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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

“A Star Is Born”

"A Star is Born" director Bradley Cooper and cinematographer Matthew Libatique

“A Star is Born” director Bradley Cooper and cinematographer Matthew Libatique

Warner Bros

Format: Anamorphic 2.8K, ArriRaw
Camera: Arri Alexa MIni
Lens: Cooke Vintage Anamorphics and Kowa Anamorphics

Matthew Libatique: To be honest, there are a number of combinations that could have proved to be the right tools for the job. My main goal was to keep the camera as small and flexible as possible so that Bradley as a director/actor and Lady Gaga as an actor could feel comfortable to change and improvise. Due to the amount of performances we had in the screenplay I knew that we would have light fixtures in the frame so the choice of anamorphic was merely a way to embrace the artifacts inherent to the glass as atmosphere to the world we were trying to create.

“The Sisters Brothers”

"The Sisters Brothers cinematographer Benoît Debie

“The Sisters Brothers cinematographer Benoît Debie

Magali Bragard/Annapurna

Format: ARRI Raw 3.4k full gate Anamorphic
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: Prime Anamorphic. They are lenses from the 1970’s made and adjusted for me.

Benoît Debie: I’m still shooting mostly on film (35mm) because for me there is nothing else that can truly compete against it thus far. In terms of richness of colors, details on the black and also the skin tone I find these elements so beautiful on film. On the set when using film, everybody has a lot more rigor than in digital. When I started to shoot on digital, I realized that the images were sharp and very clean and if I was going to shoot on digital I needed to find a way to destroy the signal to avoid this surgical look. I didn’t want that smooth look that you often get with Digital.

I started to look at old lenses but it was hard to find complete set of lenses. So I decided to adapt an old set of anamorphic lenses from the 70s and began to modify different elements of the lenses (i.e the glass) so we were able to keep all the old flairs, aberration and distortion but remove the milkiness of these old lenses. The result of using these modified lenses on digital is very stunning however when I use them and shoot on 35mm film the result is unbelievable.

On “The Sisters Brothers,” we shot on Digital anamorphic, the idea was to shot the film like a photo book, each time you have a new sequence it’s almost like turning the pages of that book. I used the above mentioned lenses to keep the visual very organic and to have the skin tone of the actors close to that of something shot with the 35mm film look. I also found the depth of field on the background on these lenses sometimes could be weird but it also help keep the characters more present into the frame.

The choice of the digital was made to give more freedom to the director to work with the actors with no restriction. I felt this was the right choice because we found a way to use lenses that we modified to create a look that I felt was equivalent to what we could have done on 35mm.

“Vice”

"Vice" cinematographe Greig Fraser

“Vice” cinematographer Greig Fraser

Matt Kennedy

Format: 16mm, 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 50D 5203, Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219), Aspect ratio 2.39:1
Camera and Lens: Arricam LT with Cooke Anamorphic Lenses, Arriflex 235 with TODD-AO Lenses Arriflex 416 with Zeiss Ultra Prime 16 Lenses, Arriflex 435 with Elite Spherical Lenses

Greig Fraser: Because we were making a film that spanned decades, we used multiple mediums, mixing different lenses with vastly different visual characteristics, which helped us show these extremes. Underlying this was a solid and focused story about the Cheneys’ path to power. It was important to me to make sure that we stuck with simple, sharp, yet beautiful anamorphic lens so – despite the constant formats and lenses changes – the audience could feel confident the visual spine of the film was solid. Because we did this, we could make decisions to shoot on some incredibly low resolving video cameras, and embrace the lovely texture that they would bring. We tested a number of anamorphics for this job and I settled on the Cooke Anamorphics. They have the warmth I try to imbue in every film I shoot and they also have the technical superiority, so I could trust the technical aspects. Shooting on film meant it could be 48 to 72 hours before I could become aware of a technical malfunction on the lens. Therefore having good mechanics, as well as great character, was important.

“Wildlife”

On the set of "Wildlife"

On the set of “Wildlife”

IFC FIlms

Format: Arriraw 3.4 K
Camera: Arri Alexa XT
Lens: Panavison Primos

Diego García: “Wildlife” is a period film set in the late ’50s, but visually we wanted to make it feel like a contemporary piece. We chose the Alexa sensor because we knew that it would give us a full range in latitude and true color. Also, one of our ideas in making this film was to create images in the most pure and natural way possible in both lighting and composition. We did some research about vintage lenses, and ended up using the spherical Panavison primes from the ’90s that are very clean, precise and correct, but have very nice subtleties in texture and detail without being too sharp. I guess the ’90’s are considered vintage now. I thought I needed fast lenses because we wanted to work with a lot of available light at different times of the day, and these lenses allowed us to feel free to shoot wide open and still get a clean image. We had our special 50mm T1 for particular dramatic moments. We used it just for emotional close portraits.

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