Shooting Small Town Crime

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Tue, 08/14/2018 - 13:21 -- Nick Dager

To capture Small Town Crime, Johnny Derango relied on his own Sony F55, along with a rented F55 and a complete Cooke miniS4/i lens kit with all focal lengths from 18mm to 135mm shared between the cameras.In Small Town Crime, a thriller with dark humor, ex-cop Mike Kendall (John Hawkes) discovers the body of a young woman and, in an act of self-redemption, becomes hell-bent on finding her killer. While his uncouth and quirky detective style helps break open the case, his dogged determination unwittingly puts his family in danger.

As an official selection of both the 2017 SXSW and BFI London Film Festivals, Small Town Crime’s theatrical release this past January garnered rave reviews from top critics at the New York Times, LA Times, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and world-renowned film critic, Leonard Maltin, who noted that the film was “…artfully lit by Johnny Derango.”

To capture Small Town Crime, Derango relied on his own Sony F55, along with a rented F55 and a complete Cooke miniS4/i lens kit with all focal lengths from 18mm to 135mm shared between the cameras. Rented from Daufenbach Camera in Chicago, first assistant camera John Waterman loaded up a box truck in Chicago, bringing all the gear to Tooele, Utah, an old mining town west of Salt Lake City.

“Small Town Crime was larger in scope than almost anything I had previously done,” said Derango. “To tackle this, we doubled up coverage using the A and B cameras side-by-side, shooting both at all times. We carefully chose our A-Cam lens based on our existing storyboards, then worked the B camera frame to something that would cut well with the A-Cam in post. With the Cooke miniS4/i primes having such a large range of lenses, our two-camera coverage was extremely useful, especially during our larger action sequences.”

Surprisingly, Derango had almost no previous experience with Cooke lenses. “I had read a lot about Cooke lenses in industry magazines and, throughout my career, I saw a great number of Cookes being used,” explained Derango. “There was something about those images... something that always stuck with me and drew me to Cooke lenses. I got to experience that first hand once or twice using the S4 primes on various projects.”

That something has been referred to as The Cooke Look by many cinematographers. It is a uniqueness of the lenses that gives a different type of feel to the images than any other lens.

“The F55 has a very sharp sensor, and it was important to me to take the edge off. The miniS4/is helped to take that edge off, but it didn’t make the image look overly soft. That’s as close as I can get to describing that ‘look’ that people talk about,” said Derango.

Warming up certain scenes in a film of this type might seem counter intuitive, but it was the look that Derango and The Nelms Brothers (writers/directors Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms) wanted. The three have a close relationship, having worked together on more than half a dozen projects before Small Town Crime, so there was a definite level of trust and familiarity with style.

“The bar scenes are where the warmth of the Cookes really came through,” said Derango. “We wanted warmth in a place that people typically think might be harsh or cold. There’s an underlying noir feel. Sort of a western, where the cars are the horses, a big street duel, and, throughout it all, the images looked gorgeous, with nice contrast, they really hit the sweet spot.”

In addition, Derango used 1/2 HD Classic Soft from Schneider for the entire film to help take the edges off the highlights. Plus, he always used antique suede 1 or 2 filters, depending on how warm he wanted the image to be. With the LUT developed for Small Town Crime, and always shooting through the antique suedes, he shot at daylight 5500 for the entirety of the film. He also pushed the ISO of the F55s to 2000 for the entire shoot, to help introduce a bit of noise, which helped to add an almost filmic grain.

“I love the look, it’s really that simple,” said Derango. “It was a great feeling to use Cooke lenses on a project of this size. I got to use the Cooke miniS4/is again a few months ago on a Panasonic EVA1 for a music video. There’s just something that I respond to in the image of a Cooke lens. “Cooke lenses are always one of my first looks when considering what lenses I’ll be using on a new project.”

Small Town Crime is available on Netflix worldwide, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD.