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DP Chat: Good Boys cinematographer Jonathan Furmanski

By Randi Altman

Cinematographer Jonathan Furmanski is no stranger to comedy. His resume is long and includes such projects as the TV series Search Party and Inside Amy Schumer, as well as Judd Apatow’s documentary, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling.

Jonathan Furmanski

So when it came time to collaborate with director Gene Stupnitsky on the Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg-produced Good Boys feature, he was more than ready.

Good Boys follows three 12-year-old boys (Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams) as they discover girls and how to get in and out of trouble. Inspired by earlier coming of age films, such as Stand By Me, Furmanski aimed for the look of the film to have “one foot in 2019 and the other in 1986.”

We reached out to Furmanski to find out about Good Boys, his workflows, inspiration and more.

Tell us about Good Boys. How early did you get involved in this film, and how did you work with the director Gene Stupnitsky?
Good Boys was a great experience. I interviewed with Gene and the producers several months before prep started. I flew up to Vancouver about a month before we started shooting, so had some time to sit with everyone to discuss the plan and style.

Everyone gave me a lot of room to figure out the look of the film, and there was universal agreement that we didn’t want Good Boys to look like a typical pre-teen comedy. Each conversation about the photography started with the idea that, despite the story being about three 12-year-old boys in a small suburban town, the film should feel bigger and more open. We wanted to show the thrill and fear of adolescence, discovery and adventure. That said, Gene was very clear not to undermine the comedy or constrain the actors.

How would you describe the look of film?
My hope was that Good Boys would feel like it had one foot in 2019 and the other in 1986. We got a lot of inspiration from movies like Stand By Me, The Goonies and ET. I didn’t want the film to be slick-looking; I wanted it to be sharp and vibrant and with a wider point of view. At the same time, it needed some grit and texture — despite all the sillier or crazier moments, I very much wanted the audience to be lulled into a suspension of disbelief. So, hopefully, we achieved that.

How did you work with the director and colorist to achieve the intended look?
We were very lucky to have Natasha Leonnet at Efilm do the final color on the film. She locked into the look and vibe. We were immediately on the same page about everything.

I obsess over all the details, and she was able to address my notes — or talk me off the ledge — while bringing her own vision and sensibility, which was right in line with what Gene and I envisioned. Just like on the shoot, I was given a lot of room to create the look.

You shot in Vancouver. How long was the shoot?
We shot for about 35 days in and around Vancouver.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses this project? Can you talk about camera tests?
I spent a bit of time thinking about the best camera and lens combo. Initially, I was considering a full-frame format, but as we discussed the film and our references, we realized shooting anamorphic would bring a little more “bigness.”

Also, we knew we’d have a lot of shots of all three boys improvising or goofing around, so the wider aspect ratio would help keep them all in a nice frame. But I also didn’t want to be fighting the imperfections a lot of anamorphic lenses have. That “personality” can be great and really fun to shoot with, but for Good Boys, we needed to have greater control over the frame. So I tested every anamorphic series I could get my hands on — looking at distortion, flaring, horizontal and vertical sharpness, etc. — with a few camera systems. I settled on the ARRI Master anamorphic lenses and Alexa SXT and Mini cameras.

Ultimately, why was this the right combination of camera and lenses?
Well, I’ve shot almost every scripted and documentary project in the last five years on some model of Alexa or Amira, so I’m very familiar with the sensor and how it handles itself, no matter what the situation. And I knew we’d shoot ARRIRAW so would record an awesome amount of information. I’m so impressed with what ARRIRAW can handle; sometimes it sees too much. But really, there’s so much to think about while shooting, no matter how much you like the image in front of you, it’s reassuring to know you have heaps of information to work with.

As for lenses, I wanted a package that gave me all the scope and dimensionality of anamorphic without the typical limitations. Don’t get me wrong; some of the classic anamorphic series with all their flaws can be beautiful and exciting, but they weren’t the right choice for this film. I wanted to select how much (or how little) we had in focus, and I didn’t want to lose sharpness off the center of the frame or have to stop way down because we needed three boys’ faces in focus. So the Master anamorphics ended up being the perfect choice: a big look, great contrast and color rendition, lovely depth and separation, and clean and sharp across the frame.

Can you talk about the lighting and how the camera worked while grabbing shots when you could?
One of the challenges of working with three 12-year-olds as your lead actors is keeping things loose enough so they don’t feel fenced in, which would sap all the energy out of their performances. We worked hard to give each scene and location a strong look, but sometimes we lit a little more broadly or lensed a little wider so the boys had room to play.

We kept as much lighting out of the room or rigged overhead as we could so the locations wouldn’t get claustrophobic or overheated. And the operators were able to adjust their frames easily as things changed or if an actor was doing something unexpected.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of or that you found most challenging?
Without question, the most challenging sequence was the boys running across the highway. It was the biggest single scene I’ve shot, and it had multiple units shooting over five days — it was really tough from a coordination and matching perspective. Obviously, the scene had to be funny and exciting, but I also wanted it to feel huge. The boys are literally and figuratively crossing the biggest barrier of their lives! We got a little lucky that there was a thin layer of haze most of the time that took the edge off the direct sun and made matching a bit easier.

The key was sitting with our AD, Dan Miller, and coming up with the most advantageous shooting order, but not hopping around so much that we lose continuity or waste tons of time resetting everything. And almost every shot had VFX so our key grip, Marc Nolet, drilled small washers into the tarmac for every camera position and we took copious notes so we could go back if necessary, or second unit could come in and replicate something. It was a lot of work, but the final sequence is really fun and surprising.

Now for some more general questions. How did you become interested in cinematography?
I went to film school with the idea of being a writer/director, but I discovered very quickly that I wasn’t really into that. I was drawn immediately to cameras, lenses and film stocks, and I devoured all the information I could find about cinematography. My friends started asking me to shoot their student projects, and it took off from there. I’m lucky that I still get to work with some of those college friends.

How do you stay on top of advancing technology?
I don’t find it too difficult to stay on top of the latest and greatest camera or light or other widget. The basic idea is always the same, no matter how new the implementation, and when something truly groundbreaking comes along, you hear about it quickly.

Of course, many of my friends are in the camera or lighting departments, so we talk about this stuff all the time, and there are great online resources for checking out gear or swapping ideas. Probably the best place to learn is at events like Cine Gear, where you can see the latest stuff and hang out with your friends.

What inspires you artistically?
It’s easy to find inspiration almost anywhere: museums, books, online, just walking around. I also get great inspiration from my fellow cinematographers (past and present) and the work they do. The DP community is very open and supportive, maybe surprisingly so.

What new technology has changed the way you work?
The two innovations that have impacted my work most are digital cinema cameras and LED lighting. Both have afforded me a more lightweight and efficient way of working without sacrificing quality or options.

Jonathan Furmanski

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I credit my documentary work for teaching me to keep an open ear and an open mind. When you listen, you can prepare, anticipate or hear a key piece of information that could impact your approach. This, of course, leads to improvisation because maybe your idea doesn’t work or a better idea is presenting itself. Don’t be rigid. I also try to stand next to the camera as much as possible — that’s where all the action is.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It’s exactly that… a collaboration. I don’t want to be off by myself, and I don’t want to just pass information from one person to another. The best director/DP relationships are an extended, evolving conversation where you’re pushing a clear vision together but still challenging each other.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I think the ARRI Amira is the best camera ever made, although I’m a bit of a chameleon when it comes to cameras and lenses — I don’t think I’ve used the same lens package twice on all my narrative projects. The two things I must have are my own wireless monitor and a good polarizing filter; I want complete control over the image, and I don’t like standing still.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

DP Chat: Late Night cinematographer Matthew Clark

Directed by Nisha Ganatra, Amazon Studios’ comedy Late Night stars Emma Thompson as Katherine, a famous talk show host who hires Molly, her first-ever female writer (played by Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the screenplay).

Ganatra — whose rich directing background includes Transparent, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fresh Off the Boat and Chutney Popcorn — worked closely with her, DP Matthew Clark. The two were students together at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Clark’s credits include Pitch Perfect 3, Up All Night and 30 Rock, among many others.

Matthew Clark

Clark has said that one of the toughest tasks in shooting comedy is to make it look and feel natural for the audience while allowing the space for them to laugh. “The visuals must have some depth to them but you need to let the actors work things out on screen,” he explains. “That was a big part for this film knowing the way Nisha likes to work. She’s visual but she’s also very actor-oriented, so one of the things I wanted to do was make our technical footprint as small as possible to give the actors room to work and to find those comic moments.”

For Late Night, Clark describes the look as “heightened naturalism.” He created a look book of images from still photographers, including Gregory Crewdson (artificial reality) and Robert Frank (super naturalism). He also worked with Light Iron colorists Corinne Bogdanowicz in Los Angeles and Sean Dunckley in New York to develop the look during prep. “There were three distinct kind of looks we wanted,” describes Clark. “One was for Katherine’s home, which was more elegant with warm tones. The television studio needed to be crisp and clean with more neutral tones. and for the writers’ room office, the look was more chaotic and business-like with blue or cooler tones.”

We recently reached out to Clark with a few questions designed to learn more about his work on the film and his most recent collaboration with Ganatra.

How would you describe the overarching look of the film? What did you and the director want to achieve? You’ve described it as heightened naturalism. Can you expand on that?
Nisha and I wanted a sophisticated look without being too glamorous. We started off looking at the story, the locations and the ideas that go along with placing our characters in those spaces — both physically and emotionally. Comedy is not easy in that regard. It can be easy to go from joke to joke, but if you want something layered and something that lasts in the audience’s mind, you have to ground the film.

So we worked very hard to give Nisha and the actors space to find those moments. It meant less lighting and a more natural approach. We didn’t back away completely though. We still used camera and light to elevate the scenes and accentuate the mood; for example, huge backlight on the stage, massive negative space when we find out about Katherine’s betrayal or a smoke-filled room as Katherine gives up. That’s what I mean by “heightened naturalism.”

How did Ganatra describe the look she wanted?
Nisha and I started going over looks well before prep began. We talked photos and films. Two of our favorites photographers are William Eggleston and Philip-Lorca DiCorsia. So I was ahead of the game when the official prep started. There was a definite shorthand. Because of that, I was able to go to Light Iron in LA and work out some basic looks for the film — overall color, highlights, shadow detail/color, grain, etc. We wanted three distinct looks. The rest would fall into place.

Katherine’s home was elegant and warm. The writers’ office was cool and corporate. The talk show’s studio was crisper and more neutral. As you know, even at that point, it’s just an idea unless you have your camera, lenses, etc.

Can you talk about the tools you chose?
Once prep started, I realized that we would need to shed some weight to accomplish our days due to very few extra days for rigging and the amount of daily company moves. So we went without a generator and took advantage of the 5000 ISO Panasonic VariCam 35 in conjunction some old, beautiful Panavision UltraSpeeds and Super Speeds.

That lens choice came after I sat with Dan Sasaki and told him what I was going for. He knew I was a fan of older lenses having used an old set of Baltars and similar Ultras on my last movie. I think they take the digital edge off of the sensor and can provide beautiful anomalies and flares when used to achieve your look. Anyway, I think he emptied out the closets at the Woodland Hills location and let us test everything. This was very exciting for a DP.

What makes the process a smooth one for you?
I think what got me started, artistic inspiration and rules/process, all stem from the same thing. The story, the telling, the showing and the emotion. The refined and the raw. It sounds simple. but for me, it is true.

Always try to serve the story; don’t get tied to the fancy new thing or the splashy piece of equipment. Just tell the story. Sometimes, those things coincide. But, always tell a story.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I think inspiration for each project comes from many different sources — music, painting, photography, a walk in the afternoon, a sound. That’s very vague, I know, but we have to be open to the world and draw from that. Obviously, it is crucial to spend time with the director — to breathe the same air, so to speak. That’s what puts me on the path and allows me to use the inspirations that fit the film.

Main Image: Matthew Clark and director Nisha Ganatra.

DP Chat: Catch-22’s Martin Ruhe, ASC

By Randi Altman

For the bibliophiles out there, you know Catch-22 as the 1961 book by Joseph Heller. Cinephiles might remember the 1970 film of the same name starring Alan Arkin. And for those who are familiar with the saying, but not its origins, a Catch-22 is essentially a no-win situation. The famous idiom comes from the book — specifically the main character, Captain John Yossarian, a World War II bombardier who finds himself needing to escape the war, but rules and regulations hold him back.

Martin Ruhe (right) on-set with George Clooney.

Now there is yet another Catch-22 to point to: Hulu’s miniseries, which stars Christopher Abbott, Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie and George Clooney. Clooney is also an executive producer, alongside Grant Heslov, Luke Davies, David Michôd, Richard Brown, Steve Golin and Ellen Kuras. The series was written by Davies and Michôd and directed by Clooney, Heslov and Kuras, who each directed two episodes. It was shot entirely in Italy.

We recently reached out to the show’s German-born DP, Martin Ruhe, ASC, to find out about his workflow on the series and how he became a cinematographer.

Tell us about Catch-22. How would you describe the look of the film that you and the directors wanted to achieve?
George was very clear — he wanted to push the look of the show toward something we don’t see very often these days in TV or films. He wanted to feel the heat of the Italian summer.

We also wanted to contrast the absurdity of what happens on the ground with the claustrophobic and panic of the aerial work. We ended up with a strong warm tone and a lot of natural light. And we move the camera as if we‘re always with our hero (Abbott). Very often we travel with him in fluent camera moves, and then we contrast that with shaky hand-held camera work in the air. It was good fun to be able to have such a range to work with.

Were you given examples of the look that was wanted?
We looked at newsreel footage from the period and at stills and benefitted from production designer David Gropman‘s research. Then I took stills when we did camera tests with our actors in costume. I worked on those on my computer until we got to a place we all liked.

Stefan Sonnenfeld at Company 3 did the grading for the show and loved it. He gave us a LUT that we used for our dailies. Later, when we did the final grade, we added film grain and refined our look to what it is now.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I spoke with George Clooney and Grant Heslov for the first time four months before we started to shoot. I had eight weeks of prep.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
A lot of the scenes were happening in very small spaces. I did a lot of research on smaller cameras, and since we would have a lot of action scenes in those planes, I did not want to use any cameras with a rolling shutter.

I ended up using Arri Alexa Minis with Cooke S4 lenses and also some Flare cameras by IO industries, which could record 4K raw to Q7 Odyssey recorders. We mounted those little ones on the planes whenever they were flying for real. We also used it for the parachute jump.

This is a period piece. How did that affect your choices?
The main effect was the choice of light sources when we shot interiors and night scenes. I love fluorescents, and they existed in the period, but just not in those camps and not in the streets of Rome at night. We used a lot of practicals and smaller sources, which we spread out in the little streets of a small town where we shot, called Viterbo (standing in for Rome).

Another thing I learned was that in those camps at night, lights were blacked out. That meant we were stuck with moonlight and general ambience for night scenes, which we created with HMI sources — sometimes direct if we needed to cover big areas, like when the air base gets attacked at night in Episode 5.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of or found most challenging? 
In the end of Episode 5, Yossarian’s plane loses both engines in combat and goes down. We see YoYo and others escape the plane, while the pilot takes the plane over water and tries to land it. It’s a very dramatic scene.

We shot some exteriors of the real B25 Mitchell over Sardinia. We mounted camera systems in a DC3 and our second Mitchell to get the shots with the real planes. The destruction on the engines and the additional planes were added in post. The interiors of our actors in the plane were shot at Cinecitta Studios in Rome. We had a fuselage of a real B-25 on a gimbal. The studio was equipped with a 360-degree screen and a giant top light.

In the plane, we shot with a hand-held ARRI Alexa Mini camera. It was only the actors, myself and my focus puller inside. We never altered the physical space of the plane but instead embraced the claustrophobia. We see all of the crew members getting out — only the pilot stays on board. There was so little physical space for our actors since the fuselage was rigged to the gimbal, and then we also had to create the lighting for them to jump into within a couple of feet of space.

Then, when Yossarian leaves the plane, we actually put a small camera on a stuntman while another stuntman in Yossarian’s wardrobe did a real jump. We combined that with some plate shots from a helicopter (with a 3D plane in it) and some shots of our actor on a rig on the backlot of Cinecitta.

It all worked out. It was always our goal to shoot as many real elements as we could and leave the rest with post.

Stepping away from Catch-22. How did you become interested in cinematography?
I grew up in a small town in western Germany. No one in my family had anything to do with film. I loved movies and wanted to work on them as a director. After a little journey, I got an internship at a camera rental in London. It was then I saw for the first time what cinematographers do. I loved it and knew that was it. Then I studied in Berlin, became a focus puller for a couple of years and started working as a DP on music videos, then commercials and then, a little later, films.

What inspires you artistically?
Photography and movies. There is a lot of good work out there by a lot of talented DPs. I love to look at photographers I like as well as some documentary stills like the ones you see in the World Press Photo contest once a year. I love it when it is real. There are so many images around us every day, but if I don’t believe them (where they seem real to me), they are just annoying.

Looking back over the last few years, what new technology has changed the way you work?
Maybe LED lighting and maybe the high sensitivity of today’s digital cameras. You are so much more free in your choice of locations, days and, especially, night work because you can work with fewer lights.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
Keep it as simple as you can, and stay true to your vision.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
I’m not sure there is just one way to go. After reading the script, you have an idea of what it can be, and then you start getting the information of the where and in what frame you will work.

Martin Ruhe behind the ARRI Alexa.

I love to spend time with my directors in prep — going to the locations, seeing them in different light, like mornings, noon or during night. Then I love to work with stills and sometimes also reference pictures to show what I think it can be and present a way we can get there. It’s always very important to leave some space for things to develop.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I look for the right gear for each project. I like ARRI cameras, but I’ve also shot two movies with Panavision cameras.

I have shot movies in various countries, and the early ones didn’t have big budgets, so I tried to work with local crew and gear that was available. The thing I like about that is you get to know different ways of doing things, and also you might work with gear you would have never picked yourself. It keeps you flexible. When I start a project, I am trying to develop a feel for the story and the places it lives. Once I have that feel, I start into how and decide what tools I’ll use.

Photo Credit: Philippe Antonello


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Amazon’s Sneaky Pete: DP Arthur Albert on the look of Season 3

By Karen Moltenbrey

Crime has a way of finding Pete Murphy, or should we say Marius Josipovic (Giovanni Ribisi). Marius is a con man who assumed his cellmate’s identity when he was paroled from prison. His plan was twofold: first, pretend to be the still-incarcerated Pete, from whom the family has been estranged for the past 20 years, and hide out on their farm in Connecticut. Second, con the family out of money so he can pay back a brutal mobster (Bryan Cranston, who also produces).

Arthur Albert

Marius’s plan, however, is flawed. The family is lovable, \ quirky and broke. Furthermore, they are in the bail bond business and one of his “cousins” is a police officer — not ideal for a criminal. Ultimately, Marius starts to really care for the family while also discovering that his cover is not that safe.

Similar to how Marius’ plans on Sneaky Pete have changed, so has the show’s production on the current and final Season 3, which is streaming on Amazon now. This season, the story shifts from New York to California, in tandem with the storylines. Blake Masters also took over as showrunner, and cinematographer Arthur Albert (ER, The Blacklist, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) came on as director of photography, infusing his own aesthetic into the series.

“I asked Blake if he wanted me to maintain the look they had used previously, and he said he wanted to put his own stamp on it and raise the bar in every department. So, I had free rein to change the look,” notes Albert.

The initial look established for Sneaky Pete had a naturalistic feel, and the family’s bail office was lit with fluorescent lighting. Albert, in contrast, opted for a more cinematic look with portrait-style lighting. “It’s just an aesthetic choice,” he says. “The sets, designed by (Jonathan) Carlson, are absolutely brilliant, and I tried to keep them as rich and layered as possible.”

For Manhattan scenes, Masters wanted a mid-century, modern look. “I made New York moody and as interesting as I could — cooler, more contrasty,” says Albert. When the story shifts to Southern California, Masters asked for a bright, more vibrant look. “There’s a big location change. For this season, you want to feel that change. It’s a big decision for the whole family to pick up their operation and move it, so I wanted the overall look of the show to feel new and different.”

The edginess and feeling of danger, though, comes less from the lighting in this show and more from the camera movement. The use of Steadicam gives it a bit of a stalking feel, serving as a moving viewpoint.

When Albert first met with Masters, they discussed what they thought worked in previous episodes. They liked the ones that used handheld and close-up shots that were wide and close to the actor, but in the end they went with a more traditional approach used by Jon Avnet, who directed four of the 10 episodes this season.

Season 3 was primarily shot with two cameras (Albert’s son, Nick, served as second-unit DP and A-camera operator, and Jordan Keslow, B-camera/Steadicam operator). A fan of Red cameras — Albert used an early incarnation for the last six episodes of ER – he employed Red’s DSMC2 with the new Gemini 5K S35 sensor for Season 3. The Gemini leverages dual sensitivity modes to provide greater flexibility for a variety of shooting environments.

The DP also likes the way it renders skin tones without requiring diffusion. “The color is really true and good, and the dynamic range is great. It held for really bright window areas and really dark areas, both with amazing range,” he says. The interiors of the sets were filmed on a stage in Los Angeles, and the exteriors were shot on location afterward. With the Gemini’s two settings (standard mode for well-lit conditions and a low-light setting), “You can shoot a room where you can barely see anyone, and it looks fully lit, or if it’s a night exterior where you don’t have enough time, money or space to light it, or in a big set space where suddenly you want to shoot high speed and you need more light. You just flip a switch, and you’ve got it. It was very clean with no noise.”

This capability came in handy for a shoot in Central Park at night. The area was heavily restricted in terms of using lights. Albert used the 3200 ISO setting and the entire skyline of 59th Street was visible — the clouds and how they reflected the light of the buildings, the detail of the night sky, the silhouettes of the buildings. In another similar situation, he used the low-light setting of the camera for a night sequence filmed in Grand Central Terminal. “It looked great, warm and beautiful; there is no way we could have lit that vast space at night to accommodate a standard ISO,” says Albert.

As far as lenses on Sneaky Pete, they used the Angenieux short zooms because they are lightweight and compact, can be put on a Steadicam and are easy to hold. “And I like the way they look,” Albert says. He also used the new Sigma prime lenses, especially when an extreme wide angle was needed, and was impressed with their sharpness and lack of distortion.

Throughout filming, the cinematographer relied on Red’s IPP2 (image processing pipeline) in-camera, which resulted in a more effective post process, as it is designed for an HDR workflow, like Sneaky Pete — which is required by Amazon.

The color grade for the series was done at Level 3 Post by Scott Ostrowsky, who had also handled all the previous seasons of Sneaky Pete and with whom Albert had worked with on The Night Shift and other projects. “He shoots a very cinematic look and negative. I know his style and was able to give him that look before he came into the suite. And when we did the reviews together, it was smooth and fast,” Ostrowsky says. “At times Sneaky Pete has a very moody look, and at times it has a very open look, depending on the environment we were shooting in. Some of the dramatic scenes are moody and low-light. Imagine an old film noir movie, only with color. It’s that kind of feel, where you can see through the shadows. It’s kind of inky and adds suspense and anticipation.”

Ostrowsky worked with the camera’s original negative — “we never created a separate stream,” he notes. “It was always from the camera neg, unless we had to send a shot out for a visual effects treatment.”

Sneaky Pete was shot in 5K, from which a 3840×2160 UHD image was extracted, and that is what Ostrowsky color graded. “So, if I needed to use some kind of window or key, it was all there for me,” he says. Arthur or Nick Albert would then watch the second pass with Ostrowsky, who would make any further changes, and then the producers would watch it, adding their notes. Ostrowsky worked used the Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

“I want to make the color work for the show. I don’t want the color to distract from the show. The color should tell the story and help the story,” adds Ostrowsky.

While not every change has been for the best for Pete himself since Season 1, the production changes on Sneaky Pete’s last season appear to be working just fine.


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran VFX and post writer.

Whiskey Cavalier DPs weigh in on the show’s look, DITs

While ABC recently cancelled freshman series Whiskey Cavalier, their on-set workflow is an interesting story to tell. The will-they-won’t-they drama featured FBI agent Will Chase (Scott Foley) and CIA operative Frankie Trowbridge (Lauren Cohan) — his codename is Whiskey Cavalier and hers is Fiery Tribune. The two lead an inter-agency team of spies who travel all over the world, periodically saving the world and each other, all while navigating friendship, romance and office politics.

David “Moxy” Moxness

Like many episodic television shows, Whiskey Cavalier used two cinematographers who alternated episodes so that the directors could work side-by-side with a cinematographer while prepping. David “Moxy” Moxness, CSC, ASC, shot the pilot. Moxness had previously worked on shows like Lethal Weapon, Fringe and Smallville and was just finishing another show when Warner Bros. sent him the pilot script.

“I liked it and took a meeting with director Peter Atencio,” explains Moxness. “We had a great meeting and seemed to be on the same page creatively. For me, it’s so much about collaborating on good shows with great people. Whiskey gave me that feeling.” Sid Sidell, ASC, a friend and colleague of Moxness’, was brought on as the second DP.

While Whiskey Cavalier’s plot has its two main characters traveling all over the world, principal photography took place in Prague. Neither cinematographer had worked there previously, although Moxness had passed through on vacation years before. While prepping and shooting the pilot, Moxness developed the look of the show with director Atencio. “Peter and I had the idea of using the color red when our lead character Will Chase was conflicted emotionally to trigger an emotional response for him,” he explains. “This was a combo platter of set dressing, costumes and lighting. We were very precise about not having the color red in frame other than these times. Also, when the team was on a mission, we kept to a cooler palette while their home base, New York, used warmer tones.”

This didn’t always prove to be straightforward. “You still have to adjust to location surroundings — when scouting for the pilot, I realized Prague still had mostly sodium vapor streetlights, which are not often seen in America anymore,” explains Moxness. “This color was completely opposite to what Peter and I had discussed regarding our nighttime palette, and we had a big car chase over a few nights and in different areas. I knew time and resources would in no way allow us to change or adjust this, and that I would have to work backwards from the existing tones. Peter agreed and we reworked that into our game. For our flashbacks, I shot 35mm 4-perf film with an ARRI IIC hand-cranked camera and Kowa lenses. That was fun! We continued all of these techniques and looks during the series.”

DITs
Mission, a UK-based DIT/digital services provider serving Europe, was brought on to work beside the cinematographers. Mission has an ever-expanding roster of DITs and digital dailies lab operators and works with cinematographers from preproduction onward, safeguarding their color decisions as a project moves from production into post.

Moxness and Sidell hadn’t worked with Mission before, but a colleague of Moxness’ had spoken to him about the experience of working with Mission on a project the year before. This intrigued Moxness, so he was waiting for a chance to work with them.

“When Whiskey chose to shoot in Prague I immediately reached out to Mission’s managing director, Mark Purvis,” explains Moxness. “Mark was enthusiastic about setting us up on Whiskey. After a few conversations to get to know each other, Mark suggested DIT Nick Everett. Nick couldn’t have been a better match for me and our show.”

Interestingly, Sidell had often worked without a DIT before his time on Whiskey Cavalier. He says, “My thoughts on the DP/DIT relationship changed drastically on Whiskey Cavalier. By choice, before Whiskey, I did the majority of my work without a DIT. The opportunity to work alongside Nick Everett and his Mission system changed my view of the creative possibilities of working with a DIT.”

Gear
Whiskey Cavalier was shot with the ARRI Alexa Mini and primarily ARRI Master Prime lenses with a few Angenieux zooms. Both Moxness and Sidell had worked with the Mini numerous times before, finding it ideal for episodic television. The post workflow was simple. On set, Everett used Pomfort’s LiveGrade to set the look desired by the cinematographers. Final color was done at Picture Shop in Los Angeles by senior colorist George Manno.

Moxy (behind camera) and director/EP Peter Atencio (to his right) on the Prague set.

“There are a few inherent factors shooting episodic television that can, and often do, handcuff the DP with regards to maintaining their intended look,” says Moxness. “The shooting pace is very fast, and it is not uncommon for editorial, final color and sometimes even dailies to happen far away from the shooting location. Working with a properly trained and knowledgeable DIT allows the DP to create a desired look and get it into and down the post pipeline to maintain that look. Without a proper solid roadmap, others start to input their subjective vision, which likely doesn’t match that of the DP. When shooting, I feel a strong responsibility to put my thumbprint on the work as I was hired to do. If not, then why was I chosen over others?”

Since successfully working on Whiskey Cavalier in Prague, Mission has set up a local office in Prague, led by Mirek Sochor and dedicated to Mission’s expansion into Central Europe.

And Moxness will be heading back to Prague to shoot Amazon’s The Wheel of Time.

 

DP Chat: The Village cinematographer William Rexer

By Randi Altman

William Rexer is a cinematographer who has worked on documentaries, music videos, commercials and narratives — both comedies and dramas. He’s frequently collaborated with writer/director Ed Burns (Friends With Kids, Newlyweds, Summertime). Recently, he’s directed photography on several series including The Get Down, The Tick, Sneaky Pete and the new NBC drama The Village.

He sat down with us to answer some questions about his love of cinematography, his process and The Village, which follow a diverse group of people living in the same apartment building in Brooklyn.

The set of The Village. Photo: Peter Kramer

How did you become interested in cinematography?
When I was a kid, my mother had a theater company and my father was an agent/producer. I grew up sleeping backstage. When I was a teen, I was running a followspot (light) for Cab Calloway. I guess there was no escaping some job in this crazy business!

My father would check out 16mm movies from the New York City public library — Chaplin, Keaton — and that would be our weekend night entertainment. When I was in 8th grade, an art cinema started in my hometown; it is now called the Cinema Arts Center in Huntington, New York. It showed cinema from all over the world, including Bergman, Fellini, Jasny. I began to see the world through films and fell in love.

What inspires you artistically?
I love going to the movies, the theater and art galleries. Films like Roma and Cold War make me have faith in the world. What mostly inspires me is checking out what my peers are up to. Tim Ives, ASC, and Tod Campbell are two friends that I love to watch. Very impressive guys. David Mullen, ASC, and Eric Moynier are doing great work on Mrs. Maisel. I guess I would say watching my peers and their work inspires me.

NBC’s The Village

How do you stay on top of advancing technology tools for achieving your vision on set or in post?
The cameras and post workflow change every few months. I check in with the rental houses to stay on top of gear. Panavision, Arri Rental, TCS, Keslow and Abel are great resources. I also stay in touch with post houses. My friends at Harbor and Technicolor are always willing to help create LUTs, evaluate cameras and lenses.

Has any recent or new technology changed the way you work?
The introduction of the Red One MX and the ARRI D-20 changed a lot of things. They made shooting high-quality images affordable and cleaner for the environment. It put 35mm size sensors out there and gave a lot of young people a chance to create.

The introduction of large-format cameras, the Red Monstro 8K VV, the ARRI LF and 65, and the Sony Venice have made my life more interesting. All these sensors are fantastic, and the new color spaces we get to work with like Red’s IPP2 are truly astounding. I like having control of depth of field and controlling where the audience looks.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I try my best to shoot tests, create a LUT in the test phase and take the footage through the entire process and see how it holds up. I make sure that all my monitors are calibrated at the post house to match; that gets us all on the same page. Then, I’ll adjust the LUT after a few days of shooting in the field, using the LUT as a film stock and light to it. I watch dailies, give notes and try to get in with colorist/timer and work with them.

Will Rexer (center) with showrunner Mike Daniels and director Minkie Spiro. Photo: Jennifer Rhoades

Tell us about The Village. How would you describe the general look of the show?
The look of The Village is somewhere between romantic realism and magical realism. It is a world that could be. Our approach was to thread that line between real and the potential — warm and inviting and full of potential.

Can you talk about your collaboration with the showrunner when setting the look of a project?
Mike Daniels, Minkie Spiro, Jessica Rhoades and I looked at a ton of photographs and films to find our look. The pilot designer Ola Maslik and the series designer Neil Patel created warm environments for me.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I had three weeks of prep for the pilot, and I worked with Minkie and Ola finding locations and refining the look.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses to achieve the look?
The show required a decent amount of small gimbal work, so we chose the Red Monstro 8K VV using Red’s IPP2 color space. I love the camera, great look, great functionality and my team has customized the accessories to make our work on set effortless.

We used the Sigma Cine PL Primes with 180mm Leica R, Nikon 200 T2, Nikkor Zero Optik 58mm T1.2, Angenieux HR 25-250mm and some other special optics. I looked at other full-frame lenses but really liked the Sigma lenses and their character. These lenses are a nice mix of roundness and warmth and consistency.

What was your involvement with post? Who supported your vision from dailies through final grade? Have you worked with this facility and/or colorists on past projects?
Dailies were through Harbor Picture Company. I love these guys. I have worked with Harbor since they started, and they are total pros. They have helped me create LUTs for many projects, including Public Morals.

The final post for The Village was done in LA at NBC/Universal. Craig Budrick has done a great job coloring the show. I do wish that I could be in the room, but that’s not always possible.

What’s most satisfying to you about this show?
I am very proud of the show and its message. It’s a romantic vision of the world. TV and cinema often go to the dark side. I like going there, but I do think we need to be reminded of our better selves and our potential.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

DP Petr Hlinomaz talks about the look of Marvel’s The Punisher

By Karen Moltenbrey

For antiheroes like Frank Castle, the lead character in the Netflix series Marvel’s The Punisher, morality comes in many shades of gray. A vigilante hell-bent on revenge, the Marine veteran used whatever lethal means possible — kidnapping, murder, extortion — to exact revenge on those responsible for the deaths of his family. However, Castle soon found that the criminal conspiracy that set him on this destructive path ran far deeper than initially imagined, and he had to decide whether to embrace his role as the Punisher and help save other victims, or retreat to a more solitude existence.

Alas, in the end, the decision to end the Punisher’s crusade was made not by Frank Castle nor by the criminal element he sought to exact justice upon. Rather, it was made by Netflix, which just recently announced it was cancelling all its live-action Marvel shows. This coming a mere month after Season 2 was released, as many fans are still watching the season’s action play out.

Petr Hlinomaz

The Punisher is dark and intense, as is the show itself. The overall aesthetic is dim and gritty to match the action, yet rich and beautiful at the same time. This is the world initially envisioned by Marvel and then brought to life on screen late in Season 1 by director of photography Petr Hlinomaz under the direction of showrunner Steve Lightfoot.

The Punisher is based on the Marvel Comics character by the same name, and the story is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, meaning it shares DNA with the films and other TV shows in the franchise. There is a small family resemblance, but The Punisher is not considered a spin-off of Marvel’s Daredevil, despite the introduction of the Punisher (played by Jon Bernthal) on Season 2 of that series, for which Hlinomaz served as a camera operator and tandem DP. Therefore, there was no intent to match the shows’ cinematic styles.

“The Punisher does not have any special powers like other Marvel characters possess; therefore, I felt that the photographic style should be more realistic, with strong compositions and lighting resembling Marvel’s style,” Hlinomaz says. “It’s its own show. In the Marvel universe, it is not uncommon for characters to go from one show to another and then another after that.”

Establishing the Look
It seems that Hlinomaz followed somewhat in the characters’ footsteps himself, later joining The Punisher crew and taking on the role of DP after the first 10 episodes. He sussed out Lightfoot to find out what he liked as far as framing, look, camera movement and lighting were concerned, and built upon the look of those initial 10 episodes to finish out the last three episodes of Season 1. Then Hlinomaz enhanced that aesthetic on Season 2.

Hlinomaz was assisted by Francis Spieldenner, a Marvel veteran familiar with the property, who in Season 1 and again in Season 2 functioned as A camera/steadicam operator and who shot tandems in addition to serving as DP on two episodes (209 and 211) for Season 2.

“Steve and I had some discussions regarding the color of lighting for certain scenes in Season 2, but he pretty much gave me the freedom of devising the look and camera movement for the show on my own,” recalls Hlinomaz. “I call this look ‘Marvel Noir,’ which is low light and colorful. I never use any normal in the camera color temperature settings (for instance, 3,200K for night and 5,600K for day). I always look for different settings that fit the location and feel of the scene, and build the lighting from there. My approach is very source-oriented, and I do not like cheating in lighting when shooting scenes.”

According to Hlinomaz, the look they were striving for was a mix of Taxi Driver and The Godfather, but darker and more raw. “We primarily used wide-angle lenses to place our characters into our sets and scenery and to see geographically where they are. At times we strived to be inside the actors’ head.” They also used Jason Bourne films as a guideline, “making Jon (the Punisher) and all our characters feel small in the large NYC surroundings,” he adds. “The stunt sequences move fast, continuously and are brutally real.”

In terms of color, Hlinomaz uses very low light with a dark, colorful palette. This compliments New York City, which is colorful, while the city’s multitude of lights and colors “provide a spectacular base for the filming.” The show highlights various location throughout the city. “We felt the look is very fitting for this show, the Punisher being an earnest human being in the beginning of his life, but after joining the force is troubled by his past, PTSD and his family being brutally slaughtered, and in turn, he is brutal and ruthless to ‘bad people,’” explains Hlinomaz.

For instance, in a big fight scene in Season 1, Episode 11 at Micro’s hideout, Hlinomaz showed the top portion of the space to its fullest extent. “It looks dark, mysterious. We used a mixture of top, side and uplighting to make the space look interesting, with lots of color temperature mixes,” he says. “There was a plethora of leftover machinery and huge transformers and generators that were no longer in use, and stairwells that provided a superb backdrop for this sequence.”

The Workflow
For the most part, Hlinomaz has just one day to prep for an episode with the director, and that is often during the technical scout day. “Aside from reading the script and exchanging a few emails, that is the only prep we get,” he says.

During the technical scout, a discussion takes place with the director concerning how the scenes should look and feel. “We discuss lighting and grip, set dressing, blocking, shooting direction, time of day, where we light from, where the sun should be and so on, along with any questions concerning the locations for the next episodes,” he says.

During the scout and rehearsal, Hlinomaz looks for visually stimulating backgrounds, camera angles and shots that will enhance and propel the story line.

When they start shooting the episode, the group rehearses the scene, discusses the most efficient or suitable blocking for the scene and which lenses to use. During the shoot, Hlinomaz takes stills that will be used by the colorists as reference for the lighting, density, color and mood. When the episode is cut and roughly colored, he then will view the episode at the lab (Company 3 in New York) and make notations. Those notes are then provided to the post producer and colorist Tony D’Amore (from Encore) for the final color pass and Lightfoot’s approval.

The group employs HDR, “which, in a way, is hard because you always have to protect for overexposure on sources within the frame,” adds Hlinomaz. In fact, D’Amore has commended Hlinomaz, the directors and Lightfoot with devising unique lighting scenarios that highlighted the HDR aspect of the show in Season 2.

Tools of the Trade
The Punisher’s main unit uses two cameras – “we have crew to cover two at all times,” Hlinomaz says. That number increases to three or more as needed for certain sequences, though there are times when just one camera is used for certain scenes and shots.

According to Hlinomaz, Netflix and Marvel only shoot with Red 4K cameras and up. For the duration of The Punisher shoot, the crew only carried four “Panavised” Red cameras. “We shot 4K but frequently used the 5K and 6K settings to go a bit wider with the [Panavision] Primo lenses, or for a tilt and swing lens special look,” he says, adding that he has used Red cameras for the past four years and is still impressed with the color rendering of the Red sensors. Prior to shooting the series, he tested Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses, Leica Summilux lenses, along with Panavision Primos; Hlinomaz chose the Primos for their 3D rendering of the subjects.

The lens set ranged from 10mm to 150mm; there was also an 11:1 zoom lens that was used sparingly. It all depended on the shot. In Episode 13, when Frank finally shoots and kills hitman Billy Russo (aka Jigsaw), Hlinomaz used an older 12mm lens with softer edges to simulate Billy’s state as he is losing a lot of blood. “It looked great, somewhat out of focus along the edges as Frank approaches; then, when Frank steps closer for the kill, he comes into clear focus,” Hlinomaz explains.

In fact, The Punisher was shot using the same type of camera and lenses as the second season of the now-cancelled Marvel/Netflix series Luke Cage (Hlinomaz served as a DP on Luke Cage Season 2 and a camera operator for four episodes of Season 1). In addition to wide-angle lenses, the show also used more naturalistic lighting, similar to The Punisher.

Hlinomaz details another sequence pertaining to his choice of cameras and lenses on The Punisher, whereby he used 10mm and 14mm lenses for a fight scene inside an elevator. Spieldenner, the A cam operator, was inside the elevator with the performers. “We didn’t pull any walls for that, only the ceilings were pulled for one overhead shot when Frank flips a guy over his shoulder,” explains Hlinomaz. “I did not want to pull any walls; when you do, it feels like the camera is on the outside, especially if it’s a small space like that elevator.”

On-Set Challenges
A good portion of the show is filmed outdoors — approximately two-thirds of the series —which always poses an additional challenge due to constantly changing weather conditions, particularly in New York. “When shooting exteriors, you are in the elements. Night exteriors are better than day exteriors because you have more control, unless the day provides constant lighting — full sun or overcast, with no changes. Sometimes it’s impractical or prohibitive to use overhead cover to block out the sun; then you just have to be quick and make smart decisions on how to shoot a scene with backlight on one side and front fill that feels like sunlight on the other, and make it cut and look good together,” explains Hlinomaz.

As he noted earlier, Hlinomaz is a naturalist when it comes to lighting, meaning he uses existing source-driven lighting. “I like simplicity. I use practicals, sun and existing light to give and drive our light direction,” he further adds. “We use every possible light, from big HMIs all the way down to the smallest battery-driven LED lights. It all depends on a given shot, location, sources and where the natural or existing light is coming from. On the other hand, sometimes it is just a bounce card for a little fill or nothing extra to make the shot look great.”

All The Punisher sets, meanwhile, have hard ceilings. “That means with our use of lower camera angles and wide lenses, we are seeing everything, including the ceilings, and are not pulling bits of ceilings and hanging any lights up from the grid. All lighting is crafted from the floor, driven by sources, practicals, floor bounces, windows and so on,” says Hlinomaz. “My feeling is that this way, the finished product looks better and more natural.”

Most of Season 1’s crew returned for Season 2, so they were familiar with the dark and gritty style, which made things easier on Hlinomaz. The season begins with the Punisher somewhere in the Midwest before agent Madani brings Frank back to New York, although all the filming took place throughout New York.

One of the more challenging sequences this season, according to Hlinomaz, was an ambulance chase that was filmed in Albany, New York. For the shoot, they used a 30-foot Louma crane and Edge arm from Action Camera cars, and three to four Red cameras. For the actual ambulance drop, they placed four additional cameras. “We had to shoot many different passes with stunts as well as the actors, in addition to the Edge arm pass. It was quite a bit of work,” he says. Of course, it didn’t help that when they arrived in Albany to start filming, they encountered a rain delay, but “we used the time to set up the car and ambulance rigs and plan to the last detail how to approach our remaining days there.” For the ambulance interior, they shot on a greenscreen stage with two ambulances — one on a shaky drive simulation rig and the other mounted 20 feet or so high on a teeter rig that simulated the drop of the highway as it tilted forward until it was pointing straight to the ground.

“If I remember correctly, we spent six days total on that sequence,” says Hlinomaz.

The second season of The Punisher was hard work, but a fun and rewarding experience, Hlinomaz contends. “It was great to be surrounded from top to bottom with people working on this show who wanted to be there 100 percent, and that dedication and our hard work is evident, I believe, in the finished season,” he adds.

As Hlinomaz waited for word on Season 3 of The Punisher, he lent his talents to Jessica Jones, also set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and sadly also receiving the same ultimate fate — as Hlinomaz stepped in to help shoot Episode 305, with the new Red DSMC2 Gemini 5K S35 camera. “I had a great experience there and loved the new camera. I am looking forward to using it on my next project,” he adds.


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran VFX and post writer.

DP Chat: Nightflyers’ Markus Förderer, BVK

For German DP Markus Förderer, BVK, quickly developed an impressive resume of visually unique and critically acclaimed feature films. His feature film debut, Hell, earned Förderer a number of awards. He went on to shoot Mike Cahill‘s sci-fi drama, I Origins, which was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. He followed that with I Remember, which premiered at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and won the 2016 German Camera Award for Best Cinematography.

Markus Förderer on the Nightflyers set.

His early work got him earmarked as one of Variety’s 2015 Up Next cinematographers. Most recently, Förderer collaborated with director Roland Emmerich on Stonewall and Independence Day: Resurgence and shot the pilot for Rise. He also recently shot the pilot for the highly anticipated sci-fi series Nightflyers by Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin, setting the look for the show’s DPs Gavin Struthers and Peter Robertson.

We reached out to him about his work…

How did you become interested in cinematography?
I was always fascinated by cinema and visual storytelling, watching movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott’s Alien. David Fincher’s early films had a big influence on me. When I learned how to use Photoshop during my time in high school in Germany, a new world of possibilities opened up. I experimented with how to manipulate the mood of images by adjusting colors, brightness and contrast.

This was still in the early days of the Internet and access to digital images online was quite limited then. There were simply not many images in decent resolution and quality on the web for me to play with. This is why I started taking my own stills with an early digital camera. It was a Fujifilm camera that had a 1.3-megapixel sensor. Hard to believe from today’s perspective, but this camera opened my eyes to the world of photography, lighting and composition.

Nightflyers

I felt limited, though, by still images and became determined to become a filmmaker to tell visual stories. Before going to film school, I started reading about filmmaking techniques and interviews with famous DPs and directors and realized that it was the DP’s role that interested me the most — the creation of a certain mood and tone that helps to tell the story and puts the audience in the character’s shoes.

What inspires you artistically?
I am most inspired by reading the scripts and talking to the director. I think each project has to have its own visual identity, and for me it all comes from the script and the director’s initial ideas. Sometimes they come with crazy ambitious ideas, and I see it as the DP’s responsibility to figure out a way to make it work. I believe in naturalism; using single sources and available light whenever possible to create cinematic images that don’t feel overly stylized. New technologies sometimes spark ideas for new or more efficient ways to create interesting shots.

You’ve shot Meridian for Netflix as a test film for 4K and Megan as a concept film for 8K. What new technology has had the most impact on the way you work?
Shooting for HDR with high dynamic range sensors has a big impact on the way I light a scene. I think you can be more extreme and explore low-light photography with very rich detail in the blacks, for example. It is tricky, though, to shoot for SDR and HDR distribution at the same time. The viewing experience is vastly different, especially in extreme lighting scenarios, like very low light or very bright scenes.

Nightflyers

Exploring larger, high-resolution sensors, gives me more freedom when capturing extreme lighting conditions and preserving natural detail the way my eyes see it. Shooting with the right combination of low-contrast lenses with a high-resolution sensor gives me very natural detail in actors’ eyes. It is amazing how much of the performance can be seen in the eyes, when projected properly in 4K.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I think it is most important to create an environment of respectful and polite collaboration between all departments and crewmembers. Filmmaking is a team discipline and it shows if you listen to your crew’s input. I always try to listen closely to the director’s vision and find the right cinematic techniques to realize that vision.

However, following a storyboard or preplanned ideas step by step leads to a sterile movie, in my opinion. It is important to be prepared, but it is crucial to watch the actors carefully on the day and react to the rehearsal. The best days are the ones on which I was surprised by the performance of the actors in a way that inspired me to change the planned blocking and get to the core of the scene in a simple and elegant way.

I like to be surprised (in a good way) by the end results. There’s nothing more boring to me than watching dailies and having the images turn out exactly the way I imagined it beforehand. There is a richness in life that is hard to create in front of the camera, but it is always my goal to strive for that.

Nightflyers

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It is great to get involved early on and start bouncing ideas back and forth with the director. Each collaboration is different, and it’s great to work with a director who trusts you and values your input, but I also love working with directors who have a very strong vision and have developed their own visual style over the years.

Tell us about Nightflyers. How would you describe the overarching look of the series pilot? Is there an example of a scene in the pilot that emphasizes this?
Nightflyers is a story about a spaceship and its crew on a very exciting mission to the edge of the solar system. The ship has very dark secrets that are revealed bit by bit. Director Mike Cahill and I focused on creating a specific atmosphere that is scary and leaves room for the audience’s imagination. It was important to us to avoid sci-fi clichés and rather focus on the characters and the way they experience the events on the ship.

The memory suite is an interesting example. It is a room that allows the crew to relive memories in a very visual way. The room by its design looks almost hostile. The first memory we experience, however, is very emotional, portraying the main character’s daughter. Mike was very specific with composition of these shots to create a sense of visual déjà vu, something we explored on a previous feature.

The framing of D’Branin’s character inside the memory suite and inside his memory is exactly the same. We replicated camera moves and used the same focal lengths. Every movement of the actors in the memory was staged, so we could recreate the same shots inside the spherical memory suite. At some point, the barrier between memory and reality starts to dissolve, and the contrast of the cold ship and the content of the memory start to collide in an interesting and scary way.

Nightflyers

How early did you get involved in the production?
Mike Cahill brought up the project quite early, and we flew to Ireland for an initial scout. The team there was fantastic, and everyone from the producers and network’s side wanted to create something really special. Production designer David Sandefur and his team designed amazing sets that gave us great flexibility to come up with interesting shots. This collaboration early on was crucial, as we integrated all the lighting into the ship. It had to be versatile enough to allow for different lighting scenarios for multiple episodes. My gaffer James McGuire did a fantastic job integrating miles of LED light strips. In the end, we could control it from his iPad, which would allow for last-minute tweaks without slowing down the shooting day for the actors and director.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for Nightflyers?
For me, it usually starts with the lens. Mike and I love the claustrophobic look you can achieve with anamorphic lenses in small contained spaces, like a spaceship. We tested a small number of lenses that would give us the desired qualities, and we decided that Panavision’s C-Series lenses would be the right choice for this. Also, I have shot many projects on Red cameras over the years, starting back on the Red-MX sensor. I had tested the Monstro 8K VV sensor from Red and felt it would open up many opportunities with its larger sensor size and incredible sensitivity.

Panavision’s Michael Cioni showed me the latest advances in the DXL camera, and I was sold when I saw how well it sits on your shoulder. We shot a lot of handheld on the pilot and contrasted it with some smooth Steadicam and gimbal shots. The ability to shoot large format and capture amazing images in low light were key for us. We employed Panavision’s DXL and a Red DSMC2 camera with the Monstro 8K VV sensor for tight spaces and lightweight rigs.

Nightflyers

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of?
Shooting the scenes in the biodome was quite challenging. The spaceship is carrying several cargo domes — one of them is a biodome with living trees and a small forest inside. The domes are spinning around the ship’s center to create artificial gravity. We shot the majority in a nearby forest and some shots on stage. To connect the biodome structure with the forest, our art department built an elevator exit and airlock in the forest. The scenes in the dome take place during the day close to earth. We tested many options for lighting, but I found it most interesting to shoot the scenes at night and light them with strong daylight sources to convey the illusion of being in space during the day.

The little atmosphere in the biodome would make the sky outside the windows appear black, yet the inside would be flooded with light. In order to convey the spinning motion of the domes, we mounted a 9K HMI on a telescopic crane and moved it constantly in a circular pattern. This caused the shadows in the forest to move around. It was quite an astonishing experience to be in that forest at night and hear all the birds chirping because they must have thought it was day all of the sudden.

What’s your go-to gear that you can’t live without?
I try to be open to new gear, and I like to mix things up quite a bit from project to project. I find it hard though to go back to shooting Super 35-sized sensors, after working with the Red DSMC2 Monstro; it hits quite a sweet spot between sensor size, resolution and compact size.

DP Chat: No Activity cinematographer Judd Overton

By Randi Altman

Judd Overton, who grew up in the Australian Outback, knew he wanted to be a DP before he even knew exactly what that was, spending a lot of his time watching and re-watching movies on VHS tapes. When he was young, a documentary film crew came to his town. “I watched as the camera operator was hanging off the side of my motorbike filming as we charged over sand dunes. I thought that was a pretty cool job!”

No Activity

The rest, as they say, is history. Overton’s recent work includes the Netflix comedy series The Letdown and No Activity, which is a remake of the Australian comedy series of the same name. It stars Patrick Brammall and Tim Meadows and is produced by CBS Television Studios in association with Funny or Die, Jungle and Gary Sanchez Productions. It streams on CBS All Access.

We recently reached out to Overton, who also just completed the documentary Lessons from Joan, about one of the first female British theater directors, Joan Littlewood.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
What I love about what I do is being able to see things, and show the world to audiences in a way people haven’t seen before. I always keep abreast of technology, but for me the technology really needs to service the story. I choose particular equipment in order to capture the emotion of the piece.

What new technology has changed the way you work (looking back over the past few years?
The greatest change in my world is the high-quality, high-ISO cameras now on the market. This has meant being able to shoot in a much less obtrusive way, shooting and lighting to create footage that is far closer to reality.

The use of great-quality LED lighting is something I’m really enjoying. The ability to create and capture any color and control it from your iPhone opens the floodgates for some really creative lighting.

 

Judd Overton

Can you describe your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project?
Every director is different, it’s a role and relationship I fill as required. Some directors like to operate the camera themselves. In that case, I oversee the lighting. Some directors just want to work with the actors, so my job then involves more responsibilities for coverage, camera movement and selecting locations.

I try to be open to each new experience and make creative guidelines for a project in collaboration with the director and producers, trying to preempt obstacles before they strike.

Tell us about the CBS All Access show No Activity. Can you describe the overall look of the show and what you and the director/producers wanted to achieve?
I shot the pilot for the original No Activity five years ago. Trent O’Donnell (writer/director, co-creator) wanted to make a series out of simple two hander (two actor) scenes.

We decided to use the police procedural drama genre because we knew the audience would fill in gaps with their own knowledge. In a show where very little happens, the mood and style become far more important.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I’ve been involved since the show was conceptualized. We shot the pilot in a parking lot in one of Sydney’s seedier areas. We fought off a lot of rats.

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How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
I had to shoot three cameras, as the show is heavily improvised. Other than my main cameras with zoom lenses, I chose the best cameras for each sequence. We used Blackmagic cameras Ursa Pro and Micro for a lot of our rigged positions. I also used Panasonic cameras for our available light work, and even an Arri 65 for some projection plates.

Were there any scenes that you are particularly proud of?
The scene I had the most fun with was the siege, which plays over the last two episodes of Season 2. We dusted off and fired up two 1930s Arc lights. Carbon Arc lights are what all the old Hollywood films used before HMIs. They are a true 5600 Kelvin, daylight source.

My gaffer’s father actually made these units, and they were refurbished for Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. We used them as searchlights for our nighttime siege, and the bright beams and plumes of smoke rising really gave the scene an epic scale.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
Communication is everything, and the latest toy in my toy box is HME headsets. They allow me to have constant communications with my camera operators, grips and electrics, essential when you’re running five cameras across multiple units.

DP Chat: Polly Morgan, ASC, BSC

Cinematographer Polly Morgan, who became an active member of the ASC in July, had always been fascinated with films, but she got the bug for filmmaking as a teenager growing up in Great Britain. A film crew shot at her family’s farmhouse.

“I was fixated by the camera and cranes that were being used, and my journey toward becoming a cinematographer began.”

We reached out to Morgan recently to talk about her process and about working on the FX show Legion.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
I am inspired by the world around me. As a cinematographer you learn to look at life in a unique way, noticing elements that you might not have been aware of before. Reflections, bouncing light, colors, atmosphere and so many more. When I have time off, I love to travel and experience different cultures and environments.

I spend my free time reading various periodicals to stay of top of the latest developments in technology. Various publications, such as the ASC’s magazine, help to not only highlight new tools but also people’s experiences with them. The filmmaking community is united by this exploration, and there are many events where we are able to get together and share our thoughts on a new piece of equipment. I also try to visit different vendors to see demos of new advances in technology.

Has any recent or new technology changed the way you work?
Live on-set grading has given me more control over the final image when I am not available for the final DI. Over the last two years, I have worked more on episodic television, and I am often unable to go and sit with the colorist to do the final grade, as I am working on another project. Live grading enables me to get specific with adjustments on the set, and I feel confident that with good communication, these adjustments will be part of the final look of the project.

How do you go about choosing the right camera and lenses to achieve the right look for a story?
I like to vary my choice of camera and lenses depending on what story I am telling.
When it comes to cameras, resolution is an important factor depending on how the project is going to be broadcast and if there are specific requirements to be met from the distributor, or if we are planning to do any unique framing that might require a crop into the sensor.

Also, ergonomics play a part. Am I doing a handheld show, or mainly one in studio mode? Or are there any specifications that make the camera unique that will be useful for that particular project? For example, I used the Panasonic VariCam when I needed an extremely sensitive sensor for night driving around downtown Los Angeles. Lenses are chosen for contrast and resolution and speed. Also, sometimes size and weight play a part, especially if we are working in tight locations or doing lots of handheld.

What are some best practices, or rules, you try to follow on each job?
Every job is different, but I always try to root my work in naturalism to keep it grounded. I feel like a relatable story can have the most impact on its viewer, so I want to make images that the audience can connect with and be drawn into emotionally. As a cinematographer, we want our work to be invisible but yet always support and enhance the narrative.

On set, I always ensure a calm and pleasant working environment. We work long and bizarre hours, and the work is demanding so I always strive to make it an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone,

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It is always my aim to get a clear idea of what the director is imagining when they describe a certain approach. As we are all so different, it is really about establishing a language that can be a shorthand on set and help me to deliver exactly what they want. It is invaluable to look at references together, whether that is art, movies, photography or whatever.

As well as the “look,” I feel it is important to talk about pace and rhythm and how we will choose to represent that visually. The ebb and flow of the narrative needs to be photographed, and sometimes directors want to do that in the edit, or sometimes we express it through camera movement and length of shots. Ideally, I will always aim to have a strong collaboration with a director during prep and build a solid relationship before production begins.

How do you typically work with a colorist?
This really varies from project to project, depending if I am available to sit in during the final DI. Ideally, I would work with the colorist from pre-production to establish and build the look of the show. I would take my camera tests to the post house and work on building a LUT together that would be the base look that we work off while shooting.

I like to have an open dialogue with them during the production stage so they are aware and involved in the evolution of the images.

During post, this dialogue continues as VFX work starts to come in and we start to bounce the work between the colorist and the VFX house. Then in the final grade, I would ideally be in the room with both the colorist and the director so we can implement and adjust the look we have established from the start of the show.

Tell us about FX’s Legion. How would you describe the general look of the show?
Legion is a love letter to art. It is inspired by anything from modernist pop art to old Renaissance masters. The material is very cerebral, and there are many mental planes or periods of time to express visually, so it is a very imaginative show. It is a true exploration of color and light and is a very exciting show to be a part of.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I got involved with Legion starting in Season 2. I work alongside Dana Gonzales, ASC, who established the look of the show in Season one with creator Noah Hawley. My work begins during the production stage when I worked with various directors both prepping and shooting their individual episodes.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of how it turned out?
Most of the scenes in Legion take a lot of thought to figure out… contextually as well as practically. In Season 2, Episode 2, a lot of the action takes place out in the desert. After a full day, we still had a night shoot to complete with very little time. Instead of taking time to try to light the whole desert, I used one big soft overhead and then lit the scene with flashlights on the character’s guns and headlights of the trucks. I added blue streak filters to create multiple horizontal blue flares from each on-camera source (headlights and flashlights) that provided a very striking lighting approach.

FX’s Legion, Season 2, Episode 2

With the limited hours available, we didn’t have enough time to complete all the coverage we had planned so, instead, we created one very dynamic camera move that started overhead looking down at the trucks and then swooped down as the characters ran out to approach the mysterious object in the scene. We followed the characters in the one move, ending in a wide group shot. With this one master, we only ended up needing a quick reverse POV to complete the scene. The finished product was an inventive and exciting scene that was a product of limitations.

What’s your go-to gear (camera, lens, mount/accessories you can’t live without)?
I don’t really have any go-to gear except a light meter. I vary the equipment I use depending on what story I am telling. LED lights are becoming more and more useful, especially when they are color- and intensity-controllable and battery-operated. When you need just a little more light, these lights are quick to throw in and often save the day!

The ASC: Mentoring and nurturing diversity

Cynthia Pusheck, ASC, co-chairs the ASC Vision Committee, along with John Simmons, ASC. Working together they focus on encouraging and supporting the advancement of underrepresented cinematographers, their crews and other filmmakers. They hope their efforts inspire others in the industry to help positive change through hiring talent that better reflects society.

In addition to her role on the ASC Vision Committee, Pusheck is a VP of the ASC board. She became a member in 2013. Her credits include Sacred Lies, Good Girls Revolt, Revenge and Brothers & Sisters. She is currently shooting Limetown for Facebook Watch.

To find out more about their work, we reached out to Pusheck.

Can you talk about what the ASC Vision Committee has done since its inception? What it hopes to accomplish?
The ASC Vision Committee was formed in January 2016 as a way for the ASC to actively support those who face unique hurdles as they build their cinematography careers. We’ve held three full-day diversity events, and some individual panel discussions.

We’ve also awarded a number of scholarships to the ASC Master Class and will continue awarding a handful each year. Our mentorship program is getting off the ground now with many ASC members offering to give time to young DPs from underrepresented groups. There’s a lot more that John Simmons (my co-chair) and our committee members want to accomplish, and with the support of the ASC staff, board members and president, we will continue to push things forward.

(L-R) Diversity Day panel: Rebecca Rhine, Dr. Stacy Smith, Alan Caso, Natasha Foster-Owens, Xiomara Comrie, Tema Staig, Sarah Caplan.

The word “progress” has always been part of the ASC mission statement. So, with the goal of progress in mind, we redesigned an ASC red lapel pin and handed it out at the ASC Awards earlier this year (#ASCVision). We wanted to use it to call attention to the work of our committee and to encourage our own community of cinematographers and camera people to do their part. If directors of photography and their department heads (camera, grip and set lighting) hire with inclusivity in mind, then we can change the face of the industry.

What do you think is contributing to more females becoming interested in camera crew careers? What are you seeing in terms of tangible developments?
Gender inequality in this industry has certainly gotten a lot of attention the last few years, which is fantastic but despite all that attention, the actual facts and figures don’t show as much change as you’d think.

The percentage of women or people of color shooting movies and TV shows hasn’t really changed much. There certainly is a lot more “content” getting produced for TV, and that has been great for many of us, and it’s a very exciting time. But, we have a long way to go still.

What’s very hopeful, though, is that more producers and studios are really pushing for inclusivity. That means hiring more women and people of color in positions of leadership, and encouraging their crews to bring more underrepresented crew members onto the production.

Currently we’re also seeing more young female DPs getting some really good shooting opportunities very early in their careers. That didn’t happen so much in the past, and I think that continues to motivate more young women to consider the camera department, or cinematography, as a viable career path.

We also have to remember that it’s not just about getting more women on set, it’s about having our sets look like society at large. The ultimate goal should be that everyone has a fair chance to succeed in this industry.

How can women looking to get into this part of the industry find mentors?
The union (Local 600), and also now the ASC have mentorship programs. The union’s program is great for those coming up the ranks looking for help or advice as they build their career.

For example, an assistant can find another assistant, or an operator, to help them navigate the next phase of their career and give them advice. The ASC mentorship program is aimed more for young cinematographers or operators from underrepresented groups who may benefit from the support of an experienced DP.

Another way to find a mentor is by contacting someone whom you admire directly. Many women would be surprised to find that if they reach out and request a coffee or phone call, often that person will try and find time for them.

My advice would be to do your homework about the person you’re contacting and be specific in your questions and your goals. Asking broad questions like “How do I get a job” or “Will you hire me?” won’t get you very far.

What do you think will create the most change? What are the hurdles that still must be overcome?
Bias and discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious, is still a problem on our sets. It may have lessened in the last 25 years, but we all continue to hear stories about crew members (at all levels) who behave badly, make inappropriate comments or just have trouble working for woman or people of color. These are all unnecessary stresses for those trying to get hired and build their careers.

Kees van Oostrum weighs in on return as ASC president

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) has re-elected Kees van Oostrum as president. He will serve his third consecutive term at the organization.

The ASC board also re-upped its roster of officers for 2018-2019, including Bill Bennett, John Simmons and Cynthia Pusheck as vice presidents; Levie Isaacks as treasurer; David Darby as secretary; and Isidore Mankofsky as sergeant-at-arms.

Van Oostrum initiated and chairs the ASC Master Class program, which has expanded to locations worldwide under his presidency. The Master Classes take place several times a year and are taught by ASC members. The classes are designed for cinematographers with an intermediate-to-advanced skill set and incorporates practical, hands-on demonstrations of lighting and camera techniques with essential instruction in current workflow practices.

The ASC Vision Committee, founded during van Oostrum’s first term, continues to organize successful symposiums that encourage diversity and inclusion on camera crews, and also offers networking opportunities. The most recent was a standing-room-only event that explored practical and progressive ideas for changing the face of the industry. The ASC will continue to host more of these activities during the coming years.

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.

A native of Amsterdam, van Oostrum studied at the Dutch Film Academy with an emphasis on both cinematography and directing. He 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, Gods and Generals and occasional documentaries. He recently wrapped the final season of TV series The Fosters.

The 2018-2019 board who voted in this election includes John Bailey, Paul Cameron, Russell Carpenter, Curtis Clark, Dean Cundey, George Spiro Dibie, Stephen Lighthill, Lowell Peterson, Roberto Schaefer, John Toll and Amelia Vincent. Alternate Board members are Karl-Walter Lindenlaub, Stephen Burum, David Darby, Charlie Lieberman and Eric Steelberg.

The ASC has over 20 committees driving the organization’s initiatives, such as the award-winning Motion Imaging Technology Council (MITC), and the Educational and Outreach committee.

We reached out to Van Oostrum to find out more:

How fulfilling has being ASC President been —either personally or professionally (or both)?
My presidency has been a tremendously fulfilling experience. The ASC grew its educational programs. The masterclass expanded from domestic to international locations, and currently eight to 10 classes a year are being held based on demand (up from four to five from the inaugural year of the master class). Our public outreach activities have brought in over 7,000 students in the last two years, giving them a chance to meet ASC members and ask questions about cinematography and filmmaking.

Our digital presence has also grown, and the ASC and American Cinematographer websites are some of the most visited sites in our industry. Interest from the vendor community has expanded as well, introducing a broader range of companies who are involved in the image pipeline to our members. Then, our efforts to support ASC’s heritage, research and museum acquisitions have taken huge steps forward. I believe the ASC has grown into a relevant organization for people to watch.

What do you hope to accomplish in the coming year?
We will complete our Educational Center, a new building behind the historic ASC clubhouse in Hollywood; produce several online master classes about cinematography; and we also are set to produce two major documentaries about cinematography and will continue to strengthen our role as a technology partner through the efforts of our Motion Imaging Technology Council (formerly the ASC Technology Committee).

What are your proudest achievements from previous years?
I’m most proud of the success of the Master Classes, as well as the support and growth in the number of activities by the Vision Committee. I’m also pleased with the Chinese language edition of our magazine, and having cinematography stories shared in a global way. We’ve also beefed up our overall internal communications so members feel more connected.

Sim and the ASC partner on educational events, more

During Cine Gear recently, Sim announced a 30-year sponsorship with the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). Sim offers end-to-end solutions for creatives in film and television, and the ASC is a nonprofit focusing on the art of cinematography. As part of the relationship, the ASC Clubhouse courtyard will now be renamed Sim Plaza.

Sim and the ASC have worked together frequently on events that educate industry professionals on current technology and its application to their evolving craft. As part of this sponsorship, Sim will expand its involvement with the ASC Master Classes, SimLabs, and conferences and seminars in Hollywood and beyond.

During an official ceremony, a commemorative plaque was unveiled and embedded into the walkway of what is now Sim Plaza in Hollywood. Sim will also host a celebration of the ASC’s 100th anniversary in 2019 at Sim’s Hollywood location.

What else does this partnership entail?
• The two organizations will work together closely over the next 30 years on educational events for the cinematography community. Sim’s sponsorship will help fund society programs and events to educate industry professionals (both practicing and aspiring) on current technology and its application to the evolving craft.
• The ASC Master Class program, SimLabs and other conferences and seminars will continue on over these 30 years with Sim increasing its involvement. Sim is not telling the ASC what kind of initiatives they should be doing, but is rather lending a helping hand to drive visual storytelling forward. For example, they have already hosted ASC Master Class sessions in Toronto and Hollywood, sponsored the annual ASC BBQ for the last couple of years, and founder Rob Sim himself is an ASC associate member.

How will the partnership will increase programming and resources to support the film and television community for the long term?
• It has a large focus on three things: financial resources, programming assistance and facility support.
• It will provide access and training with world-class technology in film and television.
• It will offer training directly from industry leaders in Hollywood and beyond
• It will develop new programs for people who can’t attend ASC Master Class sessions, such as an online experience, which is something ASC and Sim are working on together.
• It will expand SimLabs beyond Hollywood —with the potential to bring it to Vancouver, Atlanta, New York and Toronto with the goal of creating new avenues for people who are associated with the ASC and who know they can call on Sim.
• It will bring volunteers. Sim has many volunteers on ASC committees, including the Motion Imaging Technology Council and its Lens committee.

Main Image: L-R: Sim President/CEO James Haggarty, Sim founder and ASC associate member Rob Sim,ASC events coordinator Patty Armacost and ASC president Kees van Oostrum.

ASC Award winners include Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049

At the 32nd Annual American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards, where cinematographers honor fellow cinematographers, industry legend Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, won the Theatrical Award for best cinematography in a motion picture for his work on Blade Runner 2049. This is Deakins’ fourth win and his 15th ASC nomination. He previously won for Skyfall (2013), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2002) and The Shawshank Redemption (1995). His other nominations include Unbroken (2015), Prisoners (2014), True Grit (2011), The Reader (2009), Revolutionary Road (2009), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2008), No Country for Old Men (2008), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2001), Kundun (1998) and Fargo (1997).

In other categories, Mart Taniel, ESC, was given the Spotlight Award for November. In the TV categories, winners included Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC, for The Crown; Boris Mojsovski, CSC, for 12 Monkeys; and Mathias Herndl, AAC, for Genius. The awards ceremony took place tonight in the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland.

Here is the complete list of winners and nominees:

Theatrical Release Category (presented by Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC and Matthew Libatique, ASC)

  • Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC for “Blade Runner 2049” – WINNER
  • Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC for “Darkest Hour”
  • Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC for “Dunkirk”
  • Dan Laustsen, ASC, DFF for “The Shape of Water”
  • Rachel Morrison, ASC for “Mudbound”

 Spotlight Award Category (presented by John Bailey, ASC)

  • Máté Herbai, HSC for “On Body and Soul”
  • Mikhail Krichman, RGC for “Loveless”
  • Mart Taniel, ESC for “November” – WINNER

 Episode of a Series for Non-Commercial Television (presented by Teri Polo)

  • Gonzalo Amat for “The Man in the High Castle” (Land O’ Smiles) on Amazon
  • Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC for “The Crown” (Smoke and Mirrors) on Netflix – WINNER
  • Robert McLachlan, ASC, CSC for “Game of Thrones” (The Spoils of War) on HBO
  • Gregory Middleton, ASC, CSC for “Game of Thrones” (Dragonstone) on HBO
  • Alasdair Walker for “Outlander” (The Battle Joined) on Starz

 Episode of a Series for Commercial Television (presented by Sean Astin)

  • Dana Gonzales, ASC for “Legion” (Chapter 1) on FX
  • David Greene, ASC, CSC for “12 Monkeys” (Mother) on Syfy
  • Kurt Jones for “The Originals” (Bag of Cobras) on The CW
  • Boris Mojsovski, CSC for “12 Monkeys” (Thief) on Syfy – WINNER
  • Crescenzo Notarile, ASC for “Gotham” (Mad City: The Executioner) on Fox

 Motion Picture, Miniseries, or Pilot Made for Television (presented by Kerri Kenney-Silver)

  • Pepe Avila del Pino for “The Deuce” pilot on HBO
  • Serge Desrosiers, CSC for “Sometimes the Good Kill” on Lifetime
  • Mathias Herndl, AAC for “Genius” (Einstein: Chapter 1) on National Geographic – WINNER
  • Shelly Johnson, ASC for “Training Day” pilot (Apocalypse Now) on CBS
  • Christopher Probst, ASC for “Mindhunter” pilot on Netflix

 Honorary awards also presented this evening included:

  • The ASC Board of Governors Award was presented to Angelina Jolie by Dean Semler, ASC, ACS (“Maleficent,” “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” “The Bone Collector”) for her significant and indelible contributions to cinema. It is the only ASC Award not given to a cinematographer and is reserved for filmmakers who have been champions for directors of photography and the visual art form.
  • The ASC Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Russell Carpenter, ASC (Oscar winner for “Titanic”) and presented by Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC (Oscar nominee for “The Insider” and “LA Confidential”)
  • The ASC Career Achievement in Television Award was presented to Alan Caso, ASC (Emmy nominee for “Into the West,” “Six Feet Under,” “George Wallace”) by actor-producer Daniel Dae Kim.
  • Russell Boyd, ASC, ACS (Oscar winner “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”) received the ASC International Award from Mandy Walker, ASC, ACS (“Hidden Figures,” “Australia”).
  • Stephen Lighthill, ASC (“Berkeley in the ‘60s,” “Gimme Shelter,” CBS’ “60 Minutes”) was bestowed the ASC Presidents Award by American Film Institute (AFI) President and CEO Bob Gazzale. This award is given not only for the recipient’s body of work, but dedication to the organization and its mission of advancing the art of cinematography through education. Lighthill is currently Senior Filmmaker in Residence: Cinematography at the AFI Conservatory.
  • The ASC Bud Stone Award of Distinction was given to Frieder Hochheim, president and founder of Kino Flo Lighting Systems. This award is presented to an ASC Associate Member who has demonstrated extraordinary service to the society and/or has made a significant contribution to the motion picture industry.

Peter Doyle on coloring Churchill’s England for Darkest Hour

By Daniel Restuccio

Technicolor supervising digital colorist Peter Doyle is pretty close to being a legend in the movie industry. He’s color graded 12 of the 100 top box office movies, including Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, six Harry Potter films, Aleksander Sokurov’s Venice Golden Lion-winning Faust, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and most recently the Golden Globe-nominated Darkest Hour.

Grading Focus Features’ Darkest Hour — which focuses on Winston Churchill’s early days as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during WWII — represents a reunion for Doyle. He previously worked with director Joe Wright (Pan) and director of photography Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis). (Darkest Hour picked up a variety of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography for Delbonnel.)

Peter Doyle

The vibe on Darkest Hour, according to Doyle, was very collaborative and inspiring. “Joe is an intensely visual director and has an extraordinary aesthetic… visually, he’s very considerate and very aware. It was just great to throw out ideas, share them and work to find what would be visually appropriate with Bruno in terms of his design of light, and what this world should look like.”

All the time, says Doyle, they worked to creatively honor Joe’s overall vision of where the film should be from both the narrative and the visual viewpoint.

The creative team, he continues, was focused on what they hoped to achieve in terms of “the emotional experience with the visuals,” what did they want this movie to look like and, technically, how could they get the feeling of that imagery onto the screen?

Research and Style Guide
They set about to build a philosophy of what the on-screen vision of the film would be. That turned into a “style guide” manifesto of actually how to get that on screen. They knew it was the 1940s during World War II, so logically they examined newsreels and the cameras and lenses that were used at the time. One of the things that came out of the discussions with Joe and Bruno was the choice of the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. “It’s quite an ensemble cast and the 2.35:1 would let you spread the cast across the screen, but wide 1.85:1 felt most appropriate for that.”

Doyle also did some research at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s very large photographic collection and dug into his own collection of photographic prints made with alternate color processes. Sepia and black and white got ruled out. They investigated the color films of the time and settled in on the color work of Edward Steichen.

Delbonnel chose Arri Alexa SXT cameras and Cooke S4s and Angenieux zoom lenses. They mastered in ArriRaw 3.2K. Technicolor has technology that allowed Doyle to build a “broad stroke” color-model-based emulation of what the color processes were like in the ’40s and apply that to the Alexa. “The idea,” explains Doyle, “was to take the image from the Alexa camera and mold it into an approximation of what the color film stocks would have looked like at the time. Then, having got into that world, tweak it slightly, because that’s quite a strong look,” and they still needed it to be “sensitive to the skin tones of the actors.”

Color Palette and Fabrics
There was an “overall arc” to this moment in history, says Doyle. The film’s setting was London during WWII, and outside it was hot and sunny. Inside, all lights were dimmed filaments, and that created a scenario where visually they would have extremely high-contrast images. All the colors were natural-based dyes, he explains, and the fabrics were various kind of wools and silks. “The walls and the actual environment that everyone would have been in would be a little run down. There would have been quite a patina and texture on the walls, so a lot of dirt and dust. These were kind of the key points that they gave me in order to work something out.”

Doyle’s A-ha Moment
“I took some hero shots of Kristin Scott Thomas (Clementine Churchill) and Gary Oldman (Winston Churchill), along with a few of the other actors, from Bruno’s rushes,” explains Doyle, adding that those shots became his reference.

From those images he devised different LUTs (Look Up Tables) that reflected different kinds of color manipulation processes of the time. It also meant that during principal photography they could keep referencing how the skin tones were working. There are a lot of close-ups and medium close-ups in Darkest Hour that gave easy access to the performance, but it also required them to be very aware of the impact of lighting on prosthetics and makeup.

Doyle photographed test charts on both 120mm reversal film of Ektachrome he had sitting in his freezer from the late ’70s and the Alexa. “The ‘a-ha moment’ was when we ran a test image through both. It was just staggering how different the imagery really looked. It gave us a good visual reference of the differences between film and digital, but more accurately the difference between reversal film and digital. It allowed us to zero in on the reactions of the two imaging methods and build the show LUTs and emulation of the Steichen look.”

One Word
When Doyle worked on Llewelyn Davis, Delbonnel and the Coen brothers defined the look of the film with one word: “sad.” For Darkest Hour, the one word used was “contrast,” but as a multi-level definition not just in the context of lights and darks in the image. “It just seemed to be echoed across all the various facets of this film,” says Doyle. “Certainly, Darkest Hour is a story of contrasting opinions. In terms of story and moments, there are soldiers at war in trenches, whilst there are politicians drinking champagne — certainly contrast there. Contrast in terms of the environment with the extreme intense hot summer outside and the darkness and general dullness on the inside.”

A good example, he says, is “the Parliament House speech that’s being delivered with amazing shafts of light that lit up the environment.”

The DP’s Signature
Doyle feels that digital cinematography tends to “remove the signature” of the director of photography, and that it’s his job to put it back. “In those halcyon days of film negative, there were quite a lot of processes that a DP would use in the lab that would become part of the image. A classic example, he says, is Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, which was shot mostly during sunrise and sunset by Nestor Almendros, and “the extraordinary lightness of the image. Or Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, which was shot by John Alcott with scenes lit entirely by candles “that have a real softness.” The looks of those movies are a combination of the cinematographer’s lighting and work with the lab.

“A digital camera is an amazing recording device. It will faithfully reproduce what it records on set,” says Doyle. “What I’ve done with Bruno in the testing stage is bring back the various processes that you would possibly do in the lab, or at least the concept of what you would do in the laboratory. We’re really bending and twisting the image. Everyone sees the film the way that the DP intends, and then everyone’s relationship with that film is via this grade.”

This is why it’s so important to Doyle to have input from day one rushes through to the end. He’s making sure the DP’s “signature” is consistent to final grade. On Darkest Hour they tested, built and agreed on a look for the film for rushes. Colorist Mel Kangleon worked with Delbonnel on a daily basis to make sure all the exposures were correct from a technical viewpoint. Also, aesthetically to make sure the grade and look were not being lost.

“The grades that we were doing were what was intended by Bruno, and we made sure the actual imagery on the screen was how he wanted it to be,” explains Doyle. “We were making sure that the signature was being carried through.”

Darkest Hour and HDR
On Darkest Hour, Doyle built the DCI grade for the Xenon projector, 14 foot-lambert, as the master color corrected deliverable. “Then we took what was pretty much the LAD gray-card value of that DCI grade. So a very classic 18% gray that was translated across to the 48-, the 108-, the 1,000- and the 4,000-nit grade. We essentially parked the LAD gray (18% gray) at what we just felt was an appropriate brightness. There is not necessarily a lot of color science to that, other than saying, ‘this feels about right.’ That’s (also) very dependent on the ambient light levels.”

The DCI projector, notes Doyle, doesn’t really have “completely solid blacks; they’re just a little gray.” Doyle wished that the Xenon could’ve been brighter, but that is what the theatrical distribution chain is at the moment, he says.

When they did the HDR (High Dynamic Range) version, which Doyle has calls as a “new language” of color correction, they took the opportunity to add extra contrast and dial down the blacks to true black. “I was able to get some more detail in the lower shadows, but then have absolutely solid blacks —  likewise on the top end. We opened up the highlights to be even more visceral in their brightness. Joe Wright says he fell in love with the Dolby Vision.”

If you’re sitting in a Dolby Vision Cinema, says Doyle, you’re sitting in a black box. “Therefore, you don’t necessarily need to have the image as bright as a Rec 709 grade or LAD gray, which is typically for a lounge room where there are some lights on. There is a definite ratio between the presumed ambient light level of a room and where they park that LAD,” explains Doyle.

Knowing where they want the overall brightness of the film to be, they translate the tone curve to maintain exactly what they did in the DCI grade. Then perceptually it appears the same in the various mediums. Next they custom enhance each grade for the different display formats. “I don’t really necessarily call it a trim pass; it’s really adding a flare pass,” elaborates Doyle. “A DCI projector has quite a lot of flare, which means it’s quite organic and reactive to the image. If you project something on a laser, it doesn’t necessarily have anywhere near that amount of flair, and that can be a bit of a shock. Suddenly, your highlights are looking incredibly harsh. We went through and really just made sure that the smoothness of the image was maintained and emulated on the other various mediums.”

Doyle also notes that Darkest Hour benefited from the results of his efforts working with Technicolor color scientists Josh Pines and Chris Kutchka, working on new color modeling tools and being able “to build 3D LUTs that you can edit and that are cleaner. That can work in a little more containable way.”

Advice and Awards
In the bright new world of color correction, what questions would Doyle suggest asking directors? “What is their intent emotionally with the film? How do they want to reinforce that with color? Is it to be approached in a very literal way, or should we think about coming up with some kind of color arc that might be maybe counter intuitive? This will give you a feel for the world that the director has been thinking of, and then see if there’s a space to come at it from a slightly unexpected way.”

I asked Doyle if we have reached the point where awards committees should start thinking about an Academy Award category for color grading.

Knowing what an intensely collaborative process color grading is, Doyle responded that it would be quite challenging. “The pragmatist in me says it could be tricky to break it down in terms of the responsibilities. It depends on the relationship between the colorist, the DP and the director. It really does change with the personalities and the crew. That relationship could make the breakdown a little tricky just to work out whose idea was it to actually make it, for example, blue.”

Because this interview was conducted in December, I asked Doyle, what he would ask Santa to bring him for Christmas. His response? “I really think the new frontier is gamut mapping and gamut editing — that world of fitting one color space into another. I think being able to edit those color spaces with various color models that are visually more appropriate is pretty much the new frontier.”


Daniel Restuccio is a producer and teacher based in Southern California.

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

Quick Chat: Dictionary Films director/DP Michael Ognisanti

Dictionary Films, the production arm of Cutters Studios, has expanded its roster with the addition of director/DP Michael Ognisanti. He joins from Chicago-based production company MK Films where he worked from 2004 to 2015.

While there he trained as a motion control operator and began assistant directing and shooting under director Mark Klein. Over the years, he built a reputation as a tabletop director and DP for commercials and documentaries. His credits include spots for Bobble, Bud Light, Coors, Giant Eagle and Golden Corral.

Let’s find out more.

You recently joined the roster of Dictionary Films. Can you talk about that and why you made the move?
I’ve always loved the idea of merging the production and post worlds closer together.  One of my first jobs out of college was as a videographer for a local news station. Between the reporter and myself, we would write, shoot and edit pieces daily. Being that close to the whole process of putting a project together was important to me. That is what I’ve found at Dictionary and Cutters Studios. Editing, effects, graphics, it’s all under one roof so those channels of communication are more available. I can feel more connected to the project and give my input along the way. I’m sure the editors will love that (smile).

You have a rich background in production, but your expertise seems to be tabletop. Can you describe the differences, if any, between directing tabletop and traditional shooting?
In general, there is not a huge difference. In the commercial world at least, the goals are still the same: we are trying to find the best ways to communicate a certain feeling through our images.  Composition, lighting, blocking, environment, they all work together to achieve that. That is the same whether it’s a live-action scene or a product-only scene.

That being said, the biggest difference is that a traditional live-action shoot revolves around what the talent is doing. We rely heavily on dialogue, action or facial expressions to get our message across.  When we shoot products, we obviously don’t have that, so we have to pay close attention to how we can make our subject visually pop off the screen and draw in the viewer. This is where the details become so important.

Anyone who has ever been on a tabletop set knows what I’m talking about. The backgrounds and surfaces and propping become much more essential to our work. Also, many product shots accompany the live action, so there is a constant battle for screen time. You may only have a couple of seconds to grab someone’s attention, so you have to make it count.

What about being the DP on a tabletop vs. traditional shoot?
I’ve found I use a lot of the same techniques on a traditional shoot that I would on tabletop, only on a bigger scale. It’s still crafting light to make the subject look interesting. Some of the lights might change but you still have to make the same decisions. Should the lighting be hard and contrasty, or soft and airy? It all depends on the message we are trying to convey.

Different types of shoots, different type of vibe?
I think tabletop does move at a slower pace. In some ways it can be more like a still shoot. The sets are usually smaller and more low-key since we are rarely dealing with talent and extras and intense location changes. However, I do think it’s a more detail-oriented way of shooting. We work on a micro level. We spend a lot of time making intricate adjustments to the lighting and framing; something you don’t normally see on a live-action set.

Any tips for those working in tabletop? What do they need to know?
Give away my secrets? Are you crazy?! I’m kidding, of course!  Nowadays you can pretty much learn anything on the Internet anyway. One thing I would say is that it’s easy to get too attached to one shot and not realize that what you are doing is a part of a bigger piece. Everything we shoot should be able to be put into one coherent piece. So you might have a really cool idea for a particular shot, but you have to ask if it actually works with everything else you are shooting.

Also, many times we are shooting product to accompany a live-action piece. Do the elements all work together cohesively? That is really important and sometimes it can get lost when we get sucked into our own world. I’ve also learned that it’s important to be very nice to the food stylists — they can be life-savers!  You can have the coolest, most dynamic shot ever, but if the product doesn’t look good, it’s all for naught.

BL_lime_stil copy Kitchen Aid_still copy
Michael Ognisanti’s resume includes spots for Bud Light Lime and Kitchen Aid.

Does the experience of working in tabletop help when you shoot more traditional pieces? What about the other way around?
I think they can complement each other nicely. For me, I like working on as many different types of projects as possible. That way, you pick up new tricks along the way and apply them in different situations. I found things I thought we would only do in tabletop work on a live-action set. The reverse is true too.

Can you talk about the tools you use?
In terms of camera gear and lighting, we use a lot of the same gear as we would for traditional shoots, although our lights might be smaller since our sets are smaller and we don’t need as much power. I’ve found macro lenses are important since sometimes we want to get right in on the subject but still want the feel of a wider lens, so the close minimum focus is key. Motion control is also a big asset for us. I was trained as a motion control operator (using Kuper Controls) so designing dynamic camera moves can really bring a uniqueness and intrigue to the shots.  Especially since much of the time the products are simply sitting on a surface, adding some dimension can be a nice eye-catcher.

In addition to the gear we use, any good food stylist will have their own bag of tricks that can help food stay fresh on set under the hot lights.

What project are you most proud of?
I don’t know if I can name one project specifically, but the most rewarding jobs for me are the ones that involve a lot of collaboration and problem solving. It’s inevitable that you will get stuck on a shot and either the specific action you are trying to achieve isn’t working or maybe the shot just doesn’t look good. But when we all come together —agency, client, crew — and find the answers in a collaborative way, that’s the best part. That’s when I feel most proud.

—-

Cutters Studios is a full-service company with offices in Chicago, Detroit, LA, New York and Tokyo. The Cutters Studios group also includes Dictionary Films, Chicago-based sound company Another Country, design/animation/VFX company Flavor (which has offices in Chicago, LA and Detroit) and Detroit-based Picnic Media. 

‘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.”

DP John Seale on capturing ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

This film vet goes digital for the first time with Alexa cameras and Codex recorders

Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth movie in writer/director George Miller’s post-apocalyptic action franchise and a prequel to the first three. It is also the first digital film for Australian cinematographer John Seale ASC, ACS, whose career spans more than 30 years and includes such titles as The English Patient (for which he won an Oscar), The Mosquito Coast, Witness, Dead Poets Society and Rain Man.

Facing difficult conditions, intense action scenes and the need to accommodate a massive number of visual effects, Seale and his crew chose to shoot principal photography with Arri Alexa cameras and capture ArriRaw on Codex onboard recorders, a workflow that has become standard among filmmakers due to its ruggedness and easy integration with post.

Warner Bros.’ Fury Road, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, was shot in Namibia. The coastal deserts of that African country are home to sand dunes measuring 1,000 feet high and 20 miles long. Frequent sandstorms and intense heat required special precautions by the camera crew.

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“I’d shot plenty of film-negative films in deserts and jungles under severe conditions, but never digital,” notes Seale. “So I was a bit worried, but I had a fantastic crew of people who had done that… had worked with digital cameras in jungles, deserts, dry, heat, wet, moist, whatever. They were ready and put together full precaution kits of rain covers, dust covers and even heat covers to take the heat off the cameras in the middle of the day.

“We were using a lot of new gear.” Seale adds. “Everything that our crew did in pre-production in Sydney and took to Namibia worked very, very well for the entire time. Our time loss through equipment was minimal.”

Seale’s crew was outfitted with six Arri Alexas and a number of Canon 5Ds, with the latter used in part as crash-cams in action sequences. The Alexas were supported by 11 Codex on-board recorders. The relatively large number of cameras and recorders helped the camera crew to remain nimble. While one scene was being shot, the next was being prepped.

“We kept two kick cameras built the whole time and two ultra-high vehicles rigged the whole time,” explains camera coordinator Michelle Pizanis. “When we when drove up (to a location) we could start shooting, rather than break down the camera at one site and rebuild it at the next.”

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John Seale on location shooting Mad Max: Fury Road.

The original Mad Max is remembered for its gritty look. Fury Road took a different route due to the film’s heavy use of visual effects. “The DI and the post work is so explicit; almost every shot is going to be manipulated in some way,” Seale explains. “Our edict was ‘just shoot it.’ Continuity of light wasn’t really a question. We knew that the film would be cut very quickly, so there wouldn’t be time to analyze every shot. Intercutting between overcast and full sun wasn’t going to be a problem. On this film, the end result controlled the execution.”

In order to provide maximum image quality and flexibility for the post team, Seale and his crew chose to record ArriRaw with the Alexa cameras. That, the cinematographer notes, made Codex an obvious choice as only Codex recorders were capable of reliably capturing ArriRaw.

“The choice to go with Codex was definitely for the quality of the recording and post-production considerations,” says Seale. “Once again, we were a little worried about desert heat and desert cold. It changes so much from night to day. And during the day, we had dust storms, dust flying everywhere. We sometimes had moisture in the air. But the Codex systems didn’t fail us.”

Shooting digitally with Codex offered an advantage over shooting on film as it avoided the need to reload cameras with film negative in the blowing winds of the desert. “There is a certain amount of paraphernalia needed to shoot digitally,” Seale says. “But our crew was used to that. They built special boxes to put everything in. They had little fans. They had inlet and outlet areas to keep air circulation going. Those boxes were complete. Cables came out and went to the camera. If we were on the move, the boxes were bolted down so that they were out of the way and didn’t fall off. Sometimes we sat on them to get our shot.”

FURY ROAD

RF interfaces were used with the Alexa cameras to transmit images to a command vehicle for monitoring by director George Miller, who was not only able to review shots, he could edit material to determine what further coverage was needed. “For George, it was a godsend,” says Seale. “That refined the film shooting and made it a lot quicker than the normal procedures.”

It was that sort of flexibility that made shooting with Alexa and Codex so appealing, adds Seale. “I was a great advocate of digital 10 or 15 ago when it started to come in. Film negative is a beautiful image recording process, but it’s 120 years old and you get scratches and dead flies caught in the reels. It’s pretty archaic.

“I think the way digital has caught on is extraordinary. Its R&D is vertical, where film development has stopped. The ability of digital to record images coupled with the DI, where you can change it, manipulate it, allows you do anything you like. I know with Mad Max, it won’t look anything like a ‘good film image’ and it won’t look anything like a ‘good digital image’ — it will look like its own image. I think that’s the wonder of it.”

Director George Miller recently appeared at Comic-Con and seems to agree with Seale, “It was very familiar,” he said about returning to the Mad Max world. “A lot of time has passed. Technology has changed. It was an interesting thing to do. Crazy, but interesting.”

DP Phedon Papamichael gets flexible with Codex Action Cams for Infiniti

For an Infiniti QX50 SUV branding film, Oscar-nominated cinematographer Phedon Papamichael ASC, GSC, called on dual Codex Action Cam point, shoot and record packages to capture handheld location and road footage that was then intercut with 4K footage from the principal Red Dragon cameras on the production.

Papamichael, known for big-screen cinematography on movies including The Descendants, The Ides of March, The Monuments Men and Nebraska (a 2014 Oscar nom), often shoots and directs commercials, where he can focus his attention on each moment and try out the vary latest gear. It was in that vein that he shot and co-directed this film for the Infiniti QX50.

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In the film, Chinese superstars Archie Kao and Zhou Xun portray a couple who decide to break the rules during a typical car shoot and get a taste of freedom in the new SUV. Chased by paparazzi on motorcycles, they make their way to the Griffith Observatory and evade capture by going off-road in Griffith Park. Other scenes were shot in the high desert near the Mojave Desert and at Zuma Beach north of Malibu, where they frolic on the sand, shooting movies on their cellphones. They eventually return the car to the soundstage, where the frustrated director looks at the cellphone footage of their escapades.

The film was directed by Jaume Collet-Sera, through production company Bullitt. Papamichael took over directing duties on the final day of the five-day shoot, which involved beauty stage work of the vehicle. The toolkit, mainly provided by CamTec in Burbank, included two Red Dragon cameras, a drone mounted with a Panasonic Lumix GH4, an Edge vehicle and crane, three Canon 6Ds shooting timelapse footage, plus two Codex Action Cams.

“We initially added the Codex Action Cams to our camera package for traveling car logo/badge shots and other moving details,” reports first AC Jeff Porter. “But when Phedon and Jaume saw that you can literally hold the Action Cam head in the palm of your hand, they wanted to play. They saw an opportunity to shoot unscripted, spontaneous moments with the actors driving in the Infiniti SUV.”

However, limited space inside the car meant there was no room for camera operators or focus pullers. Consequently, Papamichael and Collet-Sera were given small, handheld monitors, and quickly instructed in how operate the Codex Camera Control Recorder.

“We literally held the cameras with one hand and went free-driving with the actors,” says Papamichael. “Because we used these small cameras, we were able to get probably 100 set-ups on a 30-minute drive. It was great. From the back seat, I could hold Action Cam out the window and point it through the side window of the front seat, getting a hostess-tray-type shot. I could rake the car and get the actress’ reflection in the rear-view mirror. We were working quickly and winging it. There’s a lot of shaking and bumps in there, but it definitely made for some usable shots that we could never have gotten otherwise.”

The Action Cam is a tiny remote camera head that shoots up to 60fps. With a single co-ax cable to the Codex Camera Control Recorder, it delivers a proven workflow. It uses a 2/3-inch single-chip sensor with a global shutter to capture 1920×1080 HD images with wide dynamic range. Papamichael appreciated the Action Cam’s compatibility with professional grade cine lenses — in this case he opted for Super 16-format Zeiss, with a C-mount-to-PL-mount adaptor.

“I could roll the iris with one finger,” adds Papamichael. “The little monitor was lying on my lap and I could pull my own focus to a degree. I would open it up and get the image flared out, or we’d come out of a tunnel and I’d roll the iris closed. People are excited about the footage we got. I’m thinking that with short edits, it will integrate pretty well with the Red footage we shot. Action Cam gives you a lot of possibilities —and it’s certainly a fun option to play with.”

Phedon Papamichael

Phedon Papamichael

The Action Cams recorded 1920×1080 imagery that Codex tech Nick Lantz converted to 10-bit DPX files. For the most part, a rate of 25fps was called for, as the commercial is meant for broadcast in China, although Papamichael sometimes shot up to 50fps. The Red cameras were set up to capture images at 4K resolution with 5:1 compression. Papamichael used Optimo zooms on these cameras in part because he likes the way they flare.

“The beautiful moments that Phedon and Jaume captured of Archie and Xun with the Action Cams could not have been achieved with a process trailer, or with a camera operator and focus puller jammed into the front seat,” says Porter.

Modern VideoFilm gets ‘The Invitation’ ready for SXSW

Modern VideoFilm provided post services for The Invitation in advance of its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin. Directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight), The Invitation centers on a dinner party of old friends that takes a turn for the macabre.

Modern provided editorial conforming, final color grading, technical support and deliverables, the latter including a DCP master for the festival screening. Final color grading, conducted in P3 Color Space, was completed at Modern VideoFilm by colorist Gregg Garvin (There Will Be Blood, Don Jon). Working under the direction of Kusama, cinematographer Bobby Shore (Man Seeking Woman, A Dark Truth) and Kusama’s color timer Harris Charalambous (The ABCs of Death), Garvin helped shape the slightly heightened grade that brought out golden tones and emphasized the confining space of the film’s principal interior.

“The last stages of post are the final stops you make on the way to finally showing your film to the world,” said Kusama.  “No matter how big or small your film, or your audience, it’s a genuine comfort to have a post staff that’s knowledgeable and conscientious, and who care about the films they work on. It was a pleasure to be at Modern, and I look forward to the next time.”

“Modern has always been very supportive of independent film,” said DI producer Jeannette Zepeda. “We enjoy working with inspired filmmakers like Karyn Kusama and want to help their films reach their audience.”

A conversation with cinematographer Michael Minock

By Randi Altman

DP Michael Minock is a 40-year veteran of the film industry who spends his time shooting films, television series, theme park presentations and the occasional commercial. He says that this diversity of projects helps keep him on his toes. Each type of job “presents different aesthetic challenges, which then necessitate a new technical approach.”

Not only is Minock a working cinematographer, he is also the co-founder and an instructor at St. Augustine, Florida’s The International Film & Digital Cinema Workshops.

We recently reached out to Minock with questions about teaching, the short film he shot about human trafficking called Don’t Look Away and his inspiration.

How did you end up teaching, and how does that play a role with your DP work?
Continue reading

Checking in with DP Timur Civan

By Randi Altman

New York City born and raised, Timur Civan’s path to becoming a director of photography started with his background in fine art, something he studied in school and something that still influences his work… but that path wasn’t exactly planned.

“I fell into cinematography by accident,” he explains. “I had been working on a series of sculptures that had video elements in them. Through a bit of luck, someone noticed what I had been working on. So with zero experience, I wound up DP-ing a commercial for an ad agency as my first film job. The day we finished, I was asked to work on another shoot the following week.”

Things just took off from there and within a month he was a full-time director of photography. As a DP, Civan (@timurcivan) mainly focuses on spot and feature films but welcomes the opportunity to work Continue reading

‘A Small Section of the World’: How this doc got its look and feel

Producer/director Lesley Chilcott called on DP Logan Schneider to capture the images she needed to tell this story.

By Randi Altman

Lesley Chilcott makes documentaries. Some as a producer, such as An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman and It Might Get Loud, and some as a producer and director, such as her latest, A Small Section of the World. The project is about a group of women in a remote part of Costa Rica who started a coffee mill… and a very successful one at that.

Chilcott got involved in the project when Greenlight Media and Marketing in Los Angeles told her about ASOMOBI (The Association of Women of Biolley) and their micro mill built on top of a hill in Costa Rica. They sell their beans to Italian coffee company Illy Cafe. “My Continue reading

Quick Chat: DP John Pingry

For this Quick Chat, we reached out to DP John “Ping” Pingry, who recently signed with Santa Monica’s Colleen for exclusive commercial representation. Pingry, who has experience in films as well as spots, was attracted to the agency’s intimate feel and hit it off pretty quickly with founder Colleen Dolan Vinetz. “I wanted a manager who not only represents quality people, but who also really loves what they do,” he says. “Colleen hit all the marks. She was the ideal choice to help me further expand my blossoming DP career.”

Over the past three years, this Chicago native worked with commercial directors such as Tom Dey (Centrum) Chace Strickland (Dutch Boy, California Tourism) Morgan Lawley (American Girl Dolls) Sam Jones (McDonald’s) Lance Anderson (Salt Sunglasses) and Jim Krantz (Ralph Lauren Continue reading

ASC TV nominees and their reactions

The American Society of Cinematographers has named its nominees for the 29th Annual Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography Awards. The winners will be given their statuettes on February 15, during a ceremony in Los Angeles.

“Our members had a very difficult time choosing these nominees from such an incredible field of submissions,” said ASC president Richard Crudo. “They have done superlative work in a very challenging medium, and we salute them.”

The nominees for Episode of a Regular Series are: P.J. Dillon for Vikings, “Blood Eagle” (History); Jonathan Freeman, ASC, for Boardwalk Empire, “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” (HBO); Anette Haellmigk for Game of Thrones, “The Children” (HBO); Christopher Norr for Gotham, “Spirit of the Goat” (Fox); Richard Rutkowski for Manhattan, “Perestroika” (WGN Continue reading

Dictionary Films welcomes director, DP Dan Waymack

Dictionary Films, which has offices in LA and Chicago, has signed director and DP Dan Waymack to its roster of directors.  Waymack recently delivered his first commercial project produced through Dictionary, supporting the Bud Light Whatever USA campaign from Energy BBDO.

Chris Rossiter, Dictionary Films’ managing director, says this of Waymack’s signing:  “We’ve known each other a long time, going back to my time as EP on the U.S. Army business for Leo Burnett.  We all are extremely grateful to Energy BBDO for the opportunity to go to bat for them and their clients at Bud Light, and feel it was the perfect project to demonstrate our strengths with Dan Waymack at the helm.”

Waymack has directed and shot projects for major clients including Allstate, Kellogg’s and Kimberly-Clark, as well as the U.S. Army and others. For the past 10 years he had been based at Little Rock production company Service Station, of which he was a founder and partner.

The 30-second national broadcast spot for Bud Light was cut by Cutters editor Jacob Kuehl. “Working with Jacob and Cutters for Energy BBDO and Bud Light was a great experience, and that close working connection is one of the reasons I am especially happy to have landed with Dictionary Films,” reports Waymack. “This collaboration worked very well and it was great fun.  I am already looking forward to our next project together.”

“Dan thrives on making it happen by rolling up his sleeves and creating arresting visuals with everyone from celebrities to real people, in both narrative and documentary-style storytelling,” concludes Rossiter.