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Why Screen Gems Is Using Smaller, Cheaper Cameras to Make Bigger Movies

Screen Gems is using the $3,000 Sony a7S II to shoot "Cadaver" in what will likely be a continuing trend for the mini-major studio.

Cadaver, Sony A7S

A Camera 1st Asst. Dan Mason and DP Lennert Hillege shooting “Cadaver” with Sony A7s

Screen Gems

At a time when studios rarely fund a film unless its budget is micro or blockbuster, Sony’s Screen Gems has embraced the middle way. By funding mid-ranged genre films like “Don’t Breathe” and making huge box office returns, the mini-major has become a major success story by doing things differently.

But when it comes to gear, they’re moving in the other direction: Today, Screen Gems announced that its new horror film “Cadaver” will be shot with a small and relatively inexpensive ($3,000) Sony a7S II.

“The Sony a7S cameras are a perfect fit for the movies we produce at Screen Gems because they afford us opportunities we might otherwise not get,” wrote Screen Gems’ head of physical production Glenn Gainor, in response to IndieWire’s inquiry.

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According to Gainor, the camera is not necessarily unique to the demands of “Cadaver,” a horror film about a disgraced ex-cop who must take a graveyard shift at the morgue. Gainor says he first got the idea while scouting the London Underground, which was inaccessible to most standard-size, professional camera equipment. Gainor thought a smaller camera like the a7S II, which can shoot in very low light situations, would allow them to get shots they couldn’t get otherwise. They started integrating footage from the smaller camera with the more standard “big movie” camera, the Sony F55.

“Don’t Breathe”

“When we cut everything together, both cameras blended seamlessly,” wrote Gainor. “So then I thought, why not use this to make a whole feature with?”

Gainor says this shift will allow Screen Gems to tell “bigger stories,” as the smaller camera can physically go places they otherwise couldn’t afford.

“By thinking differently, we’re also able to inspire our partners to widen their scope of production as well,” wrote Gainor.  “We inspired companies to come up with new ways to mount their equipment on the a7s such as what Vantage, the company behind Hawk lenses, did. We utilized some of their finest anamorphic lenses on ‘Cadaver’ and never waited to change lenses because each lens was mounted on the camera. Imagine that. We never said, ‘Change lenses.’ Instead, we simply picked up the whole unit and shot. It helped us shoot more efficiently which helped us make a bigger-looking movie.”

For “Cadaver,” Screen Gems paired the a7S II with Red Rock Micros follow focus and smaller SteadiCam equipment from Tiffen.

The Sony a7S II

“Our other partners, such as Digital Sputnik [which makes modular LED lights], allowed us to photograph on rooftops at night and mount their lights in hard-to reach-areas and then control the lights using tablets,” wrote Gainor.

Screen Gems also went eco-friendly on “Cadaver” using Emagispace reusable blocks to construct sets. According to Gainor, environmental consciousness was not the sole advantage.

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“Emagispace allowed us to build 20-foot set walls in half the time of traditional lumber-based sets, and then save the building blocks for future productions,” said Gainor. “So in essence, the walls went up in half the time and cut waste by about 50%. It was a win-win.”

Thinking of ways to be more efficient in making and marketing their movies has literally paid large dividends for Screen Gems, so it’ll be interesting to see what “Cadaver” looks like when it’s released later this summer. Conventional wisdom is smaller, cheaper cameras don’t make a film look more expensive, but if the increased mobility allows Screen Gems to increase production value, it could be interesting to see if there will be more mid-sized films following this model.

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