Showtime Networks’ “The Chi” incorporated a wide array of Blackmagic Design cameras, including URSA Mini Pros and Micro Studio Camera 4K, for DP Abraham Martinez’ naturalistic portrayal of Chicago’s south side.
“The Chi” portrays an average day for Chicago kids, prepping for school as their parents head off to work, young adults trying to make a living and the elders keeping an eye on things from their front porches. But in this tough neighborhood, real dangers threaten daily to squelch dreams, and the simplest decisions can have life or death consequences.
Martinez wanted this coming-of-age drama to feel grounded and realistic. “I wanted the camera to walk alongside our lead characters. I wanted to feel that we were in the middle of the ever evolving conditions of the city that pressed into our characters,” said Martinez. “So this meant, our cameras had to be flexible for the journey.”
Martinez used three Blackmagic URSA Mini Pros, one URSA Mini 4K and two Micro Studio Camera 4Ks recording into Blackmagic Video Assists 4K. Martinez feels his Blackmagic cameras have become an important part of his kit.
“I find that using my URSA Mini Pros has become somewhat of a paint brush stroke technique of my personal work flow. I’m able to have a half a dozen Blackmagic Design cameras around for my palette to fit the ever flexible work and city conditions that require me to adapt quickly.”
Shooting on location in Chicago was a must for this urban drama, and the visuals represent a naturalism that contrasted home life and the street. “The Chi” team used the colors of the environment to drive the style as well. “We celebrated color in many ways, from wardrobe to the set design,” said Martinez. “Our drama has many facets of story; the intersection of home/neighborhood/street life which is in contrast to the institutional aspects of the city, namely the prison and police corrections stories. I was able to build these two worlds in look and feel as we bounced between the delicate and interwoven story lines.“
While “The Chi” focused on a gritty realism, the shoot itself was rigorous at times, forcing the cinematography crew to move quickly. The Blackmagic cameras helped Martinez capture high quality imagery even if on the go. “My Blackmagic Design arsenal is always what I call ready at hand. If I needed a lock off camera ready for an additional angle, we shot with one of them. If I needed an establishing shot popped off during a company move, my URSA Mini Pro was ready for the task, helping us knock out the day’s work. As for the Micro Studio Cameras, we used them extensively throughout our shoot to power artistic angles, helping drive story and save time. We even had an URSA Mini Pro built into a full time gimbal system always ready to go. We were always ready for gimbal mode.”
With such a wide array of cameras, and a focus on color, Martinez had no fear about matching images. Working with Light Iron’s Steven Bodner, they had no problems matching looks between cameras or manufacturers. “The Blackmagic Design camera’s color space complemented the look and the feel of other cameras wonderfully.”
But beyond color, Martinez valued the combination of high end quality and ease of use. “The camera systems held up in the rigorous location moves and demands of the city,” said Martinez. “Speed was essential and it required very little to get the Blackmagic camera systems up and running. Often just a lens, card and battery and we were good to go.”