Mandao of the Dead
Jay Mandao and his adult nephew Jackson use astral projection to reverse a ghost's death on Halloween.
Official news on the film can be found here: Official Facebook
Director: Scott Dunn
Producers: Gina Gomez, Scott Dunn
Principle Photography took place for Mandao of the Dead in January 2018 through February 2018. Scott and Gina asked me to return to shoot this feature after we worked together on their prior feature, Schlep.
We went in knowing the film will have a tight schedule and a limited budget. To simplify the schedule, we agreed to have "minimum coverage, maximum impact" on all the scenes. Essentially, we would block and clever master shot that has multiple compositions within the frame without the need for cutting. If, during the take, we determined that Scott would need coverage for the edit, we would then hop in for quick coverage for sections of the clever master shot.
Outside of the master shots, two big factors in the film's story created an interesting challenge for Scott and I: the astral projection and real world ghosts. However, with a small schedule and budget, we had to get creative.
Insidious was a big inspiration for the screenplay, so Scott and I screened the film and studied how they did astral projection. We agreed that the audience will need to have a clear distinction between the two worlds. Through testing in pre-production, I determined that the astral world can be shot using:
- Dutch Angles
- Smooth handheld with image stabilization
- Single source, top key lights
- Heavy colors (courtesy of inspiration from Suspiria)
- Slow shutter
In contrast to the astral world, we shot reality with these rules:
- Balanced, non-dutch angles
- Camera on sticks/dolly
- Practical lighting
- Natural colors
- Normal shutter
We were able to distinguish the two worlds in camera using these techniques and the results were stunning.
For the real world ghost effects, we leaned on clever old tricks to appear and disappear people on screen. Because we were incorporating clever one-shot style masters, we were able to hide our ghost actors and then have them appear when either the camera would pan to/from them.
Because of budget, we landed on using the Panasonic GH5 with an Atomos Recorder. This allowed me to record in 4K 10bit files while keeping our costs low. Additionally, the focal reducer (Metabones Speedbooster) allowed me an extra stop of light from the lenses we used, a set of Nikkor Cinema Lenses. We further utilized the camera's built in image stabilizer for the astral world as well as the opening walking sequences for the title cards.
The lighting package was quite limited and restricted to tungsten units. We embraced whatever exposure a practical lamp could give and would amplify the output if needed by replacing the bulb with a higher wattage or supplementing the light with a stronger fresnel source.
For the astral lighting, I utilized a duvetyne skirted china ball with a 250w bulb inside it. The light was then attached to an 8' menace arm and flown overhead of the talent. The skirt on the light was pretty dramatic to control the fall off on the background. I didn't want any light on the back walls, only on the astral traveller.
The color grade took exactly a week, with most of the work focusing on the astral projection scenes. We amplified the saturation even more in key parts of the astral images (like wardrobe) while desaturating everything else; the idea was to drive home the differences between reality and astrality.