Zacuto

Behind the Scenes Look at TRI

with DP Jendra Jarnagin

Jendra Jarnagin is the Director of Photography on TRI – an inspirational independent feature film about people training for their first triathlon and the amazing community of diverse triathletes that support one another in overcoming personal obstacles. Natalie, an ultrasound tech with a history of not finishing things, is inspired by a cancer patient to sign up for a triathlon. Natalie is introduced to the strange (and aerodynamic) world of triathletes and meets a colorful cast of characters as she trains for the Nation’s Triathlon. With the support of her new teammates, she digs deep to discover just how far she can push her mind and body.

Jendra and her team shot in September 2015 in the Washington DC area. The film was directed by Jai Jamison and produced by Ted Adams III, Kimberly Skyrme and Tara Gorman.  The film was inspired by the producers’ involvement in the triathlon community.

DP Jendra Jarnagin stops to smile with operators Sheila Smith and Jim Ball riding on the electric car for the finish line scenes CREDIT Chris Beattie

DP Jendra Jarnagin stops to smile with operators Sheila Smith and Jim Ball riding on the electric car for the finish line scenes CREDIT: Chris Beattie

The ensemble cast includes Jensen Bucher, Kelly Spitko, Chris Dyer, Kenny Simmons, Jaylen Moore, Chris Williams , Tim Reid, and comedians Shawn Pelofsky and Walker Hays.

How would you describe the visual style of the film?

The first thing that the director, Jai, said to me was that it was important that the film not feel like a documentary. We wanted to adopt a story and character based approach to the narrative: to feel what these individuals were going through.

It was interesting to me, being that my main strength is my lighting background, that most of the film was day exterior and I didn’t have lighting to use as my primary tool to evoke mood and tone. Working this way really had me dive deeper into the psychology and subtleties of the use of camera and made me realize how much I have been using lighting as my primary means of expression.

I like to do a visual arc along with the character and/or story arcs, so in this case, we conveyed that using different kinds of camera movement. It’s subtle, but if you pay close attention to the shooting, you can tell that there is an evolution between sedentary and dynamic, as the main character gets more and more active, as well as a contrast between handheld and Steadicam and other smoother camera platforms, based on the comfort level of the characters and how they relate to what they are experiencing.

Tell us about your gear and why you chose it.

The shoot started at the Luray Triathlon, a few weeks before principal photography, and we used Blackmagic Ursa 4K cameras for that, though we ended up switching to Sony F55s as our primary cameras for most of the movie. I also made frequent use of two Blackmagic Pocket cameras that I used for a bunch of bike rigs, as well as in an underwater housing.

We occasionally used a GoPro for some specialty shots, like on the head of a swimmer during the race (which turned out to be one of my favorite shots) and for throwing a bike into a tree, but I specifically shied away from GoPros because of the fish-eye feel and the amateur connotation of immersive sports hobbyist videos that felt too documentary for the visual style of this film. I instead used Pocket cameras because of the interchangeable lenses and manual exposure, and especially the extended dynamic range of shooting RAW. I really fell in love with those powerful little things.

I also used the Zacuto Marauder and Enforcer run’n’gun rigs along with the Pockets, for flexibility and stability. I wasn’t quite sure in advance how I would use them, but I just felt they would be useful to have on hand, and they saved the day a few times. We needed to do a handheld whip pan from a motorcycle to cut together a stunt sequence, and I felt the F55 Handheld would be too bulky to do that safely. So we used the Pocket with a Z-Finder and one of those rigs, which was perfect.

A Camera Operator Jim Ball shoots off the back of a motorcycle with a Marauder rig and Blackmagic Pocket Cam. CREDIT Jendra Jarnagin

A Camera Operator Jim Ball shoots off the back of a motorcycle with a Marauder rig and Blackmagic Pocket Cam. CREDIT Jendra Jarnagin

One thing I did know I wanted in advance was the Zacuto Gratical EVF. I had heard great things about it so I was looking forward to the opportunity to use it. One of our Sony’s had the Sony OLED EVF, which I already knew I liked, and the other had the Gratical HD. The Gratical really impressed me, not only because of the image quality and brightness, which is fantastic, but because of all of the features such as false color, waveform, all the different peaking modes, being able to pass through SDI and HDMI etc. Unlike most products, there’s nothing I can think of that I want it to do that it doesn’t do! It’s my new favorite viewfinder. I even like it better than the Arri Alexa viewfinder.

One of the things we did the most was Steadicam shooting out of a van. For one day we had an electric camera car for the finish line scenes, and a few times we used a Steadicam mounted to a rickshaw for running shots. We also made extensive use of a slider, which I now don’t want to live without. We didn’t do too much bouncing or diffusing light outdoors because everyone was usually too “on the move” to be able to cover them with any overheads.

Tell us about one highpoint and one lowpoint of your project.

In this case, they were interrelated. This film presented me the biggest challenge I have ever faced on a project. I had to shoot my climax scene (19 pages of content) during a live event, Nation’s Triathlon in downtown Washington DC. It’s the biggest triathlon in the US with 4000 participants, and though we had major support from the event, we also had major limitations and mandate that we not interfere with any of the competitor’s experience. The bulk of the event spanned five hours, and we had 5 different characters experience of the race to capture. So the only way to accomplish this was to split into different units to shoot simultaneously.

We utilized 14 cameras, 9 units, and a crew of 70: 24 of which were camera department. Not only was the prep and level of detail exhausting, but communicating everyone’s marching orders and disseminating all that information to that many people, many of whom were joining the team for the first time, was a huge ordeal.

We had an entire work day the day before to prep the crew, walk through the event location, build and set up all the cameras, go over maps and visual references, etc. My goal was to empower all the unit DPs and camera operators to make their own unsupervised choices that were keeping with the vision of the film.

The low point came the day before this huge prep day when we got word that many aspects of our parks department permit were being denied despite weeks of planning and daily communication with the event producers. So the ADs, producers, director, and I had to pull an all-nighter to totally re-work weeks of planning by morning in order to give presentations and prepare handouts for 70 people. It was an exhausting and complicated day, the hardest day of my professional life so far.

Gaffer Reddog the Gaffer checks the sun in the clouds while operator Stefan Wiesen lines up a shot with Walker Hays at Nation's Tri with 2nd AC Nate Spivey and 1st AC Alex Guckert CREDIT Jendra Jarnagin

Gaffer Reddog the Gaffer checks the sun in the clouds while operator Stefan Wiesen lines up a shot with Walker Hays at Nation’s Tri with 2nd AC Nate Spivey and 1st AC Alex Guckert
CREDIT Jendra Jarnagin

The highpoint came the following day of the actual event. Everything went so smoothly that it was almost anti-climactic in how easy everything was. It was our shortest day and nearly all the units pulled off everything that they were assigned to shoot. And we all had SO MUCH FUN! It was a blast working at a huge live event that day with no stress. That day was so easy because the previous day was so hard. Proof that a movie is made in prep!

What advice would you give others planning a project like this?

Do your prep and start early. The more complicated your movie, the more important this is. Everything big that we achieved on our small budget was because of ample prep. And everything that was a challenge or a hiccup was because of inadequate prep in those areas.

We had an amazing cast and an amazing crew because a lot of care went into choosing the right people, so I think it is important to highlight the significance of that. One of the highlights for me, that is unusual for a low budget film, is that we had a fantastic art department.

Also we had great leadership. Our director, Jai Jamison, was fantastic. He was a first time feature director, but he never came across that way. He really knows filmmaking and focuses on what’s important. He had a well thought-out answer for everything and never failed to impress me.

Also, our producer, Ted Adams, is the best kind of producer who believes in empowering people: he hires great people, listens to them and lets them do their jobs. He was very hands-on but never micro-managed his team. It was a great example of how the success of a team comes from the top.

For more information about the movie TRI, check out:
http://www.triforcure.com
And Like our Facebook page for updates:
https://www.facebook.com/TRIforcure

Join the conversation

3 Responses to “Behind the Scenes Look at TRI”

  1. Hanan on December 8th, 2015 12:23 pm

    What about covering sound lessons in feature films

  2. Dan McComb on December 8th, 2015 1:30 pm

    Great tips. I’d like to see more posts that share how even smaller productions (between 3 and 10 crew) do great work.

  3. Caroline on December 9th, 2015 8:47 am

    Love seeing a feature about a female DOP! Go ladies!

About the Author


Award-winning Director of Photography Jendra Jarnagin is best known for her vast digital cinema expertise and is an in-demand panelist, speaker and instructor all over the world. With over 20 years of professional shooting, Jendra is also experienced in Stereoscopic 3D, extensive Visual Effects, and all film formats including Vista Vision. Jendra has shot dozens of projects including episodic TV and web series, commercials, music videos and feature films, including A Bet’s A Bet starring Mena Suvari, Eric Roberts and Kristen Chenoweth, and Molly’s Theory of Relativity, directed by Jeff Lipsky. Other notable credits include the Webby Award winning series Puppy Love, from the writers and producers of Sex & the City, and In Between Men, nominated for Best Cinematography by the Indie Soap Awards. Jendra has travelled to more than 25 countries, shooting documentaries, teaching Master Classes, and taking photographs. She is based in NY and LA and her work can be seen at www.floatingcamera.com

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