Tag Archives: cinematography

Behind the Title: Harbor Picture Company’s DP Greg Wilson

NAME: Greg Wilson

COMPANY: Harbor Picture Company

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Harbor Picture Company is a post production and production company based in New York City. We help content creators — studios, networks, directors, brands and agencies — execute high-caliber content efficiently and at scale. The company offers a range of services, including sound mixing, color, ADR, picture editorial and VFX, housed across five facilities, including the largest ADR soundstage and largest theatrical mix stage in New York.

I’m part of Harbor’s DP Collective, a group of elite directors of photography who specialize in bringing a cinematic style and quality to any screen.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Photography

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My role is to create the look and feel of a film or commercial through lighting, camera direction, lensing and blocking to best fit the story the director is trying to tell. This revolves around communication with the department heads to build towards a unified goal and create the right tone for the story.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think people would be surprised by the amount of time and perseverance some projects can take from concept to final product, but anything that’s worth doing is going to take a lot of energy and effort. For example, the project I did for National Geographic Magazine, Cheetahs on the Edge, took more than nine months to produce and put together.

With the folks over at DoggiCam I designed a 410-foot dolly to use on a shot of a sprinting cheetah. The goal was to mimic the perspective that Eadweard Muybridge achieved in the late 1800s when photographing a running horse. He invented motion picture with those images, and I wanted to take a similar approach by using the most modern technology available at the time.

I wanted to move a camera alongside the fastest land animal in the world, giving a unique perspective on how they move. I believed in this project very much but it was a challenge to get it off the ground, I worked with National Geographic Magazine to raise the money and obtain all the proper permissions to build this dolly system and secure the access to the cheetahs at the Cincinnati Zoo. Once we were green lit, we spent four months acclimating the cheetahs to the sounds of the high-speed camera system, which was very loud. I played a pre-recorded sound for them while they ate to build positive reinforcement, so they wouldn’t be frightened by the noise or speed of the system when we actually started shooting.

From there, we had to design an arpeggiation device to trigger the three DSLR cameras that were on a sled with the high-speed Phantom camera. This arpeggiation device created a seamless looping of the shutters on each Canon D1x, each running at 14fps, giving us 42fps at 20.2MP for still photographs to put in the magazine. This is just one example, but I work on many challenging technical jobs that require a lot of prep time to design new techniques, overcome hurdles and, ultimately, ensure that we’ll get the best images we can.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Being around tenacious and engaged people working as a team to create something that didn’t exist beyond a script until you start to roll the cameras. Being able to work in so many different environments and in and out of unique stories constantly keeps things fresh and exciting.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The schedule can be a challenge. It can be tough being on the road so much, but there’s a give and take. For as much as I’m away, I try to have a balance of time off so I don’t get burnt out.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
A cold, misty morning is my favorite, but it’s so fleeting. Magic hour is the best to shoot in.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d still be working as a photojournalist and in the darkroom as a black and white printer.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
This is my third career, believe it or not. I turned pro as a snowboarder when I was 15 years old and went to the Olympics at 22. After a very bad injury, that left me in the hospital for many months and unable to walk or do much of anything for nearly a year, I found my way into still photography and worked for six years as a photojournalist for National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Wired, Spin, Fader, NYT and other newspapers and magazines.

I also worked as a traditional black and white printer in New York after working as a platinum printer for more than two years in Massachusetts. I found cinematography after seeing some films that really rattled me and made me see the world in a way that I understood, one of which was the Brazilian film Pixote.

I wanted to understand how to create the same emotions and tone I was after in my still photography and apply it to motion. Music was a huge part of this interest as well. The fact that you could use sound to influence the picture was a major eye opener early on. Even though I didn’t get into motion pictures until I was 30, I think my past experience in other fields has greatly influenced my life behind the camera and given me a perspective on the subjects that I photograph.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I recently finished a documentary that I’m really excited about called Zion. It’s about a young black wrestler who was born without legs into the foster care system in Ohio. It’s a powerful story and really resonated with me. The director Floyd Russ and I have a few more sports films coming down the line soon.

I also finished up a Netflix Original feature, Amateur, with Director Ryan Koo about a young basketball player dealing with the trials and tribulations of NCAA rules and corruption inside the sport. Lately, I’ve been working on a mix of documentaries, feature projects and commercials — with a lot of them coincidentally surrounding the sports world.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m not sure what I’m most proud of. I don’t like to think about it like that. But one project that I was very happy to have been involved with was another recent collaboration with Floyd Russ and NFL Films for the Ad Council’s campaign, “Love Has No Labels.” The spot used the iconic Kiss Cam to showcase love. Period. It was a real pleasure to be a part of that project and see the overwhelming response to the spot. It was great to work on a commercial project with such a great message behind it.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Wireless video, my light meter and, unfortunately, my cell phone.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m pretty active on Instagram, you can follow me at @greg_wilson_dp

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I am constantly listening to music. Lately, for writing, it’s been Stars of the Lid. Otherwise I’ve been listening to Billy Swan, Kendrick, The Bats and Mogwai.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I like to spend time in the darkroom printing. I like fishing, being outdoors, riding my bike and woodworking. I like old processes, things where I use my hands and take a step back from technology.

Keslow Camera acquires Clairmont Camera — Denny Clairmont Retires

Signaling the end of an era, Denny Clairmont, one of the industry’s most respected talents in front of and behind the camera, is retiring. Keslow Camera is buying his company, Clairmont Camera, including its Vancouver and Toronto operations. The acquisition is expected to be complete on or before August 4.

Keslow Camera says it will retain the teams at Clairmont’s Vancouver and Toronto facilities, which have been offering professional digital and film cameras, lenses and accessories to the area since the 1980s. All operations within California are slated to eventually be consolidated into Keslow Camera’s headquarters in Culver City. The move will more than quadruple Keslow Camera’s anamorphic and vintage lens inventory and add a substantial range of custom camera equipment to the company’s portfolio.

Denny Clairmont, along with his brother, Terry, established the movie equipment and camera rental company that would become Clairmont Camera in 1976. In 2011, Clairmont received the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), awarded by the Academy Board of Governors upon the recommendation of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee. Clairmont and Ken Robings won a Technical Achievement Award from the Society of Camera Operators (SOC) for the lens perspective system, and Clairmont has won two Emmys from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his role in the development of special lens systems.

“Clairmont Camera is my life’s work, and I never stopped searching for innovative ways to serve our clients,” says Clairmont. “I have long respected Robert Keslow and the team at Keslow Camera for their integrity, quality of management, best-in-class customer service and successful performance. I am confident they are the right company to honor my heritage and founding vision going forward.”

Quick Chat: Filmmaker/DP/VFX artist Mihran Stepanyan

Veteran Armenian artist Mihran Stepanyan has an interesting background. In addition to being a filmmaker and cinematographer, he is also a colorist and visual effects artist. In fact, he won the 2017 Flame Award, which was presented to him during NAB in April.

Let’s find out how his path led to this interesting mix of expertise.

Tell us about your background in VFX.
I studied feature film directing in Armenia from 1997 through 2002. During the process, I also became very interested in being a director of photography. As a self-taught DP, I was shooting all my work, as well as films produced by my classmates and colleagues. This was great experience. Nearly 10 years ago, I started to study VFX because I had some projects that I wanted to do myself. I’ve fallen in love with that world. Some years ago, I started to work in Moscow as a DP and VFX artist for a Comedy Club Production special project. Today, I not only work as a VFX artist but also as a director and cinematographer.

How do your experiences as a VFX artist inform your decisions as a director and cinematographer?
They are closely connected. As a director, you imagine something that you want to see in the end, and you can realize that because you know what you can achieve in production and post. And, as a cinematographer, you know that if problems arise during the shoot, you can correct them in VFX and post. Experience in cinematography also complements VFX artistry, because your understanding of the physics of light and optics helps you create more realistic visuals.

What do you love most about your job?
The infinity of mind, fantasy and feelings. Also, I love how creative teams work. When a project starts, it’s fun to see how the different team members interact with one another and approach various challenges, ultimately coming together to complete the job. The result of that collective team work is interesting as well.

Tell us about some recent projects you’ve worked on.
I’ve worked on Half Moon Bay, If Only Everyone, Carpenter Expecting a Son and Doktor. I also recently worked on a tutorial for FXPHD that’s different from anything I’ve ever done before. It is not only the work of an Autodesk Flame artist or a lecturer, but also gave me a chance to practice English, as my first language is Armenian.

Mihran’s Flame tutorial on FXPHD.

Where do you get your inspiration?
First, nature. There nothing more perfect to me. And, I’m picturalist, so for various projects I can find inspiration in any kind of art, from cave paintings to pictorial art and music. I’m also inspired by other artists’ work, which helps me stay tuned with the latest VFX developments.

If you had to choose the project that you’re most proud of in your career, what would it be, and why?
I think every artist’s favorite project is his/her last project, or the one he/she is working on right now. Their emotions, feelings and ideas are very fresh and close at the moment. There are always some projects that will stand out more than others. For me, it’s the film Half Moon Bay. I was the DP, post production supervisor and senior VFX artist for the project.

What is your typical end-to-end workflow for a project?
It differs on each project. In some projects, I do everything from story writing to directing and digital immediate (DI) finishing. For some projects, I only do editing or color grading.

How did you come to learn Flame?
During my work in Moscow, nearly five years ago, I had the chance to get a closer look at Flame and work on it. I’m a self-taught Flame artist, and since I started using the product it’s become my favorite. Now, I’m back in Armenia working on some feature films and upcoming commercials. I am also a member of Flame and Autodesk Maya Beta testing groups.

How did you teach yourself Flame? What resources did you use?
When I started to learn Flame, there weren’t as many resources and tutorials as we have now. It was really difficult to find training documentation online. In some cases, I got information from YouTube, NAB or IBC presentations. I learned mostly by experimentation, and a lot of trial and error. I continue to learn and experiment with Flame every time I work.

Any tips for using the product?
As for tips, “knowing” the software is not about understanding the tools or shortcuts, but what you can do with your imagination. You should always experiment to find the shortest and easiest way to get the end result. Also, imagine how you can construct your schematic without using unnecessary nods and tools ahead of time. Exploring Flame is like mixing the colors on the palette in painting to get the perfect tone. In the same way, you must imagine what tools you can “mix” together to get the result you want.

Any advice for other artists?
I would advise that you not be afraid of any task or goals, nor fear change. That will make you a more flexible artist who can adapt to every project you work on.

What’s next for you?
I don’t really know what’s next, but I am sure that it is a new beginning for me, and I am very interested where this all takes me tomorrow.

At Cine Gear, Panasonic shows 5.7K Super 35mm cinema camera

During Cine Gear this past weekend, Panasonic previewed the AU-EVA1, a new 5.7K cinema camera positioned between the Panasonic Lumix GH5 4K mirrorless camera and the VariCam LT 4K cinema camera. Compact and lightweight, the AU-EVA1 is made for handheld shooting, but is also suited for documentaries, commercials and music videos.

“For cinema-style acquisition, we realized there was a space between the GH5 and the VariCam LT,” said Panasonic cinema product manager Mitch Gross. “With its compact size and new 5.7K sensor, the EVA1 fills that gap for a variety of filmmaking applications.”

The EVA1 contains a newly designed 5.7K Super 35mm-sized sensor for capturing true cinematic images. By starting at a higher native resolution, the 5.7K sensor yields a higher resolving image when down sampled to 4K, UHD, 2K and even 720p. The increased color information results in a finer, more accurate finished image.

One of the key features of the VariCam 35, VariCam LT and VariCam Pure is dual native ISO. Using a process that allows the sensor to be read in a fundamentally different way, Dual Native ISO extracts more information from the sensor without degrading the image. This results in a camera that can switch from a standard sensitivity to a high sensitivity without an increase in noise or other artifacts.

On the VariCams, dual native ISO has allowed cinematographers to use less light on set, saving time and money, as well as allowing for a great variety of artistic choices. The EVA1 will include dual native ISO, but the camera is currently being tested to determine final ISO specifications.

The ability to capture accurate colors and rich skin tones is a must for any filmmaker. Like the VariCam lineup of cinema cameras, the EVA1 contains V-Log/V-Gamut capture to deliver high dynamic range and broad colors. V-Log has log curve characteristics that are reminiscent of negative film and V-Gamut delivers a color space even larger than film. The EVA1 will also import the colorimetry of the VariCam line.

Weighing only 2.65 pounds (body only) with a compact form factor (6.69” x 5.31” x 5.23”) and a removable hand-grip, the EVA1 can be used for efficient handheld shooting and can also be mounted on a drone, gimbal rig or jib arm for complex yet smooth camera moves. There will also be numerous mounting points and Panasonic is currently working with top accessory makers to allow further customization with the EVA1.

Also suited for indie filmmakers, the EVA1 records to lower-cost SD cards. The camera can record in several formats and compression rates and offers up to 10-bit 4:2:2, even in 4K. For high-speed capture, the EVA1 offers 2K up to 240fps. In terms of bitrates, you can record up to 400Mbps for robust recording. A complete breakdown of recording formats will be available at the time of the EVA1’s release this fall.

In terms of lenses, the camera uses a native EF-mount, allowing shooters access to the broad EF lens ecosystem, including dozens of cinema-style prime and zoom lenses from numerous manufacturers. Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) is employed to compensate for camera shake and blurring, which will help smooth out handheld or shoulder-mount shots on documentary or run-and-gun projects. Behind the lens mount, an integrated ND filter wheel in 2, 4 and 6 stops allows for precise exposure control. The EVA1 also allows the IR Cut filter to be swung out of the path to the sensor at the push of a button. Photographic effects and night vision imagery are possible with this control over infrared.

The EVA1 offers dual balanced XLR audio inputs and 4K-capable video outputs in both HDMI and SDI. In a future firmware upgrade, the EVA1 will offer 5.7K RAW output to third-party recorders.

The EVA1 will ship for just under $8,000 (body only).

 

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.

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.

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

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.

‘Beasts of No Nation’, ‘Macbeth,’ ‘Son of Saul’ nominated for ASC Spotlight

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) has nominated three cinematographers for the 2016 Spotlight Award, which recognizes outstanding cinematography in feature-length projects that are screened at festivals, internationally or in limited theatrical release. The winner will be announced at the 30th ASC Awards on February 14.

The 2016 nominees are Adam Arkapaw for Macbeth, Mátyás Erdély, HSC, for Son of Saul and Cary Joji Fukunaga (our main image) for Beasts of No Nation.

Adam Arkapaw on Macbeth

“Our panel had a wealth of material to choose from and worked very hard to determine the best in visual artistry and craftsmanship in this category,” said ASC President Richard Crudo.

For the Spotlight Award, ASC members submit entries for consideration that go before a Blue Ribbon panel that choose the nominees. All active members may vote to select the winner.
“Each nominated film evokes intense emotions through its cinematography,” said Daryn Okada, chairman of the ASC Awards. “Their commitment to the visual narrative of their stories and characters are an integral part of the cinematic experience.”

Macbeth, directed by Justin Kurzel, premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. It’s been recognized by critics, festivals and industry organizations worldwide.

son of saul

Mátyás Erdély, HSC, was nominated for Son of Saul.

Son of Saul from director László Nemes won the Grand Prize of the Jury Award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, and went on to win the Bronze Frog at Camerimage, the international film festival of cinematography. It also won a Golden Globe and has been recognized by several critics and organizations

Beasts of No Nation, also directed by Fukunaga, premiered at the 2015 Venice Film Festival. It was the first feature film produced by Netflix, which received a limited theatrical release in addition to streaming on Netflix simultaneously. Beasts of No Nation has received Golden Globe, BAFTA and Spirit Award nominations, among other accolades.

Last year, Peter Flickenberg won the Spotlight Award for director Pirjo Honkasalo’s Concrete Night (Betoniyö).

 

‘Wolf Hall’ DP Gavin Finney: modern tech for a period drama

By Ellen Wixted

Based on Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall was adapted by the BBC in conjunction with PBS as a six-part series for television.  When the show first aired in the UK in January on BBC Two, the first episode attracted nearly six million viewers. In the US, the April premiere drew 4.4 million viewers on PBS and through streaming services.

Capturing the volatile mix of sex, politics and religion that defined Henry VIII’s Britain, Wolf Hall was directed by Peter Kosminsky and shot entirely on location by cinematographer Gavin Finney, BSC. The show stars Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn and Damien Lewis as Henry VIII.

I spoke with Finney about how he achieved the series’ distinctively fresh, contemporary look. The story of Henry VIII is familiar, but Mantel’s depiction of Thomas Cromwell is a significant departure from tradition. I asked Finney what the response to the series has been in the UK, and he was quick to note that while the historical events are well known to Brits, the show’s goal was to do justice to the novel — which is, at its heart, fiction. “Cromwell was the first plebeian power broker who wasn’t aristocracy or clergy,” Finney points out. “He was a mercenary, a lawyer and a banker.

Gavin Finney, behind the camera.

Gavin Finney, behind the camera.

In that time, especially, you had to be fleet of mind to stay alive. Typically, Thomas More is presented as a saint, but in Wolf Hall his darker side is portrayed, albeit with deep religious convictions. What’s great about Hilary’s writing is that no one comes through as an ogre or an angel.”

Documentary Immediacy Meets Historical Drama
Unlike most period dramas, which lavish visual attention on every surface, Finney notes that Kosminsky wanted the visual world of Wolf Hall to feel more like a documentary than a traditional drama. “For the people of the time, these weren’t historically important sites or fabulous costumes, they were the buildings they lived and worked in, and the clothes they wore.”

In the 16th Century, art played a key role in helping define the visual approach. “The witnesses to that time were the painters” points out Finney, noting that the team spent time in London looking not just at the Hans Holbein paintings that figure prominently in the story, but also at works by later painters from Caravaggio and Rembrandt to Vermeer and Gerard van Honthorst. “In that era, people are always painted by windows, and night scenes show how that world looked by candlelight. Peter staged the action so that interior shots are illuminated by natural looking light from the windows, and nighttime scenes are lit using candles.”

In part an aesthetic choice, the strategy had clear practical benefits as well. “Because we were shooting in some of the UK’s most important historical buildings — many of which Cromwell, Henry and Anne had walked through — we couldn’t just stick film lights in those rooms.” It also meant that the actors’ movements had to be carefully orchestrated in order to ensure they were illuminated, particularly in night scenes.

While accurate period detail was important, both Finney and Kosminski wanted that authenticity to be communicated without the visual grandstanding typically associated with period dramas. “We wanted the camera to be loose and fluid and reactive to the action, so the series had the immediacy of a documentary.” To that end, the team shot the entire series handheld — including most wide shots — to help place viewers in the action and give the show its unusual sense of intimacy.

The story is filmed almost entirely from Cromwell’s point of view. While true to the author’s intent, it also reinforces the show’s immediacy. “Almost all of the scenes in the show are witnessed from where Cromwell is standing,” explains Finney. “We don’t see Henry until nearly the end of the first episode, because Cromwell doesn’t meet him until then. Even though we had access to these amazing architectural spaces, we avoided using crane shots to move down through them because doing so wouldn’t make visual sense or be true to the novel.” The one exception — an aerial crane shot at Catherine of Aragon’s funeral — adds emotional impact in large part because it stands in stark contrast to the rest of the show.

Putting Digital To The Test
While Finney has extensive experience with both film and digital capture, Wolf Hall was Kosminski’s first foray into digital production. Two key requirements were that the camera had to be handheld, and the image quality — both in daylight and low light — had to be pristine.

The team spent weeks shooting test scenes with actors using a dizzying array of cameras and lenses. Cameras tested included the Red Epic and Dragon, the Arri Alexa and Amira, the Sony F55, the Canon C500, C300 and even the Canon 5D Mark III. They also tested multiple lens packages: the Cooke S4 series, Zeiss Master and Ultra Primes, Canon K-35s and Leica Summilux-C lenses. Shooting candlelight proved especially challenging with some of the camera and lens combinations — notably the Red cameras with Ultra Primes. The light from the candles reflected back onto the sensor and created a double image.

“We found the best combination was the Leica Summilux lenses on the Alexa,” says Finney. “Not only were they a kilo lighter — important given that I’d be carrying the weight for hours at a time on shoot days — but the lenses performed astonishingly well wide open. And the Leicas showed the least chromatic aberration of any we tested… even the Master Primes had some color fringing.”

The team shot ProRes 4444 Log C at 1920×1080 onto SxS cards on the camera. Files were then transcoded to Avid. LUTs were applied to dailies to convert them to REC 709, and a preliminary grade was applied using DaVinci Resolve so it was easier to visualize the end result.

“You have to test the full pipeline,” Finney insists. “Ansel Adams wrote in the 1950s that you can’t consider the film, camera and development processes separately. That’s still true today; you need to test your lens, camera and entire post pipeline before you can know what your image will look like.”

A Documentary-Style Shoot
Finney was responsible for filming all of the scenes in the series — literally. Shooting solo for 65 of the 85 filming days, Finney worked with a personal trainer in advance to prepare physically. Here again, approaching the shoot with a small, documentary-sized crew reaped big rewards. “The actors really responded to having such a small crew. They were able to walk into 500-year-old rooms that were dressed and lit the way they would have been at the time without the distraction of a large crew. There’s a scene in Episode 6 at Anne Boleyn’s trial — when [actress] Claire Foy entered the hall the first time, she gasped,” remembers Finney.

While replicating natural daylight through windows and using candles at night for most scenes, Finney used supplementary lighting for some shots. For night scenes, the team built reflective trays that contained 20 to 30 church candles, primarily so the lighting would be responsive to the actors’ movements. “Candles don’t flicker all the time,” explains Finney, “but the flames are very interactive when someone walks past. If you bring in extra light, you want it to behave the same way.” Finney also occasionally used Kino Flo LED lights, dimmed down to between 1.5% & 3% with diffusion filters and color gels.

Subtle Color On A Tight Schedule
Grading was done at Lipsync Post in London using FilmLight’s Baselight. Adam Inglis was the colorist. The grade for all six episodes took 13 days to complete, and both Finney and Kosminsky were present for the entire process. With such a tight schedule, it was imperative that the team collaborated effectively.

“Adam had a very sympathetic style, and really understood the very naturalistic, organic look Peter and I were trying to achieve. We didn’t want anything showy, and Adam was able to achieve fantastically subtle and precise effects very quickly and skillfully,” says Finney.

Reflecting On 4K
With a long and celebrated career to draw upon, I asked Finney about the changes he’s seen in the industry. “Obviously, it’s been a big transition from film to digital,” he says. “Film still has a place, but digital acquisition is now as good in terms of the dynamic range. For TV production, the transition to digital been massively positive; we can now use the same cameras and lenses as the biggest budget feature films, and we have a much greater ability to shape the picture in post than we did in the past. We couldn’t have shot Wolf Hall the way we did without the new cameras and lenses that are available.”

Gavin Finney

Gavin Finney

Finney began his career as a photographer, and he observed that if you want to know where cinematography is going, it’s smart look at the changes in still photography. “Still cameras have reached a point where you don’t need or want more megapixels; it just makes the images slower to process and move around… with more noise and less dynamic range,” he notes. “The public doesn’t benefit. The cameras I’m interested in are the ones that deliver greater dynamic range, less noise and more color depth.”

What does that mean for the push to 4K? Finney had strong opinions on the topic: “4K is great if you like sport, and it definitely matters for visual effects work, but super high resolutions aren’t necessarily great for drama, and I’m not convinced the public likes it either. I’ve never heard a critic wish for higher resolution, and the films that have recently won Academy Awards were all shot at 2K or 3.2K.” Finney notes that streaming services like Amazon and Netflix that are commissioning content are requiring 4K, but that his preference would be to spend the budget in other ways instead. “That said,” he concludes, “if I found a 4K camera that looked great, I’d use it.”