Michael Ragen’s equipment arsenal for The Art of Self-Defense shows that a DP’s best defense is a great on-set offense.
When we filmed The Art of Self-Defense in Kentucky in the fall of 2017, one of our biggest decisions was of course what camera we would use. Even though director Riley Stearns and I were only required to deliver 2K at the time, we wanted to shoot 4K and push for an additional color grade in HDR. So, after testing it on a commercial and a short film, I suggested to Riley that we use the Panasonic VariCam 35 and VariCam LT. These cameras gave us the latitude and resolution we needed to achieve our desired visuals, but the key deciding feature was Dual ISO.
(Dual ISO means the sensor reads two native ISOs instead of just one. This extends the dynamic range and reduces the level of signal noise produced.) This enabled us to shoot our tightly scheduled night sequences with a pretty small footprint exposing at 3200 ISO (pulled from 5000 ISO Native).
I knew I was going to have to bring some of my gear with me from Los Angeles. This included some lighting accessories that were hard to find, such as octo-chi- meras and soft grids for Skypanel S60s, some custom full-color LiteGear LiteMats, and a Digital Sputnik DS3 kit. These items made the difference when it came to moving fast with our small crew throughout production.
1. SICK BOY KNIFE WORKS MINI EDC CLEAVER / FACEBOOK.COM/SICKBOYKNIFEWORKS
2. KONG FROG CABLE CARABINER / $17 / THEOUTDOORWAREHOUSE.COM
Much easier to use than the standard clamp on an Easyrig.
3. ROSCO STEEL AND GLASS GOBOS FOR DEDOLIGHT AND SOURCE 4 LIGHTS / US.ROSCO.COM
Indispensable light modification tools for creating various sun-dappled or patterned lighting effects. Combining the glass and steel can help with making a more organic effect. If you want to get really tricky put them in a Rosco Gobo Rotator to add some motion.
4. VIVITAR DIOPTER SET / $60 / BHPHOTOVIDEO.COM
Up to +10 magnification that you can use for macro shots or lens effects and a lot cheaper than pro diopters which usually only go up to +3 magnification. I combine these with gobos for lighting effects as well.
5. MOONDOG ANAMORPHIC IPHONE LENS / $175 / MOONDOGLABS.COM
Sometimes all you need is your phone and some anamorphic flares to get an awesome shot. Combine with the FiLMiC Pro iPhone app to add a lot more control and less compression than the standard camera app.
6. DEDOLIGHT REFLECT MINI MULTI MIRROR / DEDOLIGHT.COM
Available in silver, gold, and blue, you can use these with the sun or Dedolight parallel beam sources for even more control to create some unique lighting effects.
7. YETI RAMBLER 36 OZ. WATER BOTTLE / $50 / YETI.COM
Don’t forget to stay hydrated out there.
8. APPLE PENCIL (2ND GENERATION) FOR IPAD / $129 / APPLE.COM
For doodling on the plane or drawing lighting diagrams on set. It’s easy to export a PDF and send out to your crew on the spot.
9. KINDLE PAPERWHITE / $129 / AMAZON.COM
Great for reading scripts without the eye strain caused by a com- puter screen’s refresh rate. Invert the screen for white on black text and it’s perfect for reading incognito at the bar.
10. THRUNITE TI3 FLASHLIGHT; CATALYST WATERPROOF AIRPOD CASE; NATIVE UNION KEY CABLE IPHONE CABLE / $15.95; $24.99; $29.99 / THRUNITE. COM; CATALYSTLIFESTYLE. COM; NATIVEUNION.COM
The Ti3 has an extremely low light “firefly” great for checking your f-stop on the lens on a dark set. The AirPod case keeps you from losing them and saves them if you ever fall in the ocean. The key cable is because no one likes living on the edge at one percent.
11. OSMO POCKET CONTROLLER WHEEL / $65 / STORE.DJI.COM
This is a new addition but I was shocked at how stable the foot- age is from this tiny handheld gimbal. It also shoots in Log color space allowing for a lot
of control when grading. This one is actually my second Osmo because sadly I fell off a boat into the ocean with the first. Stay safe…
12. DOG SCHIDT OPTIKS LENSES / RICHARDGALEOPTICS.UK
These are unique old lenses rehoused and redesigned by Richard Gale with customizable options such as interchangeable iris shapes and optical rear ele- ments that are either clean, dirty, sanded or cracked for all sorts of unique looks. You can order them with different lens coatings for variable levels of flaring. They are all based on a 58mm lens with adapters available to make them 28mm, 38mm or 88mm as well. The current versions include focus scales but the ones I have you need a rock-and-roll focus puller or you spend some extra time at prep dialing these into your focus system.
13. PANASONIC VARICAM LT / $9,995 / BHPHOTOVIDEO.COM
This is my personal camera we brought to be our second body. Even though we were a one-camera shoot, we used the LT for all interior and exterior car work, as well as hand held sequences, as it’s a much smaller and lighter body than the 35, but retains many of the features. Panavision Chicago provided the VariCam 35 as well as an extra PV mount for my camera so we could use the same lenses.
FAVORITE IPHONE APPS:
Cine Meter II, Cadrage Director’s Viewfinder, FiLMiC Pro, Sun Seeker. MM
The Art of Self-Defense opened in theaters July 12, 2019, courtesy of Bleecker Street. This article appears in MovieMaker’s Summer 2019 issue. Featured image: DP Michael Ragen (L) shows star Jessie Eisenberg (R) the art of small-crew shooting in between takes of writer-director Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense. Photograph by Isaac R. Harrison.