Blackmagic Design announced Phillip Youmans’ Tribeca 2019 Founders Award winning ‘Burning Cane’ was shot using URSA Mini Pro 4.6K and Production Camera 4K, with color correction done using DaVinci Resolve Studio. At 19, Youmans is the youngest and first African-American filmmaker to ever win the prestigious award.
‘Burning Cane,’ which won for best narrative at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, was Youmans’ first feature length film. Youmans is a New Orleans-born filmmaker currently living in New York City where he’s preparing the release of his upcoming short film ‘Nairobi’ which was executive produced by Solange Knowles’ creative agency Saint Heron. He’s also currently in post production on a documentary that follows Jon Batiste and the Stay Human Band during their six night run at the legendary Village Vanguard in NYC.
‘Burning Cane’ underscores the rigid religious convictions that govern rural life in Southeastern Louisiana. The film follows an aging, God fearing mother, her unemployed son and her dejected preacher. Youmans, who wrote, directed, photographed and co-edited the movie, used the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K as his main camera to capture the daily lives of his characters and the dramatic natural beauty of the town of Laurel Valley.
He shot the film with a mix of handheld and lightly rigged shooting styles. “Since my primary intention was to give a humanizing portrait of the characters that populate this town, I wanted ‘Burning Cane’ to feel almost documentarian; that’s why I made heavy usage of handheld camerawork and employed natural and practical lighting exclusively. Furthermore, there’s also a rawness to handheld camerawork that’s difficult to deny. So I definitely believe it serviced my vision with this film,” Youmans said.
One of the most surreal shots in the film is when Youmans and his crew shot the film’s title, an image of sugar cane fields burning, as part of the yearly preparation for growing new sugarcane crops. Shot at twilight, Youmans, along with Mose Mayer, producer and AD, Ojo Akinlana, producer and first AC, had very limited time to get the images needed.
“The URSA Mini Pro’s built in ND filters and RAW recording allowed us to fully bring out the reds, oranges, and yellows of the fire in the distance during post without compromising the tonal values of the image as a whole. And since we were trekking through deep cane fields, the camera was essential for effective handheld camerawork. And when I wanted a more visceral feel and didn’t want to use a stabilizer or shoulder rig, the light weight of the camera came in handy.”
For other shots, Youmans worked with a crew of up to a dozen shooting in a variety of small and large indoor and outdoor locations to capture up close emotional scenes as well as crowded, Sunday congregations.
“The Blackmagic cameras let me be as creative as I could be and know that I was going to get the highest quality images. Whether I was shooting a blues dancing scene, a close up phone call of one character being scolded over the phone, or a character picking oranges and walking through open, harvested cane fields, I knew the URSA Mini Pro would get me the image I wanted,” he said.
“The URSA Mini Pro allowed me to be able to capture the vision I had, and its design was perfect for both handheld and rigged shooting,” Youmans continued. “The image quality is fantastic and the dynamic range is on point, especially at higher ISOs. The camera’s malleable dynamic range proved to be incredibly useful given that many of the film’s setups were lowlight situations, again using natural and practical lighting exclusively.”
Footage was graded using DaVinci Resolve Studio at Fotokem New Orleans. Youmans was impressed with the software’s complete grading capabilities and also used DaVinci Resolve’s film grain options for adding a texture to images.
Youmans first learned to shoot on the URSA Mini Pro and Production Camera 4K, as well as handle post production using DaVinci Resolve Studio as a student at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts’ Media Arts Program (NOCCA.) NOCCA uses the Blackmagic Design cameras and DaVinci Resolve Studio software as part of their film and broadcast curriculums.