Everyone knows the classic [Insert Profession Here] Triangle: Fast, Good, Cheap…you can pick any two. When Michael Rubenstein set out to make a short film with small crew, a limited budget and on a tight deadline he was working in defiance of that well-worn maxim.
“I wanted to make a film at night and in low light. Since I live in New York and I love New York, I couldn’t think of anything better than filming in New York City at night.”
And so began a two and a half-week odyssey from initial concept to finished project which Rubenstein and his filmmaking partner Nicholas Laclair shot with a crew of 6 using the Sony α7S II and the FS7.
We reached Michael Rubenstein at his home in Manhattan to learn more about the making of An NYC Night
Alpha Universe: What was the genesis of the project?
Michael Rubenstein: I worked with a friend of mine who I work with occasionally on projects, and we sat down, and we brainstormed what we wanted to do over some coffee and some beers, and we teased it out. It was one of those things where we didn’t want to just walk around the city and film pretty things. We wanted to have a narrative thread that brought viewers through the video.
The idea behind it was to shoot it like I would shoot with a small crew on an advertising or indie film shoot pro-shoot. If a client came to me and said, “Hey, we want content for our brand. This is the idea that we have. Can you make it happen?” If they came to me and said that, I would say, “Well, here’s my small crew. Here’s what we need to do to make it happen." We had five or six people on set with us including Michael Hanz a great hair and makeup guy, me and Nick, a First AC, a grip and a PA. In addition to leading the production, Nick and I ran cameras. It was small crew situation. So that’s how we approached it and It worked out really well.
Alpha Universe: What did you use to shoot?
Michael Rubenstein: As far as video cameras we used the α7S II, and we used the Sony FS7. A combination of the two. We used the α7S II for most of the low-light and night shots. We used both the α7S II and the FS7 when we were in regular light situations like at the beach, or in bright daylight for two camera coverage.
Alpha Universe: Is there an advantage to using the pair of Sony cameras when you’re shooting a project like this?
Michael Rubenstein: Absolutely. You can absolutely use the α7S II in daylight, and we did. We shot a lot of the film in daylight with both cameras, and because both cameras can support SLog3, it was easy for us to do a color grade with the two cameras because they both work in the same types of color space. One of the reasons we used the FS7 is because Nick, my partner in this, is used to using that camera. It’s the camera that he owns and uses regularly. Using the two cameras together makes editing much easier. They’re part of the same Sony ecosystem. They're built to work together, and they do very well.
I think that for a low-budget indie or a small-crew commercial shoot, that these cameras work very well in conjunction with each other. They’re either ownable or rentable at a reasonable price, and they work well together. If you’re going to shoot on a gimbal and in low light, and you don’t have the budget to go for huge, expensive stabilization equipment, and big-production cinema cameras, using the α7S II and FS7 cameras in conjunction with each other can absolutely give you a very highly-polished final visual product within a limited budget.
Alpha Universe: You mentioned that the α7S II was used for most of the low-light footage?
Michael Rubenstein: The α7S II is amazing. In the film everything is available light except for some of the shots in the bar where we lit it a little bit. We were shooting with the α7S II at ISO 25,600 and 51,200 ISO and it looks good!
Alpha Universe: A lot of the footage looks hand-held. Was there a reason other than aesthetics that you worked this way?
Michael Rubenstein: Almost all the project is hand-held. There are a few places where we locked down, or we used gimbals, but for the most part it’s hand-held. Because we did the production so fast, and we did all of the shooting in three and a half days, we didn’t have time to get permits from the city. The rules with permitting for the city are such that if you don’t have tripods and light stands and things that are touching the ground then you don’t need to permit. Because we were such a small production we made the decision to shoot mostly hand-held so that we could keep the permitting to a minimum and actually we ended up shooting such that we didn’t need any.
Also, because of the in-body stabilization in the α7S II, we were able to shoot hand-held that and it wasn’t a problem. Between the stabilization and because we were shooting in 4K—which gave us the latitude to steady some scenes in post—we didn’t have any problems. If we had tried to hand-hold the entire film without stabilization, without shooting in 4K so that we could stabilize in post we wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Alpha Universe: So you were shooting everything in 4K to deliver in HD?
Michael Rubenstein: You got it. We shot everything in 4K. Every last bit. Then we delivered it in HD.
Alpha Universe: What lenses did you primarily use?
Michael Rubenstein: We used a lot of lenses. We used the 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master, the 85mm f/1.4 G Master, 35mm f/1.4 Sony lens and I also used the 90mm macro and the 28mm f/2.0 on our gimbal camera. They all worked great. They're very nice, very sharp, very pretty lenses and they work great especially if you’re using autofocus.