Mission Digital is very excited to announce that a production we worked on, The Hurricane Heist, the latest action film from Director Rob Cohen is now available in cinemas globally and to stream in the UK via Sky Cinemas and Now TV.Starring Toby Kebbell and Maggie Grace, The Hurricane Heist tells the story of a robbery of the U.S. Treasury during a massive hurricane. Shooting took place over three months in Bulgaria in 2016 and finished off in Manchester in January 2017.
It was our first project working with Cinematographer Shelly Johnson ASC and Director Rob Cohen. Working on projects the scale of which Rob and Shelly deliver is always exciting, with Rob having helmed films including Fast and Furious and xXx, while Shelly has been involved in films like Captain America: The First Avenger, Jurassic Park III and The Wolfman. We knew that this film was going to be visually driven action.
For a long time, we have professed that there is no one workflow that fits every production. Each production requires it’s own bespoke solution, one that meets the individual’s needs and integrates with the logistics of the job. What made this job unique is that Shelly doesn’t use a DIT on set, preferring to have his focus solely on the Director and instead will have a Dailies Colourist perform the equivalent of an attended DI session each evening. As Shelly himself puts it, “What happens in this scenario is that Mission Digital becomes a key component in the authorship of the image, becoming more collaborative artists that make daily decisions that affect the mood and storytelling of the movie. They get a sense of ownership and feeling of pride in the creation of the image that reminds us why we all love working in movies. We then become a united front with the goal of putting the best image possible up on the screen for Rob.”
From our perspective, Shelly’s ability to communicate exactly what he wanted and his commitment to ensuring the rushes matched his vision was remarkable and certainly made our job easier. Watching him on set and then in the lab, there was always a calm precision to his words, showing how key effective communication is to make such a large engine move so smoothly.
While the film is set in a storm, shooting in the late summer of Bulgaria didn’t necessarily mean that we had the ideal shooting conditions for creating a stormy look. The sessions spent during evenings became incredibly collaborative, forming a solid combination between Colourist Chris Nunn and Shelly, and the stills generated would not only prove a key element in maintaining confidence from the Director in the rushes, but often garnered applause.
What was a nice surprise was learning that the unit shooting at the end in Manchester would be using Arri’s Alexa 65. The shoot was to involve a new type of LED process screen that was customized for The Hurricane Heist, and because the storm-chasing vehicle was very technical and faceted (almost like a rolling laboratory), the desire was to get the sort of detail that 65 offered on what would be fully finished shots, eliminating any need for additional VFX work.
The Alexa 65 is Arri’s premium camera, which has captured cinematic masterpieces that include Star Wars: Rogue One, The Great Wall and The Revenant, just to name a few. It is capable of shooting at 6.5K resolution, in a lossless compression RAW format, but at the expense of generating a whopping 2.6TB per hour of footage. Whilst The Hurricane Heist was by no means a typical indie film, it was working with considerable financial restraints as every element in this film was more ambitious than the budget available allowed for. Fortunately, the Director and DOP were determined to make it happen and called on Mission Digital to ensure consistency across all material that would be captured.
From Mission Digital’s perspective, determining how can we deliver on these elements without compromising the service that was provided throughout the shoot became the top priority. And as Shelly said, “Mission Digital did this all invisibly because it was paramount for them to continue to make the color grade a creative process… not a huge technical experiment.”
For the most part, the Alexa 65 follows the same route to delivery as the Alexa XT we all know. However, there are a few important differences that are noteworthy: First, data needs to be captured to a Codex Vault before it can be processed and backed up. Then, once the data is in the vault, a real-time process is executed which prepares the footage for transfer to your storage for QC, colour pass and deliverables.
With this additional step and the vast amount of data you would expect to acquire, you need to ensure you have the following considerations taken into account:
The footage needs to be backed up quickly enough for the mags to be reused again. This needs efficient technicians, fast equipment and an efficient workflow
Where will you store the master footage? Delivering to LTO tape is the cost-effective solution, which can be automated by employing enterprise solutions, such as an LTO robot to expedite the process.
Since you’re shooting 6.5K as opposed to the more traditional 2.8K, you need more processing power. This can either be solved by adding horsepower through either more powerful machines or having multiple systems running in parallel (which comes with its own network complexities and high bandwidth requirements)
Mission Digital was able to address these issues, as Shelly stated: “Mission Digital are quite expert at hitting that balance of tech and art that we all love about the film business, and they don’t get lost in the ones and zeros of it all. As for the Alexa 65, we were able to give our two-dimensional process photography the perceived depth it needed and enjoyed the incredible detail that the 65 format offers to place our characters in a very real environment. The entire experience was fantastically rewarding and Mission Digital’s generosity with their knowledge and creative solutions to technical requirements made the pursuit of these goals quite enlightening. I learned as much from them… if not more… than they learned from me.”
Looking back, it has been a project we have been very excited to work on. Working with Shelly was a great learning experience, with an extra layer of excitement brought to this project by Shelly’s take over of the ASC Instagram account. Watching Shelly sharing information, his desire to pass on his knowledge and the response that generated indicated to us this was a Cinematographer who was not only someone we wanted to work with, but someone we felt we could learn a lot from.
And of course, there is no way we could have achieved what we did on this show without our committed and talented technicians, Chris Nunn and Neil Gray. Also critical was the support of Paul Karbiner and Mario Radinovic at Arri Rental, and of course Tom Mitchell and the entire team at Mission Digital.
If you would like more information on shooting on the Alexa 65 please reach out to our team on 0208 964 4965 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Mission Digital: Mission Digital is the UK’s leading provider of Digital Film Services, providing some of the world’s best Digital Imaging Technicians and Digital Lab services to large-scale film productions and episodic television shows around the world. Films include Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, High Rise, Free Fire, Everest, Loving Vincent and The Theory of Everything. Television productions include Electric Dreams, Doctor Foster, Will, The Collection and Marcella.