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To Be Funny: 100 Years of Buster Keaton

+Merge Creative Media Looks at the Legend's Enduring Fame and Resurgence in New Documentary
Buster Keaton is a film legend. April 2017 marks 100 years since he first stepped onto the silver screen, His comedy and physical stunts still stun audiences, leaving them wondering just how in the world he did them.

In the film "To Be Funny," New York based production company +Merge Creative Media delves into Buster Keaton's legacy and finds out why the film master still has a fanatical following in 2015.

Director Jessica Roseboom,  and her indie crew are traveling around the country to film Buster Keaton screenings and events to capture just what makes him so special to so many. And this meant shooting in dark theaters, on the streets and basically anywhere that Keaton's fans were gathered.

To do this, cinematographers Gavin Rosenberg and Chad Gardella have been relying on Blackmagic Design's Pocket Cinema Cameras for principal photography and have been grading the film in DaVinci Resolve Studio.

Making the Screening Circuit
Buster Keaton took his first on screen pratfall in Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's two-reeler, "The Butcher Boy" (1917). At the time of his death in 1966, Keaton starred in dozens of silents and talkies, and later embraced television, commercial, and stage work.  Every comedian that has done a pratfall on the stage, TV or the silver screen owes something to Keaton. His energy, and complete fearlessness in attempting death-defying stunts, has ranked him as one of the three great silent comedians of his time, alongside Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin. It has been said that Keaton would only allow his crew to stop filming if he yelled "cut!" or died during a stunt.

Instead of fading into memory like many of the stars of the silent screen era, Keaton's popularity is still rising. There are well attended Keaton celebrations and festivals around the country, as well as screenings, lectures, and other events held in his honor. The To Be Funny crew aims to meet with Keaton scholars at these events, to discuss his timeless appeal.

Husband and wife team Roseboom and Rosenberg aim to get a set of interviews with fans, scholars, and theater owners in each city they travel to, while at the same time capturing B roll of fans' reactions during Keaton screenings.

"We decided to do all principle photography using our Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras, and we hugely benefited from their portability and exceptional picture quality," said Gavin. "Being a part of a small crew of three, the size and cost effectiveness of these little guys really made all the difference in our production. We were able to capture quality footage without losing a huge chunk of our budget."

One of the stops was in Tucson, Arizona. The crew met and filmed DIY musicians, "Chamberlab" as they perfomed an original score for Keaton's classic, "The General" (1926) during a live screening at Fox Tucson Theatre. The film stars Keaton as an engineer winning back his loves: his girl and his stolen train called 'The General.' The film includes some of Keaton's most famous stunts and pratfalls, many done on a moving train.

"In Tucson, one of the first places we shot was within a completely dark theater, but our director absolutely wanted to get the audience's reaction to the film. We thought the idea was impossible, but we were able to capture what we needed with the Pocket Cinema Cameras shooting in RAW. The portability and size of the cameras also made it easier for us to shoot in such a public place without intruding on our subjects or their experience in the theater," Gavin said.

When filming in Tucson, the crew shot all the one on one interviews in ProRes HQ, relying on better lighting to get the shots. This saved storage space and money.

"The B roll was often done in dark theaters, and that is when we needed to squeeze every bit of data out of the footage. We got an amazing amount of footage to work with shooting in RAW with the Pocket Cinema Cameras. And being able to move between RAW and ProRes when it made sense was a huge benefit," Gavin explained.

Following shooting, all footage from the Pocket Cinema Cameras was sent directly into DaVinci Resolve Studio for final grading and prepping for distribution.

"The Pocket Cinema Cameras are portable and let us go everywhere. Most importantly, we got amazing, high quality images with them," concluded Gavin.

Being such a small crew with a limited budget, "it helps to have a reliable company such as Blackmagic that supplies some of the best cameras out there for independent filmmakers."

The To Be Funny crew successfully reached their goal on Kickstarter, and are still funding until September 3rd, 2015.  Their next stops will be filming at the Buster Keaton celebration in Iola, Kansas, as well as the 2015 International Buster Keaton Society Convention in Muskegon, Michigan.

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Related Keywords:BlackMagic Design, Pocket Cinema Cameras , DaVinci Resolv, color correction

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