Flooding to Sundance
Director: Kenneth A. Carlson
Cinematographer: Curt Apduhan
The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio casts a tall shadow over neighboring towns, but high-school football is clearly the show of shows in nearby Massillon. For most residents of the struggling steel town, following the Washington High School Tigers is a lifelong endeavor: souvenir Tiger footballs are tucked into the bassinets of males born in the local hospital, and the town’s funeral parlor offers a commemorative casket adorned with the team’s logo.
Although he left Massillon long ago, native Kenneth A. Carlson never forgot the town’s obsessive devotion to the Tigers, and in 1999 he decided to take a film crew there to document it. The result, Go Tigers!, was screened in documentary competition at Sundance and is scheduled for theatrical release in September.
Carlson, whose credits included producing 175 segments of America’s Most Wanted, asked cinematographer Curt Apduhan to help bring his hometown to the big screen. The two had recently collaborated on the documentary, Amargosa, which Carlson co-produced and Apduhan shot (see Production Slate, AC July ’00). The cameraman holds a business degree and actually began working in postproduction and production on the business side 13 years ago. “I started out above the line, and I’m working steadily to get below it,” Apduhan notes wryly. He decided to learn cinematography and taught himself the craft by working on a variety of commercials, Amargosa was his first director of photography credit on a feature. “Curt has a very unique eye, and I knew he’d give me a different perspective on Go Tigers!,” Carlson notes. “He’s also a workhorse, and I knew we’d have to make many trips to Massillon to get what I wanted.”
The filmmakers realized that shooting a documentary spanning the 10-week football season and requiring a variety of locations would best be accomplished with a mix of formats. They chose high-definition (HD) video for the bulk of the project, and augmented it with Super 16mm coverage of the football games and digital video (DV) for additional candid moments. “In order to capture high-school life, you need great flexibility,” Carlson points out. “I knew HD would give us that, as well as great resolution. We could, for example, start in a locker room lit with fluorescent lights, iris down to follow the kids into a tunnel, then pop out into the halogen lights of the football field.” Apduhan notes that using HD had a financial advantage as well; “We knew we’d have to roll a lot of tape or film in order to cover a 10-week season, and although all of us would’ve have rather shot film, that wasn’t possible with our budget.”
Neither Apduhan nor Carlson had used hi-def before, and Apduhan learned the fundamentals of the camera in a two-hour orientation at Plus 8 in Burbank. “It’s hyper-real video,” he observes. “As a capture medium, it’s definitely not there yet – the latitude isn’t there, and it has severe problems in overexposure areas. It’s far more contrasty than film, in film, you can feel it without necessarily lighting it, whereas with HD, if you want to feel it, you’d better light it.”
Apduhan was therefore somewhat surprised to hear himself making a suggestion to Carlson after the first day of shooting; get rid of the grip truck. “We had a full complement of tungsten lights and Kino Flos, and we got rid of everything but a 4-foot, four-bank Kino Flo,” says the cinematographer. “We wanted the film to have a type of romance but we had so much coverage – two HD units, two film units and three miniDV cams. I didn’t want the audience to buy into an unlit look, then see intermittent interviews with different lighting that would take them out of that. This is not a lighting cameraman’s film; it’s a shooter’s film, an operator’s film. While interviewing people in their homes, Apduhan frequently positioned the Kino Flo as toplight or sidelight, as if a lamp were on above or next to the subjects.
The many shooters on Go Tigers! ranged from the very experienced to the completely inexperienced. In the former category were Chuck Cohen (Varsity Blues) and NFL Films cameraman Bill Evans, whom Carlson brought on board to shoot two key Tiger football games. “I wanted to be able to overcrank and use time lapses, to get the ball spiraling though the air and the beads of sweat on the linebacker’s face,” Carlson explains. “I wanted the beauty of the game.” Cohen and Evans used Arriflex SR-3s, employing Kodak Vision 500T 7279 pushed one stop for night sequences, and Vision 320T 7277 and Vision 200T 7274 for day sequences.
In the “inexperienced: category were Tiger co-captains Dave Irwin, Ellery Moore and Dan Studer, each of whom was given a Sony miniDV cam to capture details of their lives at home and at school. “At first, the cameras were like playtime for them,” Apduhan says. “But they really got into it as filmmakers, and a lot of their shots made it into the film.” Equipping the teens with cameras also gave the filmmakers a degree of coverage while the crew was out of town. (Carlson estimates that the crew made nine trips to Massillon during the course of production.)
Apduhan and second-unit director of photography Joseph Kawasaki did most of the HD operating, using two Sony HDW-700A 1080i cameras equipped with Fuijinon lenses. Carlson occasionally took up the camera as well. “I love to shoot, and I wanted to get into the nitty-gritty with the players,” says the director. “Sometimes I’d run into a huddle, stay in the play, and get hit and knocked down!”
According to Apduhan, each day in Massillon began with a breakfast planning session. “We’d discuss what had happened the day before and talk about where the story might go. Then Ken and (co-producer) Sidney Sherman would give us our assignments, and we’d hit the road,” he recalls. “We’d bounce the units around, and whoever ended up with that particular camera would be stuck with it for a while. Massillon is a relatively small town, so we could get around very quickly when things came up.”
The multiple units on Go Tigers! eventually shot more than 300 hours of film and video, and Apduhan recalls that the crew had a small party when he broke out the 285th HD tape. Editor Jeff Werner and Carlson spent close to seven months assembling the final cut, and three post houses (Company 3, Laser Pacific and Image Lab) were involved in the finishing process because of the mix of formats. The final tape-to-tape color-correction was handled by the Sony HD Center.
Achieving a handsome and consistent look was of paramount interest to everyone involved in Go Tigers!, and although he supervised a number of technicians on the film, Apduhan says he wishes he’d had one more; a hi-def engineer. “Budgeting for an HD engineer, who basically acts as your on-set colorist, is pretty normal now, but it wasn’t when we were shooting. Many setups can be done in the camera’s main system, but we just used the factory-default settings and worked within those parameters. However, there’s really no way to color-correct (while shooting) when you have 20 different fluorescent instruments in a locker room!”
- Rachel K. Bosley