Blackmagic Design announced that “The Cleansing Hour,” starring Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner and Alix Angelis, utilized Blackmagic cameras, ATEM switchers and converters in production, as well as DaVinci Resolve Studio in post production, to create the unique show within a show horror film.
Millennial entrepreneurs, Drew and Max, run a popular webcast that streams live exorcisms. But the performances are, in fact, elaborately staged hoaxes. The two get their comeuppance when their newest actress becomes mysteriously possessed by a real demon, that holds the crew hostage. The film premiered on streaming channel Shudder on October 8th.
The concept originated from director Damien LeVeck’s background in reality television. “I’ve observed that whenever people see a video on the Internet, especially if it’s of lower quality, they automatically think it looks and feels more realistic. And this was during a time when people were putting more and more outrageous things on Facebook, just for attention. So, I wondered what would happen if somebody was trying to fake an audience with exorcisms and then was forced to deal with a real one?”
With a film that involved a webcast as part of the primary plot, LeVeck relied on Blackmagic Design equipment to create the complex video broadcast setup that drives the story. As the characters struggle to handle the real demonic elements that infect their webcast, on camera screens would show the action real time. LeVeck used Blackmagic Micro Studio Cameras to capture high quality imagery of the drama, knowing that the cameras would cut well with the main unit photography.
“The biggest challenge,” said LeVeck, “was shooting a movie about guys who are making a show in a single room, but still make it look interesting. Coverage was always a challenge, there were cameras pointing in every direction.”
With active cameras on set feeding monitors, the main camera was tasked with staying out of their shot while still covering the action. LeVeck chose the Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera because of their small form factor and interchangeable lenses. “We liked that the Micro Studio Cameras really held up fairly well in low light. We creatively chose to make a dark set and the Micro Studio Camera made a very nice picture even in low lighting.”
Cameras were fed into an ATEM Television Studio Pro HD switcher, which fed the onset monitors. “We really liked that you could control the Micro cameras from the ATEM, allowing us to build a functioning studio set within a set, and for a relatively low cost.” Additional gear, including two SmartView 4K monitors for Multiview from the switcher, and two Teranex AV standards converters to convert additional analog cameras for the switcher, created the active production set where the action takes place. Multiple Micro Converters were also used to modify signals in and out of monitors.
With the onset video setup handled by Blackmagic gear, LeVeck was faced with the challenge of creating the movie on a limited budget and short schedule. “There were so many challenges in shooting this movie,” added LeVeck. “The biggest thing was really just schedule. We had to move very quickly, we didn’t really have a lot of time to waste because every day there was a different combination of makeup effects, special effects, stunts, pyrotechnics, that take a lot of time to set up. It was a huge logistical challenge to get everything filmed on time and in a creative way.”
With the story hinging on the reality of the characters working a real broadcast setup, LeVeck was excited that the set was real, not just props. “Because all of the cameras and Blackmagic gear on set were functioning, Kyle Gallner (Drew) was able to interact directly with the ATEM to switch cameras and play out graphics.” A tangible, functioning set was immensely helpful for Gallner to create a more authentic and natural performance.
With principal photography completed, LeVeck and his team finished the film in DaVinci Resolve Studio. “It was an incredible experience. Resolve is phenomenal software for creating the look and feel of your finished movie while working with speed and efficiency.”
Looking for ways to be even more efficient, the team utilized Resolve’s collaboration tools. “First and foremost, just the conform process was seamless. We used a Resolve set up in my office, and with a shared workflow I had one editor conforming one reel while another editor was conforming a different reel. They were able to work on the same project at the same time.”
With conform finished in house, the DaVinci Resolve Studio project was taken to Banana Post in Burbank where colorist Chad Mumford created the final look over a three week period, also in DaVinci Resolve Studio. Cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bernier brought in a variety of still frames from other projects with looks he wanted to emulate for various parts of the film. Mumford imported the stills and used them as layers over the grade. “(Bernier) was inspired by a particular scene in David Fincher’s SE7EN that had a very fast shadow roll off and slightly green blacks,” said Mumford. “Nothing is better as a colorist than being able to pull those stills into the project and compare them directly to your grade.”
Mumford applied a favorite technique to the dark, ominous photography in “The Cleansing Hour.” “I personally find myself emulating film when I grade. One of the plug ins we were able to incorporate into the grade was FilmConvertPro. We did a luminance selection of the deep blacks, used FilmConvert to add grain and then inverted the selection. This is especially apparent in the scene where Max (the Priest) is being burned by the stage lights. We had a lot of fun experimenting with grain and Resolve’s keying and HSL selection tools made it possible to create a subtle, unique film look.”
With more than 400 visual effects shots in the film, Mumford and LeVeck had to use every tool at hand to tackle multiple challenges throughout the finishing process, all in the spirit of increasing the creepiness of the film. “If I look back, the one creative challenge that stands out above all is grading the monster that reveals itself at the end of the film,” added Mumford. “The ‘veins’ of the creature were all modified on the Color page to appear almost like flowing lava. One of those shots probably had the most nodes I’ve ever used.” LeVeck added, “It really turned out beautifully.”
In the end, the process was complex, but well worth it. “The movie was an incredible technical challenge just because of all the onset playback, and all of the screens that had to have different content on them, specific to that moment in the movie,” said LeVeck. “On top of that, we had tons of visual effects and makeup effects. It was a scheduling challenge, more than anything, to pull all of that off. But despite all those challenges, it was the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life, and I can’t wait to do it again.”