Shooting 35 mm Film on an Indie Budget

Cinematographer Blake McClure is in the midst of achieving a goal that many cinematographers dream of – he’s making the transition from successful music video and short form shooter to narrative feature director of photography. Three different feature projects he has photographed in the last year and a half are making their way towards cinema screens, and in each case following an unusual path.

McClure, who studied filmmaking in his native Nashville at Watkins Film School, was named one of Variety’s Ten Cinematographers to Watch in the music video arena in the mid-2000s. He honed his imaging skills on clips for Kelly Clarkson, Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood, 3 Doors Down, and Shinedown. Commercial work followed, as well as a unique 3D sequence that is part of a concert film featuring Kenny Chesney. McClure’s versatility is also apparent in a pair of documentary features he shot for ESPN. And a short film he shot called The Arm won Best Comedy Short at the Sundance Film Fest.

In 2011, McClure completed principal photography on two 35 mm feature films. Amazingly, one was produced for under $300,000. Even more eye-popping is the second feature, which McClure and his friends pulled together, with the help of donations, for under $10,000. We can’t mention the titles here until the films find distribution.

“Everyone seems to think that having a low budget precludes shooting on film,” says McClure. “Well, I can tell you first-hand that isn’t true.”

Panavision 35 mm camera on the set of one of McClure's features. (Photo by David Poag)

A third feature, titled After, is premiering at the Nashville Film Festival along with Super Zeroes. After has a financing story unusual even in the do-it-yourself world of indie filmmaking. A major backer is Carmike Cinemas, the fourth-largest cinema chain in the US. Carmike is showing the teaser-trailer for After before screenings of the latest Twilight installment in its theaters, a great boost for McClure’s film.

After was shot in Alabama in anamorphic format using Red digital cameras. The anamorphic lenses came from Panavision Dallas. “Shooting anamorphic was a little crazy, because we didn’t really have the time or equipment for big set-ups,” says McClure. “But we were looking for a dark, high tech, Blade Runner look, without the sci-fi element, so it worked out for us.”

To learn more about McClure, check out http://blake-mcclure.com/filter/narrative.

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