There is nothing quite like a timed film challenge to test the creativity, patience and ability to go without sleep for several days of filmmakers. One of the most respected and watched of these is the annual Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, which filmmaker Shaina Ghuraya and film company Rebuilt Minds successfully completed in 2019 and 2020 with the help of Blackmagic Design cameras.
The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge gives filmmakers—with and without disabilities—the opportunity to collaborate to tell unique stories that showcase disability in its many forms. The film challenge is a weekend long competition in which filmmakers write, produce and complete an original three to five minute film. Filmmaking teams receive an assigned genre along with a list of required props and locations, and have 55 hours to complete the film.
Shaina Ghuraya was the writer, director and producer for “Human Helper,” one of the films that won awards at the festival. Shaina, along with DP Ariel Cantrell and team members from Rebuilt Minds, were able to write the film, shoot and post and actually get the film in before the deadline. One of the reasons Shaina offers for being able to relax with time to spare was the use of Blackmaic Design’s URSA Mini Pro 4.6K as her main camera.
“Human Helper” tells the story of the near future where artificially intelligent robots, otherwise known as human helpers, are a regular part of life. However, they’re not very inclusive and are unable to work with people with disabilities. The main character, Dr. Rachel Hubbert, and her assistant Tony have made it their mission to make them not ableist.
Shaina’s vision for the film was a mix of dark comedy and shining a light on the everyday problem that many people have in not being able to behave normally around a person with disabilities. Following the style of her favorite director, Bong Joon Ho, Shaina wanted to create a film that mixed genres but was also humanistic.
“We like to shoot bold, unapologetic and quirky, while relating to human concepts,” she said.
“Human Helper” was shot mostly inside a poorly lit lab or in a brightly lit kitchen area with a good deal of outside light coming in. There were also several shots done on the sidewalk near the house. Maintaining a tight budget and efficiency were driving factors for the filmmakers, and expensive lighting and time consuming scene changes were not an option.
“We needed a camera that could adapt between low light, bright light and outdoors. And we had zero time to do anything but quickly set up and shoot,” Shaina said. “Luckily, we all had met at USC and were able to learn how to use the URSA Mini Pro as we were going through film school. Ariel had used it for a number of student film projects already and we knew what it could do. Especially with the dynamic range of the camera, which we knew could get the shots we needed in any of the lighting we were going to run into.”
The film was shot with a mix of tripod and handheld shots. One of the scenes that the URSA Mini Pro camera’s high dynamic range made possible was a pivotal scene where the doctor and her assistant were moving from the low lighting of the lab to the kitchen. It was still early in the day in southern California, so the light coming in from outside was bright and coming through a set of screen windows.
“We were worried the scene would be blown out. We could either shoot now or wait hours for a light change at 7 pm, which was not possible with 55 hour deadline. So we had to go with it and trust that the camera would get us the image we needed,” Shaina said. “It took 30 minutes to set up the scene. We put on a bit of diffusion and shot away. The URSA Mini Pro worked perfectly and nothing was blown out.”