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Capturing the Horror of "The Atoning" with Blackmagic Design

Director/DP Michael Williams shoots indie film with Production Camera 4K while Colorist Jared Hollingsworth uses DaVinci Resolve in post

Family drama unfolds and demons arise in the new indie supernatural thriller, "The Atoning." The film follows a family that is haunted by the horrors of their past, with the parents (Virginia Newcomb, Michael LaCour) trying to protect their young son Sam (Cannon Bosarge) from a dark secret that will tear them all apart. 

Shot on location in Mississippi, local writer/director/DP Michael Williams only had 12 days to capture everything he needed for the film. 

"It was a really quick shoot, so we knew going in that we were going to have to be strategic with how we spent our time," explains Williams. "We shot the film with Blackmagic Design's Production Camera 4K. I'd used it on a short film I did a few years ago, so I knew it has the efficiency and speed we needed to make a 12 day shoot work. It also allowed us to shoot in 4K, which is crucial for distribution."

Williams continues, "Our goal was for the 'The Atoning' to be an elegant horror film that delved into supernatural thriller aspects to make the film a unique experience for fans of the genre. I wanted the style of the film to be simple yet effective. The minimalist approach to the cinematography allowed us to be efficient, have high attention to detail, and create the style we wanted for the story. That is why the reliability and easy to manage nature of the camera was key.

 "We'd have to shoot some scenes twice because of our schedule and budget limitations in regard to the demons. The demon's looks were quite intensive, so each demon had its own day of shooting which allowed for only one demon to be in make up at a time. When these demons appeared in the same scene, we had to shoot the same action scene, complete with stunts, twice. Replicating the look through the camera and some tweaking in the color grade was extremely simple and seamless thanks to the camera and the use of DaVinci Resolve." 

"With the whole process of making the film being quite difficult on our budget and the shoot being so short, we needed the camera to always be efficient and ready to go, and it never let us down. The camera is a testament to what independent filmmakers can do on a limited budget while still achieving a high quality level of cinematography. The Blackmagic Design camera gave us the reliability, convenience, and cinematic quality we needed to achieve our goal both creatively and logistically. Even on some very hot days with the Mississippi heat beating down and the absence of the air conditioning during a majority of the day, the camera never over heated or slowed down," said Williams. 

One Location, Lots of Creativity

"The way the story unfolds, the whole film takes place in one location, the family's home. While the setting stayed the same, we wanted to make sure it was dynamic - even though we were constantly shooting the same rooms, we didn't want them to always have the same feel. To achieve this, we'd shoot so we were looking through windows, through doorways, anything that added depth and a new vantage point to the scene," continues Williams. 

"The camera's size was crucial for these tight shots. The rooms were small, so it was oftentimes just me and the camera tucked into a corner. For this film, I had to be the DP, camera operator, and focus puller to streamline the process. Because I was able to have the camera's set up as minimal as I wanted, I could maneuver and place the camera within scenes to make the most of our space on set and our schedule. Like the cinematography on screen, the approach to the camera's set up was often extremely minimalistic, requiring merely the camera and lens. I tend to work better with a minimalistic camera set up, and the Production Camera 4K afforded me that option," Williams explains. 

Williams concludes, "Sam's room was the most challenging because it was so small but a lot of the story occurs there. We wanted to keep making it intriguing so the shots wouldn't get repetitive. We shot through the closet door, the window, from the ceiling using a ladder - really any angle we could think of while keeping in mind the intentions of the story and characters. We also played with reflections a lot, shooting through the mirror, which is a metaphor throughout the film. I wouldn't have been able to get these shots with a bigger setup."

Finessing the Flashbacks

Colorist Jared Hollingsworth used DaVinci Resolve for the film's color grading. 

"Going into things, Michael wanted the film to look very natural. He was able to capture this with the camera while shooting, so I only had to add a little saturation and contrast in post, while toning down things like lamps using DaVinci Resolve's power windows," explains Hollingsworth. 

With key revelations happening in the film through flashbacks, Hollingsworth used DaVinci Resolve to create a specific look for those moments.

"For the flashback scenes, we wanted to contrast the film's natural look with one that has more cold tones. I created the look by using DaVinci Resolve's curves and primary wheels to blow out the highlights and add green tones that made things a bit more surreal. I also used DaVinci Resolve's HSL qualifier to highlight certain objects that we wanted to draw attention to, such as a gun, and make them pop a bit. Since DaVinci Resolve is node-based, I was able to save a lot of time by creating a master shot and then easily replicating it across the rest of the flashback clips," concludes Hollingsworth. 

About "The Atoning"

"The Atoning" is the second feature film from Michael Williams, the award-winning filmmaker behind "OzLand." "The Atoning" has appeared at the Oxford Film Festival, the Magnolia Film Festival and the Azalea Film Festival, and it will continue its festival run throughout 2017. 

For more information, view the trailer here or visit

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