“It’s a story about a couple getting married,” says first-time director David Scott Smith of his short film On a Tuesday. After a pause, he adds, “Actually, it’s more about a beautiful moment hidden within a busy life.”
For the most part, that describes how Smith and cinematographer Svetlana Cvetko approached the film: start with a broad concept and then dial into its deeper meaning.
Smith’s background is in motion-picture editing, which is how he and Cvetko met. An expatriate of the former Yugoslavia, Cvetko came to America in the late 1980s as a still photographer who was interested in making a transition into cinematography. She settled in the San Francisco Bay Area and took film classes through the University of California-Berkeley extension program. One of her first film projects was a documentary about the conflict in Bosnia, No War, which she shot and directed. After five trips to the Balkan Peninsula, she had accumulated a mountain of footage, and a friend introduced her to Smith, who agreed to cut the film for her. They have worked together in varying capacities ever since.
On a Tuesday
Many professional APS cameras come equipped with three different frame settings: the native 16:9 “H” frame, the 4:3 “C” frame, and the 3:1 “P” frame. Setting her camera to the P setting, Cvetko took a second look. “It was breathtaking. The space was just asking to be seen that way.” She handed the camera to Smith, who agreed they’d stumbled upon something unusual and exciting. “The story is a very simple one; what we needed was another layer of beauty to help capture the essence of the film,” he says.
Smith and Cvetko decided to shoot On a Tuesday in Super 35mm (using Kodak Vision2 5205 250D) with the intention of finishing on film. Smith scanned one of the panoramic APS photos they’d taken while scouting and used Adobe Photoshop to measure the image size, which was 3.18:1. Lee Utterbach in San Francisco provided the production with an Arri 535B and Cooke S4 prime lenses. The team couldn’t afford a custom 3.18 ground glass, so during prep, Cvetko shot a framing chart and matted off the picture area on all the video-assist monitors. Initially, the filmmakers were concerned the effect might not work in post, so Smith asked Cvetko to use 3.18 framing but shoot for 2.35 safe. 1st AC Tom Spingola mounted a masked 8" LCD monitor above the camera’s eyepiece so Cvetko could check the frame without straying from the camera, but even so, shooting for two different aspect ratios quickly became a troublesome experience. “It was really stressful on the first day,” says Cvetko. “I’m very obsessive about my composition, and switching between the eyepiece and the monitor wasn’t working for me. Shooting digitally definitely lends itself better to operating by a monitor, but with film, I really love that final check of looking through the eyepiece.”
This is one instance where the trust Cvetko and Smith had built paid off on set. “At the end of the first day, David saw my frustration and said, ‘Just go for it and we’ll make it work,’” she recalls. “He didn’t want me to have to constantly worry about whether it was better for 2.35 or 3.18.”
Once she was free to experiment more confidently with the panoramic frame, Cvetko discovered it offered as many challenges as it did opportunities. While the ultra-widescreen format proved ideal for isolating and accentuating the finer details of City Hall’s sweeping Beaux Arts design, it was less so for shooting singles of the two actors sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in conversation, as they do in one scene in the building’s rotunda. This scene, which takes place just minutes prior to the civil ceremony, is an important one for the couple and a defining moment for the style of the film. “We couldn’t get singles,” says Smith. “It wasn’t until Svetlana started exploring that she came up with this anti-framing, putting the groom far on the right in one shot, whereas traditionally he would be framed to the left. The same goes for the bride, who is framed to the left.” When the two shots are juxtaposed, they seem to bring the couple closer together.
Getting permission to shoot in and around San Francisco City Hall was a coup; the building had been off-limits to short-form productions for almost a decade in the wake of a feature-production accident that caused a devastating flood in the building’s rotunda. On a Tuesday was allowed to shoot there “because of our professionalism, because our crew size was 50, and because of our incredibly experienced gaffer, Arthur Aravena,” says Smith.
Smith and Cvetko knew they would be working under strict time and location limitations, so they made sure to block out every shot before a single frame of film was exposed, using the APS camera as a storyboarding tool. “I took photos that truly represented what I was looking for,” recalls the cinematographer. “On set, I was trying to match the framing of the stills and keep the natural element of the building. To me, there is no difference between cinematography and photography; I try to compose every frame so it looks like a still photo if you freeze it.”
As physical production drew near, Cvetko noticed the quality of the sunlight entering City Hall was changing from day to day. Three months had passed since the first location scout in January, when the winter sun was lower in the sky and entered the building’s windows more directly. By April, many of the naturally lit interior locations she had fallen in love with were doused in shadows. The unpredictable local weather didn’t help, either. “When we did the original scout, we were there on what were probably going to be the two most beautiful days of the year,” says Cvetko. “The day we actually shot it, it was probably the rainiest and darkest day of the year!” Fortunately, she knew ahead of time she’d be shooting almost wide open even on a bright day and placed an order for some big daylight-balanced lamps as backups. “Shooting in City Hall meant facing a challenging combination of some really bright places and some really dark places, and it was interesting to watch Svetlana work with Arthur to balance all that out,” notes Smith.
Production wrapped after two weeks of weekend shooting. Alpha Cine Labs in Seattle processed the footage, and Smith, who planned to edit the film, had the footage transferred to HDCam SR 4:4:4 masters at Encore Hollywood, where colorist Steve Porter collaborated with the filmmakers on the digital intermediate (DI).
Cvetko and Smith were so pleased with Porter’s work on the dailies that very little color-correction was needed at the DI stage. At that point, most of the work went into properly composing the film’s unique aspect ratio on the final print. Multiple finishing formats were considered, and in the end, the filmmakers decided a flat print hard-matted for 3.18 would be best.
The final transfer to film was performed at EFilm, and there was some concern about whether the HD online master transferred to 35mm would retain enough resolution for an acceptable theatrical presentation, “but when we saw the first test print, it looked fantastic,” says Smith. Cvetko adds, “We are both perfectionists, and we wanted to have as great a film as we could afford.”