Category Archives: Cinematography

Sight, Sound & Story takes on cinematography

By Daniel Rodriguez

Manhattan Edit Workshop’s recent Sight, Sound & Story: Art of Cinematography in New York City featured two one-hour panels: “Thinking In Pictures — Perspectives, Compositions, Lighting and Mood” and “Life Behind the Lens: DPs Talk Careers and Creativity in Film and Television.” The first focused on documentary work and the second on narrative-based storytelling. Both sparked questions and ideas in the head of this DP, including what roles and responsibilities cinematographers play in the storytelling process.

Docs
“Thinking In Pictures — Perspectives, Compositions, Lighting and Mood,” moderated by DP David Leitner, featured fellow cinematographers Wolfgang Held and Kirsten Johnson. Johnson’s documentary Cameraperson has made the Academy Awards Documentary shortlist.

The role of a cameraperson is essential to any film, narrative or documentary, but especially in the documentary world where much of the action is unplanned or out of one’s control. Johnson remarked how “we all live in a new way of filming and being filmed.” So, while much of their talk reflected on their own careers, they also looked toward the future. Her statement made me think about the current state of filming and seeing how stories are becoming much easier to tell thanks to technology that ranges from high-end digital cinema cameras to the ever-improving video quality of cellphones.

It brought to mind the saying, “the best camera is the one you have with you,” as some of the most stunning documentation of the human condition in the past decade have been on phones and lower-end cameras. Today’s ability to capture images is a far cry from a time when Super 8 and 16mm were the few feasible formats for documentary work — even then, the technology limited the possibilities due to technical skill or the unfortunate reality of a film magazine running out and the precious few minutes one might lose while reloading.

Working off older terms like “reloading,” all three on the stage expressed their distaste with the term “shooter.” They emphasized how they weren’t shooting any firearms and, if anything, the real shooters were the ones pointing guns at them — this had them reflecting on the death of Leonardo Henrichsen, a cameraperson who filmed his death while staring down a rifle’s barrel as a soldier fired at him during Salvador Allende’s rule in Chile.

Oftentimes camerapersons have to live in the moment, whether in narrative or documentary to judge the conditions they’re in and make decisions that’ll maximize their coverage and approach. To paraphrase Johnson, she made the brilliant observation that “directors work by anticipating what happens next, while a cameraperson nourishes in the present.” Regardless of filming background, whether documentary or narrative, this statement rings true because time is usually the most pressing factor in the field or on set.

While I do believe that a cameraperson must be somewhat aware of what they are striving to tell or cover, this feeling of nourishing in the present permits one to be flexible with how the given moment affects mood and emotion. I’m going to paraphrase once more — Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman has said, “If the documentary you were looking to shoot is the same one you get at the end then you weren’t paying attention.” The statement that Johnson made only enforces this idea because you must be able to fully immerse yourself in that moment in order to truly understand how to capture it.

Possibly the most simple and effective statement hat really summarized the role of a cameraperson was from moderator Leitner. He said, “Every shot matters.” While that is a very general statement, it does raise many questions regarding the cameraperson’s role in today’s world. Since we are now living in a predominantly digital age where truly cinematic images can be captured easily and on cheaper prosumer cameras, our artistic roles as cinematographers and camerapersons come down to the intuition we have as artists to make every shot matter.

With the advent of digital cinematography, excessive coverage and the ability to shoot longer has now become part of the norm; oftentimes this is a sacrifice of quality for the sake of having more to work with. Coming from analog film backgrounds, each person on the panel, specifically Leitner, emphasized how this finite length of film made the utmost care and attention go into every shot.

Wolfgang Held most effortlessly showed this approach as he screened bits from the latest film he worked on as cinematographer, Sophie and the Rising Sun was largely shot handheld, but unlike this feeling of over-coverage, each shot feels thought out and effective in adding to the story. The role of a cameraperson is an ever-changing one, especially in our current age, and as technology becomes more accessible to many the emphasis will always be on the artist and their approach.

Narrative
“Life Behind The Lens: DPs Talk Careers and Creativity in Films and Television” was moderated by cinematographer Marcin Kapron and featured Eric Lin, Eric Alan Edwards and Vanja Černjul, ASC. All four cinematographers come from a narrative-based background and they reflected on the moments that inspired their career choices and projects they’ve worked on.

I loved hearing how each panelist began in the industry. They all came from different walks of life and have built their careers in different fields, ranging from television to indie films to major blockbusters. As a young DP, it was very exciting to hear that they each shared a persistent and infinitely curious approach to creating images from early on, mostly originating through stills photography and related techniques.

Each pro screened clips from projects and discussed their approach on set and the technical challenges they each faced. The talk eventually looked toward the future and newer storytelling formats, such as high frame rate, HDR, and 4K projection. All agreed that there has yet to be a common standard set for newer methods of displaying these new formats. Despite this, each panelist agreed that there is definitely potential in these formats, especially in HDR which Vanja has direct experience with, shooting episodes of Marco Polo for Netflix, which requesedt an HDR version for delivery.

Speaking with Vanja directly after the event and having spoken with the colorist who collaborated with him on the SDR and HDR versions, Dado Valentic, the biggest challenge with HDR is having ways of displaying and monitoring on set in a cost-effective way. Ultimately, each panelist agreed that these are simply tools to aid and provide new methods of storytelling and, as cinematographers, they’re excited for the future.

Summing Up
We currently live in an industry where the tools that were once exclusive to camerapersons and cinematographers are now affordable, compact and available to anyone. Listening to these panelists talk about their experiences and opinions on the future was exhilarating and encouraging. Regardless of whether you work on narrative or documentary fare, ultimately comes down to the role of the artist to bring their unique approach and creative work ethic to make every shot matter.


Daniel Rodriguez is cinematographer and photographer living in New York City. Check out his work here. Dan took many of the pictures featured in this article. He is credited with the photos in this piece.

The A-List: Jackie and Neruda director Pablo Larraín

By Iain Blair

Chilean director Pablo Larraín has been hailed as one of the most ambitious, iconoclastic, daring — and important — political filmmakers of his generation thanks to such films as No, a drama about the 1988 plebiscite that brought an end to the Pinochet era; Tony Manero, about a man obsessed with John Travolta’s disco dancing character from Saturday Night Fever; and The Club, a drama about disgraced priests.

iain-and-pablo

Writer Iain Blair and director Pablo Larraín.

He’s also one of the hardest-working directors in the business, with two major releases out before Christmas. First up is Fox’s Jackie, about one of the greatest icons of the 20th Century. It stars Natalie Portman as first lady Jackie Kennedy and is set in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. That’s followed by Neruda, which focuses on the life of Pablo Neruda, one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century. Neruda is Chile’s Oscar submission, and Jackie, Larrain’s first English-language film, is also getting a lot of Oscar and awards season buzz.

I talked to Larraín about making the films and his workflow.

Why make back-to-back films?
I never planned it this way. I was going to make Neruda, and then we had to push it six months for a lot of reasons. My last film, The Club, won an award at Berlin, and Darren Aronofsky headed up the jury and asked me to direct Jackie, which he produced. So I ended up doing Jackie right after Neruda.

So what does a Chilean director shooting in Paris bring to such an iconic American subject?
The view of an outsider, maybe. We were doing a lot of post on Neruda in Paris, and the film was mainly made and cut there at Film Factory. Natalie was also living there, so it all came together organically. We built all the interiors there — the White House and so on.

Jackie

Neither film is your run-of-the-mill biopic. Can you talk about Jackie, which has a lot of time compression, random memories and flashbacks?
I don’t like normal biopics. They’re very tricky to do, I think. More than anything we wanted to find and discover the specific sensibility that was Jackie and examine all the events that happened after the assassination. It was also about capturing specific emotions and showing her strengths and weaknesses, and all the paradoxes and controversies that surrounded her. So we approached it from fiction. Good biopics aren’t really biographical; they just try to capture a sense of the person more through atmosphere and emotions than a linear plot and structure.

You must have done a lot of research?
Extensive — looking at newsreels, interviews, reading books. Before all that, I had a very superficial idea of her as this person who was mainly concerned about clothes and style and furniture. But as I researched her character, I discovered just what an incredible woman she was. And for me, it’s also the story of a mother.

Jackie

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
The biggest challenge for me was, of course, making my first film in English. It wasn’t easy to do. My other biggest challenge was making a film about a woman. In my films, the main characters have always been men, so that was the biggest one for me to deal with and understand.

Do you like the post process?
I love it — and more and more, the editing. It’s just so beautiful when you sit with the editor, and every scene you’ve shot is now cut in that first cut. Then you go, “Alright, where do we go now, to really shape the film?” You start moving scenes around and playing with the narrative. I think it was Truffaut who said that when you shoot, you have to fight with the script, and then when you edit, you have to fight with the shoot, and it’s so true. I’ve learned over the years to really embrace post and editing.

You worked with editor Sebastián Sepúlveda on Jackie. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
He began cutting while we were shooting, and when we wrapped we finished cutting it at Primo Solido, in Santiago, Chile. We did all the pre-mixes there too.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but as with any period piece the VFX play a big role.
Absolutely, and Garage, a VFX company in Santiago, did about 80 percent of them. They did a great job. We also used Mikros and Digital District in Paris. I like working with visual effects when I have to, but I’m not really a greenscreen guy (laughs). Both films were fun to do in terms of the effects work, and you can’t tell that they’re visual effects — all the backgrounds and so on are very photorealistic, and I love that illusion… that magic. Then there’s a lot of work erasing all the modern things and doing all the cleanup. It’s the kind of post work that’s most successful when no one notices it. (Check out our interview with Jackie editor Sebastián Sepúlveda.)

Neruda

Neruda

Let’s talk about Neruda, which is also not a typical biopic, but more of “policier” thriller.
Yes, it’s less about Neruda himself and more about what we call the “Nerudian world.” It’s about what he created and what happened when he went into hiding when the political situation changed in Chile. We created this fictional detective who’s hunting him as a way of exploring his life.

Along with Jackie, he was a real person. Did you feel an extra responsibility in making two films about such icons?
Yes, of course, but if you think about it too much it can just paralyze you. You’re trying to capture a sense of the person, their world, and we shot Neruda in Chile, Buenos Aires and a little bit in Paris.

What did you shoot the films on?
We shot Jackie on film and on Super 16, and Neruda on Red. I still love shooting on film more than digital, but we had a great experience with the Red cameras and we used some old Soviet anamorphic lenses from the ‘60s that I found in LA about eight years ago. We got a beautiful look with them. Then we did all the editing in Paris with Hervé Schneid but with a little help at the end from Sebastián Sepúlveda to finish it in time for its Cannes debut. We changed quite a few things — especially the music.

Neruda

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in both of the films?
Well, film is an audio-visual medium, so sound is half the movie. It triggers mood, emotion, atmosphere, so it’s crucial to the image you’re looking at, and I spend a lot of time working on the music and sound with my team — I love that part of post too. When I work with my editors, I always ask them to cut to sound and work with sound as well, even if they don’t like to work that way.

How is the movie industry in Chile?
I think it’s healthy, and people are always challenging themselves, especially the younger generation. It’s full of great documentaries — and people who’ve never worked with film, only digital. It’s exciting.

What’s next?
I don’t quite know, but I’m developing several projects. It’s whatever happens first.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

MTI 4.28

The A-List: Bleed for This director Ben Younger

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Ben Younger had been MIA for quite a while. Back in 2000 he made a splash with his acclaimed feature debut, Boiler Room. This tense crime drama, which starred Ben Affleck and Vin Diesel, was set in the high stakes, testosterone-fueled — and sometimes illegal — world of brokerage firms and investment banking.

Five years later, he directed his second film, the Meryl Streep/Uma Thurman romantic dramedy Prime, which grossed $67 million worldwide and cemented his reputation as someone to watch. Then Younger disappeared from sight.

Director Ben Younger and writer Iain Blair.

Over a decade later, he’s back with his third film, Bleed for This, a super-intense boxing drama and the true comeback story of Vinny Pazienza, the “Pazmanian Devil” (Miles Teller), whose boxing career should have ended when a terrible head-on car smash left him with a badly broken neck and few chances of ever walking again, let alone fighting in the ring. Yet he refused to throw in the towel and staged the sport’s most unlikely comeback so he could defend his middleweight world championship.

I spoke with Younger about his disappearance from the industry, making this film and his love-hate relationship with post.

It’s been 11 years since your last film. What the hell happened?
It’s been even longer — 12 years (laughs). I wanted to make this motorcycle racing film, Isle of Man, back in ’07, but no one would make it. I got a little disenchanted, a little upset. I tried to get another movie made, couldn’t get that off the ground either. I stepped back and decided to take five, six years off and go the experiential route instead.

I learned to fly, I became a cook in Costa Rica, went surfing and raced motorbikes for a year professionally. I did all the things my dad never got a chance to do because he died so young. He hated his job, was miserable, and I didn’t want to do that.

I heard you’re not even a boxing fan, so why make this film?
It’s not a boxing film like the usual ones. It’s this incredible comeback story about this guy who had a passion for boxing. I don’t feel that passionate about anything in my life where I would risk paralysis to do it, like he did. So by that measure, it didn’t matter what Vinny did. I would have told the same story whatever his profession. That’s what drew me in.

What did you hope for the film?
Because it’s set in the world of boxing, you can’t avoid comparisons with other films in the genre, so it was important not to fall into cliché and the tired old tropes of every boxing movie. I just wanted to differentiate myself. There’s a lot of humor, which is always a big part of my movies, and I like humor in very dramatic settings.

Martin Scorsese executive produced. Did you ask him for any advice, considering he made Raging Bull?
No, and he didn’t really offer any. He got involved after he showed Boiler Room to his Wolf of Wall Street crew, and then he called me to meet up after reading this script. I was in Costa Rica, cooking, and he said, ‘You’ve got to get back here. I’m going to help you make this movie.’ And he did.

What did Miles Teller bring to the role?
Preparation. He’s a monster. Eight months of training and he knew his boxing. We shot for just 24 days, on a $6 million budget — not enough time or money — so I knew I couldn’t be on set worrying about the boxing itself, or we’d have been in big trouble. So he took all that off the table for me.

Do you like the post process?
I have a love-hate relationship with it. Every movie, inarguably, gets made in post. There’s no question. Same with my other two films. This was written in post, re-imagined in post, reconfigured in post. But there’s something I hate about sitting in a dark room for 12 hours a day. It fucking kills me. It’s a very depressing work environment. You have to do it, but it doesn’t mean you have to like it.

You edited the film with Zac Stuart-Pontier who cut Martha Marcy May Marlene and won two Emmys for HBO’s The Jinx. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
He was a PA on Prime, his first job in the industry. He was at NYU and took a semester off to work on the movie, and then his career took off. He wasn’t on set at all as he was still on The Jinx, so we had an assistant editor log it all and he started after the shoot.

We did it all at Harbor Post — everything. It took a good six months. The big problem was I made a mistake in the script, putting the car crash in the middle, and it didn’t work. So we had to ruthlessly cut the first half down so it happened more like a first act, and we lost a lot of stuff. It was a shock to me, but now I’m like, ‘What were you thinking?’

We did some test screenings, and people loved watching all the gambling, the women and so on, but then after the crash scene, retroactively they hated it. They were like, ‘Why take us on the hour-long detour?’ Because of The Jinx, Zac was very used to working in a docu-drama environment, and we had all this great archival footage of Vinny, and I thought maybe we would use some of it at the end credits. But we ended up putting it in the middle of the movie. We break the fourth wall so many times in the editing, and no one seems to mind. We cut from Vinny to Miles to Vinny, and it just works.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
It’s over half the film, and when you don’t have the budget it’s the cheapest thing you can do to radically improve your film. A good score and mix can improve it by 25 percent, easily.

Where did you mix the sound?
All at Harbor on their huge new Atmos stage, but my supervising sound editor Coll Anderson has his own studio in Woodstock where we did the pre-mixes.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven film, but I’m assuming there was some in the crash scene?
And crowd replacement stuff at the fights, some compositing. It was all done by Eyeball in LA. They did a great job on the crash, and they’d never done that sort of thing before.

How important was the DI on this, and where did you do it?
Hugely important. I worked closely with DP Larkin Seiple and colorist Andrew Francis at Sixteen19 in New York, who has an amazing eye. I think I was able to give them a fresh set of eyes after they had been at it for 10 hours. I would take a look and ask, ‘Why is this so blue? Why is this so warm?’ And they would go, ‘You’re right,’ and adjust it a little.

Did it turn out how you originally envisioned it?
From a macro perspective, definitely. It was more the little things — the crash, the archival footage — that changed.

What’s next?
No more long breaks. I’m making Isle of Man next year. It’s funded and happening.

Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.


Slim adds feature director Jeff Baena and director/DP Wondo

Slim has grown its roster with feature film director Jeff Baena and automotive director/DP Wondo. Baena is currently finishing up his third directorial outing, the comedy The Little Hours, which is due to be released in 2017. In addition to his film work, Baena recently directed a comedic campaign for Hulu with actress Aubrey Plaza. Baena says his Altman-esque approach to directing allows his actors to bring a bit of their own personality to each of their characters.

He began his career as a PA for Robert Zemeckis in Los Angeles following his completion of film school in New York. He later met director David O. Russell while working as an assistant editor, leading the two to co-write I Heart Huckabees (2004). Baena went on to direct Life After Beth (2014) and Joshy (2016), which featured ensemble casts including Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Thomas Middleditch, Alison Brie and Jenny Slate.

Director/DP Wondo has also joined Slim. With over 20 years behind the camera, Wondo is an expert on the Russian Arm — remote control cranes and gyro-stabilized flight heads that are mounted on customized performance vehicles — and is accomplished at shooting for VFX. He has directed spots for Mercedes Benz, Chevy (Commonwealth), Kia (David&Goliath), BMW, Porsche (Cramer Krasselt) and Bugatti. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Berlin.

Main Photo: L-R: Wondo and Jeff Baena.


Rotolight Anova Pro LEDs shipping with updated feature set

The Anova Pro, from British LED lighting company Rotolight, is now shipping with an enhanced feature set for use in studios and on location. Featuring five patented effects, the Anova Pro includes CineSFX, which provides customizable cinematic lighting, including common effects like fire, lightning, TV, film, neon and spark simulation, and more novel effects, such as police, paparazzi and gunshot visual effects. CineSFX can now be used with a wired remote trigger for wireless as well.

The light also includes FX Slave, enabling CineSFX effects to be slaved to up to 512 third-party light sources in realtime with zero latency; True Aperture Dimming, which calculates and displays F-stop for a subject at a given distance; Designer Fade, which provides custom fade up/down production effects; and High Speed Sync Flash, providing a powerful HSS flash with zero recycle time at 150 percent of the maximum continuous light output for traditional photographic workflows.

DP Roy H. Wagner, ASC, on set, with the Rotolight, and his dog!

Recently, DP Roy H. Wagner, ASC, (Ray Donovan, Elementary, House) met a long-term goal using a Rotolight system. “I’ve often spoken of simplicity of image creation and had wished to do a feature with just one light and one lens. Of course, this seldom happens, but I was given the encouragement to do just that on an independent feature, Trouble Sleeping. I chose the Rotolight system to pursue this goal for it had proven to me that it could accurately reproduce the color and power that I needed.

“It survived the rough handling of the everyday professional production crews who have very little time to ‘baby’ any equipment, and it was easily controllable from the back of the unit or from my iPhone,” he continues. “LED lighting is also very tough on actors’ eyes, but Rotolight has found a way of filtering that notch of blue wavelength that is harsh and difficult on the eyes. My crew was also pleased with how easily controlled and mounted the units are.”


Hands of Stone DP and colorist weigh in on film’s look and feel

By Randi Altman

“No mas! No mas!” Those famous words were uttered in desperation by legendary fighter Roberto Durán, putting an end to his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard. But before that, Durán had impressively defeated the charismatic Sugar Ray, capturing the WBC welterweight title. Durán’s story — along with that of his trainer Ray Arcel — was recently told in The Weinstein Company’s feature Hands of Stone.

Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, the film’s DP was Miguel Ioan Littin Menz. He worked very closely with director Jakubowicz and FotoKem colorist Kostas Theodosiou to develop several different looks for the film, including for the different decades in which the story takes place, boxing versus training scenes in different locations (New York, Panama, Las Vegas) and flashback scenes.

Robert De Niro and Edgar Ramírez star in HANDS OF STONEThe film stars Édgar Ramírez as Duran, Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray and Robert DeNiro as Ray Arcel.

We were lucky enough to get some time from both Littin Menz and Theodosiou, albeit separately, for questions. First we caught up with Theodosiou.
Enjoy.

How early did you get involved with the film?
Theodosiou: Prior to my involvement in the project, FotoKem’s nextLAB was on location and involved in dailies acquisition and management. However, I started working with the filmmakers at the editorial stage, after the shoot was finished.

What kind of overall look/looks did the director and DP have in mind for the film, and how did they share that vision with you?
Theodosiou: Both the director Jonathan Jakubowicz and the director of photography Miguel Ioan Litten Menz were very hands-on. They supervised each session to make sure we created looks that best suited all the different time periods, as well as the variety of locations used in the production. The story involved multiple locations, including Panama, New York and Las Vegas.

Nearly every scene was shot on location to maintain authenticity, and it was important that we were true to the look and feel of each location. Jonathan and Miguel explained in detail what they wanted to achieve visually, so we created a unique look for each location.

kostas

Kostas Theodosiou

In addition, the story took us through many different time periods that spanned Roberto Duran’s life — from childhood through his entire career. Each time period also required a different treatment to establish its place in time. Every look we created had a purpose and is in the film for a reason. As a result, there are many different looks in this movie, but they all worked together to help tell the story.

You called on Resolve for this film. Can you talk about the tool and how it helps you in your work?
Theodosiou: Resolve is a great platform and allowed me to mix footage that was shot using a variety of different cameras, lenses and aspect ratios. The tools in Resolve helped me blend the footage seamlessly to enhance the filmmakers’ vision, and the results surpassed their expectations.

You mentioned that both the director and DP were in the room with you?
Theodosiou: Yes, Miguel and Jonathan were supervising the color correction from beginning to end. We all had great chemistry and worked together as a team. This was Jonathan’s passion project and he was very invested in the film, so he was deeply involved in the finishing process. And Miguel flew in from Chile to make sure he was here with us.

In the final stages of making the film, additional scenes were added and both filmmakers returned to FotoKem to work with me to make sure the new extended scenes fit in with the mood they were trying to portray. It was a very hands-on experience.

Now let’s hear from DP Miguel Ioan Litten Menz:

What were your first meetings like with Kostas?
Littin Menz: I was very pleased to hear that the color correction was to be done at FotoKem in Los Angeles. We chose Kostas because of his background — he’s worked for Paul Thomas Anderson; Robert Elswit, ASC; Christopher Nolan; and Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC. Since the first meeting, the connection and conversation about aesthetic was immediately understood. Our ideas and feelings about how to adjust the palette of colors for the final look of the film were in sync. He did marvelous work.

director-and-dp

Jonathan Jakubowicz and Miguel Ioan Littin Menz.

What was the general overall look the director had in mind for the film and how did he communicate that to you?
Littin Menz: In general, Jonathan talked about creating different looks between Panama and New York, and at the same time creating a look where you can feel an epic and intimate story at the same time. We want the audience to feel the wild, powerful and sensual colors around Roberto Durán’s life in Panama, and more plain, elegant and sober colors around Ray Arcel’s life in New York. In our research, we looked at thousands of photographs from sports magazines from that period, and also many documentaries.

And for my personal research, I again read Norman Mailer’s book “The Fight” and Jack London’s “The Mexican.”

How would you describe the different looks and feel of the film — decade by decade, location by location?
Littin Menz: I worked very closely with Tomás Voth, the production designer, who did amazing work. We described two very different worlds — Duran’s life in Panama and Ray Arcel’s in New York — so as a general concept we tried to create eclectic and powerful palates of colors for Duran’s life, to mimic his real personality.

For Ray Arcel, we used colors that were more serene and elegant, like he was throughout his entire life. Sometimes I used warm colors to evoke nostalgic times for Ray Arcel, and sometimes cool colors appeared in the sad times for both Duran and Arcel. Decade by decade, from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, we created different looks for timeline reasons but also as part of the intimate space for each character.

What cameras did you use, and why did you opt for three different ones? How did that affect the look and the grade?
Littin Menz: We relied on two Alexa XTs, one Alexa M and three Blackmagic cameras for VFX purposes. One of the Alexas, the B camera, was always prepared for the Steadicam. The C camera and the Alexa M were used for the fights. Also, we used Anamorphic Hawk V Lite Lenses. Kostas was thorough in making sure everything from the different shoots matched.

Can you talk about the shoot? Was there a DIT? If so, what role did they play? And what kind of on-set monitors were you using?
Littin Menz: The DIT was there mostly for making the back-ups and dailies. It was a lot of material every day. We also created LUTs for some scenes. The monitors were Asus VS197D-P 18.5-inch for video assist and a Flanders Scientific for the DIT station.

Was there anything unique or challenging about it that you are particularly proud of?
Littin Menz: On the technical side, it was very challenging to reproduce the big spaces and fights, in places like the Madison Square Garden in New York through three decades, the Olympic Stadium in Montreal and the Superdome in New Orleans, but I think we did it successfully.

Some of my favorite scenes were those of Durán when he was a kid in “El Chorrillo,” the poor neighborhood where he lived. We never forgot that the principal idea for the film was to tell the story through the clear and transparent eyes of that child — the story of a child who came from one of poorest neighborhoods of Latin America and became a world champion. I’m very proud to have been a part of this project.


DP Vittorio Storaro on color and Woody Allen’s ‘Café Society’

Legendary Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro has had a storied career that includes three Oscar wins for his work on Apocalypse Now (1979), Reds (1981) and The Last Emperor (1987). To call his career prodigious would be an understatement.

One of his most recent projects was for writer/director Woody Allen’s Café Society, which follows a young man from Brooklyn to Hollywood and back to New York City in the 1930s. Two filmmaking legends teaming up on one film? How could we not check in with Storaro to talk about his work on Café Society, which represented Allen’s first taste of digital shooting?

You’ve done 58 movies on film. What was your first experience with DI?
A long time ago, someone at Kodak asked me what I thought about digital intermediate versus film. Because I had already started doing transfer from film to telecine, I had some experience with the process. But the quality was not there yet — digital cameras and color correctors were still in their infancy back then.

My first experience in digital finishing was on a movie called Muhammad: The Messenger of God. In 2011 and 2012, we were doing the pre-production and production of the film, which we shot in Iran. I shot on film because, in my opinion, no digital camera could handle such drastic changing weather conditions. One segment, though, was transferred digitally, mostly for VFX purposes.

For the post of the film in 2013, we sent all the negative material to Arri as both Kodak and Technicolor Italy had closed. Arri scanned the negatives in 4K 16-bit. After that we decided to do the entire DI at ScreenCraft where I could review the film in a 4K 16-bit color screening, which is very important. It was an almost 100 percent switch from film to digital. They also had a FilmLight Baselight system in their screening room that we moved into their beautiful 4K theatre so we could work in the optimal environment.

The colorist at ScreenCraft was not used to doing films, as he had mainly worked on video and TV, so I had to influence him step-by-step, feeling the story. My advice to him was to work on color in realtime, listen to the dialogue, understand the dynamic and not just concentrate on the technical aspect of the fixed images.

In cinematography, the first image doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be the starting point, and it is moving in time until you reach the end. So when you see an image through Baselight, you have to think about what you really want to achieve. This is somehow a visual journey, which follows the path of the world where the characters interact, or the music plays.

It is fantastic to have color correction in realtime. Baselight through the 4K 16-bit video projector gave me my first taste of this great opportunity.

How did you come to shoot and finish Café Society digitally?
When Woody Allen asked me to do Café Society, he had never done a digital capture before. At that time, I knew it was a chance to step up to this new digital world. I chose the Sony F65 camera so that the image we had on set was as close to the final image as possible. I had experienced the first CineAlta digital video cameras from Sony in the past and valued the quality of the Sony equipment. I know that what I see on set is 90 percent of exactly what I will see in finishing. Plus, I wanted to work with a camera that gave me a ratio close to the 2:1 aspect ratio that was suggested to me by Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting, along with 4K resolutions.

We also had a 4K 16-bit video projector because that was my previous experience and my preference. And for the post production of the movie at Technicolor PostWorks NY, I asked specifically for the color grading to be done on Baselight. It was good news, as they already had the system!

This is when colorist Anthony Raffaele joined your color journey?
Anthony Raffaele was originally only supposed to be the colorist for the DI, but with Technicolor we decided to have him on board from start to finish. In Italy, we are used to having a technician next to us from the beginning to the end of a project. To me, if the color process moves from one person to another from dailies to post to DI, you risk wasting all the history, the knowledge and the experience that has been built, and in my opinion it’s the best experience that I’ve had.

What is the look of the Café Society and its journey?
In my mind, the movie is in four different parts: it starts in the Bronx in 1935, then moves to Hollywood, then the main character comes back to New York and then to LA. In essence, it is four different looks, while keeping an overall style. I wanted to see the subtle differences in the dailies. I’d get the dailies on Blu-ray copies for me to watch on a calibrated Sony monitor, so it was very, very close to what I had on set. That was the process with Woody Allen too.

Anthony often came to Los Angeles during shooting, and when I was in New York we’d watch the dailies together. Looks were saved to SD cards as LUTs with notes. Every day Anthony was going through all the shots and applying the LUT that he already had, then he would make adjustments according to my notes. We practically grew up together through the entire film. And when we arrived to do the DI we had the right experience to continue.

For finishing, we graded using ACES with Baselight converting to XYZ. We got the EDL from editorial, pulled all the RAW media files from the LTO and conformed in Baselight. I told Anthony to always compare source material with the edited version. Check meticulously for any difference and get the feeling of our original intent. It is very easy to get lost in DI.

It is also very important to me to watch the film with sound, even if it’s temporary sound. The dialogue between two characters can give you some kind of feeling, which impacts the light, for instance. Or the time they have spent talking, everything is always moving. Or the music. If you don’t take notice of the words and sound you cannot adjust the color accordingly. Having said that, Woody also asked to watch the corrected copy without sound.

How much time did you spend on the DI overall?
It depends on the movie, of course, but I usually personally get involved in the DI of the movie over a week. Some movies require more time. It also depends on the relationship you have with the colorist. I don’t know how much time Anthony spent in the dark room polishing the movie without me. He is a perfectionist and because I was always pushing our creative intent, he probably spent time seeing what features within Baselight could do more. I’ve always encouraged him to perfect his art and technical knowledge. I’d say, “Can we try this? Can I look at that? What if we try it? Tell me, show me.”

You talked about the evolution from film to digital to DI. How would you say the role of a cinematographer has changed in this time?
The main change is that before digital, nobody was able to tell how the film would ultimately look. Only the cinematographer — through perception, knowledge, culture, intelligence, technology and experience — would eventually predict how the image would end up looking. Today, with digital capture and high-end technology, the standards are higher and reachable, and pretty much everyone can tell if it’s good or ugly, too contrasted, too bright and so on. Digital video cameras have mostly made everything automatic, you don’t even have to think anymore. But knowing the technology is not enough.

You need to know the meaning of the visual elements as well. Know ALL the arts that are part of cinematography. Cinema is a common art, not a single one. A good cinematographer will bring feeling and composition from the storyline, adding the emotion, the feeling and his own perception to the film — to know how one color connects to another color and the kind of emotional reaction you can have in relation to them.

What about the colorist’s role nowadays?
Firstly, I would say that a colorist has to know everything about production on set so that he or she can cover the journey of the project. Anthony told me, “I learned so much working with you, Vittorio, because I’m not used to being asked the things you ask me, and no one explained the why to me.” I was always referencing paintings, always showing him pictures and explaining why the artist had chosen this particular content or softness for instance.

Secondly, to reach that level where you can transfer a completely abstract idea into images and materialize concepts, the colorist has to know and control the grading system he is using as well as the tools sitting in his color suite.

Finally, the more you go to museums, read books and look at photography, the more you know about art and its evolution. I had such an experience when I was at Technicolor in Rome. A color supervisor I was working with, Ernesto Novelli, had an incredible sensitivity to images. If I asked him to do something, he might suggest adding four red, which I thought was crazy, but he would do so and the image was there, it was superb. He was able to use the technology to achieve the look of the image I wanted. Without such talent the technology doesn’t mean much.

On Café Society we worked effectively because Anthony knew Baselight very well. If I could give any advice to colorists, I would say they have to really know their console to reach the true potential capabilities of the machine. Learn, keep learning and never stop.

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Vittorio Storaro is currently in pre-production on the following films: 33 díasStory of Jesus, The Hunchback and Bach.


Panasonic and Codex team on VariCam Pure targeting episodic TV, features

At IBC in Amsterdam, Panasonic is showing its new cinema-ready version of the VariCam 35, featuring a jointly-developed Codex recorder capable of uncompressed, 4K RAW acquisition.

The VariCam Pure is the latest addition to the company’s family of pro cinematography products. A co-production between Panasonic and Codex, it couples the existing VariCam 35 camera head with a new Codex V-RAW 2.0 recorder, suited for episodic television shows and feature films.

The V-RAW 2.0 recorder attaches directly to the back of the VariCam 35 camera head. As a result, the camera retains the same Super 35 sensor, 14+ stops of latitude and dual native 800/5000 ISO as the original VariCam 35.

Panasonic VariCam Pure“The new VariCam Pure camera system records pure, uncompressed RAW up to 120 fps onto the industry-standard Codex Capture Drive 2.0 media, already widely used by many camera systems, post facilities and studios,” said Panasonic senior product manager Steven Cooperman. “There is significant demand for uncompressed RAW recording in the high-end market. The modular concept of the VariCam has enabled us to meet this demand. We’ve also listened to feedback from cinematographers and camera operators and ensured that the VariCam Pure is rugged, compact and lightweight, weighing just 11 pounds.”

Codex will provide a dailies and archiving workflow available through its Production Suite. In addition, the Codex Virtual File system means users can transfer many file formats, including Panasonic VRAW, Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHR.

Along with the original camera negative, frame-accurate metadata (such as lens and CDL data) can also be captured, streamlining production and post, and delivering time and cost savings.

The V-RAW 2.0 recorder for VariCam Pure is scheduled for release in December 2016 with a suggested list price of $30,000.


Blending Ursa Mini and Red footage for Aston Martin spec spot

By Daniel Restuccio

When producer/director Jacob Steagall set out to make a spec commercial for Aston Martin, he chose to lens it on the Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6k and the Scarlet Red. He says the camera combo worked so seamlessly he dares anyone to tell which shots are Blackmagic and which are Red.

L-R Blackmagic’s Moritz Fortmann and Shawn Carlson with Jacob Steagall and Scott Stevens.

“I had the idea of filming a spec commercial to generate new business,” says Steagall. He convinced the high-end car maker to lend him an Aston Martin 2016 V12 Vanquish for a weekend. “The intent was to make a nice product that could be on their website and also be a good-looking piece on the demo reel for my production company.”

Steagall immediately pulled together his production team, which consisted of co-director Jonathan Swecker and cinematographers Scott Stevens and Adam Pacheco. “The team and I collaborated together about the vision for the spot which was to be quick, clean and to the point, but we would also accentuate the luxury and sexiness of the car.”

“We had access to the new Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6k and an older Red Scarlet with the MX chip,” says Stevens. “I was really interested in seeing how both cameras performed.”

He set up the Ursa Mini to shoot ProRes HQ at Ultra HD (3840×2160) and the Scarlet at 8:1 compression at 4K (4096×2160). He used both Canon still camera primes and a 24-105mm zoom, switching them from camera to camera depending on the shot. “For some wide shots we set them up side by side,” explains Stevens. “We also would have one camera shooting the back of the car and the other camera shooting a close-up on the side.”

In addition to his shooting duties, Stevens also edited the spot, using Adobe Premiere, and exported the XML into Blackmagic Resolve Studio 12. Stevens notes that, in addition to loving cinematography, he’s also “really into” color correction. “Jacob (Steagall) and I liked the way the Red footage looked straight out of the camera in the RedGamma4 color space. I matched the Blackmagic footage to the Red footage to get a basic look.”

Blackmagic colorist Moritz Fortmann took Stevens’ basis color correction and finessed the grade even more. “The first step was to talk to Jacob and Scott and find out what they were envisioning, what feel and look they were going for. They had already established a look so we saved a few stills as reference images to work off. The spot was shot on two different types of cameras, and in different formats. Step two was to analyze the characteristics of each camera and establish a color correction to match the two.  Step three was to tweak and refine the look. We did what I would describe as a simple color grade, only relying on primaries, without using any Power Windows or keys.”

If you’re planning to shoot mixed footage, Fortmann suggests you use cameras with similar characteristics, matching resolution, dynamic range and format. “Shooting RAW and/or Log provides for the highest dynamic range,” he says. “The more ‘room’ a colorist has to make adjustments, the easier it will be to match mixed footage. When color correcting, the key is to make mixed footage look consistent. One camera may perform well in low light while another one does not. You’ll need to find that sweet spot that works for all of your footage, not just one camera.”

Daniel Restuccio is a writer and chair of the multimedia department at California Lutheran University.

Quick Chat with new ASC president Kees Van Oostrum

The Board of Governors of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) has elected Kees Van Oostrum as its president. This is Oostrum’s first term, which will run for one year, beginning immediately. The ASC Board also selected its slate of officers, which includes Bill Bennett, Dean Cundey and Lowell Peterson as VPs; Levi Isaacs as treasurer; Fred Goodich as secretary; and Roberto Schaefer as sergeant-at-arms.

“It is our task as an organization to educate the industry on the value of the cinematographer as the author of the images, to be involved in advancing imaging technology, and most importantly, to promote our artistry,” said Amsterdam native Van Oostrum.

Van Oostrum previously served as VP and has fulfilled other ASC board roles over the years. He is also the chairman and originator of the ASC Master Class, which takes place five times a year. The Master Class is one of several educational initiatives of the ASC. Inaugurated in 2013, the five-day course is taught by award-winning cinematographers and is designed for cinematographers with an intermediate-to-advanced skill set. It incorporates practical, hands-on demonstrations of lighting and camera techniques with essential instruction in current workflow practices.

In addition to the Master Class, other efforts of the organization include its Student Heritage Awards, Breakfast Club seminars, panel discussions by the Education and Outreach committee, the Friends of the ASC membership, and the ongoing committee collaborations with other industry participants vital to the image-making process. Possibly the most notable is the ASC Technology Committee, which has proven unique in its ability to shape the standards and practices of cinematography for digital workflows

Van Oostrum has earned two Primetime Emmy nominations for his work on the telefilms Miss Rose White and Return to Lonesome Dove. His peers chose the latter for a 1994 ASC Outstanding Achievement Award. Additional ASC Award nominations for his television credits came for The Burden of Proof, Medusa’s Child and Spartacus. He also shot the Emmy-winning documentary The Last Chance. Currently, he serves as director of photography on The Fosters which airs on Freeform.

Van Oostrum studied at the Dutch Film Academy with an emphasis on both cinematography and directing, and went on to earn a scholarship sponsored by the Dutch government which enabled him to enroll in the American Film Institute (AFI). Van Oostrum broke into the industry shooting television documentaries for several years. He has subsequently compiled a wide range of some 80-plus credits, including movies for television and the cinema, such as Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, and occasional documentaries.

Shortly after this news, we reached out to Van Oostrum with a couple of questions:

As a cinematographer yourself, what does it mean to you to now be president of the organization?
As ASC president I need to listen to and guide the membership in making decisions on key issues that impact all cinematographers in our international industry. In researching and addressing those issues, I plan to lead the process in a civilized and transparent way. Hopefully, those efforts will result in a greater understanding of what cinematographers do, why our work is so important to every production, and how we can help all of our collaborators excel — ideally, while helping the entire industry move forward, both technically and artistically.

You are already a big believer in educational initiatives, such as the ASC Master Class. What’s next?
Education is the strength of our future, and it’s the foundation for keeping cinematography both relevant and progressive as a creative craft. I consider us first and foremost to be visual artists and managers of a team. We need to stay up to date on imaging technologies and techniques. No one knows everything, but the ASC is supportive in providing an endless stream of knowledge to our members, to peers and to students.

What do you hope to accomplish in this role over the next year?
I would like cinematographers to feel like “Rembrandt” again. Our profession, like others in the filmmaking industry, has been democratized by technology. Cinematographers do much more than just “seeing”— we tell stories and we can create memorable images that evoke emotion.

In the end, every artist is edited. Rembrandt’s “Nightwatch” had the sides chopped off because it did not fit between two doors, but when you enter the exhibition room to see it, you become momentarily breathless — the world around you disappears, and you leave the room a different person. That’s the “Rembrandt” business, and that’s what we do as cinematographers.