Filmmaker/DP Jodi Savitz uses VariCam LT and EVA1 cinema cameras to capture unique non-fiction and fiction projects

By Neil Matsumoto | 5 min

Filmmaker Jodi Savitz studied theater and gender studies at Northwestern University’s School of Communication, and began her career as an actress before pivoting into documentary filmmaking and cinematography. She completed her first short film while studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “I was surrounded by first class equipment and experienced filmmakers which gave me a good head start as a director and cinematographer,” reveals Savitz. “I gained access to an amazing story, and by the end of the course, a casual assignment evolved into Yo Soy Así, a 27-minute documentary about Argentina’s LGBTQ community.” After graduating and moving to New York City, Savitz was accepted into the New York Foundation for the Arts Fiscal Sponsorship program and, encouraged by mentor Matthew Seig and producer Dahlia Heyman, she released her first documentary feature, Girl on Girl (2016), about feminine lesbian identity.

Today, Savitz primarily works as a filmmaker and cinematographer in New York City and has created content for NBC Left Field, NBC OUT, NowThis, Elite Daily, Teen Vogue and Them. “I do a lot of short pieces about politics, religion, and LGBTQ issues. In 2016 and 2017, it was a really good time to be a one-person band documentary filmmaker because every major media company began creating more video content,” says Savitz.  “I decided after directing and shooting Girl on Girl that the most exciting thing for me was being behind the camera. I love playing with light. I am mostly self-taught and rely on my eye and instincts, so my goal is to understand why I make the choices I make behind the camera and broaden my knowledge of cinematography as a craft. Through my work with mentors, I gained more technical expertise, and now I’m shooting both narrative and documentary projects.”

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DP Jodi Savitz shooting The Last Straw with the VariCam LT for The Women's Weekend Film Challenge (All photos courtesy of Jodi Savitz)

Like a Prayer: Can You Be Queer and Religious?

Savitz’s short documentary, Like a Prayer: Can You Be Queer and Religious?, which she co-produced, directed, shot, and edited was one of the standout projects of the EVA1 “Share Your Vision” Film Contest. The mini doc was created for Them, a division of Teen Vogue, and was shot with the EVA1 with some B-camera interview footage with the Lumix GH5S. “I was interested in creating a piece that celebrated the intersectionality of religion and sexual orientation, and asked, how do you reconcile a belief in God with your LGBTQ identity? To most people, being queer and religious is inherently antithetical. This piece explores the grey area there,” says Savitz. “They (Them) came to me because I have a background that is entrenched in presenting sexual orientation on film. It wound up being an incredible journey following these three people who all have very different stories and outcomes in terms of their current relationship with their religions, and putting it together visually was fascinating.”

Savitz’s main challenge was time since the project was completed from start to finish in a month, including her edit. “The biggest obstacle was not knowing our locations beforehand, not knowing the lighting situation we would be in, and not knowing how much time we would have,” reveals Savitz. “We had a five-person team working on the project, so we only had a few hands-on deck while moving around New York City.”

Savitz shooting in low-light conditions in the NYC subway with the EVA1 for Like a Prayer: Can You Be Queer and Religious?

The most difficult sequence to capture took place in a large church where Savitz had very limited time to get full coverage. Shooting in a handheld, run-and-gun style, Savitz created her own “Easy Rig” for longer takes throughout the day. “I captured the arc of the church service by weaving in and out of pews, navigating a narrow staircase, and chasing the light streaming through the stained glass windows - all the while, my camera is dangling out in front of me. I can only imagine what the congregation was thinking,” Savitz explains. “During the two morning services, the light wavered constantly. I was facing super harsh shadows and hot spots, and so I adapted to the sudden changes by swapping out my lenses, going from wide to close ups, to accomplish the best shot in the moment. I was shooting alone and only had two hours, so I improvised and moved quickly to get all of the coverage I needed.”

Savitz captured 10-bit 422 (ALL-I) in 4K DCI (4096x2160) files in V-Log. For dimly lit locations, like the New York City subway, she captured footage at 2,500 base rated down to 2,000 or 1,600 ISO. For everything else, she captured at native 800 ISO since she feels that’s the camera’s sweet spot. For lensing, she shot with Canon L-series zooms (24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8). For wide shots, she employed a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 manual prime lens.

According to Savitz, shooting in a church, the light wavered constantly so she quickly had to adapt to accomplish the best shot in the moment

Savitz edited and colored the film in Premiere Pro. She typically starts each shot with the basic V709 LUT, but if she didn’t like where the grade was going, she would start from scratch in V-Log.

Women’s Weekend Film Challenge

Savitz recently shot a short film, The Last Straw – part of the Women’s Weekend Film Challenge – with the VariCam LT. The Women's Weekend Film Challenge is a women-in-film initiative that creates teams of all-female casts and crews to write, shoot and edit short films in just one weekend and then the following weekend they have a screening. “I think it’s a wonderful way for female filmmakers in New York to get to know each other quickly,” reveals Savitz. “The goal is to create a film, but more so to create a network. People are excited to meet each other and share their talents. Hopefully in the future, you have this built-in network and that’s how it panned out for me.”

The Women's Weekend Film Challenge is a women-in-film initiative that creates teams of all-female casts and crews to write, shoot and edit short films in just one weekend.

Savitz shot The Last Straw with the VariCam LT using Zeiss CP.2 prime lenses capturing 10-bit 422 AVC Intra files in 4K DCI in V-Log. Her most challenging sequence to shoot was a night exterior party scene, which was the only scene she captured at native 5,000 ISO. “We had a key light, which was a Source Four, and I used a couple of fill lights on the side, including 4-foot Quasar Cross Fade and a full silk in front of the Quasar. We also used a Kino Barfly placed slightly behind them as a backlight. We had very limited time to color grade, and I made sure to shoot with that in mind. To limit the amount of noise while maintaining the most detail, I decided to stick at the native 5000 ISO on the VariCam. My choice to add string lights and candles highlighted certain elements of the scene and ensured that the nighttime environment didn’t feel artificially lit.” Savitz also used her EVA1 as B-cam for the shoot.

“The EVA 1 is the first cinema camera system I decided to invest in. I wanted to own a camera that felt truly versatile and lightweight, that was efficient for documentary shoots, but had a cinematic look. The Dual ISO capability, the color science, the ALL-I codecs, and the form factor are my favorite things about the EVA 1, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision to go with Panasonic.”

Savitz framing a shot on set with the VariCam LT for The Last Straw

For more information on Jodi Savitz, visit her website at http://www.jodisavitz.com/.