Brightwood Part 1: Riding Bikes!

Brightwood was a wonderful short shot in Friday Harbor, WA, and Fifth Door was contracted to do the lighting and the rigging. Brightwood is the story of two adorable little kids and their lives around the island with drug abusing parents. Connor Hair was the DP, shooting on the Red Epic, with director Gabe Gonda. This was our team’s second time working with this duo and it was a great experience.

In one scene, we were tasked to make a rig that shows our main character played by Lauren Brooks-Wilson riding her bike down a street, and one with her little brother played by Jonah Beres riding on the handlebars from a low angle. We decided a process rig was the best option for this shot. We acquired a flat bed trailer, mounted the bike towards the back of the trailer, and took the chain off of the pedals. This way Lauren can pedal all she wants, without worries about keeping balance. This is not only important for safety but also allowed her concentration on acting. I can’t stress enough how much consideration you should give to the safety of the actors.

Bike mount

After the bike was secured, we proceeded to light our subject. Our main drive path was a heavily wooded area that offered only pockets of light. To maintain a steady glow of sunlight, we placed an Arri M18 HMI at the corner of the trailer (HMI is a fancy light that simulates sunlight). An M18 was a bit strong for this purpose however the 1.2 HMI was not up to the task for various reasons. When securing a stand to a trailer you want to make sure it doesn’t wobble. We added a mounting plate at the base to anchored it, ratchet strapped the base of the stand, then reinforced with an arm from the shaft to the back trailer wall. Between Lauren and the light we put three layers of diffusion (Lee 250) to bring down the light level, and spread it. We secured both sides of the diffusion flag, PLUS added an arm on top. When putting flat and big on a moving vehicle there is no such thing as too secured. Safety is the key. It’s hard to see- pressed against the back wall is small 3k generator, aka gene (Gen-ni), which was just the right amount of power for the 1.8 HMI. Besides, it’s small size fitted the trailer.

Bike Light

Our next task was the camera. For this particular shot, it’d be a shame to limit yourself to just one position or angle. Our solution was a cheese plate dolly running along speed rail track. Regretfully our lowboy stands were not low enough for the angle so we ratcheted down two full apple boxes high. We could have put plates on them too but we were running out of plates. Therefore we ran ratchet straps through the boards of the trailer and finally attaching a safety line to the camera.

bike camera

We found a stump for Jonah to stand on while sitting on the handlebars. I rode along with our DP, Connor. In addition at the end of the trailer we placed one of my trusted Grips Kyle to make sure no one fell off the bike.

At first we tried to go down a gravel road, but a bumpy road does not lend itself well for this. We ended up going out on the paved road, amongst the trees. Below is the final product, keep in mind the still doesn’t do it justice! In the movie this shot is in slow motion and is pure beauty. For those who think this may be a lot of work for a shot, do consider that our actress was free to concentrate fully on her character, and not on avoiding a crash. The result speaks for itself, it was absolutely worthwhile.

brightwood screenshot

Let’s move onto a much simpler rig. We wanted to get a shot of Lauren riding around free, getting her perspective from the bike. The obvious choice was to mount the camera to the bike. Though it would be much more difficult than it sounds for two reasons: room and weight. The bike frame is small, and in order to get true leverage, the camera would be close to either the wheel or the peddles, which would impede the ability to ride. Regarding weight, a 9-year-old girl on a small bike weighs about the same as a Red EPIC with grip gear, unlikely to allow for a safe ride.

bike mount 2

As you can see above we stripped the camera down to its bare essentials- taping the filters onto the lens. We used a max of 6 knuckles, 1 cardellini clamp, and a cheeseplate, which weighed less than Lauren on the bike. Though we had to raise the camera up to a height that made it top heavy. So we arranged for a crew member to run behind the bike for support. Below is the result, which reminds me of a snorri cam shot from behind, except instead of connected to the subject, we’ve connected it to the bike.

brightwood screenshot 2

The only change I would make to that rig was a friend’s recent suggestion- extend a few arms similar to training wheels using wheels from a wheelchair. With the wider wheels you might be able to go over more areas, but also increasing stability.

Next we’ll be talking about the other parts of Brightwood. We did a lot of interesting rigging on this short, and as seen above we achieved some beautiful cinematography that I would put next to anything. Till next time!

More on the movie Brightwood can be found here

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