Fremont, CA, USA - With the release of the original YouTube video “Stranded On Treasure Island” in 2019, filmmaker, magician and internet personality Zach King promised his fans that he would produce a sequel if the film received over 250,000 likes. It didn’t take long to reach 810,000 likes and 18 million views; “Stranded 2” went into preproduction shortly after, with Producer, Director and Writer Josh Fapp at the helm.
The original film, which follows King and his friend Nate on a magical quest searching for the lost gold of Calico Jack on Treasure Island, was a much smaller story, but the intention was to bring a much bigger scope and higher production value to the sequel. “It’s always scary doing a sequel to a successful video,” said Fapp. “From the start, we were asking ourselves what we could do to make this one just as good, or better.”
The plan was to pick up right where the first film left off, with King and Nate being captured by pirates. “From there, we started throwing ideas at the wall to see what would stick,” added Fapp. “It would be awesome to have a real pirate ship! We should have Zach and Nate sword fight! What if there was an artifact that turned whatever it touched to gold?!”
An early choice was to bring back Cinematographer William Hellmuth, who had shot the first film. “William is an amazing cinematographer, and I was so happy to get him on this project,” said Fapp.
Hellmuth chose to shoot with the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K digital film camera in 8K and used the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K digital film camera as his B camera. “I chose the 12K for multiple reasons,” said Hellmuth. “First off, I really like its color science. Second, I'm crazy about Blackmagic RAW as a recording format. It's clean, extremely efficient, and always gives so much latitude in post. And finally, I knew that the user friendly ergonomics of the 12K's body would come in very handy on a shoot like this where we were moving around so quickly in some settings that were sometimes not too easy to film in.”
Prior to shooting, Fapp and Hellmuth engaged Colorist Wes Langdon to develop a custom LUT for production created in DaVinci Resolve Studio editing, grading, visual effects (VFX) and audio post production software. Inspiration for the look came from classics such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Goonies,” as well as “The Shape of Water” for a critical underwater sequence. “I hadn't seen “Pirates of the Caribbean” in such a long time,” added Hellmuth. “It was really fun watching it as an adult and noticing so much of the beautiful work that (Cinematographer) Dariusz Wolski did in the movie and to try and draw inspiration from that. His photography really captured the sky and water so well, giving them a gorgeous, distinct, teal look with a lot of detail preserved in the clouds for example. I wanted to expose in a way to specifically draw out these elements of the environment.”
Producer Julianna Ulrich appreciated Hellmuth’s choice of cameras for the logistical advantage of a nimble yet high quality system. “The 12K was perfect not only for its beautiful image quality but also for its versatility, as we went from filming on a pirate ship, to a cave set, to a beach, to a tide pool area that was a hike in with gear, all with a small crew running quickly,” said Ulrich. “We shot fight scenes as well as massive VFX setups, and the 12K was perfect for every situation.”
While the recording format wasn’t a conscious choice for Ulrich, she did see the value of Blackmagic RAW. “A particular challenge on this project was during filming on the pirate ship,” added Ulrich. “We had to wait for the clouds to move on before rolling again and had a small window to film each time in order to match the light. By the end of the day we were also losing light as the sun set. But in the final grade you would never have guessed it was filmed over two days with very different weather and sun patterns.”
Langdon was also pleased with Blackmagic RAW. “It just has so much depth to it, it’s efficient and yet you have a ton of control in the Blackmagic RAW tab in Resolve. They are really tailored well for each other. Also, it’s one of the few original camera formats that I can generally work in without proxies,” said Langdon. “There are a lot of shots in the film with very high contrast and constantly shifting exterior daylight. You’re never going to be able to seamlessly patch overcast to direct sunlight, but with Blackmagic RAW, I have the latitude in gamma and gamut to really squeeze the most out of the shot without fighting with it. It also has some of the most flattering compression I’ve seen.”
Production was faced with challenges that required creativity to solve, rather than money. The underwater sequence, where the pirate Captain Blackwell is sinking, weighed down by her golden boot while she's reaching towards the surface, was particularly complex. Hellmuth and his team devised a dry for wet system that simulated the underwater effect perfectly. “It was a very improvised looking rig, shot completely dry, that involved half full water bottles suspended under lights and being shaken back and forth, lots of fog, and a couple leaf blowers. But in the end, after we added some bubbles in post, I’m just so happy with how it came out looking,” said Hellmuth.
Once in post, Landgon was able to take the footage and rework it for the final look. “The show LUT was made while I was working in a non color managed setup, so I basically rebuilt the power grade using the LUT I gave Will months ago as a reference, trying to remember my steps,” said Langdon. “I ended up with a much more detailed and nuanced image, so it all worked out for the best. I try to keep a light, broad touch and think more photographically, but sometimes you just gotta get in there with the scalpel!”
For more specific touches, Langdon leaned on his favorite tools inside of DaVinci Resolve Studio, including magic mask. “It’s such a great way to grab a quick clean face mask for things like skin tones or beauty refinement,” added Langdon. “Also, if I want to get subtle hue shifts, I find myself going to warper before the curves, since I can feather the operations. I find it takes a lot more pushing to really break the image in there.”
“Stranded 2” is now streaming on YouTube.