Exploring the Wild, Wild West of Indie Filmmaking with “A Prayer for the Damned”
Filmmaker Bryan Harris shot the film with an URSA Mini Pro and used DaVinci Resolve Studio for post production, including editing, grading and audio editing
Set thirteen years after the Civil War, “A Prayer for the Damned” brings its audience back to the Old West when several mysterious characters converge upon a strange New Mexico town on a quest for “lost” Confederate fortune.
Filmmaker Bryan Harris had a lot of roles on the film, including DP, editor, colorist and sound engineer. He shot the film with an URSA Mini Pro digital film camera and used DaVinci Resolve Studio and a DeckLink capture and playback card during post.
“Overall we wanted the film to look very rich, with saturated colors. We were inspired by the look of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,’” explains Harris. “We did a test shoot at the Paramount Ranch and played around with the footage until we had a good starting point. Then we only had 11 days for principle photography.”
Wearing Lots of (Cowboy) Hats
With little time to spare and lots of hats to wear, Harris relied on the URSA Mini Pro’s dynamic range and ND filters to help him work on the fly.
“Being a one-man band meant that I often didn’t have the time to light most of the scenes. I just didn’t have the luxury to place more than one or two lights for a scene. I was busy being the DP, gaffer, grip, and electrician sometimes, whatever the day called for. I planned as many of the scenes as I could using the daylight as my key, blasting in a window and just making sure we got what we needed before the light changed drastically,” explains Harris. “Knowing I had that extra two or so stops of dynamic range to play with really gave me piece of mind if I knew the ratios weren’t right where I needed them to be. I knew I could make it look how I wanted in post with DaVinci Resolve Studio.”
“The URSA Mini Pro’s internal NDs also saved me so much time. I didn’t have the time to grab filters or even mess with them in a mattebox at times. Having the ability to adjust on the fly with the URSA Mini Pro was a lifesaver. I didn’t use any other NDs at all, just a BPM 77mm filter set,” Harris continues.
Battling everything from dust storms to super high temps, Harris put the URSA Mini Pro through its paces while shooting the film.
“On our very first day of shooting, a massive wind storm kicked up and there was dust flying everywhere. That kind of set the tone for the shoot. Sometimes I’d be shooting in the middle of the street and 30 knot winds would just spring up and cover me and the camera. Other days the sun got us and things really heated up. For one day’s shoot I was up on a second-floor balcony, capturing the horses as characters road in and out of the town. The temperature reached 104 and I was in full sun. The URSA Mini Pro didn’t skip a beat. Some of our other gear didn’t make it but I could always rely on the camera to take the beating from the weather and just keep rolling, never dropping a frame,” says Harris.
Post in the Old West
Harris handled all of the film’s editing, color grading and audio post work, relying on Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve Studio.
“By doing it all of the post production within one application, I was able to move seamlessly between any aspects of the feature, which became even more important toward the end. Whenever the director or I wanted to cut, add or replace a clip, I could easily make the change without really affecting the rest of the reel. Moreover, there was no need to send it back to another application, so I didn’t waste time with roundtripping or conforming,” Harris explains.
Harris relied heavily on DaVinci Resolve Studio’s optimized media workflow during his work on the film. “Being able to ingest the footage and then optimize right away was great,” he says. “Switching back and forth from optimized to RAW for whatever was needed during the edit was just amazing. Need to re-edit something, switch to optimized. Need to mess with a grade, unlink it. It really helped keep my workflow as smooth as possible.”
Harris used DaVinci Resolve Studio’s Fairlight page for the entire audio editing and clean up portion of the film, including all of the ADR.
“‘A Prayer for the Damned’ was the first time I used Fairlight so there was a steep learning curve for me. However, I was surprised when doing the ADR that it was as easy as the other applications I’m used to,” continues Harris.
“Since Fairlight is built into DaVinci Resolve Studio, I really enjoyed the ease of auditioning different music tracks or ambient sounds with different color grades. When Director Joe Cornet would come in, we could easily check out one look on the Color page and switch over to the Fairlight page to try different tracks of music or change the tone of ambient tracks. If it wasn’t quite right, we could hop back over to Color, switch the grade to a different look I had developed, then switch back to Fairlight and try something else. We did this a lot as we worked together to determine which tone best fit a scene and how we could amplify that through color and audio.”
A Word to the Wise
“A Prayer for the Damned” was Harris’ first spaghetti western. “I had always wanted to shoot a western of any type. I think most filmmakers are drawn to films like ‘A Prayer for the Damned’ because of the rich landscapes and textures you get from sets and wardrobe. They’re just fun to look at and it’s pretty hard to make them look boring,” says Harris.
“If anyone is interested in shooting a spaghetti western, my first bit of advice would be to not shoot it over summer! But seriously, I think you really need to have a great idea of how you want your film to look and based on that, know exactly when to shoot certain scenes. I used mostly natural light, so I had to be strategic about which sets to shoot when, depending on how the sun came through the windows. Planning is key when taking a trip to the Old West,” Harris concludes.
About Bryan Harris
Bryan Harris (Victor Bryant Harris) grew up in the surfer producing town of Cocoa Beach and then served 8 years in the US Army Airborne, including one tour of duty in Baghdad, before attending design college for several years, where he was cast as the lead in a student film giving him the film bug.
Upon moving to LA, he was immediately cast as an on screen carpenter and design assistant for several HGTV shows. He went on to enjoy a successful acting career with recurring roles on daytime shows like “General Hospital,” “Commander in Chief” and “All My Children” as well as a long string of parts on shows like “Shameless,” “The Event,” “Hawaii 5-O.” He’s also appeared in dozens of national commercials.
He found his true love of film was behind the camera when he started tinkering with his friend’s camera. In 2010 and directed his first short, “Fallen and Forgotten” followed by “UnMental Health” (official selection of the Beverly Hills Shorts Film Festival). His list of clients and credits includes FOX Sports West, Ashley Madison, Bota Box Wines, and feature films, “All In” (picked up for distribution by GGG) and “A Prayer for the Damned” (“Best Assemble Cast” at the 2018 Studio City International Film Fest) which is being requested by film festivals and western events across the country.
Harris continues to build his skills and new technologies in all things cameras, lighting and cinematography and has become a trusted prosumer/consultant for equipment companies.