Now that the “Divergent” rules have been established, director Robert Schwentke was free to experiment with more psychological emphasis and different visual looks that keep us guessing what’s real and what’s a sim for Shailene Woodley’s Tris. Schwentke ‘s longtime cinematographer Florian Ballhaus explains the challenges of “The Train” set piece, in which Tris and her friends narrowly escape the Erudites (watch the clip below).
“Filming ‘Insurgent’ was a unique experience because we had the opportunity to be unusually experimental in the context of an action movie — much more surreal than what is normally allowed. The atmosphere on the set was also shaped by our young and talented actors, an experience I found very refreshing,” Ballhaus said.
“Insurgent” posed an interesting challenge as a YA franchise sequel: How do you raise the action and jeopardy while still keeping it character-driven and trippy? “We were lucky to have the permission to work with this material in an entirely different way,” Ballhaus continued. “There was very little overlap in terms of location [they shot in Atlanta] and we had a lot of creative space to explore and invent. For the most part,what we tried to do was to make the film look bigger, and give it added scope. We were exploring these different worlds, and making it more intense. The fact that it was so visual effects-intensive meant we had to effect the backgrounds anyway and ended up using a lot of plates and set extensions.
“We shot with the Alexa. But when it came to the drone work, we used the Red Scarlet because the Alexa was too heavy. It’s the first time I used the XT for a whole movie with its built in recording device. And it’s also the first time I used the Zeiss Master anamorphic lenses.” That was another attempt to make the movie feel bigger and surreal.
Speaking of surreal, they heightened the sim sequences by shooting them spherically while and all the real-world scenes remained anamorphic. “In spherical photography, you use shorter focal lengths, and it’s a cleaner image. We also used Hawk lenses.” It was all about creating a sense of uncertainty about messing with Tris’ mind.
For the Train scene, most of the interior was shot on a stage in Atlanta. The exterior as they’re jumping on and running alongside was shot an hour outside of Atlanta in a beautiful piece of farmland. “It’s fairly early on in the movie and the last thing we wanted to do was be stuck in a dark train where we don’t get any sense of their surroundings. So we wanted a fairly open train compartment and it just wasn’t feasible to shoot as a real traveling train, given the constraints of stunts, daylight and weather. So we did a combination of green screen and rear projection, which allowed us to have the best of all worlds. We had a lively interactive light quality [projecting plates on screens located on the side of the train car] and then when we looked outside, there was green screen allowing us to comp in the exterior countryside.
Next up for Schwentke and Ballhaus will be “Allegiant: Part 1,” so the conversation will continue about Tris’ travails.