During pre-production of the short film Observatory Blues, I floated the idea of pre-flashing our film stock. It felt in line with the slightly aged feel we wanted to bring to a short made with modern film stocks (7219). My favorite example of the process is probably Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, shot by Vilmos Zsigmond, and because Altman is a muse to all of the filmmakers involved in this production, it felt right.
Flashing is a method of pre-exposing the film to low levels of light (usually with colored gel to give it a specific hue, particularly in the shadows), rewinding the stock and then shooting it normally during your scenes. To do this, I first wanted to test the process using a variety of colored gels. I chose two warmer gels and one cooler gel for opposition with the hopes of seeing how different colors would actually affect our image, specifically the shadows and how it would lift contrast. The film test above is the result. In the video, you see the untreated film stock, then a simple contrast adjustment and finally a very quick unsupervised lab correction which was done at Metropolis Post in NYC. Kodak was kind enough to give us one 400’ roll for the test so we could only do so much in the test but towards the end you will see a 1.5 stop change in levels of flashing with the blue gel to see how much the flashing actually affects the image.
00:00 - 2:57 The first pass is the raw stock, untreated. It ends with a side by side comparison of the three flashing treatments.
2:57 - 5:38 The second pass is a very quick contrast correction done in premiere. It also ends with a side by side comparison.
5:38 - 7:15 The third pass is pulled from the unsupervised color corrected versions that the lab did, knowing we were trying to keep test the flashing and again ends with a side by side.
7:15 - 7:58 is a nightmarish hollywood squares of all of the tests side by side.
The test concludes with just a few more shots with our remaining 400' roll, mostly exterior. Towards the end (10:41) we changed the exposure on the flash of the full CTB to see how noticeable a few stops difference would be and it is pretty clear.
If anyone has any questions about the flashing process or anything particular to this test, feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Observatory Blues can be seen here in full: vimeo.com/219242516
Directed by Eric Johnson and Conor Dooley
Starring Tom Schiller and Amy Sedaris