The mysteries of the mind: filming Hunting for Hedonia on the Canon EOS C300 Mark II

In a still from documentary Hunting for Hedonia, a man is having brain surgery in an operating theatre.
Hunting for Hedonia, a feature-length documentary shot on the Canon EOS C300 Mark II and Canon EOS C200, explores the promising science of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). © Film still from Hunting for Hedonia, Director Rose Grønkjær, Cinematographer Ben Bernhard, Danish Documentary Production.

What if electrodes planted in your brain could alter the way you feel and act, for the better? Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is a revolutionary technique employed by leading neuroscientists in which an implanted device sends out electrical impulses to manipulate parts of the brain. The results can be life-changing – from helping to prevent tremors in patients with Parkinson's disease to lifting people out of severe depression.

Delving into the mysteries of the human mind, and exploring the implications of DBS in terms of our identity and sense of self, proved a captivating subject for Danish director Pernille Rose Grønkjær. Her movie Hunting for Hedonia, narrated by actress Tilda Swinton and shot on the Canon EOS C300 Mark II and Canon EOS C200, mixes documentary footage with re-enactment to weave past with present, and explore the complexities of mental health, neuroscience and the human journey.

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"How do you describe depression visually?" asks Pernille. "Or the feeling of being trapped in your own body and not being able to get out? Or someone facing death? How do we capture these moments?

"When somebody is having a brain operation, you have to be sensitive to where you are, and respectful, while capturing the magic of the moment. You see a patient with Parkinson's disease trembling, then suddenly it stops because they're passing electricity through a wire that's been implanted in his head.

"You have to be able to capture what's going on and, at the same time, make it an aesthetic experience. We wanted to take the viewer into depression in a visual way, instead of just having people tell you about it, so the equipment was crucial. The Canon cameras and lenses gave us the best material to work with."

Cinematic aesthetics on the Canon EOS C300 Mark II

To bring their layered, emotionally-charged narrative to the screen, Pernille and cinematographer Ben Bernhard wanted to use a variety of cameras to offer flexibility across varied setups and provide a consistent cinematic aesthetic.

"I like to work with different cameras, so we have opportunities in different situations," says Pernille. "We were in operating theatres and in people's homes; delicate, sensitive areas, where we wanted to present something beautiful. The Canon EOS C300 Mark II, Canon EOS C200 and Canon lenses deliver a cinematic feel. The Canon EOS C300 Mark II is a particularly cinematic camera; the softness in the texture of the images is just incredible."

The Canon EOS C300 Mark II was complemented by the smaller Canon EOS C200, which was ideal for use on a motorised gimbal, while a fast 120fps frame rate (in Full HD) and RAW recording offered flexibility in post-production. "We used the Canon EOS C200 because we wanted super slow-motion," adds Pernille. "Slow motion adds a textural and sensual look to a clinical topic; it really gets under the audience's skin and makes people feel things."

For the tone of the film, the team took inspiration from the look and feel of Scandi detective dramas and Nordic Noir. "You see the darkness, yet at the same time there is an attraction and a beauty," says Pernille. "That's what I love as a filmmaker, combining these opposites. That's where beauty really comes out."

Because the Canon cinema cameras perform so well in low light, Ben managed to shoot most of the film at up to ISO1600, only using ISO3200 in extreme cases. He was confident shadow areas would not block up with noise, an important consideration when the film's visual style was to have areas of obvious light and shade.

"To underline the whole idea of the film, we decided it shouldn't be over-lit," says Pernille. "Our more cinematic approach was to shoot images that hid things in shadow, adding to the mystery. Darkness was our friend."

Danish director Pernille Rose Grønkjær.
Danish director Pernille Rose Grønkjær hopes the movie will help people to understand the technology on an emotional level. © Stine Heilmann
The crew of Hunting for Hedonia film in an operating theatre with Canon cameras and lenses.
The team needed versatile equipment that enabled them to work effectively and unobtrusively in confined spaces and in sensitive situations. © Todd Taylor
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Mixing RAW and 4K footage

As well as offering easy rigging with manual follow focus, matte boxes and external monitors, choosing cinema cameras gave Pernille and Ben more choice in terms of codec, RAW recording and higher bit rates. This was especially true because the film was all shot in 4K.

"It's tricky, with the different formats, but there was a noticeable advantage using Canon Cinema RAW Light files from the Canon EOS C200, which we shot at 50fps for the whole film," says Pernille. "It's a whole other deal when you look at them, and you know the grading is just more dense. There is so much more juice in the images."

The Canon EOS C300 Mark II will shoot RAW if used with an external recorder. But Pernille decided that recording the files to the camera's internal memory cards would easily be good enough, especially when shot in Canon Log to maximise dynamic range.

"RAW eats up space, so we didn't use that with the Canon EOS C300 Mark II because in operating rooms it's hard to predict how long you need the camera to roll," she says. "We had to be able to roll from the start of surgery to the end. When we shot RAW files with the Canon EOS C200 it was planned. I can't see a difference between the 4K files from the Canon EOS C300 Mark II and the RAW footage from the Canon EOS C200 in the final film, so I think we made the right decision."

Swapping between the two main camera bodies proved easy, which was important as both Pernille and Ben were shooting on each of them at different times. "Getting used to the Canon EOS C300 Mark II and the Canon EOS C200 in terms of menus and the handling was easy, as it always is with Canon cameras," says Pernille. "For me, they're very intuitive. I feel like the buttons are in the right places in terms of how I work and how I move."

When it came to working quickly, the Canon EOS C200's small size meant it could be operated on a handheld motorised gimbal instead of a larger Steadicam setup. Paired with a small external monitor mounted on the gimbal frame, it allowed the crew to quickly capture smooth motion.

In a still from documentary Hunting for Hedonia, a man is silhouetted against a window.
"We decided the movie shouldn't be over-lit," says Pernille. "Our more cinematic approach was to shoot images that hid things in shadow, adding to the mystery. Darkness was our friend." © Film still by Ben Bernhard

The versatile 17-120mm Cine Servo lens

While many of the gimbal shots were captured using a lightweight Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens, Pernille had access to a range of Canon lenses and also used fast Canon CN-E primes. She used the CN-E14mm T3.1 L F, CN-E24mm T1.5 L F, CN-E35mm T1.5 L F and CN-E50mm T1.3 L F, as well as a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. However, it was the Canon CN7x17 KAS S E1/P1 Cine Servo lens that became the mainstay of the production.

"It's just such a fabulous lens, so we used it a lot," says Pernille. "It would have been great to shoot everything on primes, as that's the cinematic way. But in a documentary, when you're in operating rooms or people's homes, it's disturbing if you're moving around a lot, so you need the ability to zoom."

With 7x magnification and a 17-120mm focal length, the Canon CN7x17 KAS S E1/P1 Cine Servo lens gave the crew framing flexibility and 4K performance, while minimising their profile in sensitive situations.

"The lenses we used really complemented each other nicely," Pernille adds. "I was a little worried that with two cameras and different lenses it wouldn't be a homogenous experience. But the overall look that the Canon kit brought was what bound the whole thing together; the lenses and the cameras complemented each other. I'm romantic about the filmic look. Canon cameras are actually able to process images into a softer kind of language."

The resulting images chart a previously unseen journey into, ultimately, what makes us human. Pernille recalls filming a woman who had been clinically depressed for 52 years and said her life was not worth living. This woman was transformed by the medical intervention.

"She went into the operation thinking: 'I hope I die on the operating table, because then it's not my problem,'" she says. "It's that level of darkness that the patients live in. When you are introduced to a technology that can actually bring them back to what you or I would consider a normal life, that is incredible. And to be able to capture that on film, and present it to an audience, is a big deal. For me, that's one of the greatest qualities of being a filmmaker, where you work with images that can actually touch an audience or change somebody's mind."

Written by Adam Duckworth

Pernille Rose Grønkjær's kitbag

Key kit for pro filmmaking

A Canon EOS C300 Mark II cine camera.


Canon EOS C300 Mark II

Captures stunning 4K/Full HD video with an incredible 15 stops of Dynamic Range, external RAW output and Canon Log2. "It's a cinematic camera," says Pernille. "The softness in the texture of the images is just incredible."

Canon EOS C200

A compact and versatile high-performance camera for a wide range of shooters that captures sharp 4K 50P images. "We used the Canon EOS C200 because we wanted super slow-motion," says Pernille.


Canon CN7x17 KAS S E1/P1

Stunning 4K optical performance, 7x magnification with a 17-120mm focal length. Featuring a servo drive unit, it’s ideal for shooting scenarios where mobility is key. "It's such a fabulous lens," says Pernille. "We used it a lot."

Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 L F

Great in low light with fine creative control over depth of field, the wide-angle CN-E35mm T1.5 L F offers spectacular 4K image quality.

Canon CN-E50mm T1.3 L F

A lightweight, compact fixed focal length lens designed for EF mounts. It offers spectacular 4K image quality and a Full Frame image circle. "The lenses we used really complemented each other nicely," Pernille says.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

A workhorse telephoto zoom lens designed for professional use. It has a rugged durable design, a four-stop Image Stabiliser and specialised lens elements.

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