Monday, November 13, 2006

Reprint from Kodak on Just Like the Son

reprint from Kodak In Camera — October 2006
Feature Films
Just Like the Son
A road movie with a sense of grandeur.....

Just Like the Son
Cinematographer, Yaron Orbach, taking an exposure reading at night

Hurricane Streets, Morgan J. Freeman's debut feature, won the Audience, Best Director and Cinematography Awards at the 1997 Sundance Festival. Freeman, not to be confused with the Oscarwinning actor, was the director. His latest venture is an independent feature called Just Like the Son.

The lead character is a petty thief who takes an orphan under his wing. Things get complicated when the thief kidnaps the boy and begins a cross-country trek towards Texas. Freeman teamed up with cinematographer Yaron Orbach, a native of Israel, who studied filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

The filmmakers considered whether to shoot in the Super 16 film format or in high-definition digital video. They opted for Super 16 film in part due to cost savings in post-production. Orbach envisioned a road movie with a sense of grandeur that communicated the wide-open spaces through which the characters travel. He suggested framing the images in a widescreen 2.4:1 aspect ratio.

Freeman and producer Jamin O'Brien requested to see some tests before approving the proposed aspect ratio. "The script called for a simple, organic visual language based on natural, available light," the cinematographer says. "We wanted to focus attention on the characters and not the cinematography. I knew that we'd be on the road, capturing all these environments, and HD would not work for such a filmic story with so many day exteriors."

"The question became how to give the film widescreen scope while shooting in the Super 16 format," he says. "I shot tests with a couple of stocks, and did DIs of about a minute's worth of film at PostWorks in New York. They did a bit of color correction and made an anamorphic print on 35mm film. When we saw the print, we knew there wouldn’t be a problem making the film that way. There was virtually no loss in the quality."
Just Like the Son
Mark Webber and Antonio Ortiz enjoy a private moment

Orbach ordered a ground glass with the widescreen aspect ratio. He exposed the full frame, however, which allowed reframing later if necessary or desired.

After testing a range of films, he chose KODAK VISION2 500T 7218 film, "because of its grain structure and consistency. I used that stock for the entire film — day, night, interiors and exteriors. That was partially for simplicity and also because the slightly grainy look gave the film an extra little bit of character."

He covered the action with an ARRI SR3 camera mounted with T2 Zeiss 35 mm lenses. "It was important to use the pristine glass," he says. "The speed and resolution helped us."

Hostess trays and hood mounts were used for car shots. Sometimes the picture car was towed with a horse trailer carrying lights. For some shots Orbach aimed a 6K or 4K HMI with diffusion through the windshield. Other times he shot with available light.

Post-production, including the digital intermediate, was done at Goldcrest Post in New York City. The colorist was John J. Dowdell III.

"We made some subtle alterations," says Orbach. "The New York material is cooler and the colors are not as rich. As the two characters warm to each other, the film warms up and the colors become more lush."

"I recently saw the finished film at the Tribeca Film Festival," says Orbach. "There's something slightly meditative about it. It's very simple and natural, not too flashy. I got somewhat lost in the calmness of it, which seems rare nowadays. I'm very pleased that our minimalist approach worked out so well.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Just Like the Son Gets Great Early Buzz at 21st Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival

JUST LIKE THE SON (reprinted from today's Miami Herald)
Independent filmmakers often describe their movies as labors of love, even though the films themselves can look like cynical calling cards to the Hollywood film industry. But the coming-of-age drama Just Like the Son genuinely feels like one from the heart. The story centers on Daniel (Mark Webber), a trouble-prone 20-year-old sentenced to community service at an elementary school after his latest arrest for thievery.

Under the supervision of the school's principal (Rosie Perez), Daniel befriends 6-year-old Boone (Antonio Ortiz), a cherubic kid with a giant-sized afro and a single mom struggling with terminal illness. When his mother is hospitalized, Boone is shipped off to a state orphanage -- a resolution Daniel finds unacceptable.

So instead, Daniel steals a car, ''kidnaps'' the willing Boone and heads out on a road trip to Dallas, in hopes of reuniting the boy with his older sister. Writer-director Morgan J. Freeman, whose 1997 debut Hurricane Streets also centered on disaffected youth trying to find their way to adulthood, devotes most of Just Like the Son to the bond that develops between Daniel and Boone. Well played by Webber and Ortiz, the two boys become a would-be father-son team in which the father is still figuring out how to become a responsible, self-sufficient adult.

Unlike most road movies, Just Like the Son doesn't throw too many misadventures at its protagonists: Instead, the film settles for allowing Daniel and Boone to get to know each other and form the kind of familial relationship that's missing in their own lives. Sweet and tender without being sentimental or cloying, it's the kind of personal, heartfelt picture that gives indie films a good name. -- R.R.

Mark Webber, Antonio Ortiz, Brendan Sexton III, Rosie Perez
Writer-director: Morgan J. Freeman
Producers: Gill Holland, Jamin O'Brien, Matthew Parker
90 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. Plays at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and 9 p.m. Nov. 14 at Cinema Paradiso.