‘Blue Jay’ Gets Unique Look From Army Camera

Iain Blair

Blue Jay,” a quiet, two-handed drama starring Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson as high-school sweethearts who bump into each other years later, boasts at least a couple of firsts.

It’s the first narrative feature from director Alex Lehmann, who is also the DP on the project (Duplass is the writer). And it’s the first film shot entirely on Canon’s high ISO ME2OF-SH, which was developed for military use. It looks like a black cube and is designed to capture HD-quality video in near-darkness.

With some tweaking and adjustments, says Lehmann, it turned out to be ideal for “Blue Jay,” a black-and-white chamber piece that intentionally rebels against the recent trend of loud, in-your-face, visually busy indie films.

“We were definitely the guinea pig, and I chose the camera for a combination of budget and look,” the helmer/lenser explains.

Lehmann shot most of the film in just one week on location in the rustic California mountain town of Crestline. The camera presented an opportunity for the kind of close shooting that usually requires pricier equipment.

“We were definitely the guinea pig, and I chose the camera for a combination of budget and look.”
Director Alex Lehmann

“There have been a lot of hot films shot on large format recently, like [Quentin] Tarantino’s 70mm ‘The Hateful Eight,’ and you can create a different space that way, as you’re shooting very close-up to your characters, without getting wide-angle distortion,” says Lehmann. The Canon camera “gives you the same full-frame look and a similar feeling, but far less expensively.”

And there’s also that ability to shoot in almost no light. Lehmann took advantage of the camera’s extreme low-light sensitivity to work fast during his limited time with a small crew, and to “preserve that feeling of improvisation and keep the energy flowing for the actors.”

Advantages included being able to shoot without the usual generators and time-consuming lighting rigs and set-ups.

“All we needed were some LEDs, various light pads and practicals [where the source of light is in the frame]. I was even able to use some Christmas lights I took from my backyard, which gave a lovely glow to the actors’ faces,” says Lehmann. “That’s something I’ve always wanted to do but never been able to use before,”

Lehmann adds that he planned to shoot the film in black-and-white from the start. The digital imaging was done at Fotokem, where Lehmann spent a few days fine-tuning the film’s final look. “It was mainly about getting a richness and maintaining a softer quality to the black-and-white, which is already very appealing when you haven’t seen it for a while.”

Netflix is distributing “Blue Jay,” which premiered in Toronto.

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