In advance of the 2015 AFI FEST, Indiewire sent out a questionnaire to filmmakers with films in competition asking them a variety of questions about their projects, including what camera they shot on and why. Instead of just listing the cameras they used, the AFI FEST directors explained how they went about selecting the cameras and lenses (with help from their DPs, of course).
You’ll notice that the Arri Alexa continues to be a popular choice, but the Red EPIC, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and Canon 5D Mark II are also favorites. A surprising number of directors shot on film stock – in 16mm and Super 35mm.
Below is a selection of their responses.
“We did tests with 16mm and the Alexa. I was pretty adamant about shooting on 16mm, and since the Alexa is so expensive to rent it would have been cheaper at first to shoot film and wait to get it developed until we had the money. Always a bad idea, but it seemed like a viable option at the time. But with the amount of nighttime lighting situations where we would be at reenactments with no control over light and only a two person camera crew, the Alexa made more sense. It’s more cumbersome than an Arri 416, but it was the difference between being able to see something and nothing at all.” – Zachary Treitz, “Men Go to Battle”
“Arri Alexa with anamorphic lenses. I like the softness of the Alexa and the skin tones. We basicly wanted ‘Rams’ to look like it was shot on film. We would have shot it on 35mm if we had the money. The organic, soft film-look would had been perfect for the story and the surroundings in the isolated Icelandic farming valley. We got pretty close by shooting on Alexa with anamorphic lense and some tricks we did in the grading.” – Grimur Hakonarson, “RAMS”
“We shot on the Alexa with a 25-290mm Angenieux Optimo. It’s what I use on pretty much everything, it creates a much softer, less crisp image.” – Michael Mohan, “Pink Grapefruit”
“At the beginning, I was thinking to shoot in 35mm. Then, I had the chance to be a part of the crew of ‘Los Hongos,’ which was also produced by my producers, and I realized that If I wanted to spend proper time with my actors, I needed [to shoot on] digital. In the end, I decided I didn’t want to spend [the extra time] shooting on 35mm. We choose the Alexa camera, because it was the best choice for us, but also, because it gave me the chance to shoot several takes, which allowed me to find the right moments for each scene.” – César Acevedo, “Land and Shade”
“Two Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras. In addition to its combination of quality and affordability, the BMPCC was selected because the filmmakers believed its unobtrusive and unintimidating profile would allow the non-actors to forget that the cameras were in the room.” – Diego Ongaro, “Bob and the Trees”
“Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with some nice old Super 16mm lenses. It was totally for practical reasons. The film had to be made and this was the camera that was cheap and available. I would have shot it on my phone if I had to.” – Zia Anger, “I Remember Nothing”
“The majority of the footage in the film is from a Sony F3, and the B-cam was a Canon 5D Mark II or Mark III in most cases. Since production began in 2009-2010, the F3 and 5D were the most solid combinations of image quality, budget and versatility. Later, we shot on the Canon C300 because of its cinematic quality, low-light sensitivity and agility for shooting in very tough conditions with no crew.”– Brad Allgood, “Landfill Harmonic”
“Arri Alexa. Beautiful camera. Gave us everything we wanted and more. Heavy as heck when fully decked out with big lens and battery pack! We called it ‘The Beast’. – Nicholas Brooks, “Sam”
“Red EPIC Camera. My DP owned it and stands by it.” – Celia Rowlson-Hall, “MA”
“We shot ‘Tracks’ on Super 16. The aesthetic of 16mm film gave ‘Tracks’ a very grainy naturalistic touch which I believe supported the realism inherent in the script. I felt that shooting on film focused the entire crew and cast in a way that digital does not. There’s this magic to film – a heightened energy when you yell ‘action’ and you hear the film rolling through the camera. It’s unlike anything else. The actor’s eyes will light up with an extra glow. You really feel as if your actually capturing these images, rather than on digital where you can kind of just roll and roll for as long as you please. You end up becoming more precise when shooting on film, and it shows in the final product.” – Logan Sandler, “Tracks”
“‘The Clan’ was filmed with an ALEXA XT in 4K and we use Anamorphic Cooke lenses that help us to reconstruct the image of the ’80s. The main reasons for using this camara was to help the post production workflow,since im also in charge of the montage. The lens help us also in the composition of the family portrait.” – Pablo Trapero, “The Clan”
“Alexa. Tarin Anderson (my DP) and I were going back and forth on the XT Plus and the M. We needed something with a 4:3 sensor to shoot anamorphic. The XT Plus is good for both handheld and sticks, and we were doing a lot of both for my part of the film. The M can get into tighter spaces but you’re stuck to a tether which slows you down, but we did use that in some scenes for B cam, and in other parts of the film the M was used as the primary camera over the XT. We were all shooting with these old kowa lenses from the ’70s, that gave everything a bit of a warp when we went to the super-wide that was really fun to play with. We wanted everything to feel a bit off-kilter, a bit surreal and unsettling.” – Roxanne Benjamin, “Southbound”
“An Ikegami HL-79E tube camera. It’s era-appropriate for the story, but more importantly, it changes reality, unlike your standard HD camera, which presents a flat, mediocre version of it.” – – Nathan Silver, “Stinking Heaven”
“We shot on the Canon 5D Mark II. I asked my DP Ashley Connor what cameras she liked. She told me, almost embarrassed, that she wasn’t ‘that into gear’. I loved that. There’s a saying to ‘beware of the man who has only one gun – he’ll know how to use it.’ That’s Ashley. Ashley knew the 5D so well, and the settings and software, and people exclaim that the images in this film look like paintings. The movie gives you a real ‘art hit.’ That’s because Ashley is an artist through and through.” – Alison Bagnall, “Funny Bunny”
“Being a mostly handheld camera project, we first did tests with Canon C-300, because it´s a light equipment and we´ve recently seen great films shot on it (Blue is the warmest color, for instance). But as it was a film set in 1835 with a majority of night scenes, together with my cinematographer Soledad Rodriguez we noted that we had a wider response spectrum when going for Arri Alexa, which we choose dispite the weight increase it meant. We used Zeiss Ultra-Prime lenses. We avoided as much as we could using lighting and relied mostly on fire for the numerous night scenes.” – Benjamin Naishtat, “El Movimiento”
“Arricam Lite. Film stock: Eastman Double-X Negative Film. The camera was he choice of our great DP, Marius Panduru. We went for black and white film stock because we wanted a classical look and, since we tried to emulate old Westerns, we thought that this is the best option.” – Radu Jude, “Aferim!”
“Arri Alexa. We knew it from ‘A Hijacking,’ and felt no need to change. We often work in long and improvised takes, and this camera is perfect for that.” – Tobias Lindholm, “A War”
“Arri Alexa. It was the DP’s first choice (a good one) from available options: latitude, good in low light, a filmic look, and a deal from the producer’s preferred rental house.” – Jake Mahaffy, “Free in Deed”
“We shot on Super 35mm with an Arricam Lite. Film is just film, there’s nothing else like it.” – Ciro Guerra, “Embrace of the Serpent”