Saving a Shot with Neat Video

Desperation leads to crazy solutions. I had a nice shot lined up down a narrow crawlspace, but the foreground end of it was pitch black. We had no lights, no genny, no power, no battery-powered lanterns*, nothing. The way the sun and windows were angled made  it impossible to bounce any light to my actor. But I wanted the shot! With nothing to work with, what could we do?

I needed light. Anything would work. So I gathered up as many cellphones as I could. Now, we aren’t talking modern phones with handy LED lights on them (oh that would have been nice…) – what we had were old, small phones. A Motorola RAZR, and two Blackberries, and one other brick phone I don’t recall. I had a brave assistant stand just outside of the frame, and hold the phones up over the actor’s head. We had to time it right, by hitting keys on the phones to wake them up, get them into position, and roll camera before the backlights blinked out. It’s not easy holding four phones at once!


Dim, tiny backlights. Framed so I could have them eight inches from the target. They threw just enough light that I could see my actor’s face, but I wasn’t hopeful that the camera would. We’re talking a 1/3″ chip HPX170. Amazingly, it did get something! Just enough. But noisy as hell, down there with all the muck.

We got something... noisy

Thankfully, there’s Neat Video. It is saving shot after shot right now, and I’m loving every bit of it. Fantastic bit of code! Highly recommended. For the end result on this one, I ended up doing a split-frame, with very heavy noise reduction on the left, and less on the right so as not to crush all the grain and texture out of the wall.

Split-Frame Masking

Remember when layering masks like this, to avoid a line where they join, select “Alpha Add” as the upper layer’s transfer mode in After Effects. This gets the alpha channels to add together properly, giving you a seamless result. It may not be perfect, but it’s pretty darn good, and good enough to save the shot and make it work in context of the rest of the film. I’ll call that a win!

Saved shot (before stylistic grading)

We pulled a lot of tricks like this for Binary Samurai… I can’t wait until it’s done!

* As a side note – I have a Coleman lantern that is powered by eight D-cell batteries and sports a 13W CFL bulb. I wrapped half of it in foil for a reflector, and it makes quite the handy bit of extra light in those remote locations when we are without the luxury of a genny and grip truck. Wish I had it around for this shot!


Aaron K.

Aaron Kondziela is a technologist and serial entrepreneur living in New York City.


One thought on “Saving a Shot with Neat Video

  1. Saw the raw footage of this film before any editing was done – fabulous! Great acting, amazing story, unbelievable cinematography. All on less than a shoe-string… Not to be missed when it’s finally out!

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