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Bringing ancient legends to life through the modern filmmaker’s lens

Mineworks Film’s Haunted is a docuseries that brings legends to life through a very different lens and perspective. Series producer and director of photography, Frank Mirbach, offers TVBEurope his insights into the creative and technical decisions of the show

Tell us about the series. When and how did you become involved in Haunted?

Haunted, currently a working title, was developed by Mineworks Film as a fresh addition to the Discoveries series, broadcast on ARTE, the European culture TV channel. This project sprang from the desire to craft a mini series with a twist on the traditional nature/wildlife programme format. We chose to explore various countries and regions through the lens of spooky legends, which allows us to delve into the local wildlife, nature and culture.

How do you envision the visual style and tone of the docuseries?

Given the series’ focus on ancient legends and stories from various cultures, we’re adopting a cinematic approach. My goal was to visually represent these tales in a way that emphasises perception’s role in what we find spooky. We intend to show how the ambience of a location — be it a foggy street under moonlight or the same place bathed in sunshine — can dramatically alter its perceived spookiness.

Talk us through your approach to pre-production planning.

Pre-production planning has involved seeking visual inspiration from movies and series, especially older films. We have been testing cameras and lenses and scouting locations while meeting with protagonists to plan shooting as thoroughly as possible. We’ve already scouted locations in the Lozère area in France, Romania and Louisiana in the US. 

As the director, DP, and producer, the primary challenge lies in aligning the artistic vision with budget constraints. At Mineworks Film, our team has embraced the vision for Haunted from the beginning, with production now underway. We’ve worked closely with the co producers (Hessischer Rundfunk, Saarländischer Rundfunk and Arte) and our creative team, incorporating visual examples and discussions to craft the series’ desired look and feel.

What are the final deliverables, and how has that influenced your technical choices, i.e., camera formats, resolutions, frame rates, etc.?

The series will be delivered to the network in 4K UHD, aligning with our long-standing practice and the intention to distribute internationally. Likewise, we are filming real locations and people and need to work quickly, so our documentary shooting often involves run-and-gun techniques. Consequently, we need more flexibility to stabilise and resize shots in post-production, so we’ve opted to shoot 8K Blackmagic RAW at Q4 constant quality as a rule.

We have chosen the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K as our primary camera and Blackmagic’s Pocket Cinema Camera 6K for additional coverage, paired with DZO Films Pictor Zoom lenses. This combination was chosen after extensive testing for its ability to capture the series’ desired cinematic look and feel, blending modern and vintage lens qualities to achieve the perfect visual aesthetic for the series.

What does your plan for lighting look like?

Given the documentary’s budgetary and logistical constraints, our lighting strategy prioritises portability without compromising on quality. We’ve opted for Aputure’s Lightstorm series as our main lighting solution, supplemented by Amarans 200D and F21 LED lights, enhancing what light is naturally available. 

The lights can also be battery operated at certain power levels, offering flexibility in challenging locations. Additionally, LED lighting is a more power efficient option than traditional tungsten or HMI lighting. Composition will largely be determined by the specifics of each location and moment, taking advantage of natural light through windows, for example. 

What problems does the USRA Mini Pro 12K solve for you heading into production on Haunted?

The 8K resolution offers two main advantages: visual quality and practicality. The URSA’s image output is stunning, producing a beautiful, soft look that is less harsh than other cameras. In terms of practicality, the ergonomics are good, with essential features such as Kelvin, shutter speed and ISO adjustments readily accessible, along with an OLED viewfinder, a handgrip and a monitor. These built in features allow for faster operation without navigating through menus, making the camera’s form factor almost ideal for documentary style shooting. Furthermore, the 12K resolution and the seamless integration of Blackmagic RAW files with DaVinci Resolve have significantly enhanced our post-production workflow.

Talk us through your on-set workflow. 

Our DIT station is typically set up in our hotel rooms on location, requiring equipment that is both lightweight and flexible. After each day of shooting, the footage is backed up redundantly using a MacBook Pro M3 Max, utilising DaVinci Resolve Studio’s clone tool. Given the deadlines we are working towards, with the entire series set to deliver before the end of 2024, providing our post production department with rushes as quickly as possible is crucial. We achieve this by simultaneously offloading and backing up media to a SanDisk ProBlade system and a Blackmagic Cloud Store Mini 8TB. 

We then use the Blackmagic Proxy Generator to automatically render the Blackmagic RAW files into smaller HD proxy files which are then automatically synced to Google Drive through a Blackmagic Cloud Store 8TB, saving significant time. Our post-production team then uses these proxies to create rough cuts for each scene while the crew continues shooting on location. This accelerates the post production process and allows for immediate feedback, which can be incorporated into the shooting process.

How will you approach post production? 

During the shoot, we will have access to the editing process in more or less real time, allowing Mirbach to supervise post production on set while our team of editors and finishing artists work on the cut and effects for the series. This will be achieved through DaVinci Resolve Studio and Blackmagic Cloud. Collaborators can be added to the project via our cloud hosted project library, allowing multiple people to work on the production simultaneously, no matter where in the world they are located. This will help to speed up things tremendously, with a tight turnaround to deliver the series.