An Interview With Safety Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Disney+ has some amazing sports films in its library, from Remember the Titans to Cool Runnings, and the latest Disney+ original film, Safety, promises to be another stellar entry into the Disney+ sports catalog. We had the opportunity to chat this week with the Cinematographer for Safety, Shane Hurlbut, ASC about what makes Safety unique and how he is pushing the boundaries of this brand-new film. Check it out!
CORBAN: What was your first experience working with the Walt Disney Company, and how did you get involved with Safety on Disney+?
SHANE HURLBUT: My first Disney film was Mr. 3000 starring the late Bernie Mac directed by Charles Stone III. Baseball was my favorite sport to play growing up. Charles’s vision on this movie was not all about baseball, but the emotions of a retired player trying to come back after 10 years. When Reggie Hudlin reached out to me to interview for Safety, we bonded immediately. I love to paint a visual picture for the director when I go into these interviews, and I come with visual references, a look book, shot and movie references, etc. to really show them my passion and what I can bring to the project. Reggie told me that he loved the ideas, positive energy, and personal chemistry.
CORBAN: You have some great history within the film world, and I am excited to see your cinematography in Safety! How would you describe a “day in the life” while you were working on the Safety set?
SHANE HURLBUT: Every day was magical, every day. Reggie is such an amazing leader, and he is super positive and it’s infectious, so I just followed his lead. Every morning people would ask us how we were doing, and our only answer was Freaking Fantastic. Making this movie was one of the greatest filmmaking experiences I have ever been involved in. Everyone was so supportive from the studio, executive producers and all the way down the line. My entire crew went above and beyond in prepping this movie, so on our shoot days we were totally prepared with all departments were in sync. It was a dream project.
CORBAN: Since COVID-19 has affected many aspects of the filmmaking process in 2020, it’s so great to see such a wonderful team of filmmakers working together! Looking before the craziness of 2020, your work as a cinematographer has spanned a wide variety of genres, from comedy and action films to sports movies like Safety. Is there a genre that you find most comfortable to work on, and what are the unique challenges presented by a sports film?
SHANE HURLBUT: I love shooting sports dramas because I played every sport as a child all the way through college. It is so intuitive for me to understand how to get inside the game and inside the characters head about what he or she is feeling in a particular moment. My dad was a very talented pitcher, and he played triple AAA ball for the Boston Red Sox franchise in the 1950’s. He was drafted to the show, but he gave it all up to return to his family farm after his Grandfather died, as he felt obligated to take it over. That was a decision that haunted him his entire life because he didn’t follow his dream.
CORBAN: It’s easy to feel the passion in each of your projects, and your connection to the sports genre is inspiring. Are there any stylistic choices from your cinematography that fans should be on the lookout for when watching Safety?
SHANE HURLBUT: We had a ton of innovation on Safety and I feel very lucky to have relationships with gear manufactures that are always willing to push the boundaries of the creative process. Tiffen engineered new Digital Diffusion filter to handle the wide lenses and the super long lenses that we would be using. They had only manufactured this diffusion glass to a level 5 and to 1/4, so I asked them to extend the range from 9 to 1/32. This enabled us to keep our look consistent over all focal lengths, even as wide as our 8Rmm lens that we went to a lot.
Director Reggie Hudlin wanted to show two different worlds that Ray was in, both the projects of Atlanta where he grew up and the Campus and football culture of Clemson University. To achieve this, I asked Tiffen to once again innovate and create a line of ND filters that could handle this task. I wanted the Atlanta projects to feel gritty and RAW, so I used the power of the RED Gemini camera and its low light function to shoot it all at 3200 ISO, which meant even the day exteriors. The Tiffen engineers had to get the color science spot on using up to 13 stops of ND on the camera. This is very difficult to do, as most ND manufacturers stop at 7 stops because the science behind the IR pollution flooding the sensor is extreme. They were up for the challenge, and we were able to keep the look and color consistent.
The third innovation was getting a battery manufacturer to build batteries that would fit the footprint of the camera and have super long life. Since we were pulling off the 59 setups in 7:20 seconds for the football game sequences we needed a battery that was lightweight because many of the Steadicam and gimbal operators were physically running with their systems. BLUESHAPE engineered small but mighty batteries delivering all the power required to pull this sequence off, as we could not be changing batteries mid halftime. They also embedded 2 D-tap ports on each of the other batteries so that the camera assistants were able to have all their bells and whistles on the camera and receive power to all their devices, like range finders, follow focus and zoom controls.
The fourth innovation is the way the camera moves and how you feel when you are one with the actors. You feel immersed in the lead character Ray’s struggle because of the Cinema Devices Anti-Gravity rig and the Ronin 2 gimbal. My A camera operator Chris Mosely and B camera operator Jason Robbins were the dynamic duo on every shot, and delivered a variety of oner’s, as well as moving masters that really engage the audience.
CORBAN: I love that each of your films pushes the boundary of cinematography and filmmaking. Also, I noticed that you have worked behind the camera for major bands like Guns N’ Roses and The Rolling Stones. What elements from filming musicians have you brought to your experiences filming for movies?
SHANE HURLBUT: I feel that my experience in music videos, honed my love for experimentation and creative freedom. Director Kevin Kerslake and I tried crazy ideas in pushing the boundaries of the photochemical process. We enjoyed pushing the edge of film in a uniquely fearless way because Kevin’s mantra was that failure didn’t matter. I failed a lot on some of my endeavors, but that was what was so great about it, because sometimes your failures turned out to be brilliant. I use this mindset on every film I shoot, never being comfortable, always pushing myself to try something that I have never done before. It keeps me creatively challenged and excites my crew. What makes Safety unique, is the is the way the camera moves and the use of wide-angle lenses.
CORBAN: That’s so exciting, and I am looking forward to watching Safety on Disney+! Do you have any future projects in the works?
SHANE HURLBUT: Yes, I have a number of scripts that I am currently reading with directors that I have collaborated with on other movies- Charles Stone III, Stephen Fung and Kevin Kerslake. I’m super pumped to have the opportunities and so grateful for this business and how much it has given to me and my family. Hard work, passion, determination and being a great leader are the character traits that define me.
CORBAN: While it sounds like you have your hands full, I will be looking out for your work in 2021! Thanks again for joining me to chat about Safety, which premieres on Disney+ on Friday, December 11.
Photo Credit – Ken Ruinard