Osbun Pulls off Captivating Micro-budget Feature with Help of Matthews

Valerie Taylor |

One look at the captivating "Don't Tear Yourself Apart" proves that with ingenuity, friends, and go-for-it attitude, anything is possible despite 2021's challenges. Taking advantage of the Covid lull, the film's co-executive producer and cinematographer JJ Osbun and screenwriter/director P. Tavares filmed in 10 days, and completed it 8 months later. They pulled their personal iPhone 11 Pro and 12 Pro out of their pockets, and went to work on their first narrative feature.

Gearing up

The camera package consisted of the two iPhones with 1:33 anamorphic adapters and cages that made creative rigging possible. “The real trick was the grip and lighting,” Osbun says. During prep Matthews' resident key grip, Martin Torner had mentioned the importance of lighting the environment, not just the talent. He took that to heart. With just himself on camera/grip/lighting and tight practical locations, Osbun kept his kit minimal and versatile, opting for color-LED lighting: two fresnels, a panel light, and a few smaller fixtures.

The lights went a long way, especially after Matthews CEO Tyler Phillips recommended Lightbridge CRLS C-Reflectors. One trial was all it took. Osbun purchased a Go Kit, with 15cm Diff 1 and 2, 25cm Diff 2 and 3, and 50cm Diff 3 and 4 C-Reflectors and pulled them out on almost every setup.

CRLS Saves the Day

“The CRLS saved me time after time." Osbun cites the example of their need to go very low profile while shooting at a police station. "A small 15cm C-Reflector sent a beam of sunlight 40 feet to hit an actor’s face who would have otherwise fallen into shadow. The scene wouldn't have worked without that C-Reflector fixed to a Babysitt’r, tucked far away.”

Another time he mounted the Q5 light onto a Matthews Monitor stand with both 25cm and 50cm C-reflectors to pull off double-duty lighting. "The CRLS allows for multiple qualities of light from a single source," he adds. Add Matthews' C-stands, Vacuum Cups, clamps, and other hardware, and Osbun MacGyvered his way through the production.

Going Dark

It was literally a dark story, calling mainly for night environments. To control lighting, windows were covered with duvetyne within the compact 1930s West Hollywood bungalow that served as the main character’s disheveled home. The iPhone camera, controlled through a third-party app, was set to a very low 33 ISO rather than the usual base of 800-1200. “After tests with my colorist I knew I would need to overlight so we could compress noise in post."

Handy Double Riser Combo

One essential tool was a Matthews Double Riser Combo Stand with a Mini Boom extension. Like a sharpshooter on a tight schedule Osbun pulled out the stops and and set up the Double Riser Combo Stand with the Mini Boom, attached the camera cage and used it as a boom for the riveting opening sequence. It was his go-to for helping lights reach out over set." He used the combo to bounce a 1’x2’ panel light onto the curved white ceiling for an effective makeshift cyc, casting a soft fill, so needed for those low ISOs. He added contrast by raking a soft-boxed Q5, dropping a fresnel on a BabySitt'r and kicking it into unbleached muslin with a 25cm C-Reflector on a C-stand to bounce back a harder light at the talent’s face. "I was able to set up scenes within 20-30 minutes by myself, he explains. "The combo was a sleeper hit —I knew I would use it, but I didn’t realize how much.”

Vacuum Cup Rigging

The script called for a number of scenes in driving cars. Given the lightweight camera and lights, and unbounding resourcefulness; Osbun used three Matthews 4.5” vacuum cups to mount to vehicles, explaining "With their 1/4"-20 threads you can use Matthews tapped baby-pins to attach almost anything. Add a few knuckleheads, and an articulating arm, and your options are significant. Building a car rig in 20 minutes was a big deal for our unforgiving schedule."

Pick up shots

With pedal to the metal, Osbun had moments to come up with last-minute dynamic solutions to breath more energy into the footage. One of his most versatile shots was in a parking lot. He used the Double Riser and Mini Boom to raise the camera 12' in the air and swing it in so the iPhone looked down onto a car as it pulled in and parked. While editing he was able to use that over-the-car perspective in one scene and insert the counter rotation as the car parked in another. Setup and capture took less than 15 minutes. "That's the beauty of these tools", concludes Osbun. "They helped us create interesting perspectives to better tell the story—on a tight schedule with minimal resources—plus, the entire feature production kit fit in my Jeep."