Behind the scenes of the short film Gemma
As a cinematographer, my main goal is to serve the story through motion, composition, and light. I’ve always felt that every detail holds meaning and to not utilize all the elements within your frame thoughtfully is a disservice to the medium. Film is a visual language after all.
I try to be mindful of the context behind creative choices being made. Light creates the environment, while shadows set the mood and movement amplifies emotion. What I chose to compose in or out of the frame and what is kept in or out of focus can be significant to the viewer. It’s important to be hyper aware of your influence and bias. Stories are more receptive if you allow the audience’s feelings to shape the narrative. They should resonate with your film on some level. You must be willing to welcome them in. You must leave room for other perspectives.
Filmmaking is an intensely collaborative process. Every department is interpreting the same story in their own way, through wardrobe, art direction, lighting etc. It’s important to understand each department’s needs, strengths, and challenges through every phase of production to maintain a cohesive vision. Communication is vital. I share everything with all heads of department to ensure we are creatively on the same page. This allows us to make effective adjustments on set that suit the story accordingly. Cinematographers are full time problem solvers. No project wraps as perfectly scripted or planned. The better you prep, the more flexibility you’ll have to adapt to complications and leave room for more creativity on set.
Working with the GFX100 II before its release date was a unique situation. Any new piece of equipment requires research through trial and error to find the right build, adapt an efficient workflow and still maintain a functional ecosystem that does not completely disrupt the needs of the project you’re shooting. Figuring out the most compatible camera accessories I had access to and getting acquainted with every new firmware update were the more complex hurdles I faced, as this was all unfamiliar territory. Concerns like finding a suitable spot to mount a small external SSD on the body took some puzzling, but the advantage of capturing directly onto a drive greatly extended our storage and recording time allowance.
It was exciting to work with a medium format system as a visual storytelling tool. The GFX100 II’s lightweight compact body is quite modular to a multitude of set-ups. Through planning we were able to shift quickly from dana dolly to tripod to different stabilizing systems. We built the camera up with batteries and accessories to balance it on a Steadicam, then utilized the size of the FUJINON Presmista28-100mm T2.9 as a counterweight. We were also able to strip the camera completely down to be light enough to place safely overhead on a c-stand arm.
Having a 102MP sensor and 14 plus stops of dynamic range, let me push the image and still maintain a clean 10-bit resolution even at a higher frame rate (8K/24P, 4K/60P, 1080/120P). Through colour grading with Yuri Cabrera (Colourist), we discovered the GFX100 II leans more into a green bias but is easily correctable in post working within the F-Log2 curve characteristics. The footage has a ton of latitude, great roll off and the image is incredibly sharp. The GFX100 II will also pair nicely with other industry cameras, a common consideration in multi-camera shoots with mix mediums.
Filming GEMMA posed an interesting challenge, as I was both directing and shooting the project. Without a solid crew, this film would not have been possible as I bounced between roles in my head and on set while simultaneously putting a new camera system to the test. I was lucky to have Megan McCartney (Producer) join me on this particular venture. Megan’s organizational and budgeting skills are unmatched. Together we were able to pool our resources, creative connections and pure cleverness to stretch a small budget for a big vision.
I also had major support from my filmmaking community. Martin Wojtunik, Kevin Rasmussen and Dina Maragos were gracious in facilitating lighting and grip equipment while Billy Luong and Stosh Durbacz from Fujifilm ensured we had all the necessary items and most up to date firmware to film with. My cast and production crew consisted of long-time colleagues and some new faces, all eager to bring their wonderful ideas and expertise to the table.
Finding Talia Rockland to play Gemma was sheer luck. We put a casting call out, shifted through many audition tapes, and found a gem. She truly breathed life into character, coming to set with such openness, embracing every challenge we threw at her with some serious introspection, all the while maintaining a joyfully infectious energy! Production Designer, Jennifer McGouran created Gemma’s world with such care and attention to detail. Alex Petropoulakis nailed the wardrobe, expressing so much of the character’s personality in her clothing curation, while Jelissa Matthew elevated each look with her make-up and hair styling.
My G&E team brainstormed with me to find the most manageable solutions to pull off lighting multiple sets and locations all in one day with limited time, people, and gear. Anya Shor (Gaffer) and I devised interchangeable interior looks from day to night by integrating practical’s and introducing daylight textures on the wall to help show a passing of time. Editor Laura Dunn was an incredible collaborator brought on by Megan and Postproduction Supervisor Raj Dhillon. Her keen instincts and artistic suggestions only elevated this short into a stronger story. She worked tirelessly to assemble not only a trailer and short film but a genuine behind the scenes reflection of all the talented people working on this project.
Over the years, I have learned that as a filmmaker and cinematographer, your support system can make or break your projects and even more so your career. Cameras, lenses, and lights are all important tools to create with but the true value of what makes a film succeed will always lie in great storytelling and the people behind the scenes.
Christina is a Toronto based cinematographer and filmmaker that has extensive experience in narrative, commercial and documentary production. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Society of Cinematographers and co-chairs the Education Committee.