Hayley Easton Street shoots ‘Stealth’
movie with the
EOS 5D Mark III
© Hayley Easton Street
New York, Istanbul, London and Monaco… all of these stellar locations have had a part to play in the remarkable journey of filmmaker Hayley Easton Street’s movie ‘Stealth’. Shot using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR as the primary camera, this clever and engaging short offers an illuminating peek into a world that many don’t know about, as well as showing how making movies can take you on a fascinating trip. CPN writer Robert Hull spoke to Hayley Easton Street to find out more…
Let’s look away from the bright lights of the big city; instead, we’ll focus on a young man, Josh, as he walks the streets, late at night, looking for an opportunity. We watch on as he clambers along scaffolding and climbs up it, avoiding security guards on the prowl. A soundtrack murmurs with tension and continues to build as Josh makes his way to the top of the tower in the heart of the City of London. Surveying the cityscape as the morning breaks, Josh puts something on his back, moves towards the edge of the skyscraper and jumps off. A parachute opens and he drifts down to the streets: an exhilarated base jumper ready to blend back into the drudgery of the daily commute.
Written and directed by Hayley Easton Street the movie ‘Stealth’ was partly inspired by the life of Dan Witchalls, a base jumper who appeared in the Channel 4 television documentary ‘The Men Who Jump Off Buildings’ in 2010. Dan sort of lives the life of the character Josh in the film, by breaking into buildings and doing, usually illegal, base jumps. As Easton Street explains: “Dan gets up in the middle of the night. He leaves his girlfriend in bed and sneaks out. He’s done about 1,200 of these jumps.”
It isn’t necessarily the illegal nature of a base jumper’s thrill seeking that Easton Street wanted to explore, but the way this extreme activity often takes place without the wider world’s awareness. She also wanted to look at what drives a person to do it. She reveals: “I wanted to get across a ‘hidden London’, or a hidden anywhere, actually. It’s the idea that ‘stuff’ is going on all the time and you don’t even know it. Who would ever dream someone is breaking into buildings several hundred feet high and then jumping off the roof? I do think that it’s an addiction for the people who do that. It’s a compulsion.”
The irony of film-making means that what looks glamorous on screen is often created in a less-than-dazzling environment. Although Easton Street did find herself on top of central London tower blocks, the nuts and bolts of ‘Stealth’ were concocted on a set in south London. The practicalities of the shoot were underpinned by the compact dimensions of the EOS 5D Mark III, its incredible ISO sensitivity and the versatile accessory solutions that are available for it.
“We hired a warehouse location and built a space measuring around three storeys high and about 20 feet wide,” says Easton Street. “This was in order to shoot the scenes where Josh has to creep, crawl and climb around inside the scaffolding that will take him towards the top of the tower.” The space helps convey the scale of Josh’s task but it didn’t actually leave Easton Street and her crew much room for actual manoeuvring.
She explains: “The EOS 5D Mark III was a great choice of camera because it was everything we needed in terms of usability, size and the handling, which was great. We also had a RedRock Micro rig. Because we were in that confined area, within the scaffolding set, there was no space. The EOS 5D Mark III was brilliant for that part of the shoot. We were able to get in there and move around.”
The need to film Josh’s prowl to his jumping-off point at night, as well as having dark scenes on the scaffold set, meant Easton Street knew she needed a camera capable of delivering the goods in low-light. In discussions with Canon over the project, the EOS 5D Mark III – with its impressive standard ISO range of 100 to 25,600 – was suggested as the solution. Not only did the Mark III rise to the challenge, it actually surpassed expectations.
“We lit the set of our warehouse location for night, so we had blue light and some streetlight effects,” reveals Easton Street. “We were concerned about making sure we always got the shot. But we ended up surprised because we found out we were almost over-lighting as the EOS 5D Mark III was so good in those conditions. We were actually able to turn some lights out!”
Another aspect of the EOS 5D Mark III that Easton Street and her crew found satisfying was the image quality produced, even when using a straightforward lens. Though she had access to a wide selection of glass, Easton Street found she was more than satisfied with the results using the Canon EF50mm f/1.2L USM lens. “We kept trying to use our other lenses but it all looked so great on that 50mm lens. It just looked beautiful. We mainly ended up using the 50mm f/1.2 (and the 50mm f/1.4 on the B cam) for the interiors and rooftop, and the EF70-200mm f/2.8 for the base jump footage.”
After the claustrophobic set Easton Street – who describes ‘Stealth’ as her first “proper” movie – and the crew were able to breathe in the fresh air, and fumes, of London in order to shoot footage from the tower tops. However, it wasn’t a simple process in gaining access to the skyscraper that takes a leading role in Josh’s jump. Although access to the roof of Tower 42 (formerly the NatWest Tower) had been granted, on the basis that an illegal base jump wouldn’t be taking place, it was withdrawn at the last minute. “I was called up and told: ‘We think you’re going to come in and do a base jump anyway, so we’re calling it off’.”
Ultimately, these fears were calmed and the team was allowed access to Tower 42 a short time after that initial date. But being one crew member down on filming day Easton Street suddenly had the opportunity for more hands-on time with the EOS 5D Mark III. She notes: “In terms of the menus and the intuitive controls the [EOS 5D] Mark III was brilliant. I was instinctively going to the correct button for the features I wanted.”
The ‘Stealth’ team did make a departure from using the EF50mm f/1.2L USM lens when they landed in Istanbul to film base jumpers during the first round of the ProBASE World Cup at the city’s Sapphire tower. An EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom lens was used with the EOS 5D Mark III to film shots from ground level with the base jumpers waiting to jump from the top of the building.
It was then back to the 50mm lens for shots at the top of the building – plus a dose of post-production trickery, which no doubt benefitted from Easton Street’s experience as a Visual Effects Art Director. “We got lots of different shots of the base jumpers and then we composited a base jumper into the Tower 42 footage,” she explains.
Easton Street reveals: “It was crucial the jump was absolutely believable; we didn't want to do it in cuts to get around it. Instead, as it would have been way too dangerous to even position our actor on the edge, we took a green screen up to the roof, and filmed several passes of the actor. Tower 42 has three staggered rooftops, so we shot a clean plate of our hero rooftop from an elevated roof above. Then we set up a green screen a few feet back from the edge and, from the same angle, we shot the actor jumping against the green screen.”
She adds: “Despite the extra headache of setting up a green screen at 600 feet, the beauty is that the lighting matches perfectly, whereas shooting in a studio it wouldn't. When we finally tracked, repositioned and composited the actor into the handheld clean plate, it looked totally believable that he's leaping from the edge. The actor had done some skydiving so was able to do a convincing 'dummy' jump onto the ground without injuring himself.”
While that tells the story of London and Istanbul, what of New York and Monaco? These destinations are actually part of the film’s story now that a viewing public has had a chance to watch it.
‘Stealth’ was screened as part of the International Manhattan Film Festival in Greenwich Village, New York, in November 2012 and at the Monaco International Film Festival (Angel Film Awards) in Monte Carlo in early December 2012, where it won three awards in the Short Film category: Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Producer. In between it has also enjoyed a run at London’s Aubin cinema and been shortlisted for IMDB’s New Film-maker Award. And, if that’s whetted your appetite to see it blown up big, you’ll also find it screening at the Lexi Cinema in London from 28 December 2012 to 4 January 2013.
As to why ‘Stealth’ is getting such strong reviews and winning awards, Easton Street believes it is down to giving festival crowds something different. “When it got shortlisted by IMDB I went to the awards," she remembers. “They shortlisted six films from 185 and ‘Stealth’ was different from a lot of them. I’m finding this a lot: not just the subject matter, but the look of it. It has been completely different to anything else it’s been shown with, which I think has done it a lot of favours.”
Hayley Easton Street’s equipment
EOS 5D Mark III (primary camera)
EOS 5D Mark II (secondary camera)
EF24mm f/1.4L II USM
EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM
EF50mm f/1.2L USM
EF50mm f/1.4 USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF85mm f/1.2L II USM
EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM
2x Redrock Micro eyeSpy rigs
Mini dolly (used in one shot only)
Biography: Hayley Easton Street
Hayley Easton Street is a respected Visual Effects Art Director with a large number of major feature films to her credit, including ‘X-Men’, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘Wrath of the Titans’. A passionate writer and director she is working on her first feature film as a writer/director – a fast-paced horror called ‘Revenant’. Further projects include music videos and two more features that are currently being written. Her short film ‘Stealth’ was shortlisted for the prestigious IMDB Best New Film-Maker Award.