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How to make a visually stunning NO BUDGET short film in the mountains

'At least half the battle with getting the perfect shot (which doesn't actually exist by the way!) is to actually be there.'


From time to time one comes across a short film that not only looks beautiful but is also guided by a poetic and introspective narrative. This film by Jonathan J Scott is just that, visual poetry. The voiceover also happens to resemble Morgan Freeman (in my humble opinion). We spoke with Jonathan about how he made this stunning short film, check out the interview below.

What inspired you to create this video?

I always have at least one personal project on the boil at any one time. I usually get away for a week or two each winter to go skiing.  I love skiing but this year I wanted to get off the slopes and into the mountains properly. It sounds super cheesy but I wanted to connect with nature and the mountain environment. The mountains are somewhere that is often seen as kind of scary and forbidding. My filming kit comes with me just about everywhere I go and I thought that capturing the feeling of being alone high up in the mountains would be a great subject for a short film.


What did your setup look like?

This was shot on the Sony A7sII, with a selection of Canon lenses 16-35mm F4L IS, 24-105mm F4L IS, 50mm F1.4, 85mm F1.8. I also took a small Manfrotto travel tripod and the Zhiyun-Tech Crane handheld gimbal. The Zhiyun Crane is my new favourite piece of filmmaking kit, it's extremely light, easy to setup and with the right camera and lens combination it can produce some wonderfully smooth footage.

Travelling on foot high up into the mountains meant that lighting kit was essential. Everything needed to fit into a single backpack. It's crucial to have all the spare batteries, and cards etc. as You won't find any spares! 


Did you use any filters on the lens? What was your lighting setup like?

I used a Tiffen Variable ND a lot as the high altitude and bright sun means that you need ND to ensure footage isn't over exposed, especially shooting on an FF sensor with fast glass. As a lot of the shots were wide mountain vistas I was relying on purely available light. This meant patience and timing were key. A lot of stuff was shot at golden hour to make the most of soft flattering light (even though the final film was graded with a strong cool blue tone). In a few of the close up and macro shots I used a small LED light to give a kick to the highlights and bring out some texture in the snow.

 

How did you go about location scouting?

Old map and compass stuff really. I love just heading off into the back country to explore. When I found somewhere I liked I shot it or made a note of it and came back when the light was better.

 

What was your process in regards to setting up, finding the perfect shot, framing etc?

At least half the battle with getting the perfect shot (which doesn't actually exist by the way!) is to actually be there. You can plan all day long and double check everything but until you are out there in the environment with a camera in your hand it's exactly that - just a plan. I have been shooting for a few years now and I find that once I'm in a beautiful environment where to point the camera and how to compose a shot comes naturally to me. With a shoot like this I'm shooting and editing in my head all the time, I'm building the film up in my mind, trying to choose shots that will work as a beginning, middle or end. I will have an idea of how much camera movement I want in a shot and when I want a static position and just have movement within the frame.  

With these types of projects, I usually have a loose idea of narrative, i.e. I'm trying to portray what effect the mountains have on me, but then I let nature do its thing and inspire me and see what I come away with. 

I shot this project over 5 days with no budget on this other than my time. 

 

What was your process when choosing the soundtrack? Did you have something in mind already or did you experiment? (you don't have to mention Filmstro here)

Funnily enough I have been using Filmstro a lot recently and already knew that I would be using it for this project. I hate the term "game changer" but Filmstro has changed the way I approach scoring a film. I tend to upload most of my work to YouTube and I have had so many problems with copyright issues even when using tracks that I have fully licensed, this is no longer an issue. Filmstro also allows me to perfectly time the music to how I cut my films and not the other way around. I hope that we continue to see more and more tracks added in the future. 


What was your post-production process like? What software? Colour grading? Music?

I cut in Adobe Premiere Pro and do my colour correction and then grade in the Lumetri colour panel inside Premiere Pro. For larger projects I might use the likes of Davinci Resolve but I love the seamless workflow inside one application. The fact that Filmstro now has a dedicated Premiere Pro panel makes the whole post production process even more seamless for me.

 

When you're cutting these kinds of videos, what is your thought process? How are you setting the pace of the video through edits to reflect your story? 

Editing is always a personal process and I tend to approach different projects in different ways. For this specific piece, which isn't completely narrative driven, I'm aiming to evoke an emotion with the viewer. I had been reading a lot of John Muir's writing recently and he was basically the godfather of the Wilderness. He had written some beautifully poetic words about the mountains and I thought this would fit perfectly with the video as a VO.

Check out more videos on Jonathan's Youtube channel.