New York-based production company Variable released a captivating new short yesterday called Rocket Wars, which explores the contradiction of a Greek celebration of peace that resembles an explosive war zone. Director Salomon Ligthelm and cinematographer Khalid Mohtaseb enlisted the aid of Nice Shoes colorist Sal Malfitano to give the short its final look.
“The footage was beautiful and I could really see its potential,” said Malfitano. “They had shot it with as much natural lighting as possible, and had a ton of ideas about where they wanted to go with it. They wanted to craft a tense look and create a foreboding, moody feel in the buildup to the explosions.”
The film was shot in Greece where the parishioners of two Greek Orthodox churches engage in a mock battle every year on Holy Saturday, firing more than 100,000 homemade rockets at each other’s churches when the sun goes down. The Variable team utilized the Phantom Flex 4K and Red Dragon 6K to capture interviews and scenic imagery, as well as the Sony a7S, which was mounted to a remote controlled drone to shoot aerial cinematography.
“From the outset of this project, Khalid and I had discussed how we wanted to approach the visual language of the film – from the camera movements, to the editing and especially the look. After we had looked at the dailies and explored the breadth of what we had shot, both Khalid and I poured over select grabs and graded them to see how we could fit them into a visual language that felt cohesive,” said Ligthelm. “We knew that Sal would be a great fit for this project, as it required a bit of back and forth, which was the type of collaboration that we needed on this project. Because of the huge variety of cameras and codecs at play here, we had to carefully balance the contrast levels (especially in the low end) to make all the footage feel cohesive. We actually started with a super low-contrast look, but we chose to stick to a more filmic contrast and color level consisting of deep and rich tones, which Sal was able to dial in for us.”
“We shot on multiple different cameras and resolutions anywhere from 1080 and 4k spherical to 6k anamorphic so it was a diverse range of formats,” Mohtaseb explained. “We knew we’d need someone that’s not only talented and has a great eye but also someone who understands what it takes to make this work from a technical standpoint. Sal was one of the first colorists who came to mind because we’ve collaborated many times in the past and knew he’d have the patience to bring this to life. We’re so comfortable with Sal at this point that we’re more than comfy trying new looks and experimenting a bit. We tried many different looks and ended with a look that was slightly more stylized than what was out of camera.”
“Salomon and Khalid capture what they want in camera and know exactly what they want, but they’re also very collaborative,” said Malfitano. “We’ve worked on quite a few projects together now, and the more we’ve worked together, the better sense I’ve had of their vision, and how they communicate. It let me focus on enhancing the beautiful imagery they’d captured already and take it to a really cinematic and filmic place, which helps it stand apart as a documentary short.”