Up and coming production company Ascender produced their popular YouTube web series, “Modern Wardudes” exclusively using the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K and DaVinci Resolve Studio.
A parody of Modern Warfare and Call of Duty, as well as numerous other popular first person shooter games, Ascender principal and series producer Stephen Ford was inspired to create “Modern Wardudes” by Activision’s early live action commercials for their Call of Duty franchise. Ford saw the potential of expanding on this world, albeit with a much smaller budget.
Ford’s early work was as an actor, working on shows for Disney, Nickelodeon and ABC before starring in “Kamen Rider Dragon Night” for CW. But even then, he wasted no time practicing his filmmaking skills. “I’d wrangle up my actor buddies to film sketches and parodies on YouTube while working on shows like Teen Wolf and Desperate Housewives,” said Ford. “It was all just a fun way to be creative and keep my friends employed. But over time it morphed into using ‘fun’ to become a slightly better director and producer.”
Ford’s early work was with YouTube company Machinima, which focused on game content, from video game streaming to game commentary and video news. With his passion for both games and filmmaking, Ford felt the fit was perfect. “There was a really big push to bring in producers and creatives to create content in house as opposed to outsourcing. I was brought in during a kind of blitz period of the company trying to bring in producers with different ideas.” Ford produced a number of test projects, including a Rainbow Six Siege live action series called Sixers. But with Machinima’s acquisition by Warner Bros, Ford decided it was time to take his content production independent, and Ascender was born.
Inspired by his development at Machinima, Ford began developing “Modern Wardudes” with a close group of creators at the newly formed Ascender. They immediately looked at Blackmagic Design products. “I’ve always been a big advocate of being able to create high quality content on a small budget. A lot of the films and shows we see are just unnecessarily huge. You can create so much with very little as long as you have a specific vision.”
Ford had been shooting projects for years, but had trouble finding a solution that satisfied his need to be cost sensitive yet deliver true cinematic quality. “That was nearly impossible until I had the chance to use a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K to produce a pilot last year. Right away I was blown away by what we could create in such a small package. Given our run and gun style of filmmaking we don’t always have time to set up a lot of lights or do extensive set decoration.”
For “Modern Wardudes,” Ford knew he would have to be creative in how it was approached, from script through photography and post. “The biggest hurdle is creating an action packed series on literally a shoestring budget and a tiny crew. At any given time, there are only three to four people on set, all wearing multiple hats.” Ford himself wore many hats, including playing a role on screen.
But the project is a testament to the team and depends on talent as well as the right production philosophy. “I have such an amazing team to help make this a reality; Colton Mastro, Jennifer McDonnell, Michael Lieberman and Brandon Winfrey, and of course the Pocket 6K, which played a critical role in its small size as well as high quality. We could literally fly around and grab shots quickly, sometimes each of us operating. The gear just worked flawlessly, and let us put our time into the story, which is the best scenario on set.”
In post production, the Ascender team moved from other platforms to DaVinci Resolve Studio because of the ecosystem the software offered. The show was edited and fully finished within Resolve, which was a welcome change to previous solutions. “I’ve been using other post solutions for years but after working with Blackmagic cameras I decided to switch over to Resolve to see if it would help our post production process. I’m so glad I did.”
The learning curve in switching to DaVinci Resolve Studio was much lower than Ford expected as well. “I went from knowing nothing about Resolve to being totally proficient within a weekend of watching tutorials.” The result was faster turnaround, which can be critical on a project. “It sped up how quickly we’ve been able to grind out our videos. I tell literally every creative I know that even if you don’t have a Blackmagic camera, you should still learn Resolve as it just makes your production process so seamless.”
With the success of “Modern Wardudes,” Ascender is looking beyond the series into new content. “I’ve got my sights set on a properly executed Doom film, invoking all of the 80’s/90’s action films that helped mold me growing up,” said Ford. “But right now, we’re just creating some cool videos for digital and festival release. Maybe we will be producing a full feature using Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras. That sounds like fun.”