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A DISCUSSION WITH SHELLY JOHNSON ASC

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Vic Branch: On The Apple Box - Conversations in Close Up

Having endured the greater part of 2020 under lockdown, curfews, and masks in Melbourne, it was an extremely pleasant and well-received event when we were able to socially gather together again as ACS members and warmly welcome American DP, Shelly Johnson ASC to one of our On The Applebox talks. Shelly is in town shooting the action feature “Blacklight”, directed by Mark Williams and starring Liam Neeson.

We held it at the classic old South Melbourne pub, Bell’s Hotel, in the beer garden. It was an area that allowed for plenty of open-air and space we could cordon off so that we could comply with the Covid-safe rules (which thankfully are far more relaxed in Melbourne now having gone hard early). We were allowed to gather together without masks but still mindful of distancing.

The turnout was fantastic not surprisingly given the draw of Shelly. It sold out in 24 hours. The Vic Branch decided to keep this as a member-only event, as we had to keep numbers to about 30 and wanted to allow the best opportunity exclusively for those who see the benefit of ACS membership. It was so nice to see all our friends and colleagues in the flesh again. The joy was palpable. Wide smiles abounded and everybody took the chance to catch up on the
goss, both before and after Shelly’s talk.

Shelly was a dream. He spoke so eloquently and humbly for a cinematographer who has achieved so much and shot so many wonderful films. The audience was captivated and offered up plenty of questions for Shelly over the almost 2-hour event. We had a monitor brought down so we could show clips, and Shelly had emailed a mate in the States to ask him to send over some clips for the film he most recently shot for Apple TV+ called “Greyhound”.

The film was directed by fellow ASC member and cinematographer Aaron Schneider ASC and starred well-known history buff Tom Hanks. We learned all about the complexities of shooting a film set in WWII on a naval destroyer ship. It was filmed largely on stage using a motion gimbal to move the ship realistically. Hand-Held was used for 100% of the film and the Cam Ops and 1st AC’s were all up on board the rocking gimbal for weeks. You can imagine the hardship of that, especially if you get seasick. Shelly chose to use a white shoot-off rather than green/blue screens to key the backgrounds of the ocean against. This allowed him to use the colour of the materials to light the set and cast by blasting ARRI Sky panels from behind the shoot-off creating a beautifully soft and colour accurate source of light that wrapped around and could be programmed through a deck to any level, colour tint, and pattern. Shelly said it worked a treat and the VFX team was able to work very fast with it. It also meant they didn’t have to deal with green reflections on the myriad glass and wet surfaces of the ship set. Then he added the atmos of sea spray, rain and smoke and the film came to life.

Shelly also spoke about his career and the challenges all DP’s face in this ever-changing industry. He is one of those guys you feel like you have known for years after only 15 minutes together. So open and approachable. And super knowledgable. He also mentioned on a couple of occasions how impressed he is with his crew on Blacklight, and how their enthusiastic support has given him the freedom to really push his work to the highest standards on the shoot. The time sped past but Shelly was in no rush to leave, so he was quickly surrounded by curious members wanting to talk with him longer. The feedback after the event was very encouraging and we plan to put on as many of these types of events as we can in 2021 to make up for the drought of 2020. Our next plan is hopefully some
screenings and QandA’s. 

by Warwick Field ACS

 

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