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Oscar Cinematography Survey: Here’s the Cameras and Lenses Used To Shoot 35 Awards Contenders

The world's best cinematographers explain how they created the visual language of “Roma,” “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther,” “Vice,” and more.

Cinematographer James Laxton on the set of IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, an Annapurna Pictures release.

Cinematographer James Laxton on the set of “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Picture

“Colette”

"Colette" Actor Dominic West and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens

“Colette” actor Dominic West and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens

Robert Viglasky

Format: Arriraw
Camera: Alexa
Lenses: Master Prime Anamorphic Lenses

Giles Nuttgens: I was interested in seeing whether by using digital I could use low power light sources. The Master Primes are sharp right to the edges of the frame even when shooting almost wide open, unlike traditional anamorphics. The subtext of the film is about breaking social taboos around the turn of the century in Paris. In the script this was paralleled by the very notable technological advances of the time.

We wanted to express this change in the film visually, as a metaphor for the foundation for the liberal progression that was experienced throughout the last century. Our intention was to be as pure to the actual light sources at the time as the medium we
were shooting on would tolerate. We were looking for something that rang true and mimicked the feeble filtered light that would have existed inside Parisian apartments from the carbon polluted French skies of the period.

We wanted to shoot the first part of the film totally by candlelight and then transition to practical lamps once the rich apartments received electric light. Not damaging the wooden paneled walls and fresco-covered ceilings with candle smoke became a priority and that coupled with the Alexa’s difficulty in reacting to the warm light. I had to use much more white incandescent fill light than originally intended to maintain a sharp image and have enough on the negative to allow us some flexibility later. Our desire too to keep the film as fluid as possible in terms of camera movement (our main reference was the work of Max Ophuls such as “Earrings of Madame De…,” shot in 1953) meant that we had to be very literal about light sources. Colette’s introduction to Parisian high society where we entered a lavish apartment and did several pages of dialogue with the Steadicam completing a 360 move set up our approach very clearly.

“Destroyer”

"Destroyer" cinematographer Julie Kirkwood

“Destroyer” cinematographer Julie Kirkwood

James Boyd

Format: 3.2K Prores
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: Panavision Primo primes

Julie Kirkwood: I don’t like to pair the highest resolution with the most pristine, sharp lenses. I think we’re getting to a point where there’s almost too much sharpness and detail, so I like to use older lenses or take the edge off of newer ones. With the help of Panavision, we landed on a set of detuned Primos. I don’t want to see every pore on an actor’s face, especially not on “Destroyer,” where we were dealing with two different time periods and many of the actors wore make up and/or prosthetics to change their age by 17 years.

I wanted to use the Alexa Mini for the ease of use on set, since we knew we would be shooting in 38 different locations and moving very quickly on an indie film schedule. I also wanted a small camera body that could be stripped down for all of our time spent inside the main character’s car. From the beginning I planned to go for extreme blown out highlights, and I feel that the Alexa rounds highlights in the most natural way among digital cameras, and the skin tones feel the most accurate.

“The Favourite”

"The Favourite" cinematographer Robbie Ryan

“The Favourite” cinematographer Robbie Ryan

Fox Searchlight

Format: 35mm (3 perf)
Cameras: Panavision millennium xL2, arricam studio, arricam LT
Lens: Panavision primo spherical 14.5. – 100mm / pv 10mm/ pv 6mm

Robbie Ryan: Both me and [director] Yorgos [Lanthimos] love shooting on film, so this was always going to be a 35mm job which helped shape the rest of the choices down the line. We both felt film really makes natural light look better. It deals with contrast and definition and color very much as the eye sees it and in some cases can see in the shadow much more than your eye can. Yorgos had explored using wide lenses on “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and was keen to explore more with “The Favourite” so when we found the Panavision 6mm it was very much a welcome addition to how he wanted the film to look. It’s distorted view helped highlight some of the absurdities in the world of Queen Anne’s court.

“First Man”

Cinematographer Linus Sandgren shooting "First Man"

Cinematographer Linus Sandgren shooting “First Man”

Daniel McFadden

Format: S16mm (2.39:1), S35mm techniscope 2-perf (2.39:1), Imax 70mm 15-perf (1.43:1)
Camera: Aaton xtera, Aaton Penelope, Aaton A minima, Arri 416, Arricam LT, Arri 435, Vistavision, IMAX MSM
Lens: Canon zooms 6.6-66mm, Fujinon zooms 19-90mm, Kowa Cine prominar 16 primes, Ultra 16 primes, Kowa Cine prominar 35 primes, Vintage Ultra Primes

Linus Sandgren: The film has a great dramatic span and we used the various film formats to enhance the emotions visually. So that the most intimate human scenes, and the gritty and visceral scenes felt textured with grain, while serene and surreal moonscape asked for fine grain and high detail. Mixing s16mm, 35mm and IMAX 70mm and mixing handheld cameras with zoom lenses and IMAX with hassleblad lenses, we felt was the closest we could get to the emotions in the film.

“First Reformed”

"First Reformed" director Paul Schrader and cinematographer Alexander Dynan

“First Reformed” director Paul Schrader and cinematographer Alexander Dynan

Format: 2.8K Pro Res in 4:3 Mode
Camera: Arri Alexa SXT
Lens: Master Prime Lenses

Alexander Dynan: When [director] Paul Schrader and I started “First Reformed,” it was important to him that we reflected the source material that he was drawing on – Bresson, Dryer, and Bergman. As a result we decided to frame in 1:33:1. Yet we still wanted the film to feel modern so we embraced the digital quality of the Alexa. I chose the Master Primes because I really love how at a deep stop they hold different planes of focus within the image.

“The Front Runner”

DP Eric Steelberg on the set of Columbia Pictures THE FRONT RUNNER.

DP Eric Steelberg on the set of “The Front Runner”

Sony

Format: 35mm, Kodak stock
Camera: Panavision XL2
Lens: Panavision Primo 11:1 zoom, Angenieux 15-40mm, 24-76mm, 45-120 zooms. They were all detuned for a less contemporary look.

Eric Steelberg: I try to change my approach on each film. Every story is different so why should my tools be the same? The design of these zooms allowed Panavision to more easily detune and adjust them in order remove some of the modern sharpness and contrast. The reason we decided to shoot on film in the first place was to have some texture to the image and if I wanted something super clean we would have shot digital. A 35mm camera makes no difference in how the film looks, they all move film the same way…unless of course we are doing high speed work or need a small camera. We ended up with Panavision XL2 cameras with HD taps because they were ideal for the combination of handheld and studio work, being able to switch back and forth rapidly. I also like being able to use gel filters behind the lens in the Panaflex series. It makes it easier to operate and judge focus and framing in the viewfinder. I pushed all the film stock one to two stops for every scene, and combined with the lenses that gave me the palette we were searching for.

“Green Book”

L to R: Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in GREEN BOOK

“Green Book”

Universal Pictures

Format: 3.4K Open Gate ARRIRAW
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: LEICA SUMMILUX-C

Sean Porter: I made the switch to Alexa and its iterations when it first came onto the scene. It was such a breath of fresh air from the digital cameras I had been using prior. I won’t spend time singing the camera’s praises – it just does it right. And the Mini’s size allowed me to have three camera at a time inside the car; changing rigs to accommodate a larger camera for each setup would have killed us. [Director] Pete [Farrelly] and I talked about “Green Book” needing to feel just as relevant now as it was then. I didn’t want to bury the story underneath vintage glass and glossy lighting, as if to say, “this happened a long time ago, its entertainment and it doesn’t apply to us anymore.” I used to shoot stills on a Leica and modified my own set of R lenses for cinema cameras almost a decade ago, so I was pleased when they released their cinema line. Leicas have great sharpness and “bite” for the wides, but still have the right amount of contrast and highlight control for the close ups. Their speed and size was a welcome bonus.

“The Hate U Give”

"The Hate U Give" Cinematographer Mihai Mălaimare (left) and director George Tillman Jr. (right)

“The Hate U Give” Cinematographer Mihai Mălaimare (left) and director George Tillman Jr. (right)

Erika Doss

Format: 8K, anamorphic 1.3x crop to 7942×4320, spherical crop to 8192×3428
Camera: Panavision Millennium DXL
Lens: Ultra Panavision 70 (anamorphic 1.3X) and Primo 70 (spherical)

Mihai Mălaimare: The first week in prep [director] George [Tillman Jr.] and I discussed about how everybody will expect a very gritty look from this movie. We decided to surprise the audience by choosing a different approach. The best description for what we envisioned was a high contrast image like Eli Reed’s photography printed on high gloss paper. We realized that anamorphic glass will be the best tool for this so we went with Ultra Panavision 70. We also chose the Primo 70 lenses for the private school scenes to enhance the contrast between Starr’s two worlds. The Vista Vision size sensor of the Millennium DXL allowed us to use this amazing anamorphic 1.3x set but also gave us the opportunity to use super wide spherical lenses with almost no distortion.

“Hereditary”

RAC_1580.NEF

“Hereditary” cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski

Reid Chavis

Format: Pro Res 4444XQ, open gate, Aspect Ratio was 2:1
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Panavison Primo lenses De-Tuned

Pawel Pogorzelski: [Director] Ari’s [Aster] main visual reference for “Hereditary” was “Three Colors: Red” by Krzysztof Kieslowski, which was shot on film. We both love the look of film, but because of our past experience with 35mm film on “The Strange Thing About the Johnsons” we knew that its limitations in the amount of takes we could get would be ultimately wrong for this project. We wanted to push ourselves in being bold at capturing dark images, but still keeping enough detail to let the audience find hidden figures in the dark or just dark spaces that could hide or not someone or something.

The Alexa was the best tool for the job. So, I tested this camera with all the lenses at Panavision and landed on the Primos. However, they were not perfect. I knew that Panavision was doing really interesting de-tuning on these lenses so ended up working with Brian Mills (at Panavision Woodland Hills) at merging different detuning technics to achieve the right look. Once we landed on the right customized lens we approached Joe Gawler (at Harbor) to create a LUT for the film, which would serve as a base (like a film stock). Once the LUT, lenses and camera were all set and confirmed, I set up a lighting and gripping test to fine tune the different looks with my Gaffer Jason Rogers and Key Grip Craig Sullivan at Salt Lake City’s Redman Movies rental house. This way I kept the LUT throughout the film and adjusted the progression of lighting by using different lights, gels and diffusions or bounce techniques.

“If Beale Street Could Talk”

Cinematographer James Laxton and actor Regina King on the set of IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, an Annapurna Pictures release.

Cinematographer James Laxton and actor Regina King on the set of “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Picture

Format: Arri Raw at 6k
Camera: Arri Alexa 65
Lense: Arri Prime DNA’s and a Vantage Hawk 150-450 zoom

James Laxton: Cinematography is all about how you interpret story for the screen, so in adapting “If Beale Street Could Talk” we wanted to use a visual language that was inspired by how Mr. Baldwin wrote. When I read his writing I’m always struck by the strength and power, and simultaneously the subtlety and nuance of his voice, which made me feel the Alexa 65 was the perfect capture format for our film. The camera’s large 65mm sensor gave us not only the high resolution and high dynamic range, but also, a sensor size suited so perfectly for capturing portraits of immersive imagery. The Prime DNA lenses gave us shallow depth of field where we could put the audience in the specific place in the frame we wanted, and also a vintage feeling that gave us a taste of the 1970s while still bringing the novel to the psyche of today. All together these tools gave us what we needed to express ourselves in the best way we could to do the novel and Mr. Baldwin’s voice justice.

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