moments in Aion, with past and future memories overlapping the present,” Giulio explains. “So, we wanted to be able to grade them in a way that would help define them and tell the story.
“Another great thing about the camera’s dynamic range in F-Log 2 is that normally these profiles work at a high ISO. That’s what helps the camera balance the diverse highlights and shadows in a single frame. But the ISO is really low for F-Log 2, and that was great in a lot of situations – like working on location in the middle of the day, without needing to use too many filters or stop down the lens. The F-Log 2 format is so much more flexible than what’s come before.”
In marking out professional-level cameras for moviemaking, another important factor is rolling shutter. Therein, footage shows straight lines looking bent, as the camera is panned around or aimed at fast-moving subjects, like spinning wheels or propellers. Giulio was on the lookout for any sign of this, but found none. “We had some action scenes – and times when we were moving the camera – and I barely noticed anything at all. On previous cameras, it’s quite obvious, but the readout speed of X-H2S’s stacked X-Trans 5 BSI sensor is so high that it’s defeated.
“We filmed most of the movie in 4K 60p,” Giulio continues. “But switched to 24p for the dialogue, of course. All the memory scenes were in 60p, so we could slow them to around half speed and get that silky, hyper-real smoothness to the movement. Like the grading, this marked out those scenes from the real world. I know X-H2S also offers 4K 120p, and though we didn’t need to go that slow, it’s something I’m looking forward to on other projects. The B-roll and action sequences are going to be spectacular!”
Also watchful for overheating, which is commonplace in competitor models at high-resolution and fast frame rates, Giulio was reassured. “We worked for three days, often in the sun, and I was expecting some heat, because it’s natural. But we didn’t experience overheating even once. Yes, it was February, but it was a hot winter in LA. We used the FUJIFILM FAN-001 accessory, which is basically a vent, added to the rear of the camera when the LCD display is open. It automatically reads when X-H2S needs air and is virtually silent – really clever stuff. On top of that, a full-size HDMI connection makes it so much easier to connect accessory screens or drives. They’re all features which say, ‘this is a pro body’ and well equipped for any situation.”
To sum up making his first short fiction film with X-H2S, Giulio’s praise for this new hybrid workhorse is clear. “Time travel is one of Aion’s strongest themes, and in many ways I wish I could take this camera back to when I started filmmaking! I always felt I was butting up against technology limitations. Not restrictions I placed on myself for creative reasons, but genuine problems that stopped me in my tracks.
“But with X-H2S,” he concludes, “I have everything I need to make a professional-looking film, in a body that’s affordable and light enough to carry around in a small bag! There were no moments on set where I found it wanting, the quality of the footage is spectacular, and there’s nothing to stop the flow of the production or halt your ideas. If you’re looking for a complete tool kit for content creation, this is it. It’s going to help people tell some great stories.”