In this blog we take a look at how Director Li Wallis and her crew were able to shoot the series NOTHINGMAN despite the hurdles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Wooden Camera gear that helped them complete their project.
How Li Wallis Overcame the Hurdles of Lockdown and Filmed the NOTHINGMAN Series
Shot on location in Berlin, Germany in the spring of 2021, NOTHINGMAN’s 14 episode production took place during a lockdown which forced the team to overcome the challenges of production while juggling the restrictions COVID-19 presented. We spoke with Director Li Wallis and actor & writer John Dooley on their experiences with the project and the Wooden Camera gear they used.
Tell us about NOTHINGMAN.
"We filmed the majority of the series during the COVID lockdown, and there were obvious challenges associated with that situation. On the one hand, it did provide a suitably desolate city-scape to reflect the story line. On the other, a 10pm curfew proved limiting, and props/set pieces were difficult to find - as most of the shops were closed.
We had a minimal and talented crew, which did force us to flex our creative muscles, thereby allowing us to cover a lot of ground quickly. Our generous equipment sponsors definitely made it easier to capture great footage and solve technical issues on the fly.
It was an honor to work with such a high caliber of actors, who rose to the challenge of filming during the COVID restrictions. From rehearsals to the shooting dates, they were incredibly dedicated to their job of bringing the words written in the script to life. The actors encapsulated each role and transformed themselves into their diverse characters."
Though the shoulder rig was utilized for 30-50% of shooting, the Unified VCT-14 Tripod Plate allowed for fast transitions to and from tripod mounting when needed.
What was your experience directing this project like?
"Even though the director has many responsibilities and has to manage creative and production tasks on and off set, the aspect of directing I love most is working with the actors to extract their best performance - and getting the camera to capture the nuance of every facial expression, gesture and movement on screen.
The unique and varied locations in and around the city of Berlin were integral to creating the NOTHINGMAN universe. As a director, I prefer the look and feel of working on location. The excitement and authenticity of filming in each real-world location enabled us to make them into their own unique characters. This made all of the challenges this entails more than worth it."
How long have you been using Wooden Camera gear? What do you like about it?
"We used the Wooden Camera gear on a daily basis for two months to shoot the 14 episode series 'NOTHINGMAN' in Berlin, Germany. Our Wooden Camera gear was with us for the entirety of the shoot.
You can feel the quality of Wooden Camera products the moment you pick them up. The accessories are lightweight but feel reassuringly precise, and are well-engineered, minimal tools constructed from high quality materials. They instill confidence from the outset that the tools are up to the job."
RED® (Raven) DSMC2® rigged with a Wooden Camera RED DSMC2 Accessory Kit (Base) and UMB-1 Universal Mattebox, resting on NOTHINGMAN’s ‘shoulder rig’ alternative consisting of the Wooden Camera Unified Wedge Plate, Rosette Handle Kit and Unified VCT-14 Tripod Plate for mounting.
"Plate connections were always precise and held steady without locking up in cold temperatures. The shoulder pad on the underside of the Unified VCT Wedge Plate is a welcome addition - and well-shaped, making for a compact shoulder rig alternative. I think our DOP, Oliver Rotter, was surprised at how often he would reach for our 'shoulder rig' alternative. He predominantly uses tripods and gimbals.
Customizable options are always welcome features on products. We opted for the leather handles on the Rosette Handle Kit, which proved to be extremely comfortable and durable, even after two months of shooting long days and nights in all types of weather conditions."
You mentioned piecing together a ‘shoulder rig' alternative. How many hours would
you say it was used for?
"We consistently used it every day during the two-month shoot. We can confidently say that we filmed with this combo between 30-50% of each day, as it suited our style. Our DOP has a steady pair of hands, and he always felt confident relying on our lightweight shoulder rig alternative."
Have you used other similar products? What was that experience like?
"We have used other shoulder rig kits and base plates, but the Wooden Camera gear offered a more secure base for plate connection and higher quality materials."
For us - with Wooden Camera - everything just 'fits' no matter the application. The engineering and attention to detail sets them apart, and they definitely felt like a step up.
Li Wallis on location, adjusting the Wooden Camera Rosette Handle Kit on NOTHINGMAN’s RED® (Raven) DSMC2® rig.
What problems are Wooden Camera products able to solve for you on set? Do they change the efficiency of the shoot? Can you give us some examples?
"The majority of the shoot was on location, so the ability to be able to break down and set up kit quickly was paramount - as was lightweight, rugged equipment which functioned without fault. Even though we had a shot list, the Unified VCT Wedge Plate and Rosette Handle Kit meant that we effectively had a steady shoulder rig to experiment with alternative shots - so the equipment also aided the creative process."
NOTHINGMAN’s ‘shoulder rig’ alternative in-action.
"This 'shoulder rig set up' was also advantageous in compact areas. We built only one set for two scenes, but for all of the other locations we had to adapt to our surroundings, which sometimes included tiny spaces with only enough room for the camera to be mounted on the shoulder. Tight spaces were also an issue when we filmed inside a Tesla car. Thankfully, the leather Rosette Handle grips are very quick to adjust and level out. Sometimes it is the small things that make a big difference!
Time saving measures are always critical on set, and the option to be spontaneous is invaluable when filming on location. No matter how much you prepare, there are always unexpected moments. Having a kit that is reliable and flexible is essential. We always mounted the Unified Wedge Plate and Rosette Handle Kit onto our camera (RED Raven) on the Unified VCT-14 Tripod Plate and tripod (Sachtler Aktiv) for swift access to shoulder rig shots. The UMB-1 Universal Mattebox was also a constant companion on our camera - lightweight, rugged and flexible - with excellent access for rapid ND filter changes for ever-changing lighting conditions.
We filmed in a particularly drawn out cold and wet Spring in 2021 during the lockdown. The gear wasn't affected at all by the freezing conditions. Plate connections remained precise and secure and weren't affected at all by drops in temperature. The matte box was an integral part of our camera kit offering a seamless lens changing experience and quick access for ND filters. The folding French flag provided very effective light shading and a useful lens element protector, as well as being able to be folded down to a pocketable size."
NOTHINGMAN’s crew utilizing their custom rig on one of their on location shoots.
Now in post-production, NOTHINGMAN is anticipated to release via streaming platform in fall of 2022. Stay up to date with information on NOTHINGMAN’s release date, behind the scenes looks and more via their website, Instagram and Facebook. Also for more from Li and John, look for their upcoming TV series, 'Make Him Famous'. Set across three continents, ‘Make Him Famous’ tells the story of an investigative journalist who sets her sights on bringing down a non-for-profit imposter.
Photograph copyright: ©NothingManBerlin/Dico Baskoro/JohnDooley