Inspired by Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, the 61⁄2-minute film Kick Start Theft tells the story of Victor (Kimani Shillingford), a homeless man struggling to provide for his family on the streets of Los Angeles. When he finds a job as a courier, he pawns what little jewelry his wife, Nayeesha (Mickaelle Bizet), has managed to hold onto and then picks up a used motorcycle. The job goes well until the bike is stolen, after which Victor and his son, Kierky (Samuel Caruana), must embark on a desperate search for the thief (Frankie Ray).
Kick Start Theft was co-directed and co-shot by ASC members Frederic Goodich and Vilmos Zsigmond and written by Goodich. The filmmakers wanted to create a short that would showcase the capabilities of Sony’s F65 Cine Alta camera, and they discussed the idea with ASC associate member Peter Crithary, Sony Electronics’ marketing manager. Soon thereafter, ASC associate Amnon Band, president and CEO of Band Pro, offered the use of Leica lenses, which he markets, and came aboard the project as executive producer.
No F65 was available for testing prior to production, but the camera had been part of the ASC-PGA Image Control Assessment Series (AC Sept. ’12), for which Goodich had directed a sequence. “That gave me a sense of what the camera was capable of,” says Goodich, who was also involved in ICAS’s post workflow, which used the Academy Color Encoding System, or ACES.
He and Zsigmond elected to work primarily with Leica Summilux-C primes (18mm, 21mm, 25mm, 35mm, 40mm, 50mm, 75mm and 100mm). “Digital cameras are very, very sharp, often too sharp for my taste,” says Zsigmond. “Film grain has a softness to it, and the Leica lenses have that look. I think they’re more ‘human.’” Goodich adds, “They also capture an amazing amount of detail. They’re telecentric, which means the light rays come in more-or-less parallel so that the entire sensor gets the light in a much more equal fashion, and there’s less chromatic aberration. This produces an image that maximizes detail in the subject being photographed. Faces possess a creamy smoothness I find quite friendly.”
With an almost-final cut of the movie on his laptop, Goodich calls up a shot to illustrate another characteristic of the Leica lenses. In a day-exterior scene, Victor supervises as Kierky wipes down the newly acquired motorcycle; father and son are backlit by the sun, which is clearly visible in frame. A slight flare is evident, but what’s most notable is a spiked, starburst pattern around the sun. “That’s actually the pattern of the leaves of the Leica lens,” Goodich marvels.
“That’s a very difficult shot for digital and an excellent example of what the F65 can do,” says Zsigmond. “With bright sun hitting the lens, there is still detail in these shadows [on the backlit actors].”
Though most of Kick Start Theft was shot with the Leicas, the filmmakers also carried a Canon T2.95-3.7 30-300mm EF Cinema Zoom, which Zsigmond calls “a great zoom lens. I shoot all of my movies with zoom lenses; it’s such a convenient and fast tool for composing shots.” Goodich notes that the Canon zoom was a bit “warmer” than the Leica primes, but matching was not an issue because the zoom was never cut with the primes within the same scene.
Kick Start Theft was shot over five days in July, and AC visited the production on the fourth day, when the filmmakers were shooting the finale on location in the L.A. River basin. As Goodich and Zsigmond walked the basin and blocked the action with the actors, Zsigmond took frequent readings with his light meter. Even when shooting digitally, he notes, “I always light with the meter. I go around and see what incident level is there, I spot meter the actors’ faces, and I calculate that it’s all within the [camera’s dynamic] range. The things we do with film still apply with digital. Composition, light and shadow — that’s still what cinematography is about.”
Kick Start Theft demonstrates a consistent embrace of framing shots in depth, with layers of background information, including passers-by, buses, trains and the city skyline. “The characters’ relationship to the city is part of the story we’re telling,” Goodich emphasizes. To keep the characters contextualized within their surroundings, he and Zsigmond tended to stay on the wider end of their lens package, and for day exteriors, they regularly had the iris stopped down to T5.6 or T8. “We could have shot at a shallower stop by using a lot of ND, but that wasn’t the intent,” says Goodich. “With the deep focus, we were able to carry a lot of the city’s texture.” (The filmmakers did make regular use of Schneider Tru-Pol and Tiffen ND Grad filters.)
To add a touch of movement to some shots, the team utilized a Solid Grip Systems slider. For example, after a frustrated Victor has run off with someone else’s bicycle, the camera moves past and peers through a dirty window on its way to the corner of a building, where Victor is revealed to be surrounded by a group of people trying to prevent the theft. Moving the camera along the building allowed Zsigmond to motivate a slow zoom and hide a stop pull. “We needed a wider stop when we were looking through the dirty glass, and then we needed to close down the lens so we wouldn’t blow the highlights [at the end of the shot],” he explains.
Rating the camera at 800 ASA and framing for a final aspect ratio of 1.78:1, Zsigmond operated the camera himself. 1st AC Paul Janossy assisted throughout the production, and Zsigmond enthuses, “He was as good as anybody I’ve ever worked with.”
During AC’s set visit, the crew also picked up a number of shots beneath the 6th Street Bridge, in the tunnel that opens out to the river basin. Looking at the rough cut, Goodich and Zsigmond point to these shots as examples of the F65’s dynamic range. “The tonality of these shots is great, and it’s all natural light,” Zsigmond says, pointing to the details visible in the bright exterior beyond the tunnel in the background, as well as in the unlit actors and the tunnel walls in the foreground.
“We wanted to shoot as much as possible with available light,” says Goodich. While scouting, he and Zsigmond used the Sun Surveyor app on Goodich’s Android smart phone to determine the best time of day to shoot in each location. “We were lighting with a clock,” says Zsigmond, “like what Sven Nykvist [ASC] did with Bergman!”
When they did add light to a scene, they used Nila Boxer and NH LED units. One location where the LEDs were employed was the family’s ramshackle, open-air dwelling. Production designer Lawrence Kim assembled the exterior set, which was arranged between two old buildings near a disused railroad track. The filmmakers positioned three Nila fixtures to help illuminate the set at night — one lighting the motorcycle through a makeshift entryway comprised of stacked shipping palettes covered in tarps, one lighting Victor and Nayeesha at a weathered table, and one helping to define clothes hanging on a clothesline in the background.
Certain night exteriors, however, were shot in only available light. In one, Victor and Nayeesha ride the motorcycle toward their home. Their path takes them through a gas station where, Goodich notes, “the composition is like Ed Ruscha’s Standard Station painting.” The station’s mercury-vapor practicals are visible in the frame, as are background sodium-vapor streetlights, lending what Goodich describes as “a richness to the palette. The F65 has a forgiveness [toward mixed color temperatures] that I like a lot; it looks very natural.”
Throughout the shoot, 4K footage was captured via the SQ codec (which employs 3:1 wavelet compression) to Sony SRMemory cards. Each night after wrap, Band Pro technical consultant Randy Wedick backed up the data to two separate hard drives.
After principal photography ended, Zsigmond returned to his home in Big Sur, Calif., and the footage went to editor Gib Jaffe, ACE. While editing, Goodich explains, “I would take Gib’s latest cut, add the music and sound design by Ely Akl into Final Cut, and create a lower-res QuickTime file that I could put up on my FTP site, where Vilmos could download it.” Their approach to the edit, Goodich adds, was “to let the shots play out and let the audience really study what the camera can do.”
Once Jaffe locked the cut, the EDL was sent to Light Iron, where colorist Corinne Bogdanowicz performed the final grade with a FilmLight Baselight utilizing ACES. Both Goodich and Zsigmond were present for the grade, which Goodich says “went very fast. We had about five hours to grade more than 90 shots. Vilmos and I were impressed with the way everything went, which we attribute to ACES and, of course, to Corinne.
“Everyone at Light Iron was incredibly gracious,” Goodich continues. “I’m also especially grateful to Band Pro and Sony for making this [movie] possible.” Studying the rough cut and considering what they achieved in such a short time, Zsigmond offers, “When you have to do it, somehow you get it together. That’s the beauty of making movies.”
Kick Start Theft received its premiere at IBC in September and was subsequently screened at Cinec in Munich. It will be on display at Band Pro in the near future.