When planning the production of Dog & Bone, an episodic series intended primarily for broadcast on mobile phones, director Andreas Hafele and cinematographer Darran Bragg had to consider the unique requirements of shooting imagery that would play well on tiny screens as well as theatrical ones. Former classmates at the Bournemouth University Arts Institute in the United Kingdom, the duo had previously collaborated on another cell-phone short, The Duel, which was shot entirely with a cell phone as part of a competition sponsored by Siemens.
Dog & Bone follows the hapless Mr. Q (Anthony James Berowne) as he attempts to phone in a pizza order while playing fetch with his dog, Ben. In a moment of confusion, he throws his phone to the dog, who immediately snatches it up and runs away. What follows is an ever-escalating series of escapades where Ben visits a tanning salon and a launderette and even takes a ferry ride, all with Mr. Q in hot pursuit. The film can be downloaded from the Web in five installments of 1-2 minutes each or viewed as a single film running 8 minutes long.
Taking the limitations of a small screen into account, Hafele and Bragg decided to shoot Dog & Bone with a straightforward approach to characters and content. “We wanted very simple, strong compositions and a geometric, frontal style,” says Bragg. “And we wanted to avoid fast camera movements and long takes.” They also wanted to achieve strongly desaturated colors that would suggest the character of an old postcard while referencing the journey of the canine star.
The film was shot in high-definition video over four days; Bragg used a Sony HDW-750 PAL camcorder and a set of Zeiss Ultra Prime 35mm lenses with a P+S Technik Pro35 Adapter. “I wanted to allow numerous takes for the dog to perfect his action without being restricted by the length of a roll of film,” says Hafele. “Using the Sony HDW-750 with 35mm cine lenses enabled us to achieve a rich cinematic texture while respecting the logistical and financial nature of the project.”
Bragg worked with a small set of Ultra Primes (T1.9) — 14mm, 20mm, 32mm, 40mm, 85mm and 135mm. “I knew I wouldn’t use things like a 50mm, because the idea was to be quite extreme in the establishing shots and the closeups,” he says. “We tended to work with the 20mm, the 32mm, or the 135mm. It was either very tight or very wide.” Using the P+S Technik Pro35 Adapter, however, proved challenging. “There are many things you have to be wary of when you’re using these adapters and 35mm lenses,” says the cinematographer. “I generally shot at T4 or T5.6, because once you reach T8 or 11 it becomes unpredictable; you start to get strange artifacts. How they manifest varies, but it’s usually a little noise.” The movie contains a long shot that is cut into short segments where the camera, fitted with a 135mm lens, is looking down the street as Mr. Q walks toward it. “We didn’t want to focus-pull during the shot, so were obliged to shoot at T8, and it didn’t work out as well as it could have,” says Bragg. “You don’t see the artifacts on a television, but you see them on a larger [screen].”
Bragg manipulated the look of the picture by changing the camera’s default values for the knee slope, detail level, Y-black gamma and other settings to the “BBC film look” settings. “I found that [with these manipulations], the highlights seemed softer and there was improved quality in the fall-off.” Aside from the camera’s internal ND filters and the occasional polarizer, he opted for minimal filtration. “Next time I will use 4-inch NDs with a mattebox, because the optical quality is greater.”
Much of Dog & Bone occurs outdoors, so lighting largely meant working with the sun and staging scenes at the most flattering angle. “Because we had to limit our exposure, we tried to place the actors so they were predominantly in the sun,” says Bragg. For most exterior close-ups on overcast days, he used a battery-powered 200-watt Arri Pocket Par gelled with Rosco 1/4 Atlantic Frost. “Production logistics meant we couldn’t use a generator, so the Pocket Par was an ideal way to lift the actors’ faces out of the background and provide a subtle flash in the eye,” he says.
Manpower was an issue — the lighting crew consisted solely of Bragg and gaffer Jan Bucknell — so Bragg chose not to use any large silks. For exterior close-ups on sunny days, he used a 4 ft.x4 ft. frame fitted with 1/4 Atlantic Frost. (The only time he didn’t use the diffusion frame was during the riverboat scene, when he was limited by equipment and crew restrictions.)
The two locations with interiors that had to be lit were the tanning salon and the launderette. In the tanning salon, Bragg used a 1.2K Par bounced off of foamcore as the key light for Tanya (Antoinette Sym), the shop’s proprietor. For her backlight and rimlight, he used an uncorrected 1K tungsten fixture, which was rendered warm on the camera’s daylight setting. For general fill, he placed a 2.5K Par outside the window behind her.
In the launderette, which is run by twins who move in tandem, Bragg turned off all of the existing fluorescent lights and covered the windows with black drapes. He then used Atlantic Frost to gel a 2.5K Par and a 1.2K Par equipped with medium-flood lenses and bounced the units into the white fiberboard ceiling to give the space a bright, stark quality. Bragg also placed a single tube from a 4 foot Kino Flo above the twins to pick up their hair and create a subtle reflection in the surrounding machines.
The filmmakers were determined not to show London in a familiar way, and this made the exterior shot where the dog approaches the launderette especially tricky. To ensure that no reflections of the surrounding buildings could be seen in the launderette’s windows, Bragg and Bucknell placed three Easy Lift Telescopic Stands outside the building and rigged them with goalposts across, then hung large swaths of black drape. “Andreas wanted to keep the launderette fairly mysterious from the outside,” says Bragg. “For the wide exterior shot where the dog walks into the launderette, we exposed for the outside and left the interior darker.” He used a 1.2K Par with a narrow-spot lens to rake a beam of light across the front of the vintage washing machines.
The shots on the ferry were also a challenge, because the number of people who could be on board was limited. Bragg couldn’t bring his gaffer, and he had to capture all the shots in the direct sun. “Fortunately, the skipper was able to orient the boat so the dog was always in the light. We shot while the boat was moving, so when we reached a certain point, the skipper would have to turn around and start again.” For the shot inside the boat’s cabin, Bragg used a 650-watt tungsten light powered by a small electrical converter.
Dog & Bone was finished at London’s Moving Picture Co., where it was graded by Thomas Urbye in a Quantel iQ suite. Urbye had met with Hafele and Bragg during prep to discuss the look they wanted to achieve. Bragg recalls, “Thomas suggested we would have the opportunity in the grading suite to create the look we wanted, so we shouldn’t force things too far in any direction during the shoot. We should hit the exposure towards the high end of the scale, so the image would have a broad dynamic range with all the highlights and shadow details present.”
One thing Urbye did was a great deal of sky replacement. Bragg and Hafele wanted the final film to have rich blue skies, so whenever they shot with a wide lens, they would shoot one pass of the scene with the actors, then keep the camera locked off, take a reading for the sky, and shoot another pass without any action. “We could then take one of our correctly exposed blue skies and have Tom paint it over the gray sky,” says Bragg. “It’s a very stylized look, but it works well for this film. [Post] went really well because everything was graded and onlined at one facility. If we saw one tiny element that we wanted to change, we could do that.” For the theatrical and DVD presentations, Urbye reframed the native 16x9 footage at 1.85:1.
By all accounts, the biggest challenge of the production was working with the canine hero. “Multiple tasks like stopping on a mark, holding his eye line, and keeping the phone in this mouth during a London heat wave proved quite a challenge,” says Hafele. “I think, however, that the Frankfurt sausage treats he received after every shot helped to motivate him.”