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Pietro Villani Uses Blackmagic Production Camera 4K To Capture "Like Cotton Twines"

DP Villani stayed cool under pressure while shooting in Ghana's high heat
Shooting under the blazing hot sun in Ghana's salt fields isn't an easy feat. High temperatures and brutal humidity can affect cameras and gear, and there isn't exactly a support center nearby if technical assistance was needed. 

DP Pietro Villani found himself in a unique situation when shooting "Like Cotton Twines" on location in West Africa. With the film taking place in Ghana, it only made sense to shoot there so the country's scenic beauty could be properly captured. That meant that Villani and his gear had to be prepared for what the shooting conditions would bring.

"Like Cotton Twines" is an independent feature film that follows Micah, an American volunteer who goes to Ghana to teach and experience his mother's homeland. Micah teaches at a school in a village where he meets Tuigi, a smart 14-year-old student. Tuigi's fate is changed when her family must atone for an accident committed by her father and by custom she must abandon her education and become a Trokosi, a religious sex slave. Directed and written by Leila Djansi, "Like Cotton Twines" explores how Micah fights against the tribal culture to try and save Tuigi.

Hot Under Pressure

"I previously worked with Djansi on 'Where Children Play,' so I was very excited when she asked me if I wanted to go with her to Ghana to shoot 'Like Cotton Twines," Villani said. "Since we didn't have the budget to ship over case after case of equipment, we knew we were going to have to be selective and think small when choosing our gear."

"We needed something proven and durable, especially with the weather. I've been burned before when trying to shoot in the heat. Memories of putting ice bags all over a camera while shooting in the desert still haunt me," Villani recalled. "We were shooting in remote spots where we knew we were not going to get much if any support should something go wrong. The conditions were hot and very humid - the perfect combination for a digital film camera to over heat and fail.

"We also needed something that would work with the lighting conditions. Our lighting package was small and some of the locations had extreme contrast we needed to pick up. For example, when shooting in the salt mines we had pure white salt next to the actor's rich dark skin tones and we needed a camera that had enough latitude to capture both and not lose the details."

Beating the Heat

With those perimeters in mind, Villani selected Blackmagic Design's Production Camera 4K. "I had used the Production Camera 4K before and I felt it was perfect for what we were looking for - small, durable and good on the go. Djansi and I really felt that the film demanded a 4K image due to the beauty and texture of the country. When you watch the movie, you can see a lot of the detail, which is exactly what we were going for.

"The camera performed perfectly and never failed us, even on the hottest days. Its dynamic range made the challenges of shooting extreme lighting conditions a lot more manageable. For the film's look, we were going for an overall warm film with rich colors and rich blacks, with something that could dig into shadows as well. The camera had great latitude and had a lot of play in post.

"We were on a tight schedule and were planning to do both studio and handheld work, so we purposefully selected a camera that could quickly and easily transition between the two. The Production Camera 4K was built on a custom rail system that made it easy to switch back and forth between handheld and studio mode. All recording was done internally onto SSDs and we decided to shoot 4K ProRes due to budgetary constraints. It ended up taking a little over 10 TB for the whole film," Villani concluded.

In addition to the Production Camera 4K, the "Like Cotton Twines" crew used Blackmagic Design's HDLink Pro technology to put a LUT on a monitor and DaVinci Resolve to color grade dailies.

"Like Cotton Twines" premiered in June 2016 at the LA Film Festival and is continuing to be shown at festivals, such as the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York in September and the Savannah Film Festival in Georgia in October. 

About Pietro Villani 
Pietro Villani is a LA-based cinematographer who originally hails from Brooklyn, New York. He has been shooting movies, commercials, and documentaries worldwide for the past 16 years. He is formally trained with a BFA from Chapman University and a MFA from the American Film Institute (AFI) in Cinematography. While attending AFI, Villani interned for the legendary cinematographer Allen Daviau ASC.

Along with the formal training, Villani has spent years honing his skills and chasing his dreams of becoming a cinematographer who works on narrative, commercials, documentary and occasionally even music videos with proven competency, integrity, and collaboration with fellow filmmakers.

All this has resulted in winning awards for his commercials and narrative work, including the Emerging Cinematographer Award for the International Cinematographer Guild Local 600. His recent credits include "Where Children Play," "The Sphere and The Labyrinth," "Like Cotton Twines," and "I'm Not Here" starring JK Simmons and Sebastian Stan.

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Related Keywords:Blackmagic Design, Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, 4K video


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