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How Quentin Tarantino Resurrected Ultra Panavision 70 for ‘The Hateful Eight’

How Quentin Tarantino Resurrected Ultra Panavision 70 for 'The Hateful Eight'

The comeback of motion picture film will get its biggest boost yet with the Ultra Panavision 70 release of celluloid defender Quentin Tarantino’s post-Civil War Western “The Hateful Eight.”

Shot on 65mm film with classic Panavision lenses in the widest aspect ratio of 2.76:1, this marks the first anamorphic 70mm theatrical release in nearly 50 years. The two-week roadshow engagement—they’re aiming for 100 theaters with the Cinerama Dome in contention for LA, of course—would be the best holiday gift for cinephiles.

“The Hateful Eight” also pits three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (“Hugo,” “The Aviator,” “JFK”) in a shoot-out with Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, who’s going for a third Oscar in a row for his own frozen wilderness adventure, “The Revenant,” from “Birdman” director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. (Both films are racing to the editorial finish line for a Christmas Day release.)

Richardson proclaimed that Ultra Panavision 70 more than reinforces the notion that film can coexist with digital: it provides such unparalleled scope, resolution and beauty that everyone should be using it. “When we saw Sam Jackson in a closeup — or anyone — it just aided the skin. It’s remarkable. We never used diffusion, the only filters we ever did were outside. It was stunning.”

READ MORE: Tarantino Opens Up about ‘Hateful Eight,’ Disses Cate Blanchett and ‘True Detective,’ and More

Feeding off “Stagecoach,” “The Desperate Hours” and “And Then There Were None,” Tarantino’s ninth film throws eight travelers together a decade after the Civil War in Wyoming. But a bitter snowstorm prevents them from getting to Red Rock, where bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) intends to bring feral-like fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to justice. The ensemble also includes Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern.

According to Dern, Tarantino “has the greatest attention to detail on a set as any director who ever lived, his only rival would be Luchino Visconti. He creates an atmosphere for all of us not to do our greatest work necessarily, but to get better.”

The last Ultra Panavision 70 release was “Khartoum” (1966), the biopic with Charlton Heston as British Gen. Charles Gordon. The list also includes “Ben-Hur,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” and “The Battle of the Bulge.”

In fact, Panavision took Tarantino into a screening room and surprised him with the chariot race from “Ben-Hur,” starting with the sides at the normal width and then spread out to expose the full frame — and the film nerd was totally hooked on Ultra Panavision 70.

But this all began accidentally: “We went in thinking we were going to shoot standard format for 65mm and one day I was with Gregor Tavenner, my first camera assistant, and Dan Sasaki [Panavision VP of optical engineering] was showing us standard Panavision lenses for 65mm and while looking at them, I slipped behind the curtain and saw this shelf filled with odd-shaped lenses [triangular with prisms]. They were Ultra Panavision lenses,” Richardson said.

READ MORE: Will Tarantino’s ‘Hateful Eight’ Be an Oscar Contender?

Sasaki put the lenses up on the projector and Richardson was hooked. Even before testing the lenses, Panavision threw all its weight behind the project, and Kodak and the FotoKem lab were on board as well.

First came testing by Richardson in freezing temperatures while scouting locations in Telluride, Colorado that would benefit them visually, with great mountain vistas. Panavision had to reconfigure and apply new coatings to 19 lenses for focus-pulling. Panavision also made a 2,000-foot magazine for the film cameras to accommodate Tarantino’s penchant for long takes. The camera’s limit fell just under that length, yet this was still considerably longer than the normal 1,000-ft. magazine could handle.

The team brought a very analogue approach to shooting in Telluride (with few blizzards and rare overcast days) and onstage at LA’s Red Studios, where they lowered the temperature to 30 degrees. They screened dailies in 70mm, with no digital intermediate, and the film is being color-timed photochemically, the old-school way, by FotoKem.

Theaters will be retrofitted with anamorphic lenses for 70mm projectors. Yes, there will be a digital release from TWC on January 8, 2016, which will continue to show the film in 70mm as well.

With two cameras at his disposal, and Tarantino operating a couple of shots himself, Richardson had to get used to certain anomalies: slight color alterations when shooting actors’ faces after switching lenses — ranging from the triangular ones that provide a bronze look to more user-friendly cylindrical shapes — or odd flaring caused by light bouncing indirectly off the prism when shooting two characters in front of a fireplace.

“The most complex thing for me was that the set was primarily this one building where they arrive in this stagecoach,” Richardson explained. “But if you shoot a medium shot with the lenses, anywhere you’re seeing two-thirds or more of the room, depending on where the character is, because it’s such a wide frame. You’re lighting the entire set and other characters are constantly in your frame. Quentin first looked at ‘Mad, Mad World’. Part of what happened in that film is that you had a medium shot with all the characters in the frame. It was an adjustment for all of us.”

Indoors were lit warm and exteriors cool. Sasaki also altered the lenses for sharpness in closer shots (within three feet). “Quentin likes to shoot a lot of masters because his films are dialogue-driven. We worked with all primes. He accepted what 65mm allowed him. There are more characters in the frame — at least four in one shot — and he could see the quality of the image and quick adjustments could be made for makeup and hair [as a result of the 70mm dailies]. We all knew we had limitations and there would be breakdowns with the 65mm camera because they’re not used often, but overall there very few problems with the equipment,” Richardson said.

Because of the film’s claustrophobic, lowly lit nature, however, the use of Ultra Panavision was actually counter-intuitive. But Tarantino wasn’t about to turn down this rare historical opportunity. In a clever game of hide-and-seek, he used the frame to deliberately show more or less when he wanted to obscure crucial character information.

“There’s a great deal of interior landscape available and the actors loved it. Also, I think they enjoyed the visual feast that was given to them in terms of their own faces,” said Richardson, who admitted, though, that throwback photochemical color timing has been frightening.

READ MORE: Digging into Tarantino’s ‘Hateful Eight’ as New Images Leak

“I’d become reliant on a digital intermediate for fixing things in post and you can let certain things go. For example, you realize that the backgrounds are blown out but you don’t want to take the time to put a hard gel up. You know you can rescue that with the window and tracking, or if your weather doesn’t quite match, it’s easier to work a look between sunny and overcast.

“In this particular case, there was no fixing: what you shoot is what you get. You’re not going in to fix a wall if you didn’t put enough light on it; if you’re overexposed on that side with sun, you’re gonna have sun. There’s nothing you can do. So Quentin worked very hard in collaboration in trying to make sure the weather conditions were what he wanted for sequences. And he helped me a great deal in that way. Ordinarily, he says to me, ‘If they’re looking at your work, they’re not listening to my words.’ He’s going to go for the best performance regardless of the condition of the light.”

But not when it came to this gorgeous look. And this is just the beginning, as Gareth Edwards’ “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is also reportedly being shot with Ultra Panavision 70 lenses.

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Wow….an article on ultra Pana 70 and all but one film image cropped down to 4:3??? Outstanding….

Colt Lending

I’d like to see more films in this format. It was amazing. When Inwalked out of the theater, I thought the Star Wars 3D movie I saw the day before would of been a lot better in Ultra Panavision 70, even sans the 3D

Daniel Holden

He could have just as well have shot it in 140mm, and it wouldn’t save the abysmal script.


    You must have an abysmal imagination

Ken Bergren

So, would it be practical to convert the IMAX to showing Ultra Panavision in 70mm wide format. I miss Cinerama!!!

Thanks for the info about Ultra Panavision 70. While I wasn’t a fan of Django Unchained, the use of this format is just crying out to be seen on the big screen! :)


For the sake of accuracy, BEN-HUR and MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (as well as RAINTREE COUNTY) were officially shot under the process’ previous name, MGM Camera 65. MAD WORLD was the first film to use the Ultra Panavision name.

Chris Hodenfield

Kenneth Branagh’s "Hamlet" in 1996 was shot on 65mm.

Cinema Pro

Who would believe UP could possibly make any kind of comeback?! I knew the shoot was in Telluride, but if I’d known they were shooting UP, I’d have made a field trip to visit the camera guys. I sure hope that they kept the stop up high enough to give good depth of field on interiors especially so that we’re not living on the edge all the time looking for the inch or two that’s in focus. Very cool. Can’t wait.

Interstellar Crew

Christopher Nolan set the stage by filming Interstellar IMAX. IN LOS ANGELES , In ACTUAL SOUND STAGES no less. With Perms and elephant doors and sound proofing !!!!
It was a pleasure to bring my best game every day working for Nolan.
There should be a separate category for a shot on film Oscar

Jim Katz

Bill …. interesting article. We all know that film and digital can and will coexist when the bloom is off the rose and cooler heads prevail. Hats off to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Richardson. FYI: I was the UA rep on KHARTOUM and was on the set for most of the shoot. Incredible logistics involved in getting that shot in the Egyptian desert in 1963/64.Ted Scaife was the cinematographer and did an amazing job under trying conditions. Can’t wait to see the film.

Lawrence Brian Schwartz

They forgot to mention one other cinema great in UP70: The Greatest Story Ever Told. A beautifully photographed motion picture.

Ed B

@CONSTANTINE: No. It was shot in Super Panavision. Same camera but with a spherical, rather than anamorphic, lens.

Bill Desowitz

Lawrence was Super Panavision 70, which used spherical optics, not anamorphic.

Constantine Santas

Wasn’t Lawrence of Arabia filmed in 70mm Ultra Panavision?

Daniel Schulz

This is a great article, thank you. It’s worth mentioning the work going into supporting the soundtrack as well – the only viable sound system for 70mm release is Datasat Digital Sound, and the Datasat team had to re-start production on the required timecode reader heads, to support this release.


the 70 was years ahead of its time the quality of luminosity,texture,skin tones, only now has the industry found the technology within 8K to match or exceed what brilliant CT’s and engineers created years ago…..Stanley Kubrick got access to some very rare low light level cameras only because the studio chief was on vacation,yes race fans it was,” Barry Lyndon,” shot in candle light…. this equipment was created by the best and sits in prop rooms priceless and away…..until now….thanks for these joyous Panavisions

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