Blackmagic Design today announced that the independent feature film “FIRST” was shot with Blackmagic Design cameras, and edited, completed visual effects and graded using DaVinci Resolve Studio editing, grading, visual effects (VFX) and audio post production software. The film, codirected and coproduced by Jahmela Yarbrough and Brandon Yarbrough, was shot by Cinematographer Will Novy. The film recently premiered at the Academy Awards© qualifying Pan African Film Festival.
“FIRST” follows Charles (Will Catlett), an aspiring documentarian who has let go of his dream of being a filmmaker. However, when Charles reconnects with his childhood friend Robin (Jahmela B. Yarbrough), sparks fly, and they both find themselves entering territory that they longed for but always feared. Charles documents the journey as these childhood friends fall in love, one first at a time.
The concept of “FIRST” began as a digital series on Issa Rae’s YouTube channel, HOORAE Media. “I wrote ‘FIRST’ simply because I had an affinity for love stories and longed to see one told where the characters looked like me. After two seasons I quickly realized there are so many others just like me from all over the world craving to see and experience the same thing,” said Jahmela.
The series quickly garnered more than 7 million views and the team realized it had struck a chord. “‘FIRST’ answered the deep call for Black people to see themselves represented on the small screen,” said Producer Lynneise Joseph. “It was one of the first web series to represent Black people in a positive way. ‘FIRST’ remains one of the top web series on Issa Rae’s YouTube channel and was in high demand from fans to be made into a movie.”
Brandon and Jahmela chose to take the process into their own hands, producing and directing the feature film together for their company Yarbrough Studios.
For Brandon, the choice of using Blackmagic Design cameras was a simple one. “I’ve always loved Blackmagic cameras. I remember long ago borrowing a friend’s camera to shoot a few projects and that’s when I was hooked. I purchased the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K when it first came out and when it was time to shoot this film, our decision to use Blackmagic cameras was easy,” he said. “Our schedule and budget were very tight, so we decided to shoot multi cam. I knew the size and weight of the Pocket 6K and Pocket 6K Pro would help us move quickly, and the quality you can achieve is amazing.”
Having also worked with Blackmagic cameras before, Novy was happy with the choice. “Having past experience with Blackmagic, I knew they would keep up with the fast paced environment on set,” said Novy. “We used one Pocket Cinema 6K, one Pocket Cinema 6K Pro, and an URSA Mini Pro 12K. The Pocket cameras were used for 90% of the shoot, with the 12K used in stunt scenes and when we needed extra coverage. For example, there was a scene where the two lead actors jumped into a swimming pool. We were racing against the sun to shoot that scene, but with our three cameras we were able to make our day before losing light.”
Brandon enjoyed the versatility of the cameras, while still feeling confident the quality would be consistent despite which camera was used. “All these cameras are workhorses. When working on projects, I make sure the tools we use aren’t a hindrance, especially when we have to move quickly. The Blackmagic cameras beautifully handled whatever we threw at them and allowed us the freedom to create.”
The team chose Blackmagic RAW as their codec, looking for a balance between high quality and reasonable storage needs. “As a DP, I love having as much quality and resolution recorded as I can, but there’s a give and take when you’re shooting with three cameras and limited hard drive space,” added Novy. “We ended up deciding to shoot Blackmagic RAW in constant bitrate at 5:1 so we could maximize quality and still save some hard drive space.”
Novy was pleased the choice had no effect on the quality of the image. “We had a party scene in the film with a lot of low light and saturated colors that I thought we would need to do some grain removal and color tweaks for,” continued Novy. “But when it came time to grade, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the multiple colors held up and needed little to no changes other than a small saturation boost.”
With African American leads, Brandon was happy the dynamic range of the sensor represented skin tones accurately. “Every scene shows how wonderful the color science is,” added Brandon. “The cameras captured skin tones, especially darker skin tones absolutely beautifully.”
Brandon took on the task of editing. Having worked in other packages in the past, he had transitioned to editing in DaVinci Resolve Studio in 2020. “This was by far the smoothest and the most stress free post experience I have had in my 20 years of editing,” he said. “With other software I’ve used in the past, stability was a big problem. I would have projects crash all the time, and I’ve even lost projects entirely. Moving over to DaVinci Resolve when I did has saved me so much time and headache. It is so smooth and stable, and I never had any issues while working on this project.”
The multiple toolsets available in DaVinci Resolve Studio came in handy, both for color grading as well as the ability to create VFX in Fusion, rather than taking them to an outside vendor. “When I first started on this project, I didn’t know Fusion well,” Brandon continued. “Coming from a layer based compositing system, the nodes didn’t make sense. But when I took a minute to learn nodes, the door of possibilities opened wide! To have such a powerful tool right within Resolve is truly a gift. To whoever reads this, do yourself a favor and take the time to learn Fusion. It’s not as scary or confusing as it may seem.”
The film was graded in DaVinci Resolve Studio by Colorist Sarah Sebring. The key elements for Jahmela were the transitions between eras, as the film follows the characters over time. “We follow the characters in different time periods from childhood to adulthood,” said Jahmela. “Sarah was able to subtly give us a ’90s look, an early 2000s look and a present day look all while keeping a cohesive overall quality. She did a marvelous job bringing the entire film together.”
Considering the process of grading, Brandon had little to criticize. “We really didn’t have any challenges during the grade. I think this is a testament to the entire Blackmagic Design ecosystem we used on this film, from cameras through finishing. It not only works but works well. We couldn’t ask for more,” he concluded.
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