Filmmaker Phillip Youmans Relies On Ursa Mini Pro And Resolve For Burning Cane
At just 19, Phillip Youmans is already at the top of his game. As the youngest ever to compete at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, he was the big winner with his freshman effort, Burning Cane, which earned the Best Narrative Feature, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography awards as well as two nominations at the Seattle International Film Festival. The story, which is set among the cane fields of rural Louisiana, takes a close look at the rigid religious convictions that govern the black community in the rural south and the cyclical nature of destructive behavior. “You make a film and put everything into it, but you never really know how people are going to respond to it,” says Youmans. “I feel really fortunate that people are responding so well.”
Youmans wrote the screenplay while still in his junior year at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), where he studied filmmaking in the school’s creative arts program. He had previously tried out acting in his youth, but was drawn to the more technical side of the craft, in the writing, directing, shooting and editing roles. “I was so much more interested in the conversations that were happening between the director and the DP,” explains Youmans. “I just thought that dynamic was so much more interesting. No disrespect at all to acting, but there was more opportunity to create something fresh from the ground up.”
Prior to NOCCA, Youmans had made a number of short films, which he says “were very bad at first,” but continued with his efforts, trying out new approaches and techniques, “and with that, I just fell in love. It’s the only thing that really excites me and makes me happy. It really is my saving grace, cause I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t wake up every morning wanting to make films.”
Once at NOCCA, he was able to learn from top-notch teachers and was exposed to some of the industry’s most advanced tools. It’s where he discovered the Blackmagic Design solutions he used for Burning Cane, such as the URSA Mini Pro camera, which was the main camera he used to shoot the film, as well as DaVinci Resolve, which he used for all color grading.
“I was checking out the URSA Mini Pro literally every single weekend, every single day,” says Youmans. “We had this phenomenal camera at our disposal, so I was using it all the time, everywhere.”
According to Youmans, “I love the camera for so many reasons. It’s just so flexible. It’s not too bulky to the point where, if you want to take it off and shoot handheld, it doesn’t hold you back. It provided a fluidity and mobility that 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 lightweight of the camera came in handy. The image quality on the URSA Mini Pro is phenomenal and the dynamic range is on point, especially at higher ISOs. It’s also great in lowlight situations. 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. Also, the built-in ND filters were a life-saver. I can say all of that with full confidence because it’s the camera that allowed me to make Burning Cane, at a feasible financial investment and still be able to have the production value I wanted and be able to compete at a high level.”
Explaining that his primary intention was to give a humanizing portrait of the characters that populate the town, Youmans says he wanted Burning Cane to “feel almost documentarian; that’s why I made heavy usage of handheld camerawork and employed natural/practical lighting exclusively. Furthermore, there’s also a rawness to a handheld camera that’s difficult to deny. So I definitely believe it serviced my vision with this film.”
HEADING INTO POST
For some of the film, Youmans used the Blackmagic RAW format for several setups, primarily for exteriors. Once the film moved into post, Youmans edited it (with some help from fellow student Ruby Kline) and completed the final color grade at Fotokem New Orleans in DaVinci Resolve.
“Outside of the stellar grading capabilities of Resolve, the film grain options on the program are also top notch and proved incredibly useful in adding a gorgeous texture to the image,” he says. “If you shoot in RAW, especially with Blackmagic RAW, that let’s you do that whole thing with a tenth of the storage space, and do color in DaVinci, your stuff is going to look great. I also think it’s a very intuitive editing software as well. It’s a huge reason for using Blackmagic Design.”
Youmans says that going forward, he’s been continuing to work with Blackmagic solutions on projects following Burning Cane and credits the company for making “phenomenal tools.” Stressing that the tools to create at a Hollywood level are affordable to everyone without sacrificing quality, Youmans adds, “with the resources I had, Blackmagic Design is part of why I was able to make Burning Cane.”
His most recent video installation titled, “Won’t You Celebrate With Me” premiered with Solange Knowles’ creative agency Saint Heron at the end of his senior year of high school and he’s currently in post production for his documentary about the Grammy-nominated jazz musician Jon Batiste titled, The Vanguard: Days with Jon Batiste, set for release in late 2019.