The upcoming art exhibition of brothers Robert and Martin is just a month away, and to fuel their creativity, Martin retreats into a black cube. "Troubled Minds" is a dramedy that delves into the complex relationship between artistic expression and mental well-being. The film follows the brothers as they embark on a psychedelic journey above the Arctic Circle, exploring the limits of normality and the depths of their own minds.
As we entered the pre-production phase of the film, the location scouting team went looking for the perfect filming locations in Riga and Liepāja, as well as the areas surrounding Film Camp AS and Sommarøy in northern Norway. This helped us to identify the best places to capture the desired visual aesthetic and mood of the film.
The visual objective of the film was to create a realistic and atmospheric look, blending gritty and painterly elements. To achieve this, we selected the wide aspect ratio of 2.39:1. This format provided additional negative space, enabling us to create more dramatic framing for close-ups and effectively showcase the spectacular landscapes of the Arctic. With this approach, we aimed to create a distinct visual language that would enhance the mood and feeling of the story.
For this film, we decided to blend the techniques of documentary and fiction by using a combination of professional actors for the main roles, and a "wild cast" for the supporting roles. This approach infused the filming process with a sense of spontaneity, which required me as a cinematographer to be adaptable and able to seamlessly blend into the on-set environment. I rehearsed and adjusted my shots based on the situations described in the screenplay, and then gradually refined them to capture the natural flow of events. This approach called upon my full range of practical and theoretical knowledge, allowing me to respond to the developments of the story in real-time, making the film come to life through the camera.
In pre-production, we carefully evaluated different lens options and I conducted tests to determine the best choice. We ultimately decided to use Cooke Panchro/i Classic lenses for their beautiful and unique aesthetic. These lenses are known for their ability to render faces in a flattering manner and for their painterly quality. They are sharp enough to capture fine details, but also have a gentle focus roll-off that adds a softer touch to the images. We chose to use 32mm, 40mm, 50mm and 65mm lenses for the filming. We were very satisfied with the so-called "Cooke Look" these lenses provided and used only a polarizer filter in-camera.
A third of the film's scenes were shot using a 2-camera setup, and the key here was to light for the entire scene rather than individual shots. Working with Camera B operator Kristaps Dzenis was a pleasure, as he is a very skilled professional and Zen person.
On location, we made use of available light sources such as windows and practical light fixtures to motivate our lighting design. We kept the lighting design simple, using key and top light to fill the frame and creating a sense of freedom for the actors and camera to move freely.
For interiors, we utilized a variety of lighting equipment, including Arri M90 HMI, Arri M40 HMI, Arri M8 HMI, ARRI Pocket Par 400 Watt HMI, Arri T2, Arri T1, Arri ARRI 650, Arri 300, Redhead 800, Dedolight SET, SkyPanel S60-C and Skypanel S30-C, LiteTile Plus Kit + Eggcreate, LiteMat Plus 1 and LiteMat Plus 2, KinoFlo Freestyle 21 and KinoFlo Freestyle 31, Astera Titan tube kit, Cineo Matchbox.
To control and shape the emitted light, we used 12x12, 8x8 and 4x4 frames and materials, egg crates, floppies, flags and nets, silver and white reflectors, Kflect kit, Depron and Black Molton. We also made use of diffusion gels, neutral density filters, colour correction and colour conversion gels of various strength, to control the colour, intensity, quality and colour temperature of the light sources.
We closely worked with the film's Production Designer, Zanda Zeidaka, and the Light Department to introduce a variety of practical light sources, such as light bulbs, candles and real fire, as well as vintage equipment like a kodascope and 16mm film projectors. We also utilized professional Sanyo PLC-HF15000L digital projectors, with custom-made visualizations, created by Raimonds Jermaks, projected to create unique light patterns on the backgrounds and actors' faces. The direct light produced by these projectors created a pleasing flare effect over the entire frame, further enhancing the overall mood and tone of the film.
Images were captured using the ARRIRAW format at a resolution of 2048x1152. This high-resolution format registers a wealth of detail and dynamic range, providing us with the flexibility for color grading during post- production. This allowed us to fine-tune the color palette and create a cohesive look throughout the film.
For exterior shots, we carefully selected the best time of day to shoot. During the filming process, we encountered a phenomenon we referred to as
"Cinema God" - brief, unique, and unpredictable weather conditions such as rain, fog, snow, or an epic sunset. On those days when our crew was focused and present, we managed to capture these "gifts of God" and use them to enhance the story. This type of occurrence happened frequently.
During the day, we used 12x12 frames to diffuse the sunlight and floppies for more dramatic contrast ratio for close-ups. For night exterior scenes, we used Arri T2, Arri T1, SkyPanel S60-C and Skypanel S30-C, LiteMat Plus 1 and Astera Titan tubes, PAR 64 1kw and Varytec LED Flood 400w. This combination of equipment allowed us to create a desired mood and atmosphere for the night scenes.
We aimed to capture a sense of relentless and unceasing motion in the film by closely following the characters' movements with the camera. A good portion of the film was shot handheld. When needed, I used the EasyRig support system. For selected scenes, I employed the use of an exoskeleton, the Tilta ArmorMan II. This allowed us to achieve a steady, hand-held look while still matching the emotions of the characters and the scene.
Andis Šūba, our focus puller, is a master at his craft. He quickly adapted to the conditions of 'creative chaos', which added a lot of energy to the film. While there may be a few out-of-focus moments, this is part of the energy communicated by the picture and the film. Andis utilized the Arri WCU-4 and Cinetape Measure Control for wireless focus control to achieve precise and smooth focus pulls.
For marine and swimming pool scenes, we used Scuba Splash Bag housing to protect the camera. This housing is ideal for above or just below the water surface camerawork and can be used in depths no deeper than 2 meters. It allowed us to capture unique and dynamic shots while keeping the camera safe and secure.
To achieve a fast-paced, chaotic effect and elevate the intensity of violence in the boxing ring and fight scenes, I adjusted the shutter angle to either 90° or 45°.
To ensure an intimate atmosphere for the sex scene, we designated it as a closed set. We pre-lit the space and the actors gave exceptional performances, allowing us to move smoothly through the scene.
Inspired by the road movie classic "Easy Rider," we filmed a portion of the movie while traveling from Riga to a location in Norway. The producers handled the necessary legalities and we even shot a scene on a public Tallinn-Helsinki ferry.
The daylight window in the northern regions above the Arctic Circle during October is limited to only 9 hours, so we arise early to take advantage of the Golden Hour, that magical time just after sunrise and before sunset when the sun is low on the horizon, giving the light a soft and warm quality. This is a very special period of transition between light and darkness.
One shot, one opportunity
Filming a scene with only one take can be a challenging task, whether it's capturing a bicycle being thrown off a bridge, a gunshot, the destruction of a gambling machine or a boat set on fire. But in these tense moments, I remind myself to stay relaxed and have fun.
We had a fantastic team. The directors of the film, my brothers Raitis Ābele and Lauris Ābele, made the process both easy and challenging. Making this film was a one-of-a-kind experience and a cinematic journey.
Principal Photography for this film was 25 days.
Stills photography by