As the acclaimed FX series Sons of Anarchy nears its finale, director of photography Paul Maibaum, ASC continues to rely on solutions from Anton/Bauer, Litepanels, and OConnor during the production's stage and location shoots in Southern California. The DP and his crew have trusted the gear to perform throughout all seven seasons of this hit show.
Maibaum has been the show's director of photography since the second episode of the first season. Created by Kurt Sutter, Sons of Anarchy explores the lives of members of an outlaw motorcycle club in California's Central Valley. The drama has been the highest-rated series in the history of FX.
"Sons of Anarchy is like a modern-day Western with vistas and composition driving a look that harkens back to the movies of John Ford and Spaghetti Westerns," Maibaum says. "Only on this show the horses are motorcycles, and the code of the west is the code of the club."
The challenge of developing the look for the show was to make it "natural, not too slick," he notes. "Handheld gives the narrative a feeling of immediacy that's organic to the story. There are many non-verbal, dramatic elements that are signature shots of the show; it's not rushed, in the sense that we like to get the reactions of the characters."
Maibaum is a long-time user of OConnor fluid heads and Litepanels LED lighting fixtures. "I cannot remember a project that I have worked on where there weren't at least two OConnor heads, going back to the days of the OConnor 100, and I have used Litepanels' Ringlite Minis, MiniPlus and 1x1 LED panels almost since they first came on the market," he notes.
On Sons of Anarchy, Maibaum has a pair of ARRI ALEXA cameras as his A cameras with one or two Sony F55 CineAlta cameras supplementing the 1st unit or serving as a two-camera package on the 2nd unit. Angenieux Optimo Zoom lenses are deployed to enable operators to switch back and forth from handheld to studio mode and stabilized camera moves with minimal downtime between modes. Maibaum notes that approximately 60% of the show is shot handheld, splitting the rest of the scenes evenly between dollies and camera stabilization systems.
Location and studio production are evenly split during the seven- to eight-day shooting schedule, with the studio housed in a converted warehouse in North Hollywood and locations throughout Los Angeles.
OConnor 2575 fluid heads, the flagship of OConnor's Ultimate range of fluid heads, have been part of Maibaum's camera package since the outset of production. "It is the fluid head of choice for every operator who has been on the show," he reports, citing the variable counterbalance and drag as the fluid head's most outstanding features.
"The OConnor head is easy to use, and resetting the sinusoidal counterbalance is a simple step. It's easy to add more or less drag and tension so the operator can easily adjust to his or her needs," Maibaum explains. "The ALEXAs and F55s weigh approximately the same, but the lenses change and they can weigh more than the camera. OConnor makes it easy to adjust with a change of lens and to go from shoulder to dolly to camera stabilization systems. It makes it easy to point your camera where you need it. The show's signature shots include large masters, high angles and close ups. OConnor makes this possible."
Litepanels fixtures are prominent on the show with Ringlite Minis and the MiniPlus - popularly called "bricks" - as well as 1x1s playing key roles in the lighting package.
"They're invaluable," Maibaum declares. "They work alongside all of our other lighting instruments, whether tungsten or HMI, on stage and on location. They're lightweight, and the ability to run on battery power, along with their dimming capabilities, makes them essential tools in our lighting package."
He recently tested the new Litepanels ASTRA 1x1 Bi-Color panel on the show. "This light is a marked improvement over the current 1x1s, and that's saying a lot because they are one of my favorite lighting fixtures," he adds. "The output of the ASTRA is surprising. Recently, I was able to use it as a fill light during some insert car work, filling the actors' faces in broad daylight with the fixture projecting from roughly 8 feet from the subject's faces. It was much brighter than the original light that we planned to use."
The DP turns to the Ringlite Minis on the cameras about half the time. On the set, he reports that the 1x1s hang quick and easy - "they're a solid, good-looking light; from flood to spot it's easy to narrow the beam."
Litepanel MiniPlus bricks are often used for eye light. "In scenes where lighting is sketchy, I'll tell the team to add a 'ping' - or place a 'brick' to brighten the eyes," says Maibaum.
"Litepanels gear is an essential element in my bag of tricks," adds gaffer Tony Anderson. "The freedom of battery-powered lighting has saved me many times. When the DP needs 'one last thing,' the 1x1 is my go-to instrument. I have also worked with the ASTRA and am very impressed with the versatility and output of this head. It has enough output for bounce keylights yet is light enough to rig just about anywhere."
Anton/Bauer batteries fill many mobile power needs for Maibaum's crew. They use the award-winning CINE VCLX as the main camera battery for the ALEXAs and F55s when on dollies or cranes. The DIONIC(r) HC and HCX batteries act as a power supply for the handheld cameras and Litepanels 1x1s, and also power the wireless video assist.
"What I like about Anton/Bauer batteries is that they charge quickly, don't lose their charge, and the digital readout tells me how much power is left all the time. They're also lightweight and attach on and off quickly to the camera or light," Maibaum points out.
No matter how many surprises Sons of Anarchy has had in store for fans over its seven-season run, behind the scenes Vitec Videocom brands have delivered consistently unsurprising results.
"I don't believe we would be able to complete our day's work within the time allotted if we did not have the complement of Vitec equipment that we employ on virtually every set up on an average shooting day on Sons of Anarchy," Maibaum concludes.
With more than 40 years of proven experience, Anton/Bauer is recognized as the world's premier provider of multi-chemistry battery, charging, and monitoring technologies for the professional broadcast, pro-video, cinema and healthcare industries. Established in 1970, Anton/Bauer's product offerings feature several signature lines, including the leading Gold Mount(r) system, the Digital Battery(tm) series, Performance Chargers, and the Academy Award(r)-winning VCLX series. The company's industry-standard products are compatible with every camera brand on the market today, while providing top-tier levels of safety, performance and reliability.
The brand's main office is in Shelton, CT, with additional offices in South America, Europe, and Asia. Follow Anton/Bauer on Twitter (@Anton_Bauer)
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Litepanels, a Vitec Group brand, was founded in 2001 by five professional gaffers and engineers who saw the future and pioneered LED (light emitting diode) lighting for motion pictures, television, and the audio-visual industry. Their Emmy(r) award-winning technology has now been used on thousands of productions worldwide and is trusted by the world's leading broadcast organizations. Litepanels continues to expand its suite of flicker-free, color accurate, fully-dimmable soft lights that talent and lighting directors admire. These environmentally friendly fixtures can pay for themselves with power savings and long life, setting a new standard in professional lighting. More information can be found at www.Litepanels.com
OConnor has been the choice of professional cinematographers since the invention of the fluid head 60 years ago by founder Chad O'Connor. OConnor's award-winning fluid heads are known for their smooth feel, fluid movement and intuitive control. Designed for film-style shooting, each facilitates seamless transition when changing payloads and offers stepless, ultra-smooth pan & tilt fluid drag for maximum control. In addition to fluid heads and tripods, OConnor offers a growing line of camera and lens accessories engineered to fill the needs of today's fast-paced camera work. The line includes the CFF-1 and new O-Focus DM follow focus systems for cine and still photo lenses, the award-winning O-Box WM mattebox, innovative O-Grip handgrip system and the Universal Baseplate. OConnor products are respected and trusted by individual users and rental houses worldwide for their reliability, longevity and toughness. Along with other leading brands in the broadcast industry, OConnor is part of the Vitec Videocom, a Vitec Group company. For more information on OConnor, visit www.ocon.com
About Vitec Videocom
Vitec Videocom brings together some of the most respected, most innovative and most sought-after brands in the industry: Anton/Bauer, Autocue, Autoscript, Camera Corps, Litepanels, OConnor, Petrol Bags, Sachtler, Teradek, Vinten and Vinten Radamec. It acts as an endorsing brand for these market-leading broadcast, film and pro video products, encouraging multi-brand system sales and simplifying the way that customers worldwide do business.
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