The feature film ‘Single Mother by Choice’, currently streaming on HBO Max, tracks a real life pregnancy. It tells the story of Eva, a Latina who is both devoted to her career and determined to have a baby on her own terms. However, she ends up with more than she bargained for when she falls pregnant in the year 2020. The film stars Selina Ringel, whose husband, Dan Levy Dagerman, directed the film.
From the beginning, Dan intended to shoot the project with a lean crew using the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K. “I was really inspired by friends who had made amazing feature films with small crews shooting on weekends, and I thought we could follow this model as well,” he said. “My wife was working on another series that was shot on the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, and I was really impressed with the image.”
When the pandemic closed in, Dan and Selina were forced to reevaluate the production. “We knew our movie was a ticking clock,” Dan said. “We couldn’t control the pregnancy, so we threw out our outline and switched gears back into writing. At first, we were really hesitant to include COVID in the story, but we realized if we were really tracking elements of our pregnancy experience, this once in a lifetime catastrophic event was something we couldn’t avoid. As a result, we threw out half of the movie and restructured the story to make the appearance of the coronavirus into our lives the break into the second act.”
As the project progressed, Dan was grateful that they had chosen a run-and-gun style of filmmaking from the start, which made adapting to the restrictions while shooting more manageable. “Our indie film became a two man band,” he said. “Since Selina was pregnant we didn't feel comfortable working with a larger crew. My cinematography team gave me a lesson on how the camera worked and off we went. We continued to follow the same model of writing, shooting and editing each month, determined to push through the limitations.”
Flexibility in Post
Dan found it critical that they could shoot in Blackmagic RAW at 6K resolution, which gave them more flexibility both in their setups and in post despite the limited crew. “The Blackmagic RAW image quality was excellent, and the 6K image gave us leeway for scaling and reframing in post,” he said. “When it came to the colour grade, it was so satisfying to see what could be done simply with a LUT and tweaking, and once we moved into our final colour sessions, I was impressed by how far we could push the image in DaVinci Resolve.”
Colourist Loren White was brought aboard in post production, grading the project in DaVinci Resolve Studio. He was immediately pleased to see that Dan had shot in Blackmagic RAW because it meant he had more flexibility to manage the variety of lighting. “Since a lot of the film was shot using available light in front of laptops or against white walls, we did what we could to add shape to the images,” said Loren. “We used offsetting colours in the shadows and highlights, along with vignettes, gradients and some film grain. I feel that we were able to elevate the look above what we had naturally.”
He also appreciated the wide variety of tools available in DaVinci Resolve Studio. “I have been using the colour warper a lot since it was introduced and I like how I can quickly swing colours around to see what works,” he said. "In the curves you can do the same, but you have to jump between various panels. With the warper, if I grab any tone, I can immediately affect all three values at once. It’s been a useful addition to the software.
“The main thing Dan and Selina wanted with the look was to elevate it, that is, give it a clean, comedy type of look. My job was mostly about keeping the contrast and saturation in that world, while looking after cleanup from the mixed lighting temperatures. As you can imagine, since the project was shot with a skeleton crew during a pandemic, we had a lot of that.”
In the end, Dan was pleased about the Blackmagic Design tools he was able to use on ‘Single Mother by Choice’. DaVinci Resolve Studio was also used for editing, visual effects and audio post.“I am especially pleased that we chose this camera because the journey of making the film blended the two worlds of run-and-gun with more traditional narrative filmmaking,” he said. “Being able to shoot such high quality in Blackmagic RAW, and knowing we had DaVinci Resolve to create the look, was empowering for me as a filmmaker and important in these rapidly changing times where technology is democratising the filmmaking process.”
‘Single Mother by Choice’ is currently streaming on HBO Max. www.blackmagicdesign.com