In this age of digital wizardry in filmmaking, doing things the hard way is a perversely effective way of standing out. It worked for Nick Gurewitch and his friends, who shot a web comedy series on 16mm celluloid. And it sure seems to be working for Evan Glodell, who not only wrote, produced, directed, co-edited, and starred in his new feature film Bellflower — he freaking made the cameras he shot it on. His Coatwolf Model II digital cinema camera looks like a steampunk wet dream, from the old-school bellows on the front to the hand-machined nameplate on the side.
The trailer for Bellflower.
But why did Glodell build it in the first place? One reason is simply because he could: the Coatwolf Model II is just the latest project in Glodell’s longtime “camera-hacking” habit. His first attempt, 10 years ago, was handmaking a 35mm cine lens adapter for the cheap camcorder he was shooting his personal short films with. “You could buy them, of course, but they cost like ten thousand dollars at the time,” he tells Co.Design. “So I figured I could just build one myself.”
The other reason that the Coatwolf Model II exists is because Glodell wanted cinematic looks that he didn’t think he could get with standard-issue gear. Glodell knew that Bellflower‘s wacko plot — which follows “two friends who spend their time building flamethrowers and other weapons in the hope that a global apocalypse will occur and clear the runway for their imaginary gang,” according to the press kit — would require highly stylized visuals, so he decided to push his camera-tinkering skills to the limit.
Glodell’s “heavily hacked” camera started life as an SI-2K digital cinema camera from Silicon Imaging, which Glodell got his hands on by cold-calling the company until they would let him play with one. (He’s now close friends with “all the folks there,” he says.) The Model II combines the SI-2K’s digital cinema chip with an utterly enormous 4×5 imaging plane — the same size favored by fine-art still photographers. That’s why the Coatwolf Model II looks almost like two cameras Siamese-twinned together: It’s essentially a large-format view camera whose ground glass is “filmed” by a Hollywood-quality digital camcorder.
“This camera does things that no other camera on the planet can do,” Glodell says. “It can do tilt-shift effects with any lens. It can make a Steadicam shot from five feet away look like a telephoto shot from 100 feet away. It’s like looking out of a whale’s eye.”
Granted, homemade cameras don’t have great tech support — “shooting this way may have made our production last twice as long and be twice as trying,” Glodell admits. But he says the trade-offs were worth it. It certainly was enough to impress the juries at Sundance and SXSW, where Bellflower screened this year. Does this mean he’s going to build a new camera for every movie he makes from now on? “That wasn’t the plan when I started Bellflower,” he says, “but yeah, that’ll probably be the case.”