DALLAS—I was fortunate to have a busy early career of consistent work on low-budget features, then two seasons shooting second unit and three seasons as the main director of photography on “Chicago Fire.” Following that show I moved back to features until the pandemic hit and I finally had some down time.
Recently I was brought in as the DoP for a new drama series shooting in Dallas. The unconventional thriller, “Cruel Summer,” takes place in a small Texas town over the summers of 1993, ’94 and ’95. Popular teen, Kate, goes missing and Jeanette, a sweet, awkward outlier, goes from being the most popular girl in town to eventually becoming the most despised person in America.
It’s a dynamic story. My philosophy is that powerful visual storytelling comes from collaboration—the director, producers and crew pitch ideas and we go with the best ones. One of my functions is to coordinate how the set runs, and the pandemic brought unique challenges.
ADJUSTING TO THE NEW NORMAL
Safety protocols called for compliance with a zone system that included three Covid tests per week and new working practices. I had my own video village but I didn’t spend much time in the tent. Being very hands-on, I am constantly moving—I’m one of the only people without a chair on set.
The camera package consisted of two Alexa Mini’s with Panavision Primos and wireless transmission via a Teradek Bolt transmitter and four receivers positioned with the focus puller, DP station, director’s monitor and distribution station. Everyone on the team needs visuals, so Teradek’s Serv Pros and Links allowed multicam viewing. Other crew—from hair, to assistant directors, to the boom op—used Teradek’s VUER live video monitor app on their personal devices.
The proliferation of monitors on set has been a major change. No longer just for ACs to use for focus, screens are everywhere and on our set most are SmallHD. The operators have SmallHD 703 7-inch Ultrabrights on camera, the ACs have 13-inch 1303 HDRs and the directors have 1703 17-inch reference-grade monitors.
There’s always a SmallHD within 10 feet of me so I can stay on set to talk to everyone. I can go adjust a camera, then run and talk to the director; I can check waveform and false color with a button press on any SmallHD monitor—and I know they will all match. It’s a real benefit to my working style.
SmallHD has become a secret weapon for us because our show is so ambitious. The story follows multiple characters and, time-wise, jumps between three different years, making it a fun creative, visual and editorial challenge. It makes shooting for transitions and edits crucial.
One day the director wanted a pretty specific match cut. We tried SmallHD’s “Image Capture” function for a particular shot and used “Overlay” to quickly line up the image. That would usually require significantly more time, but the director and I were amazed at how fast and useful this function was on the SmallHD monitor. We were soon doing exact matching of shots quickly on the fly: a closeup of a character one year and an exact match cut of the character in a different year—or a different location, or another character—enabling more creative choices. It’s become a signature tool we use on virtually every episode. Now the SmallHD capture and overlay capability is a vital part of my toolbox.
“Cruel Summer” premiered on Freeform, April 20, then on Hulu the next day, and will stream on Amazon International in the future.
Jayson Crothers is a director of photography who lives in Los Angeles. He can be reached at www.jaysoncrothers.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, contact SmallHD at 919-439-2166 or visit www.smallhd.com.
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