Directed by Al Benoit
"We Were Monsters and Detectives" was my second collaboration with director Al Benoit and our first opportunity to entirely control development. The film follows two 16 year old girls over a summer in an eroding town, which becomes the mirror to their dissipating relationship.
The location needed to be an ever present character, as it typically is in Al Benoit films. We needed each frame to keep the location present, so we decided on the 240 frame, which would hold that location, even in closeups. We started with a prequel, which we shot nearly entirely from a Steadicam with the Sony F55, Ziess CP2 Super Speeds and a skeleton crew.
Eventually I landed on the Epic-X and Schneider Cine-Xenar III primes with a 2.40 crop for principle. The Schneiders are relatively neutral, bordering on warm, with gentle contrast. The contrast and performance wide open allowed me to shoot most of the film at or near T2.8 to temper the digital sharpness of the Epic, but avoid using diffusion.
Principle photography was entirely on location with few of those locations suppling power. Our budget didn't allow for the use of large generators, so we knew we'd have to maximize our effectiveness with put-puts.
In combination with a basic tungsten and Kino cart we secured Aadyntech Eco Punches and Hive Lighting Wasp Plasmas. The Eco Punch Plus is a daylight balanced LED that is equivalent to a 3000 watt HMI, but only pulls about 5 amps. The Eco Punches gave us the room to dial in quality while competing with daylight and the control to quickly dial in levels with the dimmer. When playing as daylight we dialed in warmth and magenta to counter the blue-green LED, but later that base allowed us to quickly mimic mercury-vapor for a pivotal night time scene in a high-school dugout.
We used the Wasp Pars as a low draw replacement for Jokers. The plasmas are the closest artificial light, spectrally, to sun light, so they were easy to dial in. The Pars are physically bigger and heavier then Jokers, but use similar lenses and scrims. Wasp Plasmas are equivalent to around 650 watt HMI, but pull less then three amps.
Ariel diffusion became an important tool in creating atmosphere in the deteriorating environment. We used it to lift blacks, moderate contrast and catch the light. In the basement scene I wanted it to feel like the character was walking through a deserted bazaar, with strongly divided foreground, middle and background elements. The arial diffusion allowed me to easily draw the eye in this shadowy environment.
I came away from this film with a greater appreciation for my relationship to the director and to my crew. Benoit and I came very close to the images in our heads with such a tiny budget and the short hand that I had with Cory Lillard was invaluable in brining to light, quite literally, the images that we intended in preproduction.