I recently completed a grade for new feature film Vigilante, an independent drama produced by Blueprint: Film and directed by Darren Bolton. Shot in a cinéma vérité documentary style, it follows small town Neighbourhood Watch hero Pep as he proudly shows us around his pleasant community and boasts of his various achievements of law and order. But Pep is gradually revealed to be a violent psychotic, using his role as self-appointed law enforcer as cathartic release from his failing private life. Fuelled by his unemployment and a broken and dysfunctional family, he aggressively lurches further out of control and focuses all of his hate on the rumours of a local paedophile presence.
The film was shot on three or possibly four different Red cameras, mostly in two different flavours of 4k (4096×2304 and 4096×2160) but with a few pickups in a variety of 2k, 3k, and 5k at 100fps. The editor David Brook had cut everything in 16:9 4k and so we decided to use that resolution for the conform. From here I could make additional outputs for Flat Ratio 4k DCP with a slight crop, UHD TV 4k, and HD.
On a technical level the rushes offered no problems at all, other than the usual balancing between multiple cameras. But on a creative level I was able to offer quite a few suggestions and although in general we were aiming for a naturalistic finish to suit the documentary style there is actually a lot of subtle interplay at work.
Firstly with the lead character Pep I decided to assign him the principle signature colour of red. This starts off relatively gentle and warm when we don’t know the full extent of his anger, as can be seen here:
But as the film develops I gradually increased the red in his shots, and also his level of contrast, to reflect his rage and harshness. Even in scenes he shares with other people I found I was able to push his look further forward than theirs, leaving his more reasonable colleagues in the Neighbourhood Watch to retain a slightly softer and more natural look.
At the points that Pep is ranting straight down the barrel of the lens I really started to increase the heat in his shots, certainly in relation to his starting point and the other characters.
Pep is a separated father with limited custody of his young son, and has a dysfunctional and antagonistic relationship with the mother of his child. As a secondary signature colour for him I pushed the scenes with his family into a queasy palette of yellows and greens to reflect the poisoned atmosphere, and again used a harsher level of contrast and gloomy blacks.
Using animated parameters in Resolve I was actually able to manipulate this look during shots, increasing or decreasing it to help underline the narrative content. For example there is a sequence where Pep and his son tidy their messy house together and bond as they flick soap suds and water at each other. The sequence culminates with an unbroken shot that lasts for 1m 30s, which begins with them sitting contentedly in the now clean house. Suddenly the mother’s new boyfriend arrives and the atmosphere immediately changes for the worse. Eventually the young boy departs with the boyfriend, leaving Pep alone.
So for this continuous shot I begin with a softer warm look which is the first time we’ve seen such healthy colours used in the family scenes. But as the camera swings up to the boyfriend I was able to discreetly shift the colours back to a washed out queasiness and increase the grittiness of the contrast. By the time Pep is alone again we are back to a very pallid and unhealthy look.
The village where Pep lives is portrayed as a generally wholesome and quiet community. I tried to reflect this by accentuating a “magic hour” sunshine glow that DP Ernesto Herrmann had captured at times:
But as the story develops and Pep is ostracised by his community, I used the queasy palette of his home life to infiltrate the outside world. I was trying to underline the plot point that once Pep is no longer regarded as a hero that he now has no respite from the bleakness in his life.
Later in the story Pep uses the rumours of a paedophile presence in the village to whip up public fear and hate and ingratiate himself back into the Neighbourhood Watch. From this point onwards I attempted to introduce Pep’s signature red into the villagers’ shots, as if he has infected the community with his aggression and anger. This is particularly the case in a sequence where the villagers are all making anti-paedophile placards, I really pushed the red paint they use into an almost hyper-real saturation which contrasts against a sickly greenish background.
A few of the things I added could loosely be termed as effects. Firstly, Vigilante contained a small amount of material from an earlier short film version. In one shot there was a Neighbourhood Watch folder that had an old date written on it, we decided to update this so there was no great disparity when the film was released. I wrote out a new folder label, scanned it in, then motion tracked it onto the original handheld shot. The final task was then to match the camera pull-focus. I think it sits in pretty well and nobody would spot it (aside from the fact that I am now laying it all out here and giving the secret away). What bothers me most is that my handwriting is appallingly childish and this was my best effort to write properly:
Another effected shot I did was to enhance the make-up effect of a bruise on Pep’s mother-in-law’s face. I used a tracked mask to add more darkness to the bruising, which then in a later scene could be dialled down to imply the healing process over time.
Also I did some fairly major lighting changes such as this scene when Pep is doing some “research” about the paedophile in the area, the director asked me to darken the scene quite considerably to make it more moody. Then I masked a key light onto the actor’s face to accentuate the reflected glow of the screen, to help bring the viewer into this space in a more intimate way.
Finally I took some footage from a regular video camera and treated it to look like a CCTV camera shooting at night. Looking at real-life examples of these they have an infrared beam for night vision that falls off from the centre in a circular pattern. It transforms skin tones into a harsh white so this was something I tried to replicate, plus the addition of some basic info text in an old 8-bit style font:
As is probably clear from the range of stills here, lead actor Simon Cassidy is in nearly every shot and anchors the film with a really brilliant performance. By turns humorous, sympathetic and appallingly aggressive it’s a very nuanced range that he brings to the character with plenty of charisma. I’m also a big fan of Millie Reeves who plays his ex-partner, she’s excellent as this slightly damaged, gobby, scared woman and is a whirlwind of well-placed swearing and insults! The film recently premiered in London and will be out in the world soon, I will update this post with news of any screenings or links to buy.