Independent Filmmaker Samuel Jacob Relies on Blackmagic Cinema Camera and DaVinci Resolve to Help Bring “Hardland” to Life
Samuel Jacob never went to film school in the traditional sense. He never attended regular classes, befriended the student who had the key to the equipment room or pulled an all nighter putting the final touches on a project due the next day. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been studying the art of filmmaking since he was a six year old boy using his dad’s camcorder to make movies with his brother.
Fueled by his passion, Samuel decided to get a real life education by embarking on a cross country bicycle trip in 2010 with a group of cyclers raising money for children with cancer. The cyclers stopped at hospitals along the way, visiting the children they were raising money for, and Samuel documented the entire trip.
“The trip changed my perspective on story telling. I was hooked on capturing and expressing the emotion of the cyclers, the children and their families,” explained Samuel. “I wanted keep creating things that meant something to me.”
Filmmaking has always been a creative outlet for Samuel and a way for him to express himself, and he draws upon his own family’s struggles in his latest film, "Hardland,” currently in production. In order to tell such a meaningful, personal story and, more importantly, the story that Samuel wants to tell, he has to rely on a completely DIY workflow.
“I am the writer, director, cinematographer, editor and colorist on this film. You name it, and I do it,” said Samuel. “Not only that, but it’s up to me to source all the equipment, and despite it being a lower budget independent film, I don’t want it to look like one. This is why I rely on the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and DaVinci Resolve to deliver amazing cinematic footage at an affordable cost.”
A Film Look on a Digital Camera Budget
Originally, Samuel had wanted to shoot on film, but quickly realized it would have been cost prohibitive to do so, as it would not have been possible on the independent film’s budget. He began researching alternatives.
“I had my eye on the Blackmagic Cinema Camera ever since it was announced at NAB 2012. The fact that it has 13 stops of dynamic range and shoots in 2.5K RAW at such an affordable price just brings it to another level,” explained Samuel. “It’s so film like that you don't even realize you’re shooting on a digital camera. This camera is made for independent filmmakers like me.”
Samuel pointed out that with DSLR cameras, he would have to work very hard to attain a certain look, but Blackmagic Cinema Camera delivers the image he wants very easily. “I don't want the footage to simply stand out,” he said. “I want something that will last, and Blackmagic Design delivers.”
Dynamic Range Delivers Authenticity
“Hardland” tells the story of two brothers enduring the collapse of modern society after a solar flare causes an epic global power grid failure. After losing their parents, the brothers must learn to survive on their own. Set in the woods of rural Kentucky, the characters return to their roots and live off the land.
“I want the look to be as authentic as possible, and because there’s no power, I don’t light any of the scenes, instead relying on sunlight or fire,” said Samuel. “Thanks to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera’s incredible latitude, I’m able to use all natural lighting, capture every detail and create a completely real feeling.”
Because much of the film takes place in the woods, Samuel also wants to accentuate the different greens of the landscape while maintaining a post apocalyptic feel. He relies on Blackmagic Cinema Camera’s 13 stops of dynamic range to capture the wide rage of greens, which become more vibrant or subdued due to the changing sunlight and cloud patterns.
“I shoot everything in 2.5K RAW because I want to use all the dynamic range and latitude that the camera has to offer. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera provides an incredible amount of detail within the images,” said Samuel. “Because of this, I can bend the look any way I want and create the exact look that is in my head with Resolve in post. It’s this creative freedom that’s essential to a DIY, independent filmmaker.”
Blackmagic Cinema Camera’s ergonomics also contribute to the creative freedom essential to helping Samuel achieve his vision. Samuel wants the film to feel almost like a documentary in that the audience moves with the characters, essentially following them on their journey. As such, he mounts Blackmagic Cinema Camera to an ePhoto DSLR shoulder rig with SDI out to a SmallHD monitor, also attached to the rig, for ultimate portability during shooting.
“In most films, the camera doesn't cross the imaginary line between itself and the characters. But I want 360 degrees of scenery, where the audience feels like they are in the film. I want it to feel real, almost like a documentary,” said Samuel. “Thanks to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera’s small size and light weight, I’m able to strap it on a shoulder rig and go. I can film with no limits, right in the action. I wouldn't have been able to do that with a bigger camera.”
For one helicopter scene, Samuel took the Blackmagic Cinema Camera off the rig and went handheld. “There was no way I could have the rig in the helicopter, so I grabbed the camera and shot with it handheld. The camera felt completely natural, and its flexibility really helped me deliver creatively,” he said.
Color Comes to Life
“Going into post, the first thought I had is how do I get the color that’s in my head applied to the footage I shot. I know it’s in there because of the camera’s dynamic range, but how do I make it come alive,” said Samuel. “I had never used Resolve before, so it was a matter of playing around with it for a few weeks, and before long, I was up and running.”
Samuel began by using Resolve’s reference wipes, which allow him to work on a grade while referencing a still in his image gallery. This proves especially useful when grading nighttime scenes by the fire, as he was able to reference the colors and highlights of a 35mm film still.
“The reference wipes are extremely helpful, especially during the learning process. I can reference a look from a previous grade, non graded footage or even from an actual film,” said Samuel. “Because I want the footage to look as film like as possible, I referenced a lot of 35mm film footage. The ability to cross examine and compare the footage is amazing.”
Samuel also enjoys using Resolve to review the day’s footage, experimenting with different grades and getting inspired to try new looks for the days ahead. The daily experimenting not only helps him become more familiar with Resolve, but also helps him develop the look of the film.
“I have a lot of color ideas in my head, and sometimes I have 12 to 15 nodes on a grade, which really helps me define a specific color and look for the film,” said Samuel. “I really love how I can then save my grades or quickly apply them to other shots with Resolve’s drag and drop feature. It’s an incredibly powerful tool.
“A lot of today’s filmmakers are trying to make footage captured on a digital camera look like film, and you can certainly achieve that with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and Resolve,” he continued. “On top of that, it’s affordable, which opens up new possibilities for independent filmmakers such as myself.”
“Hardland” is a labor of love for Samuel and mirrors his own family’s hardships, but he wouldn't have it any other way. “For me, this story is alive and has a heartbeat. It really speaks of who I am, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do,” he concluded.