The Making Of: Halo

Camera: RED Dragon 6k Anamorphic

Lens: Kowa Anamorphics

For the past few years I've been wanting to shoot athletic style commercials like Nike and Adidas. I've has the opportunity to shoot projects that had some elements involved but never to the scale that I wanted. I've tried to plan some on my own for fun at my old high school however i've also been gone a lot with tour so haven't had the chance. My friend Spencer called me about his latest project for a company called Halo. It was all very last minute but I knew we could pull everything together for it. Halo is a headphone like beats however it's specifically designed for high performing athletes. It uses technology to unlock certain parts of your brain and helps athletes train at a higher level. Kind of like pre workout and other supplements but all without taking anything. I'm not sure the science behind it and I sadly didn't get to test it out but apparently it's pretty awesome. 

Pre-Production

first setup of the day

Spencer LOVES Michael Bay films and after our first project I figured out what kind of shots he liked and didn't like. This was our second project together and we had a blast on the first one so I couldn't wait for this. The project was relatively simple, shoot at a football field and a gym.

Spencer found a college field that would work but none of us were able to scout out the location so we had to go off photos we found online. Everything about it looked great except it didn't look like it had stadium lights. We ended up switching to another field in SF because it did have lights at night time. The budget was very tight so even though we had a few 2ks and HMIs that my gaffer Steve had on the truck, we didn't have the ability to run power for them or at least as many as we needed. We talked about the two locations, wanting to use colors like the recent Apple Watch commercials, and really emphasize the headphones and futuristic element of them. 

 

Low angle push in with the movi

Shoot Day

We started late, around 6pm because we wanted to maybe get some sunset but most likely night but didn't want to be up until 8am. We started out at the football field. Of course when Spencer scouted it the night before it didn't have many people there but tonight was some weekly meetup group with about 100 women running in packs together. This makes it a little difficult to make it look like our athlete is the only one there. It was also very dark and RED cameras aren't the best in low light. 

Challenge 1 for the night was to also shoot our athlete running while shooting from a movi. Ideally I wanted to employ what I did the previous week with on the Visit Santa Barbara shoot and be in a truck or golf cart riding next to her. This would give me a natural camera shake but remain smooth as we moved with her. Sadly we weren't able to so movi was our option. We were also shooting on the M10 instead of the M15 and the kit didn't have all the correct pieces. Of course this would have been fine if we had a prep day but we didn't and we were getting the movi for a discount rate from a friend. We ended up making it work but it all came down to getting Steve, who help the gimbal while riding his long board, and our athlete to move at the same pace in the short distance we had. 

Learning how to properly use the headphones

I think after about 10 times we finally got a few shots that worked. Of course everything took longer than expected so we were very rushed. I ended up convincing Spencer we needed to stop shooting movi stuff unless it absolutely needed it because it was slowing us down majorly. We were trying to also use the Mimic system to control the movi which probably wasn't the best idea because it's still in beta. After all the gimbal work we moved to handheld and one specific part of the field so we could actually take the time to light it properly. 

Next we moved into the gym where everything really came together. I decided we wanted to haze up the place, use a strong orange backlight and front light with a soft teal blue. This is where we started flaring the anamorphic more with the backlight and really stylizing the footage. The football field shots were great but here we actually had control of everything and it looked 10x better to the point that I don't think they are using any of the track shots. 

Here we were all handheld, getting in tight, adding a lot of movement to my camera work to emphasize the drama, and really bring some energy to the piece. Everything was going great until, we blew a breaker. We have really big and powerful lights and most circuits are about 20-30 amps. If you blow one, you just have to reroute power which isn't a big deal, unless you can't find the box or its not available. We searched high and low to find the box until we had to called the owner at 11pm to ask where it was. Shockingly they said they don't have access to it which became a big problem. We didn't know what plugs were on what circuit and if we blew too many, we wouldn't have enough power for anything. 

We got through most of the shoot with 1 blown breaker and then on our final setup we lost another one. Our batteries were charging in another room down the hall and I guess weren't plugged in all the way. Our gaffer was going to the bathroom and noticed they weren't in all the way. He goes and plugs them in and BAM, all but one of our lights turn off. Now we are in panic mode to figure out how we are going to light until I give the camera to my AC and Spencer notices he really likes the look now. We setup our final shot and all agreed it worked really nicely. That shot becomes the last section of the video where everything is teal blue. It was the only light we had left so we made it work. 

Conclusion

Just like most days on set, problems arise no matter how much planning you do and you just have to roll with them. We even had dinner from Chipotle and i got a bowl but they forgot to put any utensils in the bag so while everyone else waited for our PA to get some, I made a spoon out of the foil container. The results of the shoot were awesome and for me the look came down to a few key things. The anamorphic lenses, the hazer, and of course my amazing crew. The look is very much like a music video which used to be my specialty. The main shot of our actor on the bench was lit with I believe a 1k backlighting with CTO, 2k key into an ultra bounce and gelled with teal blue, and then two daylight kino bulbs on the ground to under light him. Even with all the problems our base lighting set us down the right path.  

The Making Of: Visit Santa Barbara

Camera: RED Dragon 6K Widescreen

Lens: Zeiss Ultra Primes

Editing: Adobe Premiere Pro in 5k

Color: Davinci Resolve

We finally got the team back together! Sometimes you work with a certain group of people and everything always clicks perfectly. Thankfully i've found an amazing group of people this happens with and for some time last year we were shooting multiple times a month. This year hasn't been as collaborative because of many reason but with Visit Santa Barbara, we finally got the band back together. 

Visit Santa Barbara was much like our campaign we shot for The Napa Valley Tourism Board a few years ago. If you haven't seen it, check out some of the beautiful places we shot in Napa. With this campaign, my long time collaborator Doug Cox wanted to shoot in B&W and really capture the many beautiful parts about Santa Barbara. He initially approached me about shooting in IR or Infrared. For those who don't know, there are multiple types of light on the electromagnetic spectrum. There is also Ultra-violet or UV, infrared, X-rays, and Gamma Rays to name a few. The chart below explains it more visually. 

 
 

Doug wanted to shoot Infrared so we could make the sky black, water black, and other really cool effects you get with IR. The only problem with shooting in IR is that you can't always control how the sensors see the light and different places have different IR pollution from the sun. Thankfully i've done some tests so i had a very basic understanding on how to achieve some of the looks. The nice thing was we were shooting in B&W  which meant half the battle of dealing with color wouldn't be an issue. IR color can look very crazy and make green trees white. The other problem with shooting and not knowing fully about what I could do with it was, I was in Europe for 3 weeks and could not test anything. Because of scheduling we started shooting the day after i got home from Europe. I literally got home, slept for 6 hours, and fought the jetlag to pack up and go to Santa Barbara to start the shoot. It was certainly a battle to stay awake, stay focused, and not be cranky. 

Pre-Production

Just like every shoot there is a lot of preproduction that goes into it. We talked about the look, feel, everything. Originally we were going to shoot underwater surfing sections which I was most excited about however because of budget and time, it was cut. Like I mentioned before we had originally talked about shooting in IR. Normally I would do camera tests to make sure I could achieve the look we want however I didn't have time because I was in Europe so the first day in Santa Barbara was our pre pro day where I got to see the locations and part of it was testing the water to make sure it turned black. Unfortunately by the time we got to the pool location the sun was setting and the light was going to be completely different than our shooting conditions. We also didn't have the tool we needed to switch out the OLPFs in the Dragon so i sprinted a few blocks to our hotel to get it. For those who don't know, the OLPF is a piece of glass that goes in front of the sensors on RED cameras that not only protect the sensor, but add certain looks and majorly affect how and image looks. Normally for IR you need a specially modified camera but RED sells and IR OLPF. They also have standard, skin tone & highlight, and low light. I generally shoot with the skin tone & highlight. 

After being able to test it we decided that we no longer wanted to shoot IR in case client wanted to change back to color. We instead made the choice to just shoot in black and white or just desaturate the image. We can bring everything back because it's all RAW. 

Stuck at the top of the ladder

Day 1

Starting out the day with probably the toughest shot of the whole shoot was draining. We were shooting a woman on the edge of a pool and we wanted the water to be very dark with a reflection of a palm tree. Two problems, the bottom of the pool was white and we have no palm trees in site. We did have a fake palm tree from our amazing art department Laura, however there was no way we were going to get it as big as they wanted. This is also where they wanted the pool water to be black so we were going to use the IR filter. I think we ended up putting it in just to see what it would do but it didn't help. So to solve these problems i suggested we put our actress on the other side of the pool, put the whole shot in shadow by flagging off the sun, and then in post super imposing the palm tree from B-Roll I had shot on pre pro day. One other problem, my G&E team was 2 people and a swing and that was a lot to do. Thankfully my whole team pitched in and we made it work. The shot I'm talking about comes in at the end of the video and really worked out. The frustrating part about this shot was I don't have a cam op so i'm oping at the top of a 10 step ladder and can't communicate much to our director or creative director back at video village. Yes I had a radio but that doesn't mean they are going to respond to me. 

Shooting in the theater

Secondly we moved into this beautiful theatre that was already ready to go. I had seen a bunch of scout photos of the location and knew we weren't going to have to light much or at all. We ended up using everything in house plus they had a hazer! I was  also playing around with some added shots and movement while client and creative agency was watching the monitor. One creative director leaned over and literally said, "That looks like a shot from a Macklemore video I've seen". For those of you who don't know, I used to work for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on their tour videos so I know my way around stages very well. Our producer and director turned and looked at the creative director and informed him that I most likely shot the video he's referring to. It was a very surreal moment that someone was recognizing my work without knowing it. The rest of the day came together nicely as we finished off at a winery bar location. 

Day 2

Doug, John, Myself resetting the shot

The jet lag was kicking my ass pretty hard and after day 1 i passed out in my hotel room at about 8pm. We started off day 2 bright and early so thankfully it was easy for me to wake up. We drove up to the top of a mountain to film bikers riding up the hill. Originally we wanted to do this with stedicam or movi but we had a tight budget and I didn't think it was smart to spend the money on this one shot. My solution was to put me in the back of a truck and just drive while I shot it handheld. Doug and I have this relationship where he thinks of shots that he can put me in dangerous situations and I always say, "Yep! Lets do it!". One ratchet strap to hold me down and off we went. The shots came out exactly how I wanted them.

Next we moved to the ocean where we were shooting on a sailboat. I love boats but I have a slight problem, I get really bad motion sickness. If there is ever an opportunity for me to drive a vehicle rather than someone else, I always do it for the simple fact that I get bad motion sickness. Of course I take pills to combat this however I was also nervous because the last time I was on a sailboat I was also filming and the entire boat almost capsized. Lastly during this whole shoot we had a photographer taking stills and we could only have a certain amount of people on the boat at a time which meant we had two boats and at some point we needed to switch the people from the boats while carrying literally hundreds of thousands of gear. Plus, salt water is not very nice to metal and electronics so my AC John and I wrapped everything in garbage bags to minimize the risk. 

Thankfully everything went well and we moved onto our final setup, Volleyball. Our actor was running late and then ended up getting lost. We were using the sun as a heavy backlight but it was setting fast. We were worried that we weren't going to get the shot and started planning other shots to solve the problem. Thankfully when he did show up, the sun passed the tops of the palm trees and were coming through the stems. After about 40 takes of him diving for the ball we played around with some different shots and were wrapped. 

 

Conclusion

It was a fast pace and challenging shoot but we solved the problems we needed to. Mostly everything outside were bounce boards, mirror boards, and flags which you can do a lot with. We only used a light inside and at the pool scene to emphasize our actress in the pool but otherwise it was all natural. Doug was able to have a quick turnaround on the edit and I'm very pleased with how everything turned out! 

November Update: Newest Work

Since I returned home from Europe a few weeks ago my life has been none stop. Every second that I've been home has been spent organizing, editing, meetings, and more shoots, and maybe a little bit of Xbox to recharge. The day I got back from Europe I went home, slept for 4 hours, then went to Santa Barbara to shoot a commercial. A few days later I went to Virginia for another, and then the bay area for another. 

Finally I'm home again after shooting yet another amazing project in the bay and i'm excited because two of those projects just dropped. I'm working on updating my website and the blog posts related to them but for now, here are the final products!

Exploring the World

These last 3 weeks have been hectic but such a blast. We had a little over a week tour with Logic and then my dad flew out to meet me in Greece to do some exploring. I can never really take a vacation because ever second is spent exploring and photographing but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I just get to explore, test, research, and keep trying new things constantly. This trip I've actually done a lot of testing of the internal HDR of the 5D Mark iii and I'm actually loving it. 

I plan on writing more very soon but for now, some of my favorite images so far from Greece, Ireland, and the rest of Europe. 

Endless Summer Tour Prints Now Available

Last tour was the first time I had ever tried selling prints and the love from everyone was well received. Besides a few shipping problems everything went smoothly and I thank you all! I listened to everyone and i'm happy to announce that this time around photos from EVERY show that I was shooting is up for sale along with my selects. TITS World Tour photos are also back in stock!

I also have some select photos of G-Eazy, YG, Yo Gotti, Marc E. Bassy, and a few others. 

Photos are standard 8x11 also available in other sizes like canvas. Everything ships straight from the printer so no prints will be damaged. 

Check them out on the Prints tab above or NickMahar.Smugmug.com

The Endless Summer - G-Eazy in Irvine

This was the first time seeing and shooting all of G's show. I love both his items and fully support everything he's done for the bay. This dude certainly puts on for the bay and is constantly bringing the homies with him. It was also great seeing the homie P. Lo there. The Irvine show had both Marc E. Bassey and Bebe Rexha come out which is just a taste of how lit the bay area show is about to be!