New Zealand cinematographer Steve Allanson shoots short film Die Like A Shark for director Nick Epstein – by Steve Allanson
Director Nick Epstein and actor/producer Shane Rangi wanted to kick off Die Like A Shark by shooting a sequence at a real mixed martial arts (MMA) event, during a break in the fighting. This would become the start of four mini-shoots we did over the course of a year to complete the short film.
On day one of the shoot, filming at a real event, was a walkout sequence which we shot on my Steadicam using a Canon C300mk2 with a set of Schneider FF Prime lenses. We had ARRI remote focus and Teradek video link. Epstein himself dealt with focus, as well as keeping his director’s eye on the ball. We shot the sequence, which formed part of the introduction to the film, in only twenty-minutes using the available arena lights.
Quite nerve-racking, however we had formed a good plan and we stuck to it. We used a 25mm lens to get a few shots of the walkout, then switched to the 100mm lens to get a few longer shots from within the cage. We had two fight sequences to complete for the film; one would be after our walkout and the other would be at a smaller, independent-type venue.
For the main fight we were given access to the arena the night before an event. The company who sets up the lights were extremely helpful by setting up early so we could shoot the evening before the fight with all the fight lights set up. For this reason as well as budget I chose not to utilise a gaffer. It would have taken a decent truck to light the ring in the four hours we had to complete everything.
Instead, the stage lighting company had set up five separate banks of four tungsten pars. Each group of four par cans, five in total, were on a dimmer board. I found an extra who said he wanted to help. I gave each lighting stand a number and during the night he dimmed or raised levels based on numbers I gave him to control various ratios depending on which way we were shooting. I knew the cutting in the sequence would be fast so I prioritised shot variations rather than finessing lights on a micro level.
One of the reasons I chose the C300mk2 was that I wanted to keep the camera as light as possible, particularly for the fight sequences. I really wanted to put the viewer in the cage and be amongst the fight as much as possible. Having the camera built super light meant I could be extremely fluid and mobile. My focus puller did a great job in holding the right moments and not trying to chase the action too much.
The second fight was at an old gym. On this occasion we had on long bank of South facing windows which we controlled with flags. Eddie Tyrie, our gaffer, augmented where necessary using an Aladdin Panel with Chimera as well as a couple of different frames and some bounce. We had a couple of lingering close-ups where this came in use.
Apart from the fight scenes, we had various interior and exterior scenes here and there to shoot and complete the film. A lot of what we did was single source lighting with shaping available light and controlling what we had available either through bouncing, cutting or just pushing a little fill in where needed with a softened panel.
One example of this was an exterior night scene where we used available street lighting as well as a Skypanel S60 which we colour matched to the streetlights. I pushed the C300mk2 more than I was comfortable with for this scene in terms of low-light, but the camera handled it well. Jon Newell at Park Road Post did the grade and I think we got an extremely satisfying result.
Die Like A Shark has received a decent amount of traction at a few festivals and considering the shoestring budget we had, we are all extremely pleased with the result. There are so many ways cinematographers and directors have tackled the fight genre. I thought we did it justice.
Steve Allanson is known for his work on television dramas and feature films in New Zealand, Canada and Australia.