Chris Sheffield as Simon in Clear Blue.(Photo by Katrina Marcinowski)
Clear Blue is an American Film Institute short film that tells the haunting story of Simon, who starts his first job at a community swimming pool. His morning shifts take an unexpected turn when he meets an old woman with a deep and dangerous secret. When Simon follows the old woman into the pool he makes a startling discovery. What follows is a tale of impossible love and its consequences.
The story was written and directed by Lindsay MacKay and photographed by Mattias Troelstrup. Other crucial members of the team were editor Rachael Katz and production designer Eun Kyung Nam. Clear Blue was produced by S. Brent Martin.
The film has met with a good deal of success, including exhibition at more than two dozen festivals, including SXSW and Plus Camerimage, the International Festival of the Art of Cinematography. Clear Blue has also brought home several prizes, including Best Director in the short film category at the Topanga Film Festival, the Student Award at the Hamptons Film Festival, and second prize at the College Television Awards, also known as the Student Emmys®.
MacKay’s story called for a fly-on-the-wall realism with a twist of fantasy. “We knew it was ambitious,” says Martin. “Shooting on film was very important to us from the beginning, partly because of the film school environment we were working within. Post-film school, we knew we would be enticed, and in many cases obligated, to shoot on other formats. We felt it was valuable for us to take advantage of the opportunity to engage in the control, precision, range and beauty that film has always been able to offer.”
Shooting underwater demanded a different set of rules, requiring discipline and taking the filmmakers out of their comfort zone. Troelstrup shot with KODAK VISION Expression 500T Color Negative Film 5229 above the water. He felt that the low contrast and desaturated colors were appropriate for the bright, institutional surroundings. Underwater, he used KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 because of its amazing latitude, which allowed him to shoot quickly with few lights.
Troelstrup further controlled the image by varying the format. He shot in 3-perf format with Panavision cameras above the water, and in 4-perf format with ARRI 435 cameras underneath the surface to gain additional image area and resolution. He lined the bottom of the pool with negative fill to preserve skin tones and to eliminate reflections from the blue tile.
“My two main light sources were fluorescent lights and daylight pushed from the windows,” says Troelstrup. “I bought 6,500K bulbs and swapped out every fluorescent in the locations. I wanted skin to be bright and white, and this was the best way to achieve that. Underwater I used HMI, and above I had a big soft box made out of two 4-foot Kino Flos as well as a set of panel frames from Chimera.”
Martin says that shooting film was important. “I feel that the look of film provided a quality to Clear Blue that would have otherwise been lost,” says Martin. “To us, the nature of this story needed film and this was a rudimentary element to the visual storytelling. Mattias and Lindsay would have authored their own distinct look on any medium. But if we had not shot on film, their creative and practical choices may have been very different and we would have made a different film in the end.”