IndieWire reached out to the directors and cinematographers behind the scripted narrative features premiering this week at SXSW 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.
“The Art of Self-Defense”
Camera: Panasonic Varicam 35 and LT
Director Riley Stearns: I wanted to stay away from an overly clean image for this film. My cinematographer Michael Ragen and I were impressed with the Varicam’s subtle noise which felt quite filmic — the images coming out of the camera had an aesthetically pleasing grit to them. Additionally, we knew going into the shoot that there would be a lot of scenes shot at night, so the low light capabilities of the Varicam immediately set it apart from other cameras. We knew we wanted to do an HDR grade of the film so the ability to shoot in 4k was essential. In the grade, colorist Darin Woolridge, Mike and I added a heavy amount of grain and we embraced the warmer tones of the film in part by adding some brown to our blacks. Most of the work was done in camera but we had a lot of fun fine-tuning the final look with Darin.
“Boyz in the Wood”
Format: 2.8k 4:3 Open Gate, ProRes 4444 XQ
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini Cooke
Lens: Anamorphic/i Lenses.
DP Patrick Meller: Director Ninian Doff and I felt that it was important to accentuate the Scottish landscape. We wanted the imagery to not only look epic but also to help isolate the four boys in their hostile environment whilst they were being hunted! We felt shooting anamorphic 2.39:1 would be a perfect ratio to help capture and emote that on screen. I had used Cooke Anamorphic/i Lenses prior to filming Boyz in the Wood on a commercial- I was really impressed with the fall off, in particular the 65mm and the 75mm focal lengths. The lenses have a warm and natural characteristic which I liked as it complimented the earthy brown and green tones of the highlands. We had a simple shooting rule for the film: when the boys were being hunted the camera was handheld and energetic to help enhance their fear and lack of control but when they became the hunters the camera was either on a head or on a dolly. This signified they were back in control. The Alexa Mini was a perfect camera choice to achieve these two shooting formats… choice that when the boys were being hunted I operated the camera in a handheld capacity and when the boys were hunting the duke and duchess and the boys were in control we opted for dolly, head and legs. We needed to keep our kit to a minimum as we were shooting in very severe locations with equally extreme weather.
“Come As You Are”
Format: ProRes 4444 3.2k Log-c
Camera: Alexa Mini/Amira
Lens: Panavision Ultra Speeds
Director Richard Wong: Alexa just makes sense in general. The Mini, being essentially modular, allows us to use it in many different configurations and situations. And the Amira’s form factor is perfect for B-camera and hand-held, which a portion of the film is shot in. As for lenses, I find the Ultra Speeds (essentially Super Speeds with Panavision coatings) to be very versatile. The story covers a bunch of different emotions and tones. Sometimes funny, sometimes serious, sometimes dreamy, sometimes very raw. The look of the lenses were a nice thread through all those moods. And the speed of the lenses allowed us to be relatively minimal with lighting and move quickly.
“The Curse of La Llorona”
Format: REDCode Raw 6k with 10% reduction and Cropped for 2.40 Frame
Camera: Red Weapon
Lens: Panavision Primos
Cinematographer Michael Burgess: Given the nature of the material we wanted to create an Immersive experience almost allowing the audience to feel as though they are there. A polished but natural feeling Image gives the movie a cinematic feel and allows the audience to relate to the characters and their environments. For me shooting with wide lenses and putting the camera in close with the characters is the trick in providing this for the audience. I found The Red Weapon and Panavision Primos were the best choices to help me achieve this. The Panavision primos have a great range of wide lenses. They also have a very natural level of contrast and color rendition. The movie is set in the 70’s but still wanted to make a modern day movie. So I did only subtle things in camera to hint towards a 70’s look. I did this by giving a little extra character to the image by shooting wide open. I also provided a slightly grittier image by using multiple color temperatures within the frame and having strong contrast. The primos lended themselves perfectly to achieve these techniques.
I wanted to keep the camera as small and mobile as possible while still maintaining a cinematic quality which is why I chose the Red Weapons. In providing this immersive experience we were constantly moving the camera with Dolly’s, cranes and lots of hand held. Given the Weapons size I could just take the camera and run with it keeping the audience with the characters.
“Daniel Isn’t Real”
Camera: Sony Venice
Lens: Cooke Crystal Express Anamorphic, Panavision T-series anamorphic 135mm+150mm
Director Adam Egypt Mortimer: I wanted to make sure that the movie had a sensuous, physical look, the kind of filmic photochemical texture that helps you enter the dream of the story. The ultra-clarity of a lot of contemporary movies wouldnt quite work for what we were making, which is a very subtle blend of the real and unreal. The Venice — a brand new and AMAZING camera — gave us the best and most subtle responses to color and light, especially when we were out on the street at night. The vintage anamorphic lenses gave us a layer of physical sensation; DP Lyle Vincent and our incredible color artist Tom Poole at Company 3 worked together on a look that included LiveGrain to really create something particular. The choice to shoot anamorphic was based on what we could do with the framing of the two characters Luke and Daniel in the same shot, and the bits of distortion and strangeness you get from especially the older anamorphics. Every so often, when we want to show something from a more objective point of view, we switch to a spherical lens, and you can feel that difference. Plus I’m obsessed with The Exorcist and how Friedkin shot that with anamorphics.
Camera: Canon C-300
Lens: 25mm, 35mm Zeiss Prime Lenses
Director Bob Byington: We looked at Toni Erdmann a lot and made a simple decision about the axis for each scene, letting the positioning of the actors determine how we looked at them. I like how it worked out. Carmen Hilbert, the DP, and I made a pact to keep things as simple as possible, but the look isn’s simplistic.
“The Garden Left Behind”
Camera: Alexa and Alex mini
Lens: Zeiss Compact prime lenses CP-2
Director Flavio Alves: Deliberately we used a gritty, handheld look for The Garden Left Behind. Koshi Kiyokawa, our incredibly talented cinematographer (whose last project is the Japanese Netflix original series “Erased”) and I decided to shoot the film through an observational lens. We embraced the verite look even more so in the scenes where we had first time actors. It gave us an opportunity to capture the true essence of each actor’s characteristics. Realism is in the epicenter of the film and I can’t think of any other way to have shot this film.
“The Girl on the Third Floor”
Format: 3.2k prores 4444hq
Camera: Arri mini
Lens: Zeiss super speeds mark II, Cooke 25-250 HR zoom
DP Scott Thiele: The project started with a definite preference for the Alexa camera platform. We were on a tight budget and schedule and really wanted to have a natural color palette that could hold up to a lighting scheme that wanted to push some different colors because of how frequently we shot in the same spaces. The super speeds are crisp at a 2/2.8 split without being clinical, allowing us to forgo any diffusion in front of the lens. The Cooke 25-250 HR zoom matched the look relatively well even though it required a little more light and a 2k sensor crop.
“Go Back to China”
Camera: Sony F55 and Sony FS7
Lens: Zeiss Ultraprimes
DP Josh Silfen: We shot in a working toy factory in China and had limited control over the location. To get the most out of the available lighting, we wanted to use cameras with both excellent low-light sensitivity and a lot of dynamic range, and the Sony cameras are great for both of those things. The film is shot almost entirely hand-held, and the Sony cameras are relatively small and light and well-balanced for hand-held shooting so they allowed us to move very quickly and efficiently.
“J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and The Church of the SubGenius”
Format: HG Video
Camera: Sony FS7
Lens: Zeiss CP2
Director Sandy K Boone: The FS7 setup offered relative ease of travel and great picture quality, which was key to us. Because so much of our archival footage is low resolution, we really wanted to lean on the interviews and David Layton’s unique framings to raise the overall production quality of the film. The VHS camera was used for the opposite effect. When we needed to bring still images to the screen (from photos of SubGenius materials), we felt it made sense to present them in a format that matches the time period of the film as well as the huge quantity of VHS archival footage the SubGenius were kind enough to share with us.
Format: 2k 422 12bit
Camera: Canon C300MKII
Lens: Canon CN-E 15.5-47 2.8 & Canon CINe 50mm 1.3 85mm 1.3 for the Motel Location Zeiss LWZ.2 15.5-45 2.6 & Ultra Prime 8R for Chat room location
Director Numa Perrier: Going in I remembered the shadowy nature of the studio apartments I lived in in Las Vegas. We were able to secure the same location from 1998 and not much had changed. It was important to me to show a sharp contrast with the emotional and light palette from the apartment scenes versus the chat room scenes, it’s two very different worlds occupied by the same woman. There are limited exteriors in the film but it was also important to show how garish the natural light of Las Vegas can be. Cinematographer Brent Johnson and I worked together on dozens of digital episodes and had a nice short hand and excitement going into our first feature together. Some remarks from him—“We went with the Canon C300MKII because of its dynamic range and its ability to handle low light situations. The Canon zoom helped capture the wide end in the top of a scene and when performances happened to get intense we had the ability to punch in to get a medium or close up. We would then cover the scene with either a 50mm or 85mm for coverage and have the ability to shoot at a shallower stop to separate the talent from our small locations and add more depth to the scene. With the help of gaffer Gray Morison, we would utilize the Canon’s ability in low light situations to use available and practical light and then add a far side key for added depth. The 8R was an exciting lens to use for the Chat room scenes when the actresses would break the 4th wall and talk directly to their clients, it gave a webcam feel without the fish eye look. We utilized the warmth of the Canon glass for the hot and cramped motel location and it contrasted well with the cooler tonality of the Zeiss zoom and 8R for the chat rooms.”
“Leave the Bus Through the Broken Window”
Format: h264 HD
Camera: Panasonic GH4, iPhone 7
Lens: Voigtlander fixed primes, a 10.5mm and a 25mm f0.95
Director Andrew Hevia: I firmly believe that the best camera is the one you have on you. This film is entirely about the small, unplanned moments and strange detours I took while living in Hong Kong, attempting to make a film about an art fair. The only way I could have made it was to have a hand held camera with me at all times, rolling on the moments that typically get cut out of a more polished and controlled film. There’s an immediacy to the roughness that really works. Also, the Voigtlanders are incredibly fast lenses and allow for some really great depth of field, which isn’t always the case with micro-four thirds cameras. The manual focus let me choose my moments and tell a story though the lens in a way I appreciated. The GH4 and Voigtlander lens combination was exactly the aesthetic I wanted and I’m delighted with the outcome.
“Mickey and the Bear”
Format: ProRes 2K
Camera: Arri Alexa Plus 4:3
Lens: Panavision Ultraspeed Primes and Cooke PV Zooms
DP Conor Murphy: we knew we needed a wide array of focal lengths, primes as well as zooms, to capture the charged and fluctuating perspective of our young protagonist, and we wanted the organic quality of older glass. Panavision was able to provide us with an Alexa Plus package and a full range of primes and zooms from the 1970s. Annabelle Attanasio: Anaconda, Montana, the central location of the film, feels like ea time capsule of the Americana of the 70s and 80s. Our lens choices helped us amplify that bygone quality inherent to the town. We shot a lot of the movie in close quarters, within a two-bedroom mobile home, and the compact size of the Alexa Plus helped us to shoot through hallways and in closet-sized rooms, when a larger body would prevent us from having that intimacy.
Director Annabelle Attanasio: Anaconda, Montana, the central location of the film, feels like ea time capsule of the Americana of the 70s and 80s. Our lens choices helped us amplify that bygone quality inherent to the town. We shot a lot of the movie in close quarters, within a two-bedroom mobile home, and the compact size of the Alexa Plus helped us to shoot through hallways and in closet-sized rooms, when a larger body would prevent us from having that intimacy.
“Mother’s Little Helpers”
Camera: Arri Amira
Lens: Fujinon Cabrio 19-90mm, Arri/Fujinon Alura 30-80mm
Director Kestrin Pantera: As the performances by the ensemble cast in Mother’s Little Helpers were completely improvised, we decided to cross shoot each scene with two Amiras on medium zooms so we could get the most out of every take. At some point we started to shoot our close up shots first, as the actors found their blocking for the scene, and would finish with the wide shot once the scene’s arch had been fully realized, usually after 2 or 3 takes. We shot mostly handheld, and operators were on their own, so the Amira was a great choice for single operator setup. The zooms were necessary for finding shots in each moment, reframing as performances shifted from one actor to another. It became a sort of dance between the camera and actors, where they lead and we followed.
“Ms. White Light”
Format: ARRIRAW 2.8K
Camera: Alexa XT Plus 4:3
Lens: Cooke Anamorphic i/lens 32, 40, 50, 75, and 100mm
Director Paul Shoulberg: The film deals primarily with the big, highly philosophical subject matter of death, but it takes place in seemingly mundane settings like hospital rooms, a living room, an office, etc. Our main character is also existing with the contradiction of having such an important, life or death occupation (literally), while maintaining a closed off, boxed in personal life. The conflict between profound beauty and the monotony of day to day life really lent itself to bringing the highly cinematic, anamorphic look into locations that are normally considered drab and claustrophobic. In addition to giving small spaces a more epic feel, shooting anamorphic also made these boxy spaces look a bit skewed, supporting the slightly heightened reality in which the film exists.
Format: 4k HD 24fps, 1.85 aspect ratio
Camera: Panasonic EVA 1
Lens: Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX-II 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens for Canon EF; Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens for Canon EF; Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens for Canon EF
Director Jeremy Teicher: From the very beginning I knew that I would be a one-person operation directing, shooting, and recording sync sound, so my gear package was all about efficiency. I picked the EVA1 because it’s a mini-cinema powerhouse, approaching the VariCam/RED in image capture capability and sporting XLR mounts while also being very lightweight and compact. I had to carry everything on my back at all times, so I selected three high-speed zoom lenses that would cover me in just about any situation and perform well in low light without being tremendously heavy. I also had a few small LED lights, a monopod, and a set of ND filters – all housed in a Manfrotto backpack. I knew the cinematic style would be verité, since we’d be working in active Olympic venues for the entirety of production, so I took advantage of my long zoom lens to film entire scenes without being noticed. Although we had unprecedented levels of access to the Olympic Village and other venues like the Curling Arena and Figure Skating Rink, I didn’t want to roll into a location and shut things down. So I’d plant the actors and hide a few dozen feet away. I also used my wider lenses to get really close and capture details of the Olympic Village, like the meal options in the dining hall and the ski repair equipment on the cross-country course, that most people never get to see. The result is a blend of intimate close-ups and guerilla-style long shots.
“One Man Dies a Million Times”
Camera: Sony FS7
Lens: Vintage Lomo
Director Jessica Oreck: When confronted with historical stories that they haven’t experienced first hand, audiences often tend to treat them as almost “otherworldly.” As if it isn’t something that could ever happen to them, because it’s not part of their current reality. I wanted to avoid that and show that this isn’t science fiction or even a historical romance set during WWII but rather that it is real, tangible, present and pressing. As such, I wanted to create an atmosphere that was both familiar and relevant, full of living, breathing contemporaries. But I also didn’t want the movie to be instantly dated. I wanted it to be recognizable as just 2018, to be just one year amid the decades to which it is relevant. I wanted there to be that slippage of time where you can’t quite put your finger on when this is happening. Black and white was the most obvious way of facilitating that tone. Since the DP, Sean Price Williams, and I knew exactly how we wanted the film to look, we actually locked our black and white settings with the very first shot. These days most black and white films shoot in color and then desaturate during post-production, but we were committed from the get-go. Part of that specific look we wanted also involved using vintage Lomo lenses, giving the film a texture outside the contemporary standards.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon”
Format: Arri raw 2880 x 2160
Camera: ARRI Alexa
Lens: G series and E series Panavision Anamorphic
DP Nigel Bluck: We wanted anamorphic to help w the fable feeling we were trying to create, I find anamorphic can help with this sort of image, the vignette, the selective focus. I wanted to shoot this in a very direct naturalistic way, but wanted the lenses to help to feel like we are telling a fable or tale in a way. I chose the Gseries lenses mainly for their coatings and ability to handle vailing glare as this part of the country- the big skies… it can be very hard on the lenses and controlling contrast. I wanted to stay with a natural light direction and we did, I only lit night scenes and one or two day interiors – and even then this was very very paired back for night exterior. We lit the entire film w my Digital Sputnik LED package and a few additional small units – including the night moonlit work. I rated the camera at 1600 ASA to effectively protect the highlights and give the lenses a chance to resolve shooting the lenses at 2.8/4 for the most part. We ran with two cameras one operated by my wife Jac Fitzgerald and one by myself, we tried to keep very light and nimble. The balance of all the above was a choice we made to keep a very formal aspect as well, composed wide static photography that our charachters move through – then right there with them , this is a contrast I really wanted from early on, not wanting the film to fall into a simply naturalistic, doco voyeuristic vain but find a way to keep it direct or.. “true” Yet retaining that feeling of a fable.
Format: Ultra HD
Camera: Sony A7Sii
Lens: Rokinon Cine DS Lenses, mostly 35mm & 50mm – around 1.8 aperture
Directors Colby Holt & Sam Probst: We wanted the film to have a very honest and vulnerable look. These lenses and this camera gave us an opportunity to shoot most of the film without too much added lighting equipment. We didn’t want to over glitz and glam it but rather wanted to stay focused on the subject. We also found that utilizing mostly natural light with wider apertures gave the film a grounded look, but still very cinematic because of the smooth depth of field. With such a shallow depth of field, the focus was literally on our leading actress at all times.
Format: Arri Alexa 3.2 k pro res
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: Canon K35
Director Tom Cullen: The look of pink wall was unique in that we wanted to convey the six different time periods through adjusting the aspect ratio of the camera. The mini was great in that it allowed us to shoot full frame 4:3 all the way through to 2.39 widescreen. We chose to shoot on older lenses that have some unique characteristics, softer in quality and with messed up flares and visual aberrations, which complimented the look of each different year in the film. We accentuated this in the grade, which was done at Fotokem, by pushing the color space towards an older Fuji film print stock, which was augmented in each year of the story through adding film grain and halation to differing degrees. I used the camera specifically in all 6 sections of the film to dilineate the different years. For example, in Year 1 of their relationship I wanted to replicate the feeling of falling in love; I shot 4:3, concentrating the characters in the centre of the frame, we went hand-held, giving the section an energy that complimented the non-linear/distracted edit to emulate the rush of attraction. Whereas, in the final Year of their relationship I pushed the aspect ratio to 2.39, keeping the camera on sticks and pushing the characters to the edge of frame, giving the feeling of an isolated and disconnected relationship. Each section of the film has its own unique qualities to aid the story telling.
“Run This Town”
Format: 3.2 Arri
Camera: ARRI Alexa
Lens: An incredible set of vintage Panavisions from the late-70s. I would shoot an entire film on the 40mm from that set.
Director Ricky Tollman: My DP, Nick Haight, and I wanted to avoid the trappings of “indie” filmmaking. We looked to films that we both loved — many of which were inspirations at the script stage. Growing up, my weekends would be filled with hours spent at Dumbo Video and then Blockbuster. One of my best friends and I would rent the most inappropriate movies for a pair of eleven-year-olds and watch them in his basement. I don’t know that I should have watched “A Clockwork Orange” in the fifth grade. But here we are. It was a deep, deep rabbit hole to go down. “Network,” “Blow Out,” “The Parallax View,” “Girlfriends,” “the Conversation,” “Klute.” The films of that period had a very real effect on me. I wanted to tell a story about my friends and people that I knew in our current era but told through the lens of the films that shaped how I look at the world. Using the lenses we did gave us the texture Nick and I wanted. Pairing it with an Alexa allowed us to work quickly — applying a LUT each day as we went. We knew what we were getting right away.
Format: 2k ProRes 4444
Camera: Arri Alexa Classic
Lens: Cooke S4 lenses and an Angenieux 24-290, often with a doubler. Primarily, though, 90% of the film was shot on the 40mm prime.
DP Nate Hurtsellers and Dir Alex Thompson: We knew we were going to live largely on a single lens, and we wanted the ability to do wider shots that could end close; a 35mm was a little too funky, and the 50mm was too tight and expected. But the 40mm does just enough in terms of barrel distortion and depth perception. It just lives in this perfect world between comedy and drama, where anything can happen. It wasn’t an inherently funny lens. We didn’t want to lay comedy on comedy, and stifle the human element of the story. Despite its setting, this movie steals more from “The Godfather” than “500 Days of Summer.” Our biggest inspirations for the look of the film were Haskell Wexler’s work in Coming Home and Conrad Hall’s lensing in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” We stole a lot of our decisions regarding eyeline and tone from those films. The zoom we ripped wholly from Coming Home – they just put a bunch of people in a space, threw the zoom on and filmed them; the filmmaker steps back and you become so objective that the characters get to be real and more vulnerable. At the same time you’re tipping the hat to the conventions of documentary, “oh this is how, if this were really happening, this is what it would look like. This is what it would be shot on.” With those documentary moments the entire movie felt a little more real, a little more grounded. It was also great for covering enormous stretches of dialogue, too, and shows what you can do with a zoom. Pick off the wide, a mid-shot, a few tight shots – we tried shooting that scene with conventional coverage, with a steadicam – nothing worked, you’re getting in the actors faces, trying to get a six-year old, no matter how talented, to do a walk n’ talk and forget she’s working on a movie.
“7 Reasons to Run Away”
Camera: Red One Epic W Helium
Lens: Anamorphic Hawk-V
Directors Esteve Soler + Gerard Quinto + David Torras: The anamorphic lenses are the perfect tool to disturb the perception of the audience. We want to break the conventions of the comedic genre appling little pills of horror. The anamorphic lenses helps us to submerge audience into a fantastic and unpredictable world.
Format: 2k Prores 4444
Camera: Arri Alexa XT, Alexa Mini
Lens: Panavision E, G, and Primo lenses, as well as some sequences with Cooke animorphics
Directors Stephen Cedars & Benji Kleiman: The Panavision E, G, and Primo lenses are just bowed and imperfect enough to give the image some real character. We didn’t want a modern, flawless lens because we didn’t wanted our frames to look too manufactured; a lot of our framing is very classically balanced, but we wanted our final shots to end up looking cinematic, not too pristine like a commercial. Especially with digital filmmaking, we felt like adding some character was key. We also do a lot of snap-zooming into dutch angles to punctuate moments of horror/comedy. We used a Panavision 19-90 mm spherical zoom lens on a tango head (a camera mount that allows for dutch angles). And having the vertical repositioning room came in extra handy for those shots!
Format: Full Frame digital recording Apple ProRes
Camera: Sony A7S recording to a PIX e5 recorder
Lens: Rokinon Cine Primes
Director Hilary Brougher: Our D.P., Ethan Mass carefully designed a camera/lens/lighting package to achieve high-quality images with a small camera, manageable files, and equipment that could be arranged very quickly. We had a very small crew and production footprint at our primary location — a house on the side of a mountain. We tried to use natural light whenever possible, which is stunning because no one does it better than nature. Keeping it simple and agile so we could catch the light was the way to go. When needed, we augmented the existing natural light with small LED and tungsten sources. We had two studio days in addition to our location work. Principle photography was 1080p, and we later did scenic and pick-ups as the seasons changed in 4K.
Format: Apple Pro Res 4444
Camera: Arri Amira
Lens: Zeiss Mk II Super Speeds
Cinematographer Chris Lew: I chose to shoot on the Amira with Zeiss Super Speeds because of the nature of the film, and the realties of our schedule and budget. There wasn’t much time to light scenes, so a lot of the look was molded in pre production by carefully choosing the right locations that had existing lighting that we could augment, and being there at the right time of day to take advantage of natural light. Our schedule was so tight, I needed to be mobile and have the freedom to react to Grace and Ben’s performances.
From the very beginning Grace wanted the film to be rooted in shock cinema, inspired heavily by filmmakers like Gaspar Noé. It was daunting, but very exciting. It often meant that the light and framing was based on instinct rather than logic. Tito takes place in only a few locations, so I went wild with the looks, gelling fixtures to different colours based on the state of the character’s mind in the scene and using off the shelf industrial bulbs to get raw colours. No rules applied, and I’m so thankful to Grace for trusting me in that way.
As she was the writer, director and star of the film, I wanted to relieve her of as much of the technical side as possible, and always try to offer inspiration for the look of each scene. We couldn’t have done this if we hadn’t spent so much time in prep watching movies, sharing references and just hanging out on her porch talking about what excites us creatively. That laid a solid foundation for when the shoot began so we knew that if an idea popped up in the moment, we could trust that it would fit into the DNA of the movie.
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke Anamorphics
Director Richard Bates, Jr.: For the first time in my career I really opened up the frames and shot wide. In order to capture a lot of our current values it was important to put an emphasis on aesthetics – to treat the character’s environments as an extension of themselves. I’ve never shot my characters so wide nor have I ever shot so many inserts, something I’ve tried to avoid doing altogether in the past.
Format: 2.8K Prores 4444
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cinevision CZ Anamorphics
Directors Dan Berk & Robert Olsen: The anamorphic format was a perfect tool for creating a distinctly cinematic image and for framing our ensemble cast. The unique optical abberations and low contrast look that these particular lenses produce helped match our characters’ psychological and emotional states in a visual way, and created a warped reality through which they could view the real world.
“The Wall of Mexico”
Camera: Alexa Mini
Directors Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak: These fine old Soviet lenses disrupt the hyperreal texture of digital cinematography, forcing back into the format a ghost of old analog modes. It’s hard to say this helped tell our story in particular, because this kind of tempering of the digital has something to lend almost any film. No doubt digital will catch up with analog film at some point, maybe even eclipse it, but it hasn’t yet.
“Yes, God, Yes”
Format: 3.2K, 4444, 1.85 aspect ratio
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: Detuned Panavision Primos
Cinematographer Todd Antonio Somodevilla: The most important element of the visual approach for us was to feel like we were always with the main character, Alice, seeing the world as she experiences it. We wanted to absorb the world through her eyes without being too obvious about it. This approach deeply affected where we placed the cameras and the lenses we chose to cover the different scenes.
We also talked about how to make the look appropriate to the year in which it was set – around 2000. For this, we settled on a softer (for lack of a better word) look in an attempt to bring a bit of nostalgia into the mix. Also we loved the idea of using and augmenting natural light as often as possible. And to embrace and accentuate that, I tested several different lenses from Panavision, playing around with their series of “detuned” choices and comparing those to their classic Primo line. Karen and I decided on a particular set of detuned lenses that we thought would aid our desire to inject a bit of nostalia to the story. Also, it allowed us to play with the “imperfect” flaring of the detuned lenses which I found to often be quite beautiful and appropriate to the story.
The detuned lenses also helped to soften the overly-“perfect” feel of shooting on a digital cinema camera. It was a bit like gently guiding a partner through an intricate dance.
Lastly, I consider the Arri Mini to be the best digital cinema camera on the market. It gives you the incredible Arri latitude with the beautiful film-like roll off in the shoulder and toe of the curve.