DP Autumn Eakin creates two distinct looks for Netflix feature, “Someone Great”, with the VariCam 35

By Neil Matsumoto | 6 min

In Someone Great, aspiring music journalist Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) lands her dream job at a magazine and is about to move to San Francisco. Instead of doing a long-distance relationship, her boyfriend, Nate (Lakeith Stanfield), breaks it off. To ease the pain, Jenny and her two best friends Erin (DeWanda Wise) and Blair (Brittany Snow) take one last adventure in New York City. Directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (Sweet/Vicious), the Netflix feature film was shot by cinematographer Autumn Eakin (The Light of the Moon, Can You Keep a Secret?) with the Panasonic VariCam 35.

Growing up in Branson, MO, Eakin learned still photography from her father and went on to study film with an emphasis in cinematography at Webster University in St. Louis. After graduating, she immediately began working, joined the union and eventually moved to New York where she began working as a camera assistant to DPs Vanja Cernjul, ASC and Maryse Alberti, as well as operator Peter Agliata before making the transition to DP.

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(Left to right) Director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson and DP Autumn Eakin (Courtesy of Netflix. Photo by Sarah Shatz)

After reading the script for Someone Great, the biggest challenge Eakin envisioned was trying to keep the film visually interesting when dealing with multiple characters in conversation. “There are three main characters and they're often in conversation with a fourth or fifth character,” she explains. “I think that's a constant challenge for DPs. How can you cover this conversation in a more interesting way? Also, we wanted to differentiate visually from the present and the flashback scenes. I like to do that in camera and on set as much as possible through lens and filtration choices. It was going to be a challenge, but that's the fun of it.”

For the look, Kaytin Robinson gave a description to Eakin and production designer Lisa Myers that she wanted people to “feel as if they had been vomited on by neon after watching the movie,” reveals Eakin. “So, we started there. The lighting didn’t have to be realistic or make sense because this is a movie. We wanted to play with the look of the film inside and outside of reality.”

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With the VariCam 35, Eakin captured 12-bit 444 AVC Intra files in 4K V-Log. (Courtesy of Netflix. Photo by Sarah Shatz)

Since Eakin and Kaytin Robinson hadn’t worked together, visual references were important in developing good communication. Although it had a different color palette, they felt Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s (shot by Ellen Kuras, ASC) raw emotion in its visuals, as well as its playfulness, fit the flashback sequences. “Also, I love the richness of Netflix's End of the F***ing World (shot by Justin Brown and Ben Fordesman) and felt drawn to the visuals for this project,” says Eakin. “Battle of the Sexes (shot by Linus Sandgren) is also a beautifully rich film that still has a natural touch. Many times, my visual references are from films of the 70s, but for this project it felt right to pull inspiration from more modern films. Jenn really liked the way [Netflix’s] Master of None looked, and (DP) Mark Schwartzbard is a good friend of mine. He’s one of the big reasons why I felt comfortable using this camera for the movie because he had extensive experience with it.”

With the VariCam 35, Eakin captured 12-bit 444 AVC Intra files in 4K V-Log. Eakin worked with DIT Malika Franklin to create viewing LUTs, which she fine-tuned with colorist Brian Gibson at SIM New York. “Malika and Brian did a wonderful job and were on top of making sure the dailies came out accurately every day,” says Eakin. “We also were able to talk to the camera wirelessly on set to [Pomfort] LiveGrade, so everyone could view easily and know what the final image would most accurately look like. I wanted to have a rich feel which tends to have warm highlights. I also wanted full rich blacks, moving away from this trend of milky blacks, which I like for other projects, but for this one we wanted it to feel rich and full.”

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(Courtesy of Netflix. Photo by Sarah Shatz)

VariCam’s Dual ISO feature was the major reason why Eakin chose the VariCam 35 because she knew she would be shooting a number of night exteriors in New York City. Her sweet spot for night exteriors was ISO 5000 base dialed down to 1600 but the majority of the film was shot at native ISO 800. “It’s counterintuitive to what you’ve been told your entire career,” reveals Eakin. “If you’re doing night exteriors then you need a lot of light. You need big lights and you need a lot of them. But with this camera, you actually have to – you still need units and you need light but you’re relying on the locations department a lot to take out street lights or porch lights, or things like that because it can see so deep. You’re actually dealing with practical bulbs that are blown out.”

Someone Great had two worlds that Eakin wanted to capture and there had to be a distinction between the two. One if the present and the other is Jenny’s memories of her relationship with Nate and with her friends. Eakin decided to create the two looks mainly through lens choice. “For the present, I chose Zeiss Master Primes for their clarity, their T1.3 stop and their beautiful fall off on faces,” explains Eakin. “For the past, I wanted to go a little bit bold with color and softness. A lot of the memories are emotional and heightened and we wanted to play with that, evoking memories as feelings rather than their accuracy. I chose Zeiss uncoated Superspeeds and embraced their qualities for those memories. We wanted to experiment a bit and we had great support from Carl Cook at VER, who supplied me with what I needed, even shipping in a coated set for me in case for some nights when I worried the flares might be too much.”

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Kaytin Robinson and Eakin discuss a shot on set. (Courtesy of Netflix. Photo by Sarah Shatz)

For Eakin, the most difficult sequence to shoot was the opening shot where A-camera Steadicam operator, Korey Robinson, was 25 feet in the air, craned down and had to step off to seamlessly follow the main characters into a bar and run the scene where we're introduced to all the main characters. “I had a wonderful gaffer in Jason Velez and an amazing key grip in Chris Beattie,” says Eakin. “They and their crew executed a complex shot that required lighting the exterior and the interior and seeing almost 360 degrees. This is the amazing luxury of having crew that is experienced and still excited about accomplishing something ambitious. I think we only needed to do 8 or 9 takes while we had a crane crossing into the street, Korey being unlocked from a platform, squeezing through a tiny doorway, 50 or so extras to navigate. It all went off without a hitch and was safe for everyone involved.”

SIM New York handled the post with colorist Rob Sciarratta doing the grade. Since the vast majority of the film’s look was created in camera and on set, the grade went smoothly since they didn’t have to create any new looks. “I was in production on another feature at the time of our grade, so Jenn and I were only able to come in a sit with Rob for a full day together,” explains Eakin. “I had previously noted scenes that I knew I would want him to pay special attention to, so we started there. I respect good colorists immensely and want them to feel free to collaborate and not just execute. The blessing of working with a talented colorist is that before the end of that day he had understood what I was looking for, not just in details, but in essence for the project. It just makes you know that you're in good hands and you can confidently leave and let them do their work. We came back in for a few days of final review and made tweaks, but we were in great shape.”

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Eakin wanted to create two different looks that would visually differentiate from the present and the flashback scenes. (Courtesy of Netflix. Photo by Sarah Shatz)

Watch Someone Great only on Netflix

For more information on DP Autumn Eakin, visit her website.

For more info on the VariCam 35, click through here.