IndieWire reached out to the cinematographers whose feature films are premiering at the Cannes Film Festival to find out which cameras and lenses they used and, more importantly, why these were the right tools to create the visual language of their films.
(Films are in alphabetical order by title.)
Out of Competition/Special Screenings
“The Best Years of Life”
Dir: Claude Lelouch, DoP: Robert Alazraki
Format: Raw 4K in Spherical 2.39 format
Camera: 2 Sony F55s, All Jean Louis Trintignant’s dream sequences were shot on three iPhones 10s.
Lens: 24/290 zoom Angenieux, two zooms Fujinon 19/90 and 85/300, and a set of primary Leica Summicron lenses.
Alazraki: These choices were positive, the film is mixing well with the images of the previous Claude Lelouch film “A Man and a Woman” shot 50 years ago. The different look between iPhones and F55 pleased Claude Lelouch, and the shoot and the grading went magically well. I really think this magic comes from the script, the actors (Anouk Aimée and Jean Louis Trintignant), and the emotional energy of Claude Lelouch. We just had to do our job and were proud and privileged to be on this set.
Dir: Gael García Bernal, DoP: Juan Pablo Ramírez
Format: Arriraw 2.8K
Camera: Arri Alexa mini
Lens: Cooke speed panchro
Ramírez: At some point we wanted to shoot the movie on 16mm, we loved the look but it wasn’t very practical, we needed a lot of movement and we wanted it to feel smooth so we switched after some test with the Alexa mini. We went for the Speed panchros so we could get some texture in the movie, not trying to simulate the 16mm look, but trying to find a soft identity for the film. We shot 90% of the movie with the 25mm lens. I had tried that configuration before and loved how close I could be to the characters without deforming their faces. We needed that proximity to make sure people could feel as if they were in the characters’ shoes. We shot on real locations and there were a lot of different light sources I couldn’t control, the flare and coating condition of the old glass helped make the image consistent, unifying the different locations and light conditions to create a unique universe for the characters to exist.
Courtesy of Channel 4/Copyright Waad al-Kateab
Dir: Waad Al Kateab & Edward Watts, DoP: Waad Al Kateab
Format: High Definition Video (HDV)
Camera: I used a variety of cameras over the five years of the uprising. At the beginning, I shot only with a simple mobile phone. I then used a Sony HD CAM and Canon 650D. In the final year, under siege, my main camera was a Canon 7D. For a short time, I also had a DJI drone, Phantom 4.
Lens: Several of the cameras I used had fixed internal zoom lenses. With the 7D, I had a 35mm and 17-50mm f2.8
Waad Al Kateab: I wish I had the chance to choose what camera and tools to film with! The truth is in my situation I didn’t have that luxury. I didn’t have the experience, money or training to make an informed choice. My priorities were to have a light camera, easy to use, more practical, robust and not fragile. Security was the main deciding factor. At the beginning of the revolution, and when ISIS were in the city for four months at the end of 2013, it was very dangerous to openly film on the streets. That’s why mobile phones were often our only option to document stories. Throughout, the content of what we were capturing was more important than the aesthetics. Tripods, mics, lighting kits were too hard to come by and were often destroyed even when we did have them. I tried to have a variety of lenses available, but often there wasn’t time to change them. Thankfully the quality of even these small cameras was perfectly sufficient for what I was trying to do – documenting the lives of ordinary people living through a terrible conflict.
“Let It Be Law”
Dir/DoP: Juan Solanas
Format: UHD 3840×2160
Camera: Panasonic GH5
Lens: Leica 12-60mm 2.8/4
Solanas: I shot the movie 100 percent alone: Director, Cameraman, DP, Sound Engineer. The tool I needed was one that would give me full autonomy in a very light package. I did some tests with the GH5 shooting 10bit log and loved the texture of the image. From those tests it appeared to me that it was the perfect tool. No monitor, just the internal one, the optional preamp for having a good sound quality.
The dual image stabilization (sensor and optic) is just amazing, half of the movie is handheld. The body and the optics where tropicalized and I shoot a lot under the rain without any protection and the camera and the optics just kept working perfectly. Its lightness allowed me to have incredible intimacy with people and that was one of my priorities.
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.
Courtesy of Cannes
Dir: Abel Ferrara, DoP: Peter Zeitlinger
Format: Arri Alexa Fullframe anamorphic ARRIRAW, DNG
Camera: Alexa Mini, DJI – Zenmuse X5R
Lens: Zeiss spheric with sapphire plug in
Zeitlinger: Set in Rome, primarily in the beautiful and lively district of Colle Oppio and Piazza Victorio, the story of “Tommaso” is based on Abel Ferrara’s experiences as a man who escaped his own drug and alcohol addiction. Willem Dafoe is the only professional actor featured in the film – the rest of the cast is made up of locals who live in the area.
Abel wanted to shoot in a rougher, more documentary-looking style in order to counterbalance the world of imagination and erotic fantasies of the lead character. But because the scenes are realistic, I did not want the film to come across looking like a private home video. In order to do this, I had to bridge the gap between the demands of cinematic aesthetics and the cheap randomness of the real world. I designed the locations like film sets and painted the walls to make sure that the colors translated to film harmoniously. The color palate was based on the real world, but we eliminated more vibrant colors that would be distracting and reminded me of TV news.
One central challenge for me was working with digital cameras, which I find usually result in shots that look too clean. We wanted the film to appear warmer and more human as the story is full of erotic fantasies and paranoia. I decided to use anamorphic lenses to evoke a subconscious feeling of the great movies of the seventies. But the issue with those lenses is that they are big and heavy. When dealing with amateur actors, I prefer to use a small setup. I didn’t want equipment that looked too professional and intimidating which would make them shy and affect their performances. In this case, I decided to use the Alexa Mini on a small gimbal rig. Sometimes in the subway or in public places, I took spheric lenses or an even smaller setup (a modified drone camera which I could carry in one hand) which I could easily hide in a bag with a hole. I previously developed this method when I was secretly shooting in North Korea with Werner Herzog.
In doing this, I was able to follow Willem Dafoe “undercover” and caught real moments with real people in the mostly undirected scenes. I use modified surveillance or drone cameras in documentaries very often. They allow me to film close to people without becoming a presence in their real world interactions. In this case, “Tommaso” is a scripted feature but also very realistic and close to life.
Abel loved this approach and we sometimes even used smart phones for filming- which we ultimately did not end up using in the final edit as it looked didn’t add any useful aesthetic to an already “rough” looking film. It took us a fortune to match the clean and cheaper spheric lenses of the drone camera with the texture of the professional warm, soft and humanly skewed anamorphic one. In my own post production house, Film SRL, I used VFX software to create lens flares and chromatic aberration to create a homogenous cinematic look. I also VFXed people out of the frame and microphones that destroyed the illusion and the world of a feature film.
Courtesy of Cannes
“Too Old to Die Young”
Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn, DoP: Darius Khondji
Format: ARRIRAW 3.4K Open gate. For 1.85:1.
Camera: Arri Alexa XT and Mini.
Lens: We used a set of old PVintage lenses from Panavision that was specially optimized for us, for the look we wanted.
Khondji: We wanted, on these modern urban tales of suburban Los Angeles, not the sharpest lenses or the most defined contrast but more like an atmospheric feel from the glass of the lenses itself, without having to filter the lens too much. We were after a more painterly, polaroid feel on the texture of the image, on the faces of the characters as much as on the city itself. NWR is a very inspiring and visual director, as far as pushing you to go far and experiment with color and light. We were after a classic look but with an experimental process with the image.
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