American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 14

Short Takes

I

Re-Creating the Battle of Los Angeles
By Jason Apuzzo

It began with something mysterious appearing in the night sky.
In the early hours of Feb. 25, 1942, an unidentified flying
object flew through the dark skies of wartime Los Angeles. The
intruder set off a public panic and triggered a massive artillery barrage
- yet nothing in the sky was hit, and no wreckage was ever recovered. The object looked eerily similar to a flying saucer, and eventually
disappeared off the coast, never to be seen again. The incident came
to be known as the Battle of Los Angeles. It also became a rewarding
and nerve-racking challenge to re-create for a short film I directed
called UFO Diary, which debuts this January.
Indeed, what began as a simple concept for a sci-fi action
comedy soon became an epic adventure involving more than a
hundred World War II re-enactors, a tank, a half-track and a troupe of
dancing pin-up girls - with visual-effects artists from ILM, Weta Digital and Digital Domain along for the ride. In the process, my filmmaking partner Govindini Murty and I learned how to make an effectsheavy short without having visual-effects backgrounds, and how to
simulate a World War II combat documentary without photographing
actual combat.
Shot found-footage style, UFO Diary depicts the Battle of Los
Angeles from the point of view of two rambunctious Women's Army
Corps officers who set out to film a trail of mysterious clues, only to
be trapped at a remote coastal bunker by a menacing alien spacecraft.
The plucky WACs chase the UFO back to Fort MacArthur and then
confront the wily invader during a wild nighttime air raid.
14

January 2016

Visually inspired by color World War II documentaries like
John Ford's The Battle of Midway, our goal with UFO Diary was to
evoke the look of 16mm Kodachrome combat footage while using
modern digital cameras. Like the Bell & Howell combat cameras of
old, our cameras would have to be small and rugged. "We designed
all of these fluid, handheld shots in which we're running around the
fort, jumping into jeeps, firing anti-aircraft guns - all while handing
the camera back and forth to capture different POVs," says Murty,
UFO Diary's lead actress and producer, who also helped shoot the
film. "This wasn't feasible with a big camera, but worked very well
with DSLRs."
For such all-purpose duty we chose the Canon EOS 7D,
outfitted with a Canon L-Series EF 24-70mm (f2.8) zoom lens for
maximum flexibility. We also used a Nikon D3100 with a Nikon 1855mm (f3.5) VR lens, and Murty even carried a tiny Canon PowerShot ELPH 330 HS in the pocket of her World War II jumpsuit, often
grabbing extra POV shots between takes. "We wanted the audience to have an immersive, first-person experience, as if they were
there in World War II-era Los Angeles witnessing this fabled UFO
incident for themselves," explains Murty.
With Naveen Chaubal, Murty and I handling most of the
cinematography, the air-raid sequence was shot over three hectic
nights at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro - challenging shoots due to
the low-light conditions. Practical lights like vintage military searchlights, sodium-vapor lamps, gun-muzzle flashes (created by gas jets)
and flares were supplemented with LED flashlights and bounce
boards. The scarcity of fill light made these shoots tense, yet the
results were often spectacular, especially when colorful pyrotechnics

American Cinematographer

UFO Diary images courtesy of the filmmakers.

An alien
spacecraft
invades
World War II
Los Angeles in
the short film
UFO Diary.



American Cinematographer - January 2016

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - January 2016

Contents
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 1
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 2
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - Contents
American Cinematographer - January 2016 - 4
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