Thesis student Emmanuella Zachariou (BFA Cinematography 2018) is always shooting. Here, she writes about her short fashion film (above) and the difficulty of shooting in remote locations.
Every film shoot always presents new challenges, and shooting the short fashion piece Remember the Forgotten was no different. I was asked by director Alex Black to be the DP for a fashion film for Parsons student Chenghui Zhang’s thesis design collection. Three of the Parsons films would be selected to be featured and win best new fashion film on Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio, which is an amazing opportunity. We discussed budget, shotlist, color palatte, story, and aesthetic; some key elements to making a fashion film. We also discussed equipment based on the shotlist. We shot the film on the Alexa Mini, entirely on an easy rig. I also decided to use Cooke S4’s. The reason why I went with the S4’s is we wanted a cinematic look that was also able to provide us with generous control of lens flares and spherical aberrations at full a aperture. The S4’s also have great smooth focus adjustments. You get great speed to sharpness, contrast, warm colors, and the entire set matches pretty well with one another. The falloff of the focus is perfectly sharp, but also gives more of a ‘bell curve’.
Alex and I then scouted a few locations we thought would work for the story Chenghui was trying to tell through her designs. Her grandparents grew up in Communist China, so the designs were inspired by their labor intensive life. We wanted to shoot somewhere industrial, but still preserve an organic feel. We decided on Fort Tilden. Since the locations were hard to get to on foot, (we had to walk through multiple trails to get to the hidden Brut-like structures we wanted), and with a skeleton crew, I made the decision to not bring any lighting fixtures, and shoot purely with the available light given to us on the day. We brought some 6×6 silks, a reflector, some flags, and a few bounce boards to help shape the light we were provided. The day of the shoot ended up being overcast and cloudy… with a large chance of rain. This was a concern for all of us, and we could not move the date.
We arrived in Fort Tilden and began shooting right off the bat (such as some wheat field shots). We also had a drone operator who got us some amazing drone shots from above the wheat. We had about 4 different looks to run through for each location since he shoot was rushed. When we finally moved onto some of the shots we needed to get by the structures, it started to heavily rain. Everyone found cover under one of the old forts and we waited for the rain to pass. This held us back by a lot. When the rain passed, a park ranger told us we were not allowed to shoot anymore at Fort Tilden. This was another issue since 90% of the shots we still needed to get were in the area. We drove around scouting new locations from the van, and were lucky enough to find a vacant field next to a Toys R Us parking lot. We actually used that location for the majority of the shots, and the rest was quickly shot in industrial Red Hook.
Although most of the film turned out to be improvised, we still ended up getting runner up for best fashion film on SHOWstudio. A few months later, Vogue Italia saw the piece and loved it so much it was featured. This shoot taught all of us a lot, and thinking fast and as a team ended up really being worth it.