Tag Archives: DP

DP David Tattersall on shooting Netflix’s Death Note

Based on the manga series of the same name by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note stars Nat Wolff as Light Turner, a man who obtains a supernatural notebook that gives him the power to exterminate any living person by writing his or her name in the notebook. Willem Dafoe plays Ryuk, a demonic god of death and the creator of the Death Note. The stylized Netflix feature film was directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S/, You’re Next) and shot by cinematographer David Tattersall (The Green Mile, Star Wars: Episode I, II and III) with VariCam 35s in 4K RAW with Codex VRAW recorders.

Tattersall had previously worked with Wingard on the horror television series, Outcast. Per Tattersall, he wasn’t aware of the manga series of books but during pre-production, he was able to go through a visual treasure trove of manga material that the art department compiled.

Instead of creating a “cartoony” look, Tattersall and Wingard were more influenced by classic horror films, as well as well-crafted movies by David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick. “Adam is a maestro of the horror genre, and he is very familiar with constructing scenes around scary moments and keeping tension,” explains Tattersall. “It wasn’t necessarily whole movies that influenced us — it was more about taking odd sequences that we thought might be relevant to what we were doing. We had a very cool extended foot chase that we referred to The French Connection and Se7en, both of which have a mix of handheld, extreme wides and long lens shots. Also, because of Adam’s love of Kubrick movies, we had compositions with composure and symmetry that are reminiscent of The Shining, or crazy wide-angle stuff from A Clockwork Orange. It sounds like a mish-mash, but we did have rules.”

Dialogue scenes were covered in a realistic non-flashy way and for Tattersall, one of his biggest challenges was dealing with the demon character, Ryuk, both physically and photographically. The team started with a huge puppet character with puppeteers operating it, but it wasn’t a practical approach since many of the scenes were shot in small spaces such as Light’s bedroom.

“Eventually, the practical issue led to us using a mime artist in full costume with the intention of doing face replacement later,” explains Tattersall. “From our testing, the approach of ‘less is more’ became a thing — less light, more shadow and mystery, less visible, more effective. It worked well for this character who is mostly seen hiding in the shadows. It’s similar to the first Jaws movie. The shark is strangely more scary and ominous when you only get a few glimpses in the frame here and there — a suggestion. And that was our approach for the first 75% of the film. You might get a brief lean out of the shadows and a quick lean back in. Often, we would just shoot him out of focus. We’d keep the focus in the foreground for the Light character and Ryuk would be an out-of-focus blob in the background. It’s not until the very end — the final murder sequence — that you get to see him in full head-to-toe clarity.”

Tattersall shot the film with two VariCam 35s as his A and B cameras and had a VariCam LT for backup. He shot in 4K DCI (4096 x 2160) capturing VRAW files to Codex VRAW recorders. For lensing, he shot with Zeiss Master primes with a 2:39:1 extraction. “This set has become a favorite of mine for the past few years and I’ve grown to love them,” says Tattersall. “They are a bit big and heavy, but they open to a T1.3 and they’re so velvety smooth. With this show having so much night work, that extra speed was very useful.”

In terms of RAW capture, Tattersall tried to keep it simple, using Fotokem’s nextLAB for on-set workflow. “It was almost like using a one light printing process,” he explains. “We had three basic looks — a fairly cool dingy look, one that sometimes falls back on the saturation or leans in the cold direction. I have a set of rules, but I occasionally break them. We tried as much as possible to shoot only in the shade — bringing in butterfly nets or shooting on the shady side of buildings during the day. It was Adam’s wish to keep this heavy, moody atmosphere.”

Tattersall used a few tools to capture unique visuals. To capture low angle shots, he used a P+S Skater Scope that lets you shoot low to the ground. “You can also incorporate floating Dutch angles with its motorized internal prism, so this was something we did throughout,” he says. “The horizon line would lean over to one side or the other.” He also used a remote rollover rig, which allowed the camera to roll 180-degrees when on a crane, giving Tattersall a dizzying visual.

“We also shot with a Phantom Flex to shoot 500fps,” continues Tattersall. “We would have low Dutch angles, an 8mm fish eye look and a Lensbaby to degrade the focus even more. The image could get quite wonky on occasion, which is counterpoint to the more classic coverage of the calmer dialogue moments.”

Although he did a lot of night work, Tattersall did not use the native 5,000 ISO. “I have warmed to a new range of LED lights — the Cineo Maverick, Matchbox and Matchstix. They’re all color balanced and they’re all multi-varied Daylight or Tungsten so it’s quick and easy to change the color temperature without the use of gels. We also made use of Arri Skypanels. Outside, we used tried and tested old school HMIs or 9-light or 12-light MaxiBrutes. There’s nothing quite like them in terms of powerful source lights.”

Death Note was finished at Technicolor by colorist Skip Kimball on Blackmagic Resolve. “The grade was mostly about smoothing out the bumps and tweaking the contrast” explains Tattersall. “Since it’s a dark feature, there was an emphasis on a heavy mood — keeping the blacks, with good contrast and saturated colors. But in the end, the photographic stylization came from the camera placement and lens choices working together with the action choreography.

The A-List: Atomic Blonde director David Leitch

By Iain Blair

Before becoming a director known for his hyper-kinetic, immersive, stunt-driven-style, David Leitch spent over a decade in the stunt business and doubled actors, including Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, on such films as Bourne Ultimatum, Fight Club and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Leitch — a martial artist by trade who co-owns action design and production company 87Eleven Action Design — was also a fight choreographer, stunt coordinator and 2nd unit director on many films, including Wolverine, Anchorman 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Captain America: Civil War and Jurassic World.

Leitch brought all that experience to the table for his directorial debut, the 2014 Keanu Reeves hit John Wick, which he co-directed with Chad Stahelski, his partner in 87Eleven Action Design (@87elevenaction).

David Leitch

For his new film, the pulpy, punk-noir, take-no-prisoners Atomic Blonde, Leitch teamed with Oscar-winner Charlize Theron who plays MI6’s most elite spy, agent Lorraine Broughton, and kicks non-stop ass in the breakneck action-thriller that’s set in Berlin in 1989 with a backdrop of revolution and double-crossing hives of traitors.

Sexy and fearless, Broughton is equal parts spycraft, sensuality and savagery, willing to deploy any of her skills to stay alive on her impossible mission. Sent alone into Berlin to deliver a priceless dossier out of the destabilized city, she partners with embedded station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) to navigate her way through the deadliest game of spies. Mayhem and destruction quickly ensue.

The film, which also stars John Goodman, Eddie Marsan and Toby Jones, has a top-notch creative team led by cinematographer Jonathan Sela (John Wick, Deadpool 2), production designer David Scheunemann (Deadpool 2, The Hunger Games series), editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir (John Wick), and composer Tyler Bates (John Wick series, Guardians of the Galaxy).

I spoke with Leitch on the eve of its release about making the film, his love of post, and his next movie — the highly anticipated Deadpool 2, starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin and Josh Brolin, which 20th Century Fox and Marvel will release on June 1, 2018.

This is definitely not your usual cerebral, period spy movie. What sort of film did you set out to make?
I wanted to take the cold war spy thriller genre and give it a new polish and add a ton of adrenalin and more of a commercial sensibility.  I also wanted to reference all the great ‘80s music, like Bowie, and that whole visual style of music videos. Then we added more action, so it’s an interesting mash-up of all that.

What did Charlize, who developed the project, bring to the mix?
As a producer she had a real understanding of her character and what she wanted to portray – a very strong point-of-view. As an actor and collaborator, she was just so receptive to this wild, pop-culture mash-up I wanted to make. She was the heart and soul of Lorraine.

Her fight scenes are amazing. How hard did she train?
She was totally committed and immersed herself fully in all the stunts and training we did for a three-month period — hours and hours each day learning all the stunt choreography and fight scenes. It was very important, because we had limited resources to do it all with VFX. We had to do nearly all of it for real — real physical action on camera, and we were able to make that work because Charlize is so athletic.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
There were so many as we were shooting on location in Budapest most of the time, and then we shot for a week in Berlin — there were all the logistics involved. We also had a lot of big set pieces, like crazy car chases and then the scene where Charlize’s car gets submerged in a river, and she did all those scenes herself.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Right from the start.  We had this great VFX supervisor, Michael Wortmann, who’s with Chimney Group in Sweden, and they not only did all the amazing VFX, but did an all-inclusive overall post deal for us, so they also did all the color and sound mixing and so on. We actually did my director’s cut and first previews in LA and then flew out to Sweden for a month to finalize all the post. Then when Universal came on board, we also did a big Dolby remix on the lot at Universal.

Did you do a lot of previs?
I’m not really a big previs fan, but I do get that it’s a necessity and really helpful for some stuff, like complex action scenes. As a 2nd unit director you often get given the animatics, so I’m used to dealing with it, but I much prefer to be inspired by working on the set with stunts and storyboards. Those are what drive the visuals for me.

You reunited with director of photography Jonathan Sela. How tough was the shoot?
It was tough. It was cold, but it was also a really special experience, going to the famous locations in Berlin and seeing a piece of history. It was very inspiring. Even scouting the film was very inspiring.

Do you like the post process?
I absolutely love it. I enjoy the shoot and trying to get the best stuff you can on the day, but then to see it come alive in post with all the sound and music and VFX — that’s the best feeling.

Talk about reteaming with editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir. Was she on set?
Usually she’s not on set, but she was there for the very elaborate stairwell fight scene, which took four days to shoot, and we cut it as we went. Then for the rest of the shoot she was with us on location, but she was assembling from day one while I shot. Then we’d get together on the weekends. The thing is, post schedules are so crunched now with all the VFX and tight turnaround time that you need a partner who’s working while you sleep and vice versa. That’s how we work together.

All the VFX play a big role. Talk about working on them with Chimney Group and VFX supervisor Michael Wortmann.
I really like working with VFX, and they’re so integrated with stunts and action sequences now, and I’m very familiar with the process. Michael was great and understood that I still like to try and get as much of the action in-camera as possible, but we ended up with hundreds of shots and VFX take care of — everything from muzzle flashes and blood to set extensions and wire removal, dealing with period stuff and then manipulation of stunts. Today, you can’t walk away from a film like this without at least 500 VFX shots. It’s all about keeping the illusion alive.

Can you talk about the DI?
We did that with Chimney, and getting the right look was very important. The film has a very distinct visual style, with very different palettes for East and West Berlin, and we had a DI tech on set so he and the DP could plan ahead a lot for post with the digital camera settings. So we all had a very strong impression of what we were after during the shoot.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did – even better than I imagined, which is why I love post so much. We spent nearly six months in post, and every day you’d see the movie get better and better.

Tell us about Deadpool 2.
We’re shooting it up in Vancouver, and we’re about five weeks in. So far it’s been the best film experience of my career. Ryan and Josh are so great and so much fun to work with. And there’s a ton of VFX. Dan Glass, who did The Matrix films and Batman Begins, is my VFX supervisor. DNeg and Method are doing a lot of the VFX. The shoot’s going great, and I can’t wait to get into post next.


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.

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.

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.

The A-List: La La Land‘s Oscar-winning DP Linus Sandgren

By Iain Blair

Even though it didn’t actually win the Best Picture Oscar, La La Land was honored with five Academy Awards this year, including one for Best Cinematography for Linus Sandgren. This Swedish director of photography, known for his kinetic work with David O. Russell on American Hustle and Joy, collaborated closely with La La Land’s Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle.

Shooting with anamorphic lenses and 35mm film on Panavision Millennium XL2s (with one 16mm sequence) — and capturing his first musical — Sandgren rose to the challenge set by Chazelle (“make it look magical rather than realistic”) by continually pushing the film’s technical and creative boundaries.

That approach is showcased in the bravura opening traffic jam sequence where the camera feels like one of the dancers and part of the choreography. Designed to look like one unbroken shot, it’s actually three, carefully rehearsed, then shot on the freeway ramp over a weekend and stitched together invisibly and seamlessly. For another tour-de-force sequence where stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone literally fly up into the stars of the Griffith Observatory planetarium, the team used wires and bluescreen on a set, as filming wasn’t allowed in the real location.

I recently talked to Sandgren about shooting the film, working with Chazelle (see our interview with the director), the digital workflow and the importance of post to him as a DP.

Is it fair to say that the camera functions almost like another character in this film?
Yes, our whole approach was to let the camera act as both a curious character, with very active movement, as well as a musical instrument, so we had to move the camera to the rhythm of the music. We also designed many scenes in three- to six-minute-long single takes that often included a Steadicam that had to step on or off a crane, and sometimes we needed to shoot the scene in a very limited timeframe of about 20 minutes.

Was the framing also quite demanding?
Damien wanted the film to be very anamorphic and do it in 35mm with the old scope format — before the standard became 2.40:1 — so we did it in 2.55:1 like the old CinemaScope. Then I talked to Panavision and they built some new ground glasses for us, which added to the magic we were trying to capture in the look.

Damien told me that you and colorist Natasha Leonnet actually set the template for the look and color palette even before the shoot?
Yes, we began with the tests. To me, it’s really important to try and establish the look in camera as much as possible, so that it’s as natural as possible in post and you don’t have to tweak too much later. So in the test, in order to get that “Technicolor look,” we explored introducing blues and cyans into the blacks, and we tested anything from push process (over-developing) and under-exposing, and pull process (under-develop) and over-exposing the film. The push process gave us more contrast and grain, while the pull process gave us a softer look and finer grain, which we thought was more pleasing.

How did you deal with the dailies?
We decided we were going to use Efilm’s Cinemascan dailies, which meant we scanned all the negative with an Arri scanner instead of the telecine version, and then in post we re-scanned the negative in 6K and downconverted it to 4K. All the tests were done with Natasha, but for the shoot itself, I used my dailies colorist, Matt Wallach from EC3 Lab, which is the location operation run by Efilm and Company 3 together. It’s the same workflow I used on Joy and also on the upcoming Battle of the Sexes. Each day of the shoot the film was sent to Fotokem, who under-developed it one stop, and then it was scanned at EC3.

Linus Sandgren with is Oscar at the Lionsgate Oscar party.

Where did you do the DI?
With Natasha at Efilm. She got all the settings from the EDL and we generally tried to stay with the dailies look, which we were all pretty happy with. We used some windows and worked on the blacks, and me and Damien had about three to four weeks working on the DI, but not every day. We’d go back and forth, and Natasha also did some work by herself. I’m really involved with the whole DI process, and I even ended up doing a last remote session with Natasha from Company 3’s place in London when I was there at the end of the DI.

Obviously, the shoot’s the main focus for any DP, but just how important is the whole post process for you?
It’s incredibly important, and I love the DI and post process. The most important thing for me is that the film’s look is already established before we start shooting, and therefore it’s very important to involve post production creatives in preproduction. I could never shoot a project where people say, “Don’t worry, we’ll fix the look in post.” I want to go into the DI knowing that we already have the look, and then we can work on fine-tuning it.

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.

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.

Quick Chat: DP Dejan Georgevich, ASC

By Randi Altman

Long-time cinematographer Dejan Georgevich, ASC, has been working in television, feature film production and commercials for over 35 years. In addition to being on set, Georgevich regularly shares his experience and wisdom as a professor of advanced cinematography at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

Georgevich’s TV credits include the series Mercy, Cupid, Hope & Faith, The Book of Daniel and The Education of Max Bickford. In the world of documentaries, he has worked on HBO’s Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World, PBS’ A Wayfarer’s Journey: Listening to Mahler and The Perfumed Road.

One of his most recent projects was as DP on Once in a Lifetime, a 30-minute television pilot about two New Jersey rockers trying to make it in the music business. The show’s musical roots are real — Once in a Lifetime was written by Iron Maiden’s bass player and songwriter, Stephen Harris.

Georgevich, who was in Australia on a job, was kind enough to use some of his down time to answer our questions about shooting, lighting, inspiration and more. Enjoy…

How did you decide TV production and cinematography, in particular, would be your path?
Perhaps it all started when I hauled around a Bell & Howell projector half my size in elementary school, showing films to an assembly of kids transfixed to a giant screen. Working on the stage crew in middle school revealed to me that I was “a fish to water” when it came to lighting.

You work on a variety of projects. How does your process change, if at all, going from a TV spot to a TV series to a documentary, etc.?
Each genre informs the other and has made me a better storyteller. For example, my work in documentaries demands being sensitive to anticipating and capturing the moment. The same skills translate perfectly when shooting dramas, which require making the best choices that visually express the idea, mood and emotion of a scene.

How do you decide what is the right camera for each job? Or do you have a favorite that you use again and again?
I choose a camera that offers the widest dynamic range, renders lovely skin tones, a natural color palette, and is user-friendly and ergonomic in handling. My camera choice will also be influenced by whether the end result will be projected theatrically on a big or small screen.

Once in a Lifetime

You used the Panasonic Varicam 35 on the TV pilot Once in a Lifetime. Why was this the right camera for this project, and was most of the shooting outdoors?
Once in a Lifetime was an independently financed TV pilot, on a tight schedule and budget, requiring a considerable amount of shooting in low-light conditions. This production demanded speed and a limited lighting package because we were shooting on-location night interiors/exteriors, including nightclubs, rooftops, narrow tenement apartments and dimly-lit city streets. Panasonic Varicam 35’s dual ISO of 800 and 5000 provided unbelievable image capture in low-light conditions, rendering rich blacks with no noise!

What were some of the challenges of this project? Since it was a pilot, you were setting a tone for the entire series. How did you go about doing that?
The biggest challenge for me was to “re-educate my eye” working with the Panasonic Varicam 35, which sees more than what my eye sees, especially in darkness. To my eye, a scene would look considerably under-lit at times, but surpringly the picture on the monitor looked organic and well motivated. I was able to light predominately with LEDs and low-wattage lights augmenting the practicals or, in the case of the rooftop, the Manhattan night skyline. House power and/or portable put-put generators were all that was necessary to power the lights.

The pilot’s tone, or look, was achieved using the combination of wide-angle lenses and high-contrast lighting, not only with light and shadow but with evocative primary and secondary colors. This is a comedic story about two young rockers wanting to make it in the music business and their chance meeting with a rock ’n’ roll legend offering that real possibility of fulfilling their dreams.

How did you work with the DIT on this project, and on projects in general?
I always prefer and request a DIT on my projects. I see my role as the “guardian of the image,” and having a DIT helps preserve my original intent in creating the look of the show. In other words, with the help of my DIT, I like to control the look as much as possible in-camera during production. I was very fortunate to have Dave Satin as my DIT on the pilot — we have worked together for many years — and it’s very much like a visual  pitcher/catcher-type of creative relationship. What’s more, he’s my second set of eyes and technical insurance against any potential digital disaster.

Can you talk about lighting? If you could share one bit of wisdom about lighting, what would it be?
As with anything to do with the arts, I believe that lighting should be seamless. Don’t wear it on your sleeve. Keep it simple… less is best! Direction of light is important as it best describes a story’s soul and character.

What about working with colorists after the shoot. Do you do much of that?
As a DP, I believe it’s critically important that we are active participants in post color correction. I enjoy outstanding collaborations with some of the top colorists in the business. In order to preserve the original intent of our image we, as directors of photography, must be the guiding hand through all phases of the workflow. Today, with the advent of digital image capture, the cinematographer must battle against too many entities that threaten to change our images into something other than what was originally intended.

What inspires you? Fine art? Photography?
I make it a point to get my “creative fix” by visiting art museums as often as possible. I’m inspired by the works of the Grand Master painters and photographers — the works of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Caravaggio, Georges de la Tour, Edward Hooper, Henri Cartier Bresson, William Eggelston — too many to name!  Recreating the world through light and perspective is magical and a necessary reminder of what makes us alive!

What haven’t I asked that you feel is important to talk about?
We’re currently experiencing a digital revolution that is being matched by an emerging revolution in lighting (i.e. LED technology). The tools will always change, but it’s our craft reflecting the heart and mind that remains constant and so important.

Setting the visual tone for ABC’s ‘Madoff’

Bernie Madoff, one of the most hated men on earth thanks to his massive Ponzi scheme, was recently the focus of a four-part ABC miniseries called, simply, Madoff.

Technicolor PostWorks New York colorist Anthony Raffaele worked directly with Madoff cinematographer Frankie DeMarco in finalizing a look of the series, which captures the big money atmosphere of Wall Street in the 1990s and 2000s.

 Directed by Raymond De Felitta, Madoff is told from the perspective of its title character (Richard Dreyfuss) and portrays his schemes to defraud investors and meticulous efforts to keep the truth about his activities hidden from the public and his family.

DeMarco shot the show with an Arri Alexa camera and used vintage Cooke Speed Panchro lenses to give the imagery a filmic look indicative of its time period. He also shot Super 16 and Super 8 film for Madoff’s childhood sequence.

“It’s a character-driven story told from one person’s point of view,” DeMarco recalls. “So, I didn’t want it looking too sharp or crisp. I used the vintage Cooke Speed Panchro lenses to give the movie a more round, human feel.”

Much of the action shifts between the 19th floor of the Lipstick Building in Midtown Manhattan, which housed the offices of Madoff’s investment firm, and a small boiler room operation on the 17th floor — this was hidden from all but a few insiders and is where the dirty work of the fraud scheme was carried out.

 The different atmospheres of these two settings are subtly reinforced through cinematography, lighting and color correction. “Everything that occurs on the 19th floor has a polished, crisp, business feel that’s accented by cooler tones,” says Raffaele, who uses a FilmLight Baselight. “Downstairs, where the fraud occurs, the look is contrasted by a softer, diffused look accented with uncomfortable colors like yellow and green.”

During final grading sessions, DeMarco and Raffaele collaborated remotely. DeMarco was in London working on another project, so Raffaele sent him materials each day that he could review on an iPad. “We had good control over the lighting on the set, so the color was very close when Anthony got it,” DeMarco says. “He did a lovely job of punching up things and fine tuning. He has a great eye and got what I wanted from the get-go.”

As the story progresses and Madoff’s scheme unravels, the look becomes progressively darker. Especially bleak are scenes set in Madoff’s jail cell, where the greenish overtones aAnthony Raffaele re pronounced. A different color treatment was applied to the dreamlike sequences representing Madoff’s thoughts, as he imagines what lies ahead when the truth about his activities comes out.

“Bernie’s visions have a high contrast look, which set them off as something that’s going on inside his head and give them an uncomfortable feel,” Raffaele explains.

Overall, DeMarco says Madoff does a great job of pulling viewers into its antagonist’s inner world. That, he notes, was the product of many factors, beginning with director De Felitta’s strong vision and Dreyfuss’ inspired performance. “There was a very collegial rapport on the set where everyone contributed ideas,” he explains. “It was a real treat to work with Richard Dreyfuss.”

DeMarco adds that the collaborative spirit carried through to post production. “I talked with Anthony before the shoot so we were already on the same page when we reached post — he took that ball and ran with it. It’s a sprawling movie — covering more than 15 years —but it had limited locations, so once we set a look, we were able to carry it through all four episodes.”

 

Quick Chat: Wildlife DP Andy Casagrande

Andy Brandy Casagrande IV, (a.k.a., ABC4) is a two-time Emmy Award-winning cinematographer, field producer and television presenter who specializes in wildlife documentaries.

From king cobras and killer whales to great whites sharks and polar bears, Casagrande’s cinematography and unorthodox Continue reading