Cinematographer, VFX Pro Takes on Even More Roles for Horror Film ‘The Unwilling’

David Stump is both a cinematographer and a visual effects specialist, but that didn’t stop him from taking on even more jobs for “The Unwilling,” a low-budget indie horror feature that centers on the family of a recently deceased and hated patriarch forced to confront their own sins. The film is set for DVD, Blu-ray and VOD release by Vision Films on May 1. Stump, who in 2001 shared a sci-tech Oscar for data-capture development, served not only as DP and VFX supervisor on the Jonathan Heap-directed film but also handled post-production and digital intermediate work, oversaw the deliverables and served as executive producer to boot.

Why so many hats?

Because we had so very little money and because I know how to do all of those tasks.

What did you do to get the film started?

I organized a crew that would help me shoot on our tiny budget: lighting, grip, camera, DI and VFX. I did a lot of entertaining, begging, borrowing, arm-twisting — and even more begging — to get a movie made.

How many production days?

Fifteen days in the summer of 2016 and a few insert stage days of things like creature shots and elements on green-screen. I had a couple of friends from Henson Co. who brought some puppets and did some effects shots with me.

What format did you shoot it on?

Sony F65, F55 and some FS700, all in 4K.

Where and how did you edit, post and do the DI?

Editing was done on Adobe Premiere running on a Mac at the director’s house. An edit decision list was generated for [color correction] on DaVinci Resolve.

What systems did you use for the VFX?

My wife, Jennifer Law-Stump, is a 25-year veteran of the VFX trenches, and she used mostly Nuke and a little bit of Shake. She did the heavy lifting. I did about a third of the VFX along with Gianluca Bertone and Marco Paonessa of Bertone Digital using the capabilities of DaVinci Resolve.  … In all, we had about 110 VFX shots.

How did you learn to do so many things?

When the digital age began, I realized that I was either going to be driving the bus or get thrown under it. I’ve been working very hard [to master] the moving target of digital filmmaking, and even wrote a book on the subject: “Digital Cinematography: Fundamentals, Tools, Techniques, and Workflows.”

What did you learn from this experience?

For me this film was a Ph.D. thesis in how to take destiny into my own hands in the digital age. I decided to take responsibility for the entire digital process, and while it was very trying at times, my years of learning digital technology [led me] to attempt this. I pretty much did the movie to prove to myself that I could do the movie.

Will the film have a theatrical release?

That’s still an uphill climb for the little movie that couldn’t be made but somehow was made. In the end it was a rewarding effort. It makes everything I do from now on look a little easier.

What’s next for you?

I’m piecing my work back together. I was VFX supervisor on Season 1 of Starz’s “American Gods,” but after showrunner Bryan Fuller left for creative differences, I didn’t get hired back for Season 2.

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