I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Michael Rossetti, the cinematographer for the new independent RomCom, “Love Magical.” I tried to ask as many questions as I could to get a good inside look at the production of the film.
If you’re not familiar with the film, it was recently successfully funded via Kickstarter. View the trailer below.
Here’s the interview. Thanks Michael, for taking the time to do this.
Brent: Hi Michael, thanks for taking the time to talk about this film, Love Magical, with us. Give us a quick introduction about yourself.
Michael: Hi Brent. Well I’m a DP and I live in Brooklyn. I’ve been in New York for almost 6 years now. I came here from California for grad film school at NYU. I shot a lot of student films while I was in school and I’ve been working as a DP since I graduated.
B: In your own words, what is Love Magical about?
M: Love Magical is about David Justice, a guy with a dream to be the worlds greatest R&B love song writer, but he has to find the courage, motivation and self confidence to achieve his dream. Along the way he finds love and battles a very strange nemesis.
B: You were the DP on this project. How did you initially get involved with this film?
M: I went to school with co-director Jason Sokoloff. When they began pre-production he sent me the script and asked if I would be interested in shooting it. The script was so quirky and interesting that I had to at least meet with them, and that’s when I met Justin, the other co-director and writer/star. We all got along very well and had a lot of similar ideas about what the movie might look like. The hired me a few weeks after that meeting.
B: Can you talk a little bit about the size of crew that you had in your department?
M: We were running two cameras, so we had a decent sized camera crew – myself, A-camera 1st AC Doug Durant, B-camera 1st AC Joey Wanamacher, 2nd AC Matt Manning, and B-camera operators Will Beckley and Mike Wood. On G&E we had our gaffer Aaron DeFazio, key grip Harry Ycaza and usually two or three other grips and/or electrics. We had a lot of day-players and we brought in more G&E on bigger days, but in general we were running with a fairly small crew.
B: How long did it take to shoot this film, and what was the shooting schedule like?
M: I think we had 16 shooting days and an additional pickup day later. The schedule was pretty intense – we had a lot of days with high page counts, company moves, moving vehicles, kids, musical performances, etc. It was an ambitious shoot and we did have a few long days, but in general we were able to get what we wanted. Jason and I planned out most of the shots and tried to make them work with the kind of schedule we had.
B: What size budget did you have for your department? How did this effect your choice in camera, lenses, and other gear?
M: I don’t recall the exact budget that we had for camera and G&E rentals but it was small. We were a mircro-budget shoot and had to deal with those realities, but we put together a good package that did what we needed. It certainly affected our choice in gear, especially because we were shooting two cameras, so we needed two of everything. We had to go with something that was affordable but still looked good. As for G&E, we didn’t need any dollies or jibs or anything special, so we didn’t have to worry about that. Our lighting package was small – I think the biggest light was a 1.8K HMI – so I tried to go with lights that could be versatile, like Lekos, which I used directly in the club scene and stage performance scenes, but then I could also use them bounced into a beadboard for a nice soft key in other scenes. We also worked on making use of the existing lighting in the locations and just adjusting it or supplementing it.
B: What camera and lenses did you use, and why did you choose these?
M: We shot on two 7Ds. The one thing I really fought for was to shoot with cinema lenses, so we got PL-mount modified cameras and a set of Zeiss Super Speeds. At first, Canon L-series lenses or Compact Primes were our only options, but I’m not a fan of either of those lens sets. The L-series lenses look glassy and hazy to me and they can be hard on the focus puller because of the short focus throw, and the CPs don’t have a consistent T-stop so I didn’t want to adjust my lighting every time I changed lenses. I prefer to stick with a particular stop for the majority of a film, or at least within a scene. Eventually we were able to work out a deal with the rental house for the Super Speeds. We went with the 7Ds for many reasons – most importantly we could afford it, but also we wanted something with a 35mm size chip, and there have been some really great looking films shot with that camera (like Tiny Furniture).So it gave us the best quality we could get for the money we had.
B: You say you chose the Canon 7D with various cinema lenses. Did this package work exactly as you had planned, or do you wish you would have switched up your rental package a bit?
M: The package we had worked more or less as I expected it too. Of course with a bigger budget I probably would have gone with a different camera, but for our purposes and our money, the Canons worked very well. I’d used similar packages before so there weren’t really any surprises. I was originally hoping to get a set of Zeiss Standard Speeds because I prefer the focal lengths that are available in that set – the 32mm and the 40mm, specifically – but rental house didn’t have the Standard Speeds in those lengths, so the next best option was the Super Speeds.
B: On a somewhat small scale film, such as this, how much freedom did you have with your choice of shot setups? Did your vision usually match the directors’ vision?
M: I had about as much freedom as I usually do when shooting a film – one of my goals as cinematographer is to make sure that I’m making the movie that the director wants to make, so I actually don’t really like having complete freedom in choosing shots. I like to be collaborative. It’s important to me that I get input from the director (or in this case, directors), because if I don’t then I could be envisioning the film very differently than they are. Jason, Justin and I talked a lot about the look of the film before we shot, and shot-listed the majority of the movie, so when we got to set we already had a general understanding of what we were going for. They wanted to shoot mostly in wider shots rather than close-ups, so I knew I had to think in those terms when looking at a sene. When it came down to specific shots I generally chose the lens and camera positions based on what we had talked about and what I saw in the blocking, then we would tweak things together. I think the only thing that limited us in our shots were logistical issues – like we wouldn’t have the budget to dress an entire space, or we only had our extras for a short amount of time, etc – so we would be limited in those situations, but it was never detrimental to the film, we were always able to work around it.
B: I understand you shot a few bike scenes where the camera was mounted to a bike. How did you achieve this?
M: Ya, so the main character’s only means of transportation is his beloved BMX bike, so we thought that we could make a really interesting intro sequence by mounting the camera on the bike in various places while David rides around. We didn’t really have room in the schedule to spend time on just that, so whenever the B camera was free I would ask the B-operator and Key Grip Harry Ycaza to run outside and rig up a shot on the bike. Then I’d check the shot quickly and one of us would take it for a ride. Because the 7D is so small and light we were able to do this pretty easily. They would basically grab the camera with a cardellini and then use grip arms and other claps to get it in place and stabilize it. We would typically use the 18mm or the 25mm lens and stop down a lot (since we obviously couldn’t pull focus). We were able to get a lot of cool shots of bits and pieces of the bike this way throughout the shoot – we had the camera really low to the ground, pointing backwards, hanging off the side looking back at the bike….all kinds of really great shots that would have been harder to get with a larger, heavier camera. Eventually we managed to snag Justin (who plays David) and got some shots of him on the bike.
B: You mentioned that you made use of alot of existing lighting. However, were there any scenes that were difficult or complicated to light?
M: Probably our most elaborate setup was the club scene, where David’s R&B songwriting teacher takes him out on a wild double date. We didn’t have the time or the resources to pre-light the space, so when we scouted the club I asked the owner to show me what kind of lighting they had on when the club was open at night. Luckily they had adjustable, colored LED’s built into the walls and some other accent lighting above the tables and at the bar. On the day we shot, we had to start by blacking out the front door and the back window (which was really huge). We then used the club’s lighting board to change the color of the wall lights to an intense purple/pink, and turned up some of the recessed lighting over the tables. This set the general look for the space. We then brought in two of our Lekos, gelled with bright party-colors to light our actors. These were great because its not a problem if you catch them in frame – Lekos look like the kind of lights you would have in a theater or a club or any space like that, so I feel like you can see them in the shot and they don’t read as film lights. We also strung some Christmas lights under the bar, to add a little glow to the bar area and bartender. The club had a really awesome fireplace that was enclosed in clear glass, which I really wanted to get in the frame. The only problem was that you could see right through it into the other half of the club which was our holding area. Aaron DeFazio, my gaffer, suggested we cover the back of the glass case with diffusion and light it up, so taped up 250 diffusion on the back and lit it with one of our tungsten units gelled with an aqua-blue (so that the red fire would stand out against it). Finally we lit up the front area near the hostess with some kinos and more of the built-in recessed lighting and that was it. It was one of our bigger setups, but having control over the existing lighting in the space was a huge help.
Make sure you check him out at MichaelRossetti.com
And you can follow the film via their Facebook page or their Twitter. And Jason Sokoloff, the director of Love Magical, recently did a guest post on nofilmschool title “Top Five Essentials for Shooting Your Indie Film “. You can check it out here.