Editor’s Note: I have known Matt Mitchell for nearly four decades now. After seeing another video John Isberg of Swede Films did for the band, which includes Matt and wife, Elizabeth Majerus, along with Matt Cohn, we struck up a Facebook conversation about the Black Magic Cameras and Sigma Art lenses, which resulted in the video below, filmed with the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM | Art lens and the 50mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art paired with a Black Magic Cinema Camera. We talked recently with John about his experiences working with these two lens for music video production paired with the BMCC. ~ Jack Howard/Sigma Corporation of America
John, so you work with Black Magic Cine cameras and a variety of lenses. How did the Sigma18-35mm and 50mm Art lenses measure up to other gear you’ve used before?
When I got started, the main lens I used was a 50 1.8 from Nikkor. Just an old lens but I loved how the 50 looked. The 50 is definitely my favorite lens for getting great bokeh and one of the things about the Sigma 50mm art lens I loved so much was the separation that I got, how sharp the image was and how closely I was able to focus on little details. I felt it was a giant step up in terms of definition and sharpness. I felt like it made the Blackmagic come alive in a way that my other lenses didn’t before. Definitely with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, there is a crop factor to take into account but I usually just move my camera until I get what I’m looking for.
These lenses are designed specifically for great imaging, even wide open, which is great in low- light, ambient light situation for light gathering and atmosphere. Did these imaging characteristics help you in your storyboarding and visual storytelling?
Definitely, I like to shoot as wide open as possible and so I was excited about being able to use them in more low light settings. I’ve heard plenty of times that the Blackmagic is not a low light camera. As I’ve started shooting in RAW format, I’ve been able to bring a lot of detail out of what would otherwise be blown out or too dark. With the lenses, they really helped to keep the details in the shot. I wanted to have a more natural feel to the narrative portion of the video and tried to use available light when possible and use locations where the limitations of the blackmagic cinema camera’s lowlight performance would be enhanced by the lenses and available light. I would’ve liked to light the final shots more but thought that the lenses were able to bring out enough detail in the image to get what I was looking for.
We, in particular loved the scenes with so many point lights in the background. Did you plan and design these shots knowing the bokeh would be lovely and complement the focal plane sharpness?
Thank you! Yes, I love bokeh and thought that it would add to the visual image and complement the song. It has this driving, shoegaze kinda feel to it and I felt like bokeh just embraces that vibe. I also wanted something that took you back to the first time you joined a band, the first time you fell in love with someone but also root it in this idea of a very normal setting with the house as a backdrop for the performance. Give it that early evening, firefly, end of summer kind of vibe with the Christmas lights. I also wanted some consistency so I used the lights in both the performance and the narrative performance portion.
You use Black Magic Cameras, how did the Sigma lenses (EF mount) work in conjunction with this kit?
I thought they were great! They felt sturdy and solid, they looked great and they were easy to use.
What did you use for editing/grading?
I edited and graded in Adobe Premiere Pro CC.
How did the band respond to the rough cut and final cut?
They really embraced what I was going for. I wanted the video to tell, in a way, how bandmates Elizabeth and Matt came together. I asked them how they met, what it was like when they first started hanging out. They talked about hanging out, walking around Urbana, talking all night. Matt skated so I wanted that to be in it. I thought it was pretty lucky when Syd and Saskia, the younger leads in the narrative component, both were skaters. I also wanted the female role to have her own agency. When I wrote the treatment, I wanted the girl to have her own voice, her own power. Elizabeth is really cool, and I didn’t want to have a passive female role for the main narrative part. Saskia, who played that role, has her own booking agency and music collective and is really cool and way more active than I ever was at her age. I wanted to have her be someone who was her own person so I really liked spinning that trope about a guy in a band getting girls. I wanted to have this idea that he’s at this show, the girl he likes is there, he thinks, to see his band. But having her there to play her own music, to be her own person, that was something I really wanted to get across. So I think they really dug what I was wanting to do with spinning conventions. And also, I think there’s just a lot of really organic moments that, to me having been in bands, are really beautiful. And it’s not about a great shot but what’s happening in the shot. Like the drummer just setting up his kit. Just something about that guy in Syd’s band just made me feel like I did when I joined my first band. It’s something that you do a million times but sometimes simple things like setting up your kit can be really beautiful.
What’s your next video project?
I’ve got about 4 more videos, a ghost hunter documentary, and about a million other things, lol.