Focus Features Emma, the latest reincarnation of the Jane Austen novel, was directed by Autumn de Wilde and shot by cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt. For de Wilde, a photographer and music video director, Emma is her feature film directorial debut. In addition to her still work on CD covers for The White Stripes, Fiona Apple and Beck she has directed music videos for indie bands, including Spoon, The Decemberists and Rilo Kiley.
Blauvelt and de Wilde met in 2000 when she directed Elliott Smith’s Son of Sam music video. He then shot some 16mm footage that was projected behind Elliott on his tour, and the collaborators became friends. When it came time to start on her directorial debut, de Wilde reached out, knowing that he could help her bring her vision to the screen.
Emma was shot with the ARRI Alexa LF using ARRI Signature Prime lenses. Blauvelt had done some tests with it a year or so ago for a film he shot with Gus Van Sant, called Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, so he was familiar with the camera. “We looked at many different cameras to find our aesthetic,” Blauvelt explains. “I remember making a note about the softness and way it treated skin. It was also something I would think about for scope and scale, for which Emma provided the environments in the form of castles and the English countryside. Of course, we didn’t just test cameras — Autumn had given me many references to use as our guide in finding the unique look of Emma, so we tested many different lenses, cameras, filters, lights and lookup tables.”
Principal photography began in March 2019. Blauvelt hadn’t worked on a feature film in the UK before but was fortunate enough to team up with Mission, a UK-based DIT and digital services company, who assisted in setting up a workflow and a color pipeline that ensured that the director and DP’s vision was communicated to everyone. Mission’s Jacob Robinson was the DIT.
DITs have become a more and more important part of the camera crew and often build close working relationships with DPs. Designing the look of a production is a collaborative process that often begins in preproduction. “I really enjoy my working relationships with DITs; they are the people I rely on to inform me on the rules we’ve put in place on any particular shoot,” says Blauvelt. “Usually during prep, we will do an enormous amount of testing and come up with the recipe that we decide on for the shoot.”
The final DI colorist is often part of the mix too. For Emma, Goldcrest’s Rob Pizzey was the DI colorist, so he was also involved in creating the color pipeline and LUTs with Blauvelt and DIT Robinson. As Blauvelt explains, “It’s also really great having the chance to create custom LUTs with our final grade colorist. We work hard to have a formula that works while on location and all the way to the final grade.”
There are several different ways for a DP to work with LUTs. In Blauvelt’s case, during testing the team created several different base LUTs, including day/exterior, day/interior, night/exterior, night/interior, day/exterior in clouds and sun and other variations they might encounter during the shoot. “These LUTs are all adjustable as well,” he continues, “and will be manipulated live on set to achieve the desired look. We also have images to serve as our spirit throughout the shoot to remind us of the original intent as well.”
The digital lab process on Emma was straightforward. Every day, DIT Robinson would send the capture drives from set along with a Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve project with CDLs applied. Mission’s Niall Todd and Neil Gray were tasked with creating synced H264s and DNxHD 115 files for Avid. The data was then backed up to dual LTOs and a G-Tech 10TB G-Drive.
Mission’s on-set to near-set process made it simple for Blauvelt’s vision to be conveyed to everyone. “Mark Purvis has created a collective and creative environment with Mission that I had not experienced before.”
The digital intermediate process was straightforward, with Goldcrest’s Pizzey using DaVinci Resolve to complete the final grading. Emma, which was edited by Nick Emerson, is now streaming.