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Sundance Camera Survey: Why Are So Many Independent Films Shot on the Alexa Mini?

The cinematographers behind "Rye Lane," "Mutt," and "Passages" on why the Arri Alexa Mini has become their camera of choice.

Franz Rogowski and Adèle Exarchopoulos appear in Passages by Ira Sachs, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Guy Ferrandis / SBS PRODUCTIONS

“Passages”

Guy Ferrandis / SBS Productions

When IndieWire conducted its annual survey of all the cameras used by cinematographers at the Sundance Film Festival, a striking trend quickly emerged: Over 75 percent of the DPs with narrative films at the festival utilized either the Arri Alexa Mini or its large format sibling, the Alexa Mini LF, as their camera of choice. The Mini was introduced in 2015 as a compact version of the Alexa designed primarily for use on drones and gimbals, but its combination of a traditional Alexa sensor with increased mobility eventually led to its use as the A camera on Hollywood studio movies like “A Star is Born” and “Get Out” — and now, it seems, for a majority of cinematographers in the independent realm.

The Mini’s presence in independent film began to be felt at Sundance’s 2017 iteration, where festival favorites “Patti Cake$” and “Thoroughbreds,” among others, were captured with the camera. “It was a very ambitious shoot, and we needed to be quick and nimble,” “Patti Cake$” director Geremy Jasper told IndieWire at the time. “We wanted a lightweight camera that could give us the energetic dynamics of live performance and also the intimacy of our characters.” “Thoroughbreds” helmer Cory Finley was impressed not only with the Mini’s size but the quality of its imagery, noting that the camera “helped create the very precise, high-contrast, and slightly dreamy look we were going for.”

Olan Collardy, the cinematographer of this year’s “Rye Lane,” also noted the Mini’s visual texture as a key factor in choosing the camera. “I have found it to be one of the best digital cameras on the market in terms of colour rendition and skin-tone reproduction,” he said. “These two factors were of paramount importance to me, given the nature of the world and the characters we were capturing on film.” For Matthew S. Pothier, the cinematographer on “Mutt,” camera selection was a question of practical considerations. “Keeping the camera package simple and realistic to our constraints gave us the most flexibility to adapt to the chaos that is shooting a micro budget movie in stolen and borrowed locations,” he said. “But also from a practical standpoint, we had a tiny and sometimes nonexistent lighting team, so having a lens that would shoot in the darkest of conditions proved to be invaluable.”

The Mini’s size was often cited as a key reason behind its use, with most cinematographers finding the combination of an Alexa sensor with a compact package irresistible. “The Mini LF 4.5K in Arriraw met the distribution requirements while giving us a versatile package,” said Cary Lalonde, the cinematographer of “Young. Wild. Free.” “As all of our shooting was on location, we were always fitting the camera into small places, a locker, a fridge or jammed into a car. With the clock always ticking, the Mini LF allowed my 1st AC, Trigg Ferrano, to convert quickly from handheld to studio to crane and Steadicam as the shot demanded.”

Other cinematographers noted that the Alexa Mini was less a specific choice for a specific film than a default choice regardless of subject matter and circumstances. “When not shooting on film, I love the Alexa,” said “Passages” director of photography Josee Deshaies. “It’s like an old friend — you excuse the faults and really appreciate the qualities.” Fran Fernández-Pardo, cinematographer on “Mamacruz,” put it even more succinctly: “When I try another camera, I always regret my decision and want to go back to Alexa.”

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