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How I Shot That: 52 Sundance Filmmakers Break Down the Cameras They Used

Cinematographers and directors on how they created the looks of their films in Dramatic Competition, NEXT, Premieres, and Midnight sections.

"Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" DoP Brandon Trost and director Joe Berlinger shooting a scene with Zac Efron as Ted Bundy

“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” DoP Brandon Trost and director Joe Berlinger shooting a scene with Zac Efron as Ted Bundy

Brian Douglas

IndieWire reached out to the cinematographers and directors behind the scripted narrative features premiering this week at Sundance to find out which cameras, lenses, and formats they used, and why they chose them to create the looks and meet the production demands of their films. Here are their responses.

Films in U.S. Dramatic Competition are below, Premieres are on Page 2, NEXT Page 3, Midnight Page 4. Films appear in alphabetical order by title.

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

“Before You Know It”

"Before You Know It" DoP Jon Keng

“Before You Know It” DoP Jon Keng

courtesy of filmmaker

Dir: Hannah Pearl Utt, DoP: Jon Keng

Format: 3.2K Prores 4444
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke S4i

Keng: The cast was made up of primarily women across all age groups, so I wanted a lens set that would render their faces well without being overly clinical and sharp. The S4s have a very pleasant way of compressing people’s faces, even at wider focal lengths. I chose the Alexa Mini because of its size and inbuilt ND filters. I like keeping my camera as compact as possible so that it does not seem imposing to the actors, and it also allows me to move quicker.

“Big Time Adolescence”

"Big Time Adolescence" DoP Andrew Huebscher

“Big Time Adolescence” DoP Andrew Huebscher

Tom Wills

Dir: Jason Orley, DoP: Andrew Huebscher

Format: 2K ProRes 4444
Lens: Panavision Ultra Speeds and Super Speeds

Huebscher: “Big Time Adolescence” is an honest and frank look at an unlikely friendship between a high school student (Griffin Gluck) and his older sister’s ex-boyfriend (Pete Davidson). Jason and I wanted a distressed, filmic quality that felt authentic and analog. We didn’t want it to look bright and cheery, as these are relatable characters and the humor dark. Working closely with the design departments, we built drab palettes reflecting the environment these guys are trapped in. I love the pastel tones of Fuji film, and developed a LUT based on one of their print stocks, emphasizing smoky blacks and lower contrast. From there, many of our aesthetic choices fell into place. Optically, I was interested in taking the edge off the ALEXA without sacrificing detail, and after extensive testing settled on vintage Panavision lenses. We opted to shoot in 2K resolution, as 4K seemed slick and reduced too much of the grain. I integrated a lot of natural light, augmenting minimally with HMIs and LEDs, and some scenes were lit entirely with practicals. Coverage was simplistic and sometimes action played out in wider masters. In the end, we achieved a muted, understated look that I feel reflects the growing pains of teenage life.

“Brittany Runs a Marathon”

Dir: Paul Downs Colaizzo, DoP: Seamus Tierny

Format: 4K
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Panavision Primo spherical primes, Panavision 19-90 zoom lens, Fujinon 85-300mm zoom lens

Colaizzo: Our main character starts with a juvenile worldview — we wanted her world to feel bright and colorful, so we needed a lens that really helped us capture the high-contrast nature of that world. As the movie progresses, our main character looks to ground herself in a graceful reality. We chose this collection of lenses so our visual arc could mimic our main character’s internal journey.


"Clemency" DoP Eric Branco and director Chinonye Chukwu

“Clemency” DoP Eric Branco and director Chinonye Chukwu

Paul Sarkis

Dir: Chinonye Chukwu, DoP: Eric Branco

Format: 2K ProRes 4444 Anamorphic
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini & Alexa SXT
Lens: Cooke Anamorphics

Branco: We were after a very naturalistic look for this film. The subject material is so complex and layered, and early on Chinonye Chukwu and I settled on a restrained look that wasn’t going to distract. I lobbied to shoot anamorphic from the start. I had just shot a pilot in a working prison in my hometown of New York City, and I felt I was always fighting to get further away from the actors in the incredibly tight spaces. I really wanted to have more room on this film, both literally and creatively. We looked at test after test and ultimately settled on Cooke Anamophics. I was familiar with them from another project (“Night Shift,” Sundance 2017), which also took place in a cramped location, and I loved the way they interpreted not only the hard vertical lines found all over the prison, but also the softer locations on the outside.

The cinematography in “Clemency” is all about creating an environment where the actors can breathe and do their best work. To this end, I really tried to keep lights off the set whenever possible. This usually meant more work for gaffer Ted Rysz and key grip Anthony Schrader. This was one of those magical shoots where everyone really was giving their all to the project, and it really, really shows.

“The Farewell”

“The Farewell”


Dir: Lulu Wang, DoP: Anna Franquesa Solano

Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Zeiss Master Primes

Solano: Our visual language for the film was meant to reflect the theme, which is family unity. Even though Billi is the protagonist, Lulu and I always knew we wanted to focus more on the theme and follow the family as an entity, leading us to a more omniscient approach to the storytelling. This called for a wide aspect ratio that could include in the frame as many family members as possible. All characters are hiding an important piece of information from the head of the family. That is why we wanted to create a mise-en-scène that felt staged, to emphasize the idea that these characters are just performing some version of themselves. As a result, we used composed group shots in which all the family dynamics play out in a sort of organized chaos.

We considered the option of shooting on anamorphic to be able to frame a large number of characters. But after doing some tests in Beijing, we ended up going with spherical because we wanted to have the freedom to fill the frame and not have distracting distortions or a limited depth of field that would restrict the blocking. Another key factor was the physical limitation of apartments in China, which are often very small. In the end, our decision to use master primes and Alexa Mini was as much about fulfilling our visual language as it was making it work practically on set.


Dir: Minhal Baig, DoP: Carolina Costa

Format: ProRes 4444XQ 3.2K
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke S4 primes

Costa: From the start, it was clear that the Alexa Mini was the right camera for the job. I love the dynamic range and how natural skin tones are in this format. Plus, we were going to be in real locations, so the size was also important. Thinking of the Alexa as my constant “film stock” (I’ve shot all my features on it), I like to always test different types of glass with my directors. Minhal and I were at the beginning of prep and went to Panavision in Chicago to look at different sets of lenses. It was important for us that the audience felt engaged and connected with this family. The warmth and the nice fall off of the Cooke S4s felt like the right tool to portray these characters with empathy. The Cookes portray skin tones in a naturalistic way and in photographing a brown-skinned family this was very important to me. We shot mostly with 18mm and 25mm focal lengths, with close ups at 32mm. The wider end was a way to always be close to Hala and keep her perspective of the world – that was getting wider and wider as the movie progresses. We also wanted to show the environment around her, which was so important for Minhal – Chicago was treated as another character. Every technical choice we made was specific for this story and these characters and for them to be relatable to the audience. Hala is a Muslim girl that is going through the same ups and downs as any other teenager.

“Honey Boy”

Director Alma Harel and cinematographer Natasha Braier shooting "Honey Boy"

Director Alma Harel and cinematographer Natasha Braier shot “Honey Boy” on the Arri Alexa Mini, that overwhelming first choice of Sundance filmmakers

Monika Lek

Dir: Alma Har’el, DoP: Natasha Braier

Format: ARRIRAW Full Gate
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Anamorphic lenses Xtal express by Joe Dunton

Har’el: I wanted to find a way to capture the cinematic world Otis is always in dialogue with while keeping the hand held feel and intimacy of my documentary work.

“Imaginary Order”

"Imaginary Order" DoP Franck Tymezuk and director Debra Eisenstadt

“Imaginary Order” DoP Franck Tymezuk and director Debra Eisenstadt

courtesy of filmmaker

Dir: Debra Eisenstadt, DoP: Franck Tymezuk

Format: 2.8K arri
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke S4

Tymezuk: I choose the Arri Mini because it’s a very versatile camera. We had a lot of handheld, and it’s the perfect camera to achieve an independent feature. The Arri cameras are the most reliable camera on the market. It’s really rare to get in trouble with the electronics. When you shoot a feature during 16 days, one of the fears is to have a camera issue. You can’t wait for a replacement camera. All the shots missing are gone forever.

The Cooke S4 brought the best contrast, sharpness, and softness to tell Debra’s story. Besides, they are very light and it was easy to use handheld. I’m really happy with all the close ups we’ve made on the actors using the S4 long lenses. They are just beautiful lenses. We had a Zoom 25-250 Angenieux, too. It was very helpful for the car shots, and outdoors to adjust the frame with a zoom. The 25-250mm matched perfectly with the Cooke S4.

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”

"The Last Black Man In San Francisco" DoP Adam Newport-Berra

“The Last Black Man In San Francisco” DoP Adam Newport-Berra

Laila Bahman

Dir: Joe Talbot, DoP: Adam Newport-Berra

Format: 3.2k ProRes
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Zeiss Master Primes, Angénieux Optimo 24-290

Talbot: I was incredibly excited to shoot a film in San Francisco. It’s a city with rich history and culture, amazing light, and evocative architecture. It’s a city whose lifeblood is supplied by the middle class, but glorified and enjoyed by the wealthy newcomers that gentrify its neighborhoods. It was important for me to find the nuance in that juxtaposition, honoring San Francisco’s past while tracking its complicated evolution into the modern, often harsh city it is today. We needed to build a world that was honest yet elevated. Our two lead characters, Jimmie and Montgomery, are best friends and outsiders — proud frontiersman living on the fringes of society. I wanted to shoot San Francisco as they saw and lived it.

It was important to capture the city, but also build a world that was wholly unique to our characters’ perspectives. It’s elevated yet human — a romanticized Wild West that is larger than life. Jimmie teeters on the poverty line, but carries himself with an old-world pride, one that that pervades the aesthetic of the film. To acknowledge and heighten this, I sought to uphold his stature with wider lenses at low angles, which also brought the audience closer to Jimmie physically. Lighting him frontally popped him out of his surroundings, and gave a subtle nod to a more romantic era of filmmaking. We wanted to give the audience a chance to drink in the environment and see the city for all its beautiful potential in order to understand Jimmie’s complicated relationship with San Francisco. We obsessed over our wide shots, embraced long traveling shots, and indulged in a handful of impressionistic montages.

Because much of our talent were non-actors (including Jimmie), the approach always felt like it needed to be simple, honest, and photographic. We shot a 1.66 aspect ratio, which embraced the verticality of the city. Using the Arri Alexa with Zeiss Master Primes combined with some subtle diffusion and an excellent LUT from my longtime collaborator Damien Van Der Cruyssen at The Mill, I think we managed to create a look that harkens the past while still feeling oddly modern.


LUCE behind the scenes

Behind the scenes of shooting “Luce”

Jon Pack

Dir: Julius Onah, DoP: Larkin Seiple

Format: 35mm
Camera: Panaflex Millennium XL
Lens: Panavision Primo, E-, G-Series Lenses

Onah: From the very beginning, shooting on 35mm was the only real option we considered. I’ve shot all my features on film, and it’s simply the look that feels the most truthful and exciting to me. With “Luce,” the goal was to create an aesthetic that had a bit of a heightened, edgy reality. Larkin came up with a great description for it: “Punchy naturalism.” It meant something that still felt grounded, yet was cinematic — in this case, with saturated, contrast rich images. We both really wanted to embrace the look of film and feel the grain, so Larkin and our fantastic colorist Alex Bickel beat up the images a bit. It created a density and edge to the images that provided a psychological weight to the world of the characters.

It was also important that the visual language felt like it reflected the headspace of our main character, Luce. He’s a teenager who is very focused, intense, and cerebral. So this meant a very controlled camera, favoring balanced frames and also trying to cover things in one shot as much as possible. One of the thematic ideas the story centers on is the limits of our perception and how the ways we view each other shape power and privilege in our society. So these one-shots and long takes were also about telling the story in a way that allows the audience to decide what they believe about what’s happening in front of them. Shooting in anamorphic also meant the kind of widescreen that allows our eyes to wander around the frame, which was helpful in some of the long one-shots. A lot of this was quite challenging in our schedule, but Larkin did an incredible job of finding ways to develop both the lighting and some really dynamic oners. It was also his first feature shot on film, and he crushed it.

“Ms. Purple”

"Ms. Purple" Cinematographer Ante Cheng

“Ms. Purple” Cinematographer Ante Cheng

Courtesy of Ante Cheng

Dir: Justin Chon, DoP: Ante Cheng

Format: Prores 2.8/3.2k
Camera: Arri Alexa mini
Lens: Todd-ao 55mm anamorphic, Canon 300mm

Cheng: Justin Chon and I wanted to design an expressive visual language for “Ms. Purple,” in an efficient package suitable for our indie production. During prep, we came across the Todd-AO 55mm anamorphic lens. The way it renders faces is just beautiful. The image characteristics varies through different stops, and we would set it to the mood of the scene. We carried the Leica Macrolux diopters for a quick way to get past the minimum focus. 95 percent of the film was shot on the Todd-AO 55mm, and the res on a Canon 300mm. The spherical telephoto shifted the perspective, and allowed us to shoot across the street through crowds. We chose the versatile Alexa Mini for the extended handheld takes, with a custom Fuji film stock LUT. In the end, we’re happy with the simple yet specific approach.

“Native Son”

"Native Son" DoP Matthew Libatique and Rashid Johnson

“Native Son” DoP Matthew Libatique and Rashid Johnson

Chris Herr

Dir: Rashid Johnson, DoP: Matthew Libatique

Format: Arriraw 3.4K
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Todd AO anamorphic lenses, Cooke Vintage Anamorphic Lenses

Libatique: The choice of camera was largely a practical one. The form factor allowed us to use a Movi Pro 15, which served as a versatile camera platform that provided us an affordable remote head as well as Steadicam-like movement with the help of an Anti Gravity rig. This versatility, coupled with its ease of use, allowed us to move at a pace necessary to succeed despite our short schedule. Lensing was chosen by our desire to tell the story through a series of compositions. Rashid and I were inspired by a common love of the photos of Roy DeCarava. His work evoked emotion through a balance of subject and space in every frame. The anamorphic frame gave us the negative space as well as the focus fall off that added depth through the soft focus of the background colors chosen by Rashid and Akin, our production designer.


"Share" Director Pippa Bianco and DoP Ava Berkofsky

“Share” Director Pippa Bianco and DoP Ava Berkofsky

courtesy of filmmakers

Dir: Pippa Bianco, DoP: Ava Berkofsky

Format: Arri ProRes
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Hawk V-lite, Angenieux anamorphic zooms

Berkofsky: We paired the Alexa Mini with Hawk and Angenieux anamorphic lenses with the idea that this would help us create a world that was textured and psychological. Instead of using the traditional 2.39 anamorphic image, we used the 2.0 aspect ratio which, paired with the anamorphic lenses, helped us to create a sense of claustrophobia and pressure. We also used a vintage Angenieux anamorphic zoom that was beautiful, but optically pretty imperfect. We used the zoom at very specific times in the story, so its imperfections were part of the visual language and added a layer of texture.

The choice to use the Alexa Mini with these specific lenses gave us a level of flexibility. The camera has a very organic way of dealing with low light and darkness, which came in handy because most of the film takes at night, and we wanted to embrace and play with the dark, not fight it.

“The Sound of Silence”

"The Sound of Silence" Eric Lin

“The Sound of Silence” Eric Lin

James Chororos

Dir: Michael Tyburski, DoP: Eric Lin

Format: 3.2K Prores 4444
Camera: Alexa Mini
Lens: Zeiss Super Speeds Mark III, Optimo 24-290

Lin: A central element of the film is the Peter Lucian’s obsession with how sound is an invisible force that significantly influences our behavior. To draw out how that obsession has isolated him emotionally while also enhancing the act of listening, I knew we would want the ability to achieve a very shallow depth of field while shooting. We tested several sets of modern and vintage lenses that all opened up to at least a T1.4. Ultimately, we landed on the Zeiss Super Speeds because they had a cooler, less saturated color rendition and a softer contrast when shooting wide open. Like Peter, who relies on tape recorders in his meticulous work, the Super Speeds brought an analog feel to the image while also being precise. Mirroring the meticulousness and rigidity of Peter’s existence, we limited camera movement while also limiting the color palette in Peter’s world to a lot of browns, blues, and grays. The Alexa sensor had the depth of color to bring out the nuances of that color palette while holding on to accurate flesh tones so the images wouldn’t feel completely monochromatic. Another central part of the look was to use underexposure and embrace darkness to allow room for mystery. There were times we shot three to four stops underexposed, and I had to trick the meter just to get a reading. The Alexa sensor handled the deep underexposure beautifully.

“Them That Follow”

CInematographer Brett Jutkiewicz shooting "Them That Follow"

CInematographer Brett Jutkiewicz shooting “Them That Follow”

Julius Chiu

Dir: Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage DoP: Brett Jutkiewicz

Format: 3.2K ProRes
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke Speed Panchros

Jutkiewicz: The film is set in a rural Appalachian community that feels a bit like time moved on without it, so I wanted to create a look with a bit of an otherworldly quality to it, something not too modern or crisp. The image from the Alexa has a very organic, filmic feel and the vintage Cookes have a beautiful softness and a lot of character in how they flare and react to light sources in the frame. The combination of the two helped create a textural, slightly ethereal look. I also wanted to craft a visual language rooted in our protagonist Mara’s emotional journey, which often meant very intimate, tactile handheld camerawork and being physically close to our actors, so the Alexa Mini was great for keeping the size and presence of the camera rig small, and the beautiful focus fall-off of the lenses — especially shooting wide open — allowed me to isolate Mara in the frame and create a more subjective experience. Most of the film was shot handheld or on a tripod, but to separate and heighten the scenes of worship inside the town’s Pentecostal church I used fluid, energetic roaming steadicam shots, almost as if the camera itself, like the characters, had been overtaken by the holy spirit.

“To The Stars”

"To the Stars" cinematograher Andrew Reed

“To the Stars” cinematograher Andrew Reed

Kyle Kaplan

Dir: Martha Stephens, DoP: Andrew Reed

Format: ProRes 3.2K
Camera: Arri Alexa XT Plus
Lens: Panavision Primo

Reed: These tools were chosen for their familiarity, versatility, and excellent image rendering. The Alexa’s impressive dynamic range and naturalistic handling of highlights proved to be especially important for controlling and honing the film’s black-and-white aesthetic. And working with Panavision to customize the tuning of our lenses gave us additional degrees of specificity in terms of contrast and texture when defining the monochromatic look that best represents our tale of isolation and friendship in 1961 Oklahoma.

Shooting a film set in an historical era (and, in this case, one when cinema was already part of the cultural landscape) offers a myriad of challenges — not only in accurately depicting the period, but also in choosing a perspective communicated by our own formal choices. We were not interested in attempting to reproduce a relic by strictly adhering to conventions of the time or the media it produced. Nor were we looking to impose contemporary sensibilities, commenting on events through an anachronistic lens. Instead, we sought to strike a delicate balance, both narratively and technically. Among other things, we limited ourselves primarily to compositions and movements inspired by the era, while also purposefully deviating from this course at certain moments to incorporate instances of handheld or Steadicam. By acknowledging and respecting modes of the past, while also judiciously skewing our angle on the film towards something more current, we hopefully arrived at a place that is truthful and revealing to our characters and their environment.

Premieres are on the next page, NEXT films Page 3, Midnight film Page 4.

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