Nicholson Ren | Cinematographer & Colourist

Bunker

Bunker

Bunker promo_1.54.1.jpg

This film is the 2nd project in collaboration with Toprock Productions after If only and I'm glad to say that we've successfully stepped up the production value for this one. Bunker is a dark comedy about 5 escaped female patients from an asylum that take shelter in a bunker previously built by one of them because they think the world is ending. We shot over 2.5 days in one location with a cast and crew of 15. 

Pre-Production

The references which the director gave me for this film were the TV show Community for the type of characters which she envisioned and This is the end for the dark comedic cinematic flair. My personal reference for lighting techniques and look came once again from 10 Cloverfield lane, as our setting is very similar to that of the film. 

Location Scouting

This phase lasted for about 2 months where we discussed for several weeks the different options for a "bunker". One key feature of the bunker was that it couldn't have a window to the outside world. Several options discussed was renting a large shipping container and filming out in a field, inside a garage with the windows blocked out or a set built in a studio space. We came upon this final location by luck as my sister had just moved into a new house that just so happened to have a basement with already-built shelves, no windows and a staircase - everything we were looking for.

 
42 shelves to fill with cans

42 shelves to fill with cans

Stairway to bunker entrance

Stairway to bunker entrance

 

Storyboarding and Floor plans

Floor plan 2.3 - Master CU/ MS of Mabel from page 1-5

Floor plan 2.3 - Master CU/ MS of Mabel from page 1-5

Story-boarding and shot listing began after we locked in the location and about a week before shooting was meant to start. It was slightly later than my liking but I managed to have a camera test during rehearsals which I don't normally get which also helped in preparing for lighting techniques. The approach to planning for this film was more detailed than before, we drew floor plans to match each storyboard and to map out each character's position for every line. In this particular production these plans were actually used as our main guidelines than the storyboards or shot list. 

Each setup detailed the shots which we intended to cover, the time I estimate it will take to achieve and a rough storyboard to see what it should look like. To take this to the next level I would have included the intended focal lengths as well as a lighting diagram of where and what equipment we would use for each setup.

We ended up with a total of 42 set-ups and close to 65 shots planned. Actual shots filmed were much less than this as due to time constraints we merged several shots together into longer takes and wider shots.

 

Set Dressing and props

In the film, the bunker was built by Lenny; a conspiracist, who believes the world is flat and the apocalypse is real. We had to design and dress the set to look like she had researched the conspiracies and made preparations to stay there for a long time. Besides the maps of research and cans of food which took center stage there were smaller details such as pots and pans, toilet rolls, paint buckets and a shovel that added to the potential life of the character. I tried to remove as much bright green and blue colours from the bunker as possible so that there would be a greater contrast to the outside world in the final shot. It wasn't possible to remove it all completely from the shelves of cans so I restricted its use to the corner where one of the character dies to symbolize them leaving the bunker back into nature. In total we used around 330 cans to fill the set.

 
Cans of processed food

Cans of processed food

Lenny's conspiracy research

Lenny's conspiracy research

 

Production

Equipment

Playing a dangerous game with the Easyrig and camera - No Hands

Playing a dangerous game with the Easyrig and camera - No Hands

We shot the film using the Blackmagic 4K Production camera in 4K Prores 422. Additional equipment included an Easyrig and a slider. It was my first time using the easy rig and I can honestly say that I am considering buying one after this shoot. Without it I doubt that I would have gotten what we needed. The lens used were a canon 24-70mm f/2.8 and Tokina 11-16 f/2.8. 

The bunker was mainly lit with 4 overhead cool white fluorescent tubes with 2 Aputure 672S LED lights and an 800W dimmable red-head on standby. My main lighting equipment consisted of using light modifiers such as blackwrap, cutters and white beadboards to subtly sculpt the light in the room.

The aspect ratio we were shooting in was 2.35:1 which combined with the tiny set made the choice of shooting with wider lens much more obvious. Focal lengths for the film was kept between 16-35mm with one exception at 50mm. Aperture was left at f2.8 the whole time because we don't ever leave the bunker and that would give the whole film a consistent look.

Slider set-up consist of balancing the ends on the props and weighed down with 1 sandbag

Slider set-up consist of balancing the ends on the props and weighed down with 1 sandbag

Lighting

For the majority of set-ups I had black wrap act like a skirt around the fluros to take light off the background and keep the subject brighter. It was a much simpler setup than the previous films but it was very efficient and effective in such a small space. Other more specific shots required just bouncing lights into a beadboard to act as a soft fill to enhance the contrast ratio in the actresses faces. I've broken down those shots further below.

For the last third of the film there is a tone shift marked by the bunker lights breaking and turning orange when a character gets murdered but we don't know who did it. The colour was meant to match a convicts jumpsuit to symbolize the actions of the characters turning more sinister. The fluros were wrapped in several layers of CTO so that the whole bunker would have a deep orange look. This however would cut down the light several stops so I had to accent and enhance the shots with another LED light with a 1/2 CTO to bring up the levels of the subject again.

 
The main lighting setup - blackwrap skirt around the fluro

The main lighting setup - blackwrap skirt around the fluro

CTO wraps for the fluro with a 1/2 CTO on an LED for the extra boost to key lights.

CTO wraps for the fluro with a 1/2 CTO on an LED for the extra boost to key lights.

 
Typical look of the bunker without gels

Typical look of the bunker without gels

Bunker with "broken" CTO lights

Bunker with "broken" CTO lights

Radio POV shot

To get this shot I placed the camera at 24mm on top of several books to raise the lens above the radio and then bounced a diffused led light against a white beadboard to fill in the actresses faces. The set up is essentially a reverse book-light where I diffused first and then bounced instead of bouncing and then diffusing. This allowed me to use a really soft light to fill the front but also enhance the backlight a touch. The camera assistant, Sam had to stand squashed in the corner while pulling focus with an outstretched hand as you can see below.

 
Camera and lighting set-up to get the frame on the right

Camera and lighting set-up to get the frame on the right

Radio POV shot - 24mm f2.8

Radio POV shot - 24mm f2.8

 

The God Angle

Another pretty iconic shot was a bird's eye view of the character Pepita waking up mid-way through the film. We wanted to simulate the view of God looking down on her as she thinks she's in heaven so I had the camera directly above her on a 35mm to simulate that. I bounced a led light against a white reflector to just add more ambient light in the space so that it feels more like "heaven". It was essentially a flattened image and not very flattering to the actress as her chin blended into her chin but for the purposes of the shot it worked to look like she was in a space that was full of light. I also had a black board against the wall so that the red colour of the bricks wouldn't reflect into her skin.

 
Camera was positioned directly above the actress looking down

Camera was positioned directly above the actress looking down

The white bounce acted as an additional key light to increase the levels

The white bounce acted as an additional key light to increase the levels

 

Reflecting on the shot, if I could do this again I would have moved the bed further down so that the top lights would be in the 2 o'clock position on her left so that the catch lights would be reflected into the top half of her eyes. The higher positioning of the light would mean the catch light would be reflected in the top half of her eyes to give a more lively look. There is also 2 sources of light in her eyes which isn't very pretty, ideally a single more powerful source would light this shot so that there is only 1 catch light visible.

God Angle.jpg

From Script to Screen

This section will breakdown the process between the planning and filming of a turning point in the film. We shot the opening shot of the scene on the last day as I thought it would require alot of time and rehearsals to get it right. What seemed like a simple question and response to open the scene was actually more complicated than I expected. I estimated an hour to rehearse and shoot this scene because I felt that it wasn't as straight forward as what the director thought it would be. Part of the script is rewritten down below next to the floor plans and storyboards we drew for the scene.

Bunker Script Page 10

Lenny manages to find it and flicks the light back on.
LENNY (CONT’D)
Is everyone okay?
PEPITA
Yes
CARMEN
Yeah.
CHATRICE
Oui.
PEPITA
Mabel?
The all turn to face Mabel, who is lifelessly slumped over in
the corner with a knife in her chest.
PEPITA (CONT’D)
What the fudge nuggets?
Pepita is the first to run to Mabel’s trying to wake her up.
CARMEN
Mabel!
The women all rush over to her side. Carmen puts her fingers
to her neck. There’s no pulse.
CARMEN (CONT’D)
Noooooooo!
CHATRICE
What happened?
CARMEN
One of you murdered my sister!
Everyone gasps in shock!

 

When I first read the script, I imagined quick responses from the other characters which would be done through cuts to each respective character before we find out Mabel was missing. The director had a different vision - a pan around the room to each character who would respond only when they are in frame until we come full circle back to the first character that asked the question. The execution of the shot itself was pretty simple - I would pan around the room hitting objects of interest until I come back full circle, but what we had to rehearse and get right was the timing; moving too slow would result in the responses feeling deliberately delayed while going too fast would end up with a blurry mess. The solution we ended up with was to keep the characters moving, their late responses to the question would hopefully be attributed to them being distracted and not be perceived as purposefully delayed. 

The tension increases in the next half when Pepita realises that Mabel didn't answer. She see's something that the audience hadn't seen yet and in the original storyboard we tried to delay showing what happened to Mabel. The original 2 shots (8.2, 8.3) following the spin were of the other characters running towards Mabel who we kept off-screen but when we were on-set, due to time constraints the last half was merged into one shot and we decided to film a handheld POV to OTS shot of Mabel's body. I felt that this new perspective still worked as this was one of the only times we had a frantic handheld moving camera which complemented the energy that was needed for the tension. It was also a product of filming in the moment, following the actions of the characters and reacting immediately to find the frame. Tilting up to follow Carmen declaring "One of you murdered my sister!" was not planned, it just so happened it felt like the most natural moment to go from Mabel's dead body to her sister.

What I originally thought would have taken 7-8 shots to achieve ended up only being filmed in 2 shots which for cinematic purposes works even better. My initially reaction was to film every action narration written in a separate shot but this moment taught me that it is possible to find a way to merge several actions into one to convey the drama. Not every narration needs to be its own individual shot nor does every small action need a close up. Carmen checking Mabel's pulse seems to be an important moment in the script before she declares Mabel to be dead but we never go for a close up on that action. Reviewing this scene after the shoot, I felt that we captured the scene better by being spontaneous and it just goes to show how everything in pre-pro are just guidelines and not something to strictly follow on the day.

 
 

Post-Production

Currently in Progress - Coming Soon