Earlier we reported that the first released footage of the new RED Helium sensor was graded with the help of our LUTs. In order to learn more about the workflow, what’s it like to work with 8K .r3d files and what did it take to make ‘The Underdog‘, we sat down (well virtually) for an interview with Jonny Mass, the man behind the short film. At only 19, Jonny is one of the most talented young filmmakers out there.
First, if you haven’t watched it yet, here’s is the short in half its glory in 4K.
So tell me a little about yourself
“My name is Jonny Mass and I am a filmmaker based out of Roseville, CA. I’m the Director and Co-Founder of Abandon Visuals a production house that specialises in creating innovative film, TV, and commercial content.”
For how long have you been a filmmaker?
“I’ve been into filmmaking for around 6 years but seriously got into it 2 years ago when I Co-Founded Abandon Visuals. From there, things took off…”
What made you pick up the camera in first place?
“I used to be into lots of different action sports when I was younger and I was always making videos of my friends. That’s when I bought my first DSLR and starting shooting everything I possibly could.
Now that I look back on it I can remember a specific time where it went from just filming wide shots of them as they flew by, to actually directing the motion and setting them up for different sequences. It just kept progressing from there as I ramped up production quality and talent.
I began to get into photography where I started shooting for a few magazines in my area and shortly after that I began shooting weddings. At the time I was still in high school so it was great money and if it meant I never had to work for anyone, than it was good enough for me. I never grew up wanting to be a movie director although I loved the art of cinema.
In this day and age it’s different, it’s no longer go to film school and work your way up from a PA. I saw a different route… that’s what ultimately led me to the position I’m in now doing the projects I’m passionate about, with clients I’ve dreamed of working with. I love advertising and everything that surrounds it, from dealing with agencies to pitching the concepts, to executing the productions.
I think like anything, you need to sit down and think of everything in the most realistic way possible. At what age I’d be where I am if I went to film school, amassed a large amount of debt, interned at a large production company, worked my way up, decided to go freelance, and then have to build an entire portfolio and client base? This was the question that I asked myself and what ultimately led to me finishing my senior year of high school early and creating Abandon Visuals.”
Is it the same things that get you going today as it was back then? If not, what is it now that drives you?
“Absolutely, anything that revolves around action I’m in game. I love to get the camera moving as much as possible when it’s fitting the story.
Telling stories that everyone can connect with is what drives me the most. If I can make you feel a certain way in one of my films whether that be excited or sad I’ve done my job correctly and that’s what I love most about filmmaking.”
Tell me about the RED Helium video. How did that happen?
“I think like anyone we are all constantly analysing our work, our relationships, our creativity, and our ability to succeed. This world we live in is sink or swim and if you want to succeed you must be constantly self improving and pushing forward. I did over a year of strictly client projects with nearly zero passion projects and it was killing me slowly. I know from other people in the industry that if there isn’t a healthy balance you can get burnt out very quickly.
As I thought about all of this I realised it was time to start creating again just as I had when I first started. Creating just to create. The first passion project I shot after coming to this realisation, Jarred Land shared it on his Facebook. I thanked him for sharing it and sent over a link to another recent film I had created in which he replied:
I have this thing called Helium and I’m ready to just out into the world and maybe you can be the one to do it.
He is a man of his word.”
What were the obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?
“Time was the biggest obstacle without a doubt.
There was ZERO time for this shoot. From the moment I got the green light I was working until 3 AM every night to ensure everything was ready for our 23 hour shoot on Tuesday. This film ideally needed to be shot over the course of 3 days but it just wasn’t possible considering the deadline so it all had to be crammed into one day. I mean I didn’t even have the main talent locked down until the night before the shoot.
However, everything came together quite nicely and everyone pulled through.
Another obstacle we faced was the extras for the crowd in the underground fight club scene. The schedule for the shoot was insane and the fighting scene took place from Tuesday at 9 PM to Wednesday at 5 AM. Midway through that time frame, the extras started to leave so I had to devise a plan to shoot all of actual fighting with crowd in the background as quickly as possible.
We ended shooting all of the wide shots for round 1 and 2 first and then I let the extras leave. From there we did corner ring shots, compressed shots of both rounds, and the final knockout shot.”
Filmmaking is all about problem solving and this shoot was one big equation that needed to be solved throughout all 23 hours.
How was it working with 8K files? Tell me a bit about the workflow.
“Workflow wasn’t too much of a hassle.
We figured that Premiere Pro wouldn’t have support since the camera was unreleased. So the RED techs gave us the latest version of REDCINE-X Pro, which was unreleased at the time. With that version we were able to transcode the footage to ProRes. We did a few test exports with the RED techs in various formats, resolutions, and bitrates and found the fastest option would be a 2K ProRes 422 LT file.
After everything finished transcoding we edited the 2K footage in Premiere Pro in an 8K timeline. Once the edit was locked, we sent an xml of the timeline over to REDCINE-X Pro and batched all the .r3d clips into a bin.
Next we created an export preset for 8K ProRes 4444 and exported all of the 8K .r3d files that were used in the locked edit. Once the 8K files were exported, we replaced the used 2K ProRes files with the 8K ProRes files.
Finally we graded the footage and then began exporting the final cut.”
Tell me a bit about the workflow of the color grade.
“We had the LUTs loaded into Premiere Pro. Using Lumetri we were able to cycle through the LUTs until we found the desired look for each scene.
Once the ideal look was set, we tweaked the exposure adjustments and minor white balance.
Lastly, we applied a secondary Lumetri layer and used the HSL panel to adjust skin tones with precise control.”
Which LUTs did you use?
For the flashback scenes we used Cassiterite from the contemporary color films category of the Professional Package for the more flat and warm look.
In all of the main boxing scenes we used the freely available Hilutite for the blue, slightly higher contrast look.”
The color directly correlates to different times from the past to the present during the story.
Would you say that without the LUTs you wouldn’t be able to turnover this fast?
“Without the LUTs we would most definitely have a much longer process in achieving the desired look than I envisioned. Being able to cycle through the LUTs quickly was key to the quick turnaround.”
What is it that you most like about our LUTs?
“The vast library of solid LUTs really helps us play with different looks and see the various emotions that we can convey. Having precise control over the look is extremely important especially in a projects like this where the turnaround is so short.”
Could you share with us your thought on RED Helium’s image? Any advice for shooters using our LUTs with RED cameras?
“RED did an outstanding job with this new sensor, like they do with all of their sensors. The dynamic range and the lowlight performance in Helium were outstanding.
We shot ISOs as high as 3200 without a spec of noise, truly impressive.
The color data recorded in the .r3d files is madness as well. We are able to load various LUTs onto the clips and just about every LUT looked magnificent.”
What would you say is the most important thing you have learned about color grading?
“Color contributes greatly to how the film feels and the emotions that it evokes.
From years of filmmaking and watching movies we are able to associate certain color grading with certain types of films. Knowing what certain color triggers what emotions in the viewer’s brain gives me the ability to have a ton of control.
For example in ‘The Underdog’ there are 3 different types of color grading.
For the boxing match scene I went for a very dark blue grade, the training flashbacks were all slightly more flat and warm, and the childhood flashbacks were very warm and bright.
The color in this case set the tone for each of the scenes so when we are cutting back and forth between the fighter outside and walking into the match there is a clear difference between what is the past and what is the present. The same goes for the flashback to when he is a child, showing a very warm and bright scene evoked a sense of nostalgia showing very clearly that it was his first time ever in a boxing gym.”
Let’s talk a bit about camera motion. It’s hectic, it’s fast, it’s on fire. Tell me about that.
“Over the years, I believe the most important thing I’ve learned is directing motion properly. A good example of this can be seen in ‘The Underdog’ when I had the camera push in really fast as our underdog was hitting the box bag. The aggressive camera move, mixed with the quick punching against the bag with sweat flying off, showed just how devastating those punches really are.
We had a few POV shots from the trainer’s perspective as the underdog was hitting the mitts. We added some lens distortions as he hit the camera, to emulate what it would look like from the trainer’s perspective ultimately making the viewer feel like they are in the ring.
A few more examples of using motion to motivate the camera’s movement are when we tracked up from his feet to a full body on the Tero, followed a punch from the underdog to the champ during the fight, and when we followed the kid’s hand on the boxing bag. All of these moves tell a story in a certain way.”
What do you mainly shoot today?
“My work is split 50/50 with viral web films and commercial jobs. Whether it be a supercar drifting down a mountain in Japan, a CVS commercial, or a boxing short film for Red Digital it’s within my range of work. My passion is primarily for high action subjects such as cars, bikes, athletes, etc.”
What is it you like about it?
“Action sports are my roots. It’s second nature to me. I know what looks good shot in what angle with what lens. I love to get the camera moving and to bring the intensity of whatever the subject is to my viewers. Being able to take what I see in my mind and to bring that vision to life is my greatest passion.”
What is your advice to the less experienced photographers out there?
“Shoot, shoot, and just when you think you’ve shot enough, keep shooting. If you work hard and you are passionate about the images you create you will move forward at lightening speeds.
There is no time to sit around and contemplate what you should or shouldn’t be doing. You should be doing everything you possibly can to get your name out there.”
Filmmaking is about collaboration so start connecting with as many people as possible and start making magic.
Thank you Jonny for taking the time to do this interview. It was a pleasure! Keep doing the excellent work that you’re doing.
Jonny was kind enough to share with us some 8K frames from his short.
Download them here. Edit: Download no longer available.