Filmmaker Brian Luco Peña creates a unique short film, LIKE, with the VariCam 35

4 min

Like is a unique short film that deals with the influence that social media has on our lives. The film was written, directed, shot, and edited by Brian Luco Peña with the VariCam 35 . Born and raised in Chile (now residing in Los Angeles) Luco Peña studied Audiovisual Communications at Duoc UC Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile where he got his start in still photography. “Because there is no film industry in Chile, the only way to earn money, or to have a career, is through commercials,” he explains. “I started to explore the fashion side of advertising and began directing television commercials. The rhythm of advertising is very fast and was good training for narrative projects.”

Like is a character driven story with a lyrical style, sparse dialogue, and long takes. According to Luco Peña, the characters are feeling something that the audience might not understand while still creating a special type of emotion for the viewer. “The type of cinema I enjoy the most is one that gives the audience more space to feel something,” says Luco Peña. “Filmmakers like Wong Kar Wai (Happy TogetherFallen Angels) and Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow-Up) have a style that is slower and gives you more tools to interpret the story. Films that are based on the aesthetic and emotions of the character more than the story itself.” Because there were many night scenes, Luco Peña was inspired by Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (shot by DP Christopher Doyle, HKSC) for its beautiful night scenes and use of practical lights.

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"Hot Rod Cameras" Illya Friedman had mentioned the VariCam 35 to me,” explains Like producer Zubi Mohammed. “He gave me a demo of what the camera could do in lowlight, so it was always in my mind. When I saw the type of project that Brian was aiming for, I just immediately thought of the VariCam. There is an organic nature that Brian was trying to provoke from the project and just from the demo footage that I saw, I thought VariCam could definitely work.”

During pre-production, Luco Peña also tested a Sony A7S but preferred the VariCam 35 due to its more filmic “grain”. "Even though you can work with a high ISO, it can still be very accurate,” he explains. “I think the A7S had some problems with the skin tones. I really enjoyed the grain the VariCam had. It didn’t feel ‘noisy’ like other cameras and had more of an organic look that I like. Especially in one shot where we’re filming our actress in a car passing through Hollywood, which eventually became the shot for our poster.”

Luco Peña captured 12-bit 4:4:4 AVC-Intra files in UHD at 23.98fps and framed for widescreen (2:39:1). For lenses, he employed Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon FF primes, as well as Mamiya 645N PL-mount primes. Luco Peña also used ProMist and SoftFX filters, which helped him create a more vintage look.

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Luco Peña approached the cinematography in a stripped-down way like Italian neo-realist directors Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, who would light and shoot quickly using mainly available light. Due to the budget, the production did not carry a lighting package, mainly using practical bulbs set on dimmers. “For an interior hotel scene, we were scouting floors where we could see the bokeh in the background but at the same time, you could still see the reflection of the lamp in the window,” explains Luco Peña. “What is the color of the lamp and what kind of source could this be? Should we dim the practicals up or down? I was trying to manage the amount of light I was taking from my practical sources. Not using a lot of equipment made shooting the scene less complex.”

For many of his exteriors, Luco Peña meticulously scouted his locations and picked the right time of the day to shoot more efficiently. For day scenes, he used silks and diffusion material to control sunlight coming through windows.

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Since completing the short, Like has been submitted to several film festivals and Luco Peña and Mohammed are looking to develop it into a feature film. According to Mohammed, it is not an easy road. “The indie filmmaking landscape has changed so drastically,” he says. “In the ‘90s, because of the lucrative home video market, filmmakers were selling their movies at film festivals for large amounts of money and they would get three picture deals. Now, we have Netflix and all these streaming services, but the middle class of filmmaking has really shrunk. There are just low budget movies and big tent pole films. For us, our goal is to manage the budget and make the feature for a low amount of money while still making it look great. Getting the support of organizations and friends who are technically savvy has been tremendously helpful in getting this short made. It’s been a long and difficult road but that’s not an unusual story.”