J-Names: J’s Garage

photographed by Andy Batt – September 2018

Always fun, always crazy, always reaching for newer & bigger ideas—that’s every shoot with improv troupe J-Names, and that’s why I always say yes. From concepting to execution, there’s a ton of creativity going into every moment of these projects. The goal with every J-Names project is to entertain & engage, and to do so at the highest status we can achieve. It’s a great exercise in doing more with less, letting the story be the focus, and keeping a focus on production value.

For J’s Garage the concept was to create layered story—our vignette takes place in a garage—we spent a lot of time finding a place with the classic look we were after. Story layer one is garage business—customers, salesman, mechanic, management. Layer two is that nobody there is who they seem to be—there’s a level of suspicious behavior going on with each character. Level three reveals that every one these people are there as undercover agents from myriad of acronymed spook shops, intent on busting the nefarious business at hand—which of course is all cover stories.

Part of the creative work is establishing a look—for J-Names this meant building on our last project, and continuing with our cinematic blue world. Blue wardrobe, blue lights, blue walls, blue lifts, and using neutrals as our complementary palette—silvers, grays, whites—this all pushed the visuals into a specific place, heightening the story. Even if it’s subtle or subconscious, selling the small story elements this way communicates to the audience that there’s intention and thought going into this.

“What would happen if everyone in the scene is an undercover agent?”

The driver for the video portion was to create a faux “one shot” combined with a faux “bullet time” — in other words, the video was going to feel like the camera never stops moving, and the ‘action’ of the talent was going to feel frozen. The faux part came from 1 part moving the camera into blocking objects—ala Alfred Hitchcock—allowing me to stop and start the take, and 1 part having the actors simply pose and not move. With the ability to stop and start a take, we could simply progress the story. I did spend many hours doing a flowchart to diagram out what the camera actions would be and what the actor actions would be, so on set we could literally fly through the shots.

Add in a handheld Ronin camera stabilizer, shooting 60FPS and ample use of speed ramping in DaVinci Resolve and whammo, we have successfully created a killer low budget/high production value video! [more nerd details at the bottom]

Lighting for both situations was key—having enough punch in the lighting to pull a fast shutter speed and decent ƒ-stop for the stills camera; this also worked to our advantage for the motion capture since over-cranked footage + fast shutter means a light hungry camera.

The deliverable goal was to have both a killer set of photographs and a dynamic video bumper that would family together and deliver the story to the audience. Memorable, dynamic, puzzling, bizarre — these were all keywords that we wanted delivered, so that J-Names would deliver effective posters, social media posting and festival promotions.

“Even small story elements communicates to the audience that there’s intention and thought going on.”

Nerd stuff: 
Directed by Andy Batt
Produced by Therese Gietler
DP Dustin Tolman: shot with our Canon C300M2, over-cranked to 60FPS, 2K capture, Canon 35mm AF lensing, mounted to a Ronin gimbal.
Grip & gaffed by Galvin Collins: lit with a combination of Gemini LED panels, Lowel Celebs, Kobold HMI, + smoke FX (supplied by Kai Shelton)
Edited/Colored by Andy Batt: in DaVinci Color Resolve 15.
Wardrobe: Becca Therkelson
Hair/MU: Janet Price