A Camera For The Story

CVP-propelled filmmaker Daniel John Peters takes us through making the feature film of his dreams – using the RED Komodo

Save Jane is a distressing story about a woman’s journey of self-destruction – and presents, in detail, how a person’s life can be turned upside down by a series of tragic events. It’s the work of multi-talented Daniel John Peters, a filmmaker who single-handedly wrote, directed, shot, edited and composed the feature – his first to date.

“I had been shooting shorts, but wasn’t getting anywhere. I was winning awards and expected agents to be waiting around the corner with a bunch of money for me to do a feature film, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” says Peters. “So, I thought screw it, I’ll do it myself – I sold all the equipment I had bought for corporate shoots, and decided to make a feature film with what I had left.”

For Save Jane, Peters bought a Sony A7 Mark III, but after some lighting tests, decided that the blacks in the shadows weren’t rich enough for what he wanted to create. He had previously owned a RED camera, and had a good experience with it. This time, his eye was on the Komodo – but, like the animal, these cameras can be hard to find.

“I reached out to Sam Measure – he’s one of CVP’s technical consultants and is especially knowledgeable about RED equipment. I was keen to buy one through them, but they were facing a huge backorder. So, he recommended a Facebook selling page and, oddly enough, I found a listing for a brand new Komodo,” he says.“I got in touch with Sam again and asked, ‘If I buy this camera from this person, who’d originally bought it from CVP, would I still be under warranty?’ He said of course, which was a relief. It’s one thing buying a new camera, let alone one that’s nearly £10,000.”

A perfect match

In the film, the eponymous Jane is expecting her first child with partner Rob. One evening, they rush to the hospital as she is about to give birth, but Rob has to go back home after realising he’s left the overnight bag. On his return, he’s involved in a collision, and Jane wakes up from labour to find out her husband was killed and the baby didn’t survive.

Peters explains: “I wanted to twist the story of trauma from the male perspective to the female perspective, because you don’t often see distraught women going down a rabbit hole of depression in film. It’s usually depicted from the male side, perhaps because it’s easier to show feelings of anger.”

Peters envisioned a moody, rich tone for this narrative, and the Komodo’s sensor was able to illustrate that perfectly – albeit with some slight underexposure.

“People will probably throw up reading this, but because I needed the blacks to be super-clean, and also wanted to create a certain creamy, atmospheric tone, I didn’t shoot in a very technical way. I had to work fast and knew that I would run into trouble if I lit too much in the sensor, so I shot and lit for 320 ISO,” he explains. “I think it looks perfect. It’s creamy and sharp without going too far – I really do love that sensor.”

The filmmaker had to work fast due to a tight budget. He planned to shoot the hospital scenes in Wales and London, with the rest of the film in his hometown of Bristol, but at almost £3000 a day, these locations were quickly vetoed, and the hospital scenes were captured in his living room.

“It wasn’t good because there was very little downtime for me and my other half. When I finished, there was just a load of camera gear and tape lying around. In the end, though, it will make me better. When I do have my own crew, I’ll know exactly what it takes, and when to be easy or hard on them – which, if you don’t know, you can sometimes take advantage of.”

With 70% of the film captured in his house, Peters was once again grateful for the Komodo. Its small stature and remote-controlled features enabled him to fit it in some cramped spaces.

“I had this tiny, cute camera that could be stuck in a fridge or baby crib, and because it comes with RED Control – which has certain controls through an app – I could focus pull remotely,” he explains. “There was no way to get into those tight places to do it manually – any movements I made would have been visible on camera. It was an amazing tool to have.”

Peters did have an older 28mm Sigma Art lens, but because the app handles new lenses much better, he upgraded to a newer version of the same glass. He initially envisioned shooting anamorphic – he’s fanatical about the look – but several tests revealed that a different route would better suit the story.

He explains: “In my mind, it was always going to be anamorphic – I’d just bought two Vazen lenses for the shoot. Then I lost my mind for three weeks because the Sigma lens looked so much better. The film is a story of isolation, so I guess the spherical, full 17:9 readout of the sensor lent itself to the narrative.”

Shooting with confidence

Filming took seven days to finish, with editing done the following day, and was achieved with a budget of £7000. While undertaking multiple production roles isn’t for the faint-hearted, Peters was assured that CVP had his back if anything were to happen to the Komodo – thankfully, it didn’t.

“I don’t want to jinx it, but I haven’t had a single issue with the camera – I even got caught in the rain one time and still had no problems. All the same, it was definitely a comfort to know I could get in touch with Sam,” he concludes.

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