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New Music Video from Seattle's Iska Dhaaf

Channels Classic Wartime Scenes With Blackmagic Cinema Camera
Iska Dhaaf is a Seattle based musical duo featuring guitarist/vocalist Nathan Quiroga and drummer/keyboardist Benjamin Verdoes. The band, whose name translates roughly to the Somali term for "let it go," is releasing its debut album on March 11. In advance of this album, entitled "Even the Sun Will Burn", Iska Dhaaf has released a new music video for the record's first single, "Everybody Knows."

The video is based on 1960s USO shows, drawing inspiration from both the iconic Playboy bunny scene from "Apocalypse Now" and authentic Bob Hope Vietnam War USO tours. The video even features cameos by other Seattle musicians, including famed Seattle rapper Macklemore, channeling Bob Hope himself.


Directed in Stanwood, Washington by Tristan Seniuk, the video was shot by DoP A.J. Rickert-Epstein and Stephan Gray on two Blackmagic Cinema Cameras (MFT) and was colored on DaVinci Resolve.

Setting the Scene

Having worked together in the past, when it came time for Iska Dhaaf to shoot a new music video, Benjamin Verdoes reached out to his old friend and local Seattle director Tristan Seniuk to take the helm on "Everybody Knows."

"We went through several different concept iterations for the video, but we kept coming back to a central theme of military and large scale," said Tristan. "Eventually, we stumbled across the Playboy bunny scene from Apocalypse Now and the tone seemed right, so I recut the scene to synch up with the band's song and it worked perfectly. It was definitely an insane idea to try and reenact a scene of that magnitude, but I knew we had to give it a shot."

Along with producer Zack Tupper and assistant director Voleak Sip, Tristan and Benjamin did 35 long days of preproduction for the shoot. They had to overcome a number of obstacles, from finding a large enough location, to figuring out lighting on such a large scale, to casting and costuming at that volume. With just a fraction of the budget they needed for some of these items, they got creative and called in a lot of favors. Fortunately, many of their contacts were eager to help.

Incidentally, band member Nathan was featured on Seattle rapper Macklemore's Heist album, and somewhere during preproduction, someone mentioned that the group should reach out to Macklemore to see if he'd be interested in a cameo. To their surprise and delight, he was interested, but was on tour and wasn't available until three months later. So, Tristan directed the bulk of the video around Labor Day, and then came back in December to shoot the introduction, dancing inserts, and the Macklemore cameo on a soundstage.

Choosing the Right Camera

"None of the cameras I previously used felt quite right for the Iska Dhaaf video," said Tristan. "I really wanted to emulate a 1970's Super 16 look with softer edges and an overall filmic look, so I started looking into alternatives that would fit into our budget. Intrigued by a couple of videos I had seen online shot on the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, I started to investigate the camera further and price out what a small package with a camera would cost."

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera, which comes in both EF and Passive MFT mount models, features a high resolution 2.5K sensor, super wide 13 stops of dynamic range and 12-bit RAW uncompressed and compressed ProRes and DNxHD file formats.

A few weeks before the shoot, the band approached Tristan with a proposition. If he was sure the Blackmagic Cinema Camera would work for the shoot, they would purchase it for him as compensation, instead of putting a similar amount of money down for a camera/lens rental package. Tristan took them up on the offer and ordered the camera immediately.

"I decided to get the MFT version to allow for greater lens capabilities down the road, since my main use of the camera will be more studio and cinematically inclined projects," said Tristan. "Right out of the box, I did a couple of color tests and knew we would be able to achieve the right look for the video."

Because of the project's short shooting timeframe, Tristan needed two cameras to be able to capture the necessary amount of footage. He rented a second Blackmagic Cinema Camera (MFT) locally to serve as the B camera on the shoot.

Tristan had only one night to shoot all of the outdoor crowd and dancing shots, from about 8pm, which was immediately after sunset, to about 3am, which was just before sunrise. To allow for more diverse shots, Tristan built up the rig for the A camera, while the B camera was a bit more mobile and was able to pick up inserts.

One of the camera features that Tristan appreciated was the internal battery.

"We used a couple of very large bricks, 190 watt and 145 watt, for the shoot and it was really nice to hot swap them out and still not lose picture," said Tristan. "This is something that always had been a stall when shooting on other cameras."

Another feature Tristan found beneficial was the portability versus picture quality.

"The entire shoot was calculated with a very precise and long shot list, so it was really nice to have cameras that could be up and running quickly but still retain a very studio look," said Tristan. "Since the video's release, I have gotten a number of comments from cinematographers and other filmmakers who have asked what camera we shot on, some even asking if it was shot on film, so I definitely take that as a strong testament to the performance of the camera."

A Seamless Workflow

Tristan shot the video footage in RAW 2.5k and did a preliminary light grade in DaVinci Resolve. He then exported all footage as ProRes 422 proxies and edited it in Adobe Premiere CC. He exported it again as an XML file and brought it back into DaVinci Resolve for a final grade.

"DaVinci Resolve first came to my attention around the same time as the camera during the summer," said Tristan. "I had been editing and coloring a short film a friend of mind directed for which we wanted a couple very stylized scenes. I downloaded the free version of DaVinci Resolve Lite to test it out. After a couple tutorials on the basics, I was totally hooked and knew that I definitely wanted to use it for everything from then on."

Tristan began grading the "Everybody Knows" music video in DaVinci Resolve 9 and then midway through the project he transitioned to DaVinci Resolve 10. Early on in preproduction, Tristan had set up a color swatch of the only acceptable colors on set, so even the raw footage coming in was actually fairly close to the final grade.

"Nailing the Super 16 look for me was paramount for this shoot, and the extreme precision of dialing in the perfect blend of colors in DaVinci Resolve was immensely helpful," said Tristan. "For the vast majority of the shots, my grade consisted of only a couple nodes. The first was a quick S curve adjust on the luminance and a slight desaturation, and the second a stronger S curve on luminance, much more desaturation, and a LogC to Rec709 LUT. There were a few shots, especially those that looked into bright lights, in which I used the masking tool to dial the lights back a little. I definitely haven't explored all the features and capabilities yet in DaVinci Resolve, but I hope to soon."

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Related Keywords:Blackmagic Design, Blackmagic Cinema Camera, DaVinci Resolve, music video production

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