Showcasing DIT Adrian Jebef, and his work on Amazon Studios' Troop Zero

Troop Zero is an inspiring movie about a group of elementary-school misfits who band together to form their own troop of Birdie Scouts in the little rural town of Wiggly, Georgia in the summer of 1977. The Birdie Scout troop is hobbled together by an energetic but shy girl name Christmas Flint. This ragtag troop infiltrate the Birdie Scout youth group in order to win a talent show. The winning Birdies will earn the right to have their voices included on the Voyager Golden record that will sail into the cosmos, which Christmas believes will be heard by life in outer space, a connection her deceased mother nurtured when they looked up into the stars.

The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival back in February of 2019 and was released this past January by Amazon Studios and is streaming on Prime Video. CODEX had the excellent opportunity to talk to James Whitaker, ASC, who lensed the show for the directorial team debut of Bert & Bertie that they adapted from the screenplay written by the academy award winning Beasts of the Southern Wild co-writer Lucy Alibar, and inspired by Alibar's 2010 play Christmas and Jubilee Behold the Meteor Shower. See companion article.

During the course of our discussion with cinematographer James Whitaker, he encouraged us to speak to the other people involved, namely Adrian Jebef, DIT, who worked directly with the CODEX workflow and coordinated directly with the dailies operator at Light Iron Digital, to make sure that the intent from set was properly carried across into post-production for the dailies review for Bert and Bertie.

James Whitaker told us he had never worked with Adrian before, but he came highly recommended from one of his peers, cinematographer Jo Willems, ASC, SBC. Like Whitaker, Jebef came to the show with a high pedigree of experience in on set color and data management. Jebef is known for his DIT work on tent pole films such as the entire Hunger Games series, lensed by Jo Willems. He was the 2nd unit DIT on Godzilla vs. Kong, as well as DIT on reshoots for Warner Bros. and Legendary Films, Dune, currently in post-production. Whitaker and Jebef became fast friends and a trust was formed during the camera tests and it maintained throughout the production. Small productions appear on paper like they should be an easier gig than the drama of a large budget tent-pole project, however, it’s always the opposite. Troop Zero presented its own challenges. A cast predominantly made up of children. A very short schedule. Horrendous weather conditions. A directorial debut not for one director…but two. What could go wrong?

Our workflow on Troop Zero was the industry standard. We used a show Look Up Table (LUT) that Jimi had been gifted by Sean Coleman at CO3. We fine-tuned this LUT with full color decisions or CDL adjustments that I applied on a per scene basis with minor adjustments if needed per shot. Jimi had come into the picture with a strong visual plan of his intent. This freed me up and allow me to keep consistency between shots, instead of having to over-adjust and over-correct all time, while we determined a look. Jimi knew what he wanted and that made it so much easier with such a tight schedule. Light Iron handled all of the dailies and the deliverables on the show. The dailies colorist, Alex Garcia was my liaison for making sure dailies looked like what Jimi and I had created on set. Alex would balance these looks across the multiple cameras and keep things consistent. These looks were then baked into the editorial deliverables and posted to PIX for review.

We fought a lot of variables in lighting from the different moving camera angles to shooting day exteriors and at also night. Alex was fantastic at smoothing out our CDLs from set, and this really helped us to move quickly, knowing he could match the shots. The ease of shooting with an ALEXA Mini camera and the ARRI Alexa SXT using the CODEX capture drives was really straight forward. We recorded on the Codex capture drives in ARRIRAW format at 3.4K in Open Gate. Jimi used the new Vantage Mini Hawk lenses, and this provided full coverage as we framed for 2.39:1. Using CODEX capture drives allowed me to move fast even on a less-than-blockbuster budget. We never dealt with any clip, file, or card corruption, even though we were shooting in the swamps of Louisiana in the middle of summer. Watching the film now I only remember the good times and am proud of our fantastic crew's effort.

James Whitaker, ASC, on the set of Troop Zero

This was the first Amazon Prime Video released direct to streaming. The picture speaks for itself, but OMG, it was a really, really difficult shoot under the weather circumstances. We dealt with higher than normal temperatures, high humidity levels, constant thunderstorms, lightning, rain, bugs, poison ivy, and even a 10 ft. Alligator that took a swing at our location crew.

Through it all the ARRI camera gear with CODEX inside worked. One of the best pluses of shooting with CODEX capture drives are that they are unquestionably reliable and extremely fast. All of our material was shuttled from set to near set for Light Iron to create editorial deliverables and archive the capture drives. Every break I took the Codex capture drives to my cart and before I sent them off, I would download everything directly to a high-speed multi-bay SSD RAID stored on my DIT cart. This RAID is ridiculously fast, and the CODEX Capture Drives can keep up. Not having to wait hours for capture cards and readers to download the data, at the end of a long hot day, not only kept my sanity intact but it also kept our production on-time and on-budget. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. Well maybe I might suggest shooting in the late fall when the weather calms down a bit!

Director(s): Bert & Bertie
DP: James Whitaker, ASC
DIT: Adrian Jebef
Camera Rental: Keslow Camera
Cranes/dolly supplied by: Chapman Leonard Studios
Digital Intermediate: Light Iron Digital
Lenses: Vantage MiniHawk 
Resolution: 3424 x 2202
Distributor: Amazon Studios and Prime Video (theatrical and streaming)

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