From the idea to the final shot.
Terminal Happiness is a sci-fi short film made by a diverse crew from all over the world under the Kino Eyes master's program. The story written by Chinh Van Tran and directed by Eric Romero, follows the journey of Miranda - a cancer patient in a happy therapy treatment.
Regarding the cinematography, we went for a bold visual concept that portrays a dystopic system where positivity is mandatory. As planned during the first meetings with the team, the beginning of the film is constructed in a well-lit and soft colored atmosphere, which gradually shift to a darker, more saturated, cooler tone to reflect the changes in the narrative and our characters.
The shot is sans sound to avoid spoilers.
Our final shot is special, it represents many symbols that were present during the film. The lighting of this moment is inspired by the shot from Euphoria, where waves of colored lights are mixed with character's state of mind. In Terminal Happiness, the big aquarium at location helped to create this emotional environment, hence the idea of waves of light was adapted to our color pallet.
A month before the shooting, I was able to do some camera tests. Without crew or location confirmed, I wanted to test the Digital Sputnik DS1 LED System together with Arri Amira EF mounting the Zeiss CP2, which was the equipment available at BFM school. From a local rental house (Bjorn), I've found Canon Cine Prime kit, which I borrowed to check how it would match with CP2.
The results were quite satisfying. Both lens kits are sharp and have a digital look, which worked perfectly with our proposed aesthetic for the film. The use of both kits on set was a good option, not only because I could have a wider range, but also because I had in mind to use more the Canon all open (f/1.5) towards the final scenes as part of the cinematography narrative. The early tests served not only to check how the Canon Cine Primes were compatible with the CP2, but also to get familiar with DS1 LED lights. After that, I confirmed that I would be able to achieve the transitions of lights and by extension, the atmosphere.
The location was a public school in Estonia, in which we scheduled to shoot during the Autumn break. Thanks to the great coordination on part of the producer Mauro Tunaroza, we were able to build a schedule that allowed us to comfortably shoot what could be considered a big production for students. And with the talented and hard-working Elo Elmers, the production design has an amazing impact for the film, consequently for the cinematography.
As we advanced with recce, we decided to use the teacher's room for the final scene. But there was a lot to be done. The support of Digital Sputnik (which is an Estonian company) was essential. They equipped us with several of their new Voyager lights, which ended up being my main lighting system. Beautifully controlled by Mari Rothla, it served so well not only for lighting this final scene, but also to boost the dystopian scenario during the whole film. Plus, the shot before (when she arrives to this room) had a Voyager inside the aquarium!
One of the main uses of the Voyagers, was for building a server system inside the PA Booth (the place used for controlling and speaking to the happy therapy center). I remember I had a hard time trying to explain how it looked like in my head. Luckly, we shot the last scene in the last shooting day and the lighting department was able to work during the week until we happily adapted the idea on time. Finally, a basic shelf was recreated. Full of Voyagers lights, it worked as both set dressing and as character's lighting, making the waves of colored lights more realistic and likely.
In terms of look, Terminal Happiness is quite a bright film, so I couldn't go too intense as Euphoria reference. The strong blue light on the water, reflecting inside the room, is a skypanel on the floor, from outside. It looks like it could be the same light doing her back light, but actually it's a DS1 on the top of her back. Additionally, I had a single Voyager positioned as key light, animated in pink color (which is the palette in the beginning of the film), transitioning inside the tube, going in and out of her face. And also a second ARRI skypanel pointed to the white ceiling, giving me a minimum of exposure for the whole set.
We aimed to capture the feeling of being locked in a fishbowl. Inspired by many Estonian places that have huge glass windows serving as walls (probably because they want to enjoy the few moments of sunlight in winter times) - which made me feel like I was in an aquarium. In Terminal Happiness, in a very subtle way, we tried to create a metaphor that the characters were locked in a fish tank, being watched and controlled all the time.
Did everything go as planned? Of course not.
As filmmakers, we always have to adapt. No matter how much we plan, we will always have to improvise, be creative and face the challenges. Having this experience as a master cinematographer student in a low budget project, I can tell that I improved my skills, artistically and technically. Not forgetting to mention the experience in another country, the team play, the pitchings, and everything that I'm glad to be part of. Terminal Happiness was selected to Camerimage Festival 2020, for student etudes panorama section, and I couldn't be more honored.
Camera: Arri Amira
Lens: Canon Cine Prime + Zeiss Compact Prime
Aspect Ratio: 2:1
Director: Eric Romero
Producer: Mauricio Tunaroza
Writer: Chinh Van Tran
Cinematographer: Michele Diniz
Editor: Pedro Vital
Sound Designer: Tarun Madupu
Production Designer: Elo Elmers
Rachel Flynn as Miranda
Roisin Brehony as Fran
Mart Sander as Taavi
Gaffer: Andres Arukask; Ezequiel Salinas
Electricians: Eemi Lehto; Kevin Mardiste
Best persons: Suraj Suresh; Jessica Sattabongkot
Best persons (extra): Gert Tali; Sombit Mondal
Dolly grip: Aidar Mussabekov
Key grip: Mehmet Burak Yılmaz
Digital Sputnik supervisor: Mari Rohtla
1AC: André Turazzi
2AC: Juan Pablo Reyes
Steadicam operator: Kristjan-Jaak Nuudi
DIT: Nicolas Viggiani
Behind the Scenes: Sai Krishna Koppolu
Colorist: Brunno Schiavon