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Behind the scenes - Mark Ronson: From the Heart

Behind the scenes - Mark Ronson: From the Heart

The hour-long BBC/YouTube Originals co-production documentary Mark Ronson: From the Heart was released at the end of 2019. The film delves into the mind of one of the most acclaimed music producers on the planet, Mark Ronson.

The project features exclusive archive footage as well as scenes shot as Ronson was preparing for the release of his latest album. Interviews include Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Boy George, King Princess, Lykke Li, Sean Lennon, Q-Tip, Rashida Jones, Zane Lowe and more.

It was directed by the award-winning filmmaker Carl Hindmarch (Rock and Roll, Pump Up the Volume), executive-produced by Anouk Fontaine at Livewire Pictures and shot by Edgar Dubrovskiy. We caught up with Edgar to learn more details about this multi-month multi-star production.

 

To start off with a dry factual question - what was the film shot on?

Mark Ronson: From the Heart was shot on a two-camera package of Sony FS7 Mk II, with Angenieux Optimo zooms and Canon K35s primes as a back-up for the low-light scenes. Since the K35s are converted to PL we didn’t need an adapter. The primes are slightly softer so the way they render skin tones and highlights is very similar to the Angenieux. All of this kit, plus a lighting package, was supplied by VMI.

 

When did you get the call for the job?

I actually worked with Carl earlier last year on the documentary Running in North Korea. We worked well together, I think, and were comfortable spending a long time in a stressful environment, so I guess off the back of that he gave me a call for his next doco, which was Mark's film.

 

How long did you get to set up the scenes and shots when filming this project?

I discussed the look of the film with Carl prior to the shoot. Our aim was to make the interviews feel analogue rather than digital - or ‘vinyl’, if you will. The key light was dropped physically lower, the colour shifted towards warmth with no unnatural backlight. I wanted a feeling of a ‘homely’ kind of interview setup. This was all discussed prior, but on the day it's a lot down to instinct and experience. You are lucky to recce the location prior to shooting on a doco though I was quite lucky on this job to visit some of the key interview locations for Mark prior to the shoot day.

Generally, as the schedule progresses it becomes a bit tougher to choose the locations and shots for the interview setups, as you still want them to feel engaging, and that means trying to avoid repetition. We had so many big contributors on the film, that by number 12 or 14, you were like ‘Wow! What else can we come up with in the wide shot?’

We usually had about an hour between arriving on location and needing to roll the interview. So not that much time to set-up two cameras and lights.

Our workflow was the tried and tested route from cards to hard drive for which we were fortunate on to have a second AC to manage data wrangling.

 

What was your team size on this?

We had two ACs and that's it... My 1st AC would usually look after the B-cam's framing on the wide-angle zoom, and I was focus pulling my own camera. It's all very hands on, which I love. There's a certain intimate connection with the subject when you use the most simple camera operating styles in a long-lens interview. Whether you pause your pan on a certain line or keep on moving can make all the difference to the emphasis the subject is making.

 

What's your relationship with the director on the non-interview days?

I felt that Carl trusts me, so he would usually give me the key beats he has to have. For example, when we shoot Miley Cyrus’ performance the key beats for him were her getting onto the stage and Miley acknowledging Mark while performing. In the New York record store we thought it would be good to run with the theme of Mark appearing in person but largely unrecognised by people.

But the exact shots I have to capture to tell these elements of the story is up to me. I come from a photography background, so I appreciate that even a single good shot is enough to tell the story. You don't usually need that much, but you need it at the right moment. The director trusts you to get it, and you trust the director to include the golden moments in the edit, and that all the hard work and sleepless nights weren’t for nothing.

 

To capture the golden moments one has to trust the gear… what was is like working with the FS7 Mk IIs?

I’ve probably shot over a dozen documentary projects with the FS7 so I have tremendous familiarity with the camera. Even when I travel abroad I find crews are familiar with it which really helps when you’re working with new people and you have limited time to set things up. But that’s not the only reason I selected the FS7 for this project. It’s more affordable than an ARRI Alexa Mini in addition to which it’s more lightweight. We knew we were shooting in lot of locations so the ability to set up quickly is important for us. I can use the onboard monitor and output wirelessly to other monitors. 4K wasn’t a consideration in this instance. We shot 2K for a 1080p full HD delivery for which the FS7 is perfect too.

The familiarity with the gear, its weight and menus hold a much bigger impact to me than some minor gains in the image processing of newer or more in-vogue gear.

The footage still grades gorgeously, especially if you look after the extremes on the waveform. Our grade was done by the brilliant Aidan Farrell at The Farm.

 

What was your experience working with VMI?

I’ve worked with Stuart at VMI over many years and projects and I really respect their knowledge of the kit and the whole production process. For instance, if your first option isn’t available VMI are really quick to figure out the best solution. Plus, they are logistically-minded and aware of what it takes to do a job overseas. They know how to package really well and offer various shooting kits so that everything fits into the smallest number of boxes. That can make a massive difference on price when a production is paying for every kilo in air luggage. VMI understand the carnet process and select and pack the kit to minimise transport cost.

 

 

DP, Edgar Dubrovskiy

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