Vanity Fair's First Instagram Videos

THE PROJECT

I had the privilege to DP Vanity Fair's first ever Instagram videos that they published. The project was to be a series of motion portraits of various celebrities attending after the White House Correspondent's Dinner in 2016. For this project, produced by Boatman Media, they tapped well-known director and VF photographer Douglas Friedman to direct this project, and I was selected as the cinematographer. For Douglas, shooting video was something new, especially in attempting to adapt his style of photography to motion. We needed a camera system that could achieve slow motion and yet capable of delivering print-quality stills. Because of these requirements, we chose to use the RED Epic Dragon to film this project.

This complex project had two tricky parts: one was the lighting setup (more about that below), and the second was that these videos needed to go LIVE on Instagram during the very event that we were filming! To achieve this, we had to have a post production team on-site ready to begin the editing and coloring process using DaVinci Resolve after every single shot!

Ultimately we produced 46 individualized video portraits that were uploaded throughout the night to Vanity Fair’s Instagram feed. Here's the finished product:

THE STAGE AND LIGHTING SETUP

David Boatman, the producer, came to me with a lighting idea that the director had come up with. A 20' x 20' stage was being built to simulate a sitting room in the White House. Douglas wanted to film in high speed while achieving a time-lapse effect with the lighting, so that it appeared the sun was moving behind the subject at high speed while the talent barely moved at all. To achieve this, he wanted to put powerful lights on dollytracks both in front and behind the subject, with the camera itself on a slider to push in or pull away from our talent. After a bit of study, this was the lighting scheme I came up with.

 Powerful HMIs would have to provide our light sources, since the camera was shooting high speed. At the same time, the director wanted a hard sunlight-type on the subject but with soft edges that gently rolled off as the light source passed across them. I knew that I wanted to achieve this by cutting a hold in a 4x4 bead board passed through diffusion. This would keep the source hard while giving it soft edges. The background needed to be solid (a translite was ruled out), so I decided to blow it out with a while wall and shine the rear fixture up and over to hide the gag. Ultimately this is exactly what we did. The main difference was that we didn't need the Celebs for the fill light.

Powerful HMIs would have to provide our light sources, since the camera was shooting high speed. At the same time, the director wanted a hard sunlight-type on the subject but with soft edges that gently rolled off as the light source passed across them. I knew that I wanted to achieve this by cutting a hold in a 4x4 bead board passed through diffusion. This would keep the source hard while giving it soft edges. The background needed to be solid (a translite was ruled out), so I decided to blow it out with a while wall and shine the rear fixture up and over to hide the gag. Ultimately this is exactly what we did. The main difference was that we didn't need the Celebs for the fill light.

We shot on the RED Dragon in 5K at 120fps. Because Instagram has a 15-second limit on video content, we knew that the camera movement needed to take 3 seconds. This would translate to 15 seconds when played in real-time.

We spent all day setting up and testing, before the filming was scheduled to begin sometime between 9-11pm. Once it started, it was go time! After every 1-3 shots we would pop out the mag and hand it to the editors, who would immediately cut, color and upload the videos to Instagram.

 Gaffer Chris Gorman checks exposure.

Gaffer Chris Gorman checks exposure.

 For lens choice we tested Ultra Primes, but ultimately went with Canon cine zooms for speed and versatility. T-4 was our average stop.

For lens choice we tested Ultra Primes, but ultimately went with Canon cine zooms for speed and versatility. T-4 was our average stop.

 Ian Axilrod (House of Cards) had to pull critical focus as we made rapid (3 second) slides over and over. Fans, smoke effects and confetti were all used to add atmosphere to the shots.

Ian Axilrod (House of Cards) had to pull critical focus as we made rapid (3 second) slides over and over. Fans, smoke effects and confetti were all used to add atmosphere to the shots.

 We string Quasars behind the windows, but ultimately had to supplement with HMIs.

We string Quasars behind the windows, but ultimately had to supplement with HMIs.

I relied heavily on my focus puller, Ian Axilrod (House of Cards) and gaffer Chris Gorman and his team to pull this off without a hitch. Director Douglas Friedman was great to work with, and the client was esctatic at the results. A well-spent 20-hour day!