Sunday 29 November 2020

Home - Academic - Frames: “Run On” in 24 Frames by Adam Newport-Berra

24Frames: On the second Installment of “Frames,” Adam Newport-Berra shares his unique experience on the making of “Run On,” a Grand Jury Award nominee in SXSW Film Festival 2020. Along with his many notable work, Adam has shot “The Last Black Man in San Fransisco,” that earned him a nomination in the main competition section of Camerimage 2019. You can now watch “Run/on” on Vimeo Staff Picks Premiere by clicking here.




The Cinematography of “Run On” in 24 Frames

By Adam Newport-Berra




This film plays as a single continuous moment. With that said, the “Frames” I am selecting are simply from the same conceptual shot. While some of these notes regard my intentions for the film, a lot of what I have written are things I have discovered after the fact; Impressions made in the process of creating and watching the film. I won’t pretend that everything I’m recognizing here was meticulously planned. A lot of it was born out of the magic of collaborative filmmaking. A ton of hard work, some technical knowledge, some talent, and some luck.



Daniel always wanted this short film to feel cyclical. As he described it to me, the film itself was about breaking karmic loops and thus should have a repeatable, never-ending feel to it. We shot a number of out-of-focus shots to run the titles over that he also planned to end the film with, so that the film could play as a loop. These lights feel abstract and magical, but in reality, they are just generic streetlights and signs on a Brooklyn street next to one of our locations. Daniel and I loved the simplicity of this approach, and when combined with Ana Project’s amazing hand-made-direct-to-emulsion animated titling, it perfectly captured the simple yet magical realism of the moment, cueing up a very specific tone for the film to come.




The opening sequence seamlessly floats into our hero, Luke, who plays with a fidget spinner on his head. I let the world around him fall to darkness to emphasize his singular existence in the world of this film. Again, this normally banal moment is elevated by our lighting and camerawork. We used strong pops of red to contrast the green of the toy, and to create a hyper-saturated world that reflects Luke’s own child-like perspective. This red simultaneously worked to build tension and also bolstered the police lights we create coming from the parking lot. In most cases, this would be a terrifying scenario for a child, but it’s clear these environments are not foreign to Luke. Within only a few seconds we are able to provide context and backstory, simply. This is one of the few moments I used nonpractical lighting. Two Skypanels were used to create the red light on the right and the police lights on the left.




Much of the film centers around Luke and his mother. It’s urgent, tactile, and mysterious. Daniel wanted the film to flow as a single shot, so we opted to shoot handheld so I could react to the actor’s performances in the moment. I spent most of my time revolving around Luke, adjusting my compositions slightly to accommodate immediate, spontaneous moments like this one. I love the 25mm focal length for moments like this. It is an intimate lens that forces me to be physically close to my subject when I want a close-up. As an audience, we can feel that proximity on the screen.




I love this frame in the film. While many of the moments are dark, mysterious, and eery, there is something other-worldly about the fluorescent lighting of the bus station that allows Luke to glow, giving him an almost angelic presence in an otherwise grim setting. As an inheritor of his mother’s Karma, we wanted to portray Luke as both inherently innocent and flawed, simultaneously.




We used the practical fluorescents that were built into the bus station, turning some of them off and adding green gel to others to give it a more varied color depth. Since we only had a day in this location and we were working with minors, we had to shoot during daylight hours. This forced us to black out the windows to the outside. Normally I would “tent” the windows and add lights outside to give depth, but due to limited budget, crew and time, we opted to put blacks right against the windows close the blinds, and put some simple LED tubes right outside the window. The effect feels a bit cheap, but in a way, that to me feels true to a municipal bus station.




While budget was tight, we were able to use a few key props to make this local suburban airport feel like an urban bus station. A few sad plants, a map, and some old plastic seating quickly tell the story in the background while we retain our focus and energy on the people in front of us. Daniel is so good at finding the beauty in dark places, so we found ways to make this station feel simultaneously forbidding, exciting, dark, and alluring. I love this spectrum of colors. Blues, greens, magenta, and oranges that while busy, also complement one another beautifully.




Once can instantly sense the incredible tenderness underneath the hardened shell of Luke’s mother in this frame. While the light isn’t particularly flattering, there is something both harsh and beautiful about the way the fluorescents fall over their face and the way they hold themselves together that makes me instantly sympathize with them. This is a moment where I don’t have to do much as a cinematographer but capture the moment simply and honestly.




Throughout the film, we return to this frame of Luke and his mother sitting side by side. Each time we come back to it, it has new meaning. I love returning to familiar compositions, as we are able to see a new dimension of the characters and relationships. This discovery through repetition also echoes the cyclical concept of the film.




Hands are also an important motif of the film. We constantly return to the image of Luke’s hands, and both his history and potential are better understood each time we see them.




I’m obsessed with how the color Red reads on film, and especially the way it reads in contrast to the blue. This is a really problematic color pairing on digital formats but it looks magical on film. It makes me nostalgic for my childhood.




I love this moment. It’s a brief glimpse of Luke looking *up*. He almost never looks up in the film, instead of keeping his glance coyly to the ground, at his feet or hands. Subtle moments like this are crucial humanizing elements for the characters. Luke, who plays “Luke” in the film, was not a trained actor and Daniel worked with him tirelessly to pull off this performance. It was an incredible achievement, and I always felt I had to dance delicately around Luke not to disturb, distract, or intimidate him with the camera. The fear with complex filmmaking approaches (like a single shot) is that it can feel too rigid, rehearsed, or programmed. Fortunately, Luke and Erin kept it loose and spontaneous, so the performances never felt canned or overworked. It kept me on my toes and made the operating always feel like I was catching the moment for the first time, no matter what take we were on.




To me, the bathroom scene always felt like a passage into an alternate, yet a potential reality for Luke. A dark, terrifying place that was filled with the choices and mistakes that could lead him to darkness. Daniel wanted this scene to feel particularly bold, so we opted for a monochromatic green lighting scheme created by RGB LED tubes rigged overhead. I love the shadows and the way the image falls apart by being so underexposed. The flickering of the fluorescents gives it a discordant, unsettling tone.




To me, the gun always represented a future Luke is realizing he must confront. While it is an immediate danger in the film, it also serves as iconography. By keeping this scene very underexposed, only the metallic reflections of the gun appear onscreen. In this way, I feel we are able to represent the gun as an “idea,” and less as a specific object.




Following Luke out of the dark bathroom, we re-enter the bright, familiar world of the bus station. I love returning to this location with the newfound experience of the bathroom. We are building on our understanding of the world, building meaning through repetition, and developing Luke’s character. Suddenly he feels more adult as he pulls the camera back into this space.




Since Luke was not a trained actor, crying on command was not a possibility. We actually found a way to slide in a crew member in for a brief moment when Luke is off-camera to add teardrops to his face. When we land back on the two of them in this profile, we start to see Luke in a new light. There is a heaviness, one his mother senses and reacts to. I loved using the fluorescents in the background as graphic compositional elements. The space feels like its engulfing them.




As this moment evolves, I wanted to make sure the camerawork developed. I lowered the lens and pushed closer to make the embrace more dramatic. By framing out the ceiling and surroundings, the frame instantly becomes less about the context of the space and more about their intimacy and eye contact.




As this moment develops even further, I pushed even closer, allowing hands and faces to fill the frame. In doing so, I think this became a glimpse of maternal interaction on the most conceptual level, something everyone can relate to in their own way.




Luke is left alone now, but his experiences have found him with a new weight. He feels older and more burdened. He looks up, but his eyes are now closed.




Again we return to this frontal two-shot we have seen a few times throughout the film. While the framing is almost identical, our performers’ body language wears the story on their shoulders.




When Luke is confronted by his father, the up-until-now-invisible antagonist of the film, we leave them in silhouetted shadow. Again, I wanted his father’s presence to be mysteriously conceptual, more fable than reality. By avoiding light directly on his face, he remains an imposing archetype that poses mystery and danger to Luke. While he is the shadows with his father, Luke’s mother remains in the familiar brightness of the fluorescents beyond.




As Luke runs from his father, the motion blurs and the moment becomes frantic, frenzied, and fleeting. I love this slight smirk on Luke’s face. It can be interpreted so many ways, as a feeling of freedom, liberation, childish naivete, or simply for what it was – real-life Luke having fun running on set with a camera chasing him. No matter how it is seen, it’s honest and human, and I love it for that.




At this point in the film, the shots become more disjointed and abstract, chasing Luke as he runs through the streets away from the dangers and realities of his life. Daniel always wants things to feel more symbolic than literal, so I embraced the motion blur, natural distortions, and the way the practical light-exposed (or didn’t) on film. This was a series of shots, but I always made sure to pan in and out of them so that they felt like one continuous sequence when stitched together.




This frame is heaven to me. The look on Luke’s face as he runs, the subway roaring overhead, the streetlights flaring the lens. It is a perfect summation of the insane world imposed upon Luke, and its all achieved through natural light and a handheld camera.




The film “ends” on the image of Luke’s hands under shifting colors, with more handpainted lines (Ana projects drew directly onto the emulsion to get this animated effect) . I love returning to the image of Luke’s hands at the end of the film, and the lighting was achieved through standing next to a cheap, flashing LED sign in front of a pizza shop.





Starring Luke Visagie, Erin Markey, Wolfgang Douglas

Director: Daniel Newell Kaufman

Producer: Lizzie Shapiro

Production Designer: Emmeline Wilkes-Dupois

Costume Designer: Lucy Hawkins

Cinematographer: Adam Newport-Berra

Operator: Adam Newport-Berra

1st AC: Aaron Snow

Gaffer: Casey Wooden

Key Grip: Kevin Bacon

Kodak 5219

Arricam LT

Zeiss Superspeed 25mm @ T1.4

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

24Frames | All About Short Films