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How I Shot That: The Cameras and Cinematography of Sundance Scripted Narrative Films

37 cinematographers break down the camera, lenses, and look of their feature films premiering at the 2022 festival.

"Sharp Stick" Cinematographer Ashley Connor

“Sharp Stick” Cinematographer Ashley Connor

courtesy of filmmaker

IndieWire reached out to the cinematographers behind the scripted narrative features premiering at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival 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 appear in alphabetical order by title.

“After Yang”

Benjamin Loeb_After Yang_Cinematographer

On the set of “After Yang”

Courtesy of Cinematographer

Section: Spotlight

Dir: Kogonada, DoP: Benjamin Loeb
Format: ProRes 4444 XQ
Camera: Alexa Mini
Lens: Panavision Primos, Pathe, and Canon 8-64mm

Loeb: Kogonada and I compared making this film to the conception of a good ramen broth: the time, love, and attention required in each layer of the broth and how these layers later eventually combine, rather than the individual ingredients. From reading the script, and from our first conversations, K and I spoke about the film as having different layers and that these elements might want to feel different. So we ended up testing a lot of different setups and landed on the Primos for the main portion of the film as well as the human memories, the Pathe for our “screen-calls,” and the Canon 8-64 for Yang’s memories. Panavision helped us with a lovely detune of the Primos to take the edge off the image. We wanted “After Yang” to be a meditative experience, grounded in a reality — even though it’s considered to be science fiction. Kogonada and I were more interested in the mundane aspects of our characters’ lives.

“Alice”

Alice_Alex-Disenhof_Cinematographer

Cinematographer Alex Disenhof on the set of “Alice”

Steve Dietl

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Krystin Ver Linden, DoP: Alex Disenhof
Format: ArriRaw
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke Anamorphic Primes

Disenhof: For “Alice,” I paired the Arri Alexa Mini with Cooke Anamorphic prime lenses. In my opinion, the Arri sensor still gives me the most gentle and nuanced skin tones of any digital camera, and the distortion of the anamorphic glass gave the image a textured and imperfect feeling, which fit the story of “Alice” very well. In addition, the anamorphic distortion made the foliage of the great live oak trees on our plantation pop in a really painterly way, which created an interesting juxtaposition between the beauty of the natural landscape and the brutality of the events taking place there.

“Am I OK?”

Am-I-Okay_Cristina-Dunlap_Cinematographer

On the set of “Am I OK?”

Courtesy of filmmaker

Section: Premieres

Dir: Tig Notaro & Stephanie Allynne, DoP: Cristina Dunlap
Format: 3.2K ProRes
Camera: Alexa Mini 3.2k ProRes
Lens: Cooke Speed Panchros

Dunlap: We shot on an Alexa Mini with a mixture of Cooke Speed Panchros. It was important to us to make sure we capture the spirit of Los Angeles without it feeling parodied, but still being self-aware. I thought the Cooke Panchros, with their warmth and gentle fall off, were a great choice for helping to bring a sun-drenched feel to our locations. We knew that we were going to be spending a lot of time up close and personal with Lucy and Jane in their cramped apartment and workplace environments. Cooke Panchros are among my favorite for shooting faces and portraits. Not only do they have a flattering softness and painterly quality, but they are unobtrusive in size so it is easy to get physically where you need to be in the scene as an operator.

“Babysitter”

Babysitter_Josee-Deshaies_Cinematography

Cinematographer Josee Deshaies on the set of “Babysitter”

Fred Gervais

Section: Midnight

Dir: Monia Chokri, DoP: Josee Deshaies
Format: 35mm Film
Camera: Arricam LT 3-Perf
Lens: Primo lenses, Primo zoom

Deshaies: We were very much impressed by the freedom of Altman’s “Three Women” for this project. Shots were not conceived as a strictly narrative but as a style/emotion of its own. After trying a glass cup as a diffuser in front of the camera the first day of shooting, we started investigating prisms and kaleidoscopes. Every shot had to have a little something: a glare, a flare, a touch of light here and there. My AC in Montréal was a trooper. So was my gaffer. She built pink-tinted mirrors for flares, used her own hands to create moving shadows and subtle effects, and the 1st AC bought little optics gear on the net. Classic filters (Promist, Mitchell) were not always enough for what we needed to achieve.

I choose some old Primos lenses because I wanted a mix of modernity and old school. Kodak 500T. Exteriors had to be very sunny, so we had a lot of HMI (18k, 9K) and some cover sets if it was raining or the sky too gray.

“blood”

blood_eric-lin_cinematographer

On the set of “blood”

Courtesy of filmmaker

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Bradley Rust Gray, DoP: Eric Lin
Format: 3.2K Apple Prores 4444
Camera: Alexa Mini
Lens: Zeiss Super Speed, Zeiss 135mm Standard Speed, Canon 300mm

Lin: With “blood,” Brad and I wanted to expand on the approach we explored on “The Exploding Girl”: a calm and formal approach to capturing something unexpected. On set, Brad seeks to create situations for his actors where unplanned emotional moments could naturally unfold. We would choose camera positions where we could capture those moments in an unobtrusive way to give the emotional moments a feeling of being found. Given how tight we knew spaces would be in Tokyo, the compact size of the Alexa Mini was a huge help in keeping our footprint small so we could squeeze into corners and give actors a lot of freedom. We tried to be on long lenses and shoot through objects to give a sense we were eavesdropping, like we were peering into Chloe or Toshi’s inner world. We also wanted to capture the incredible texture and available light in Tokyo. I knew the color rendition and the latitude of the Alexa sensor, when paired with the lower contrast of the Zeiss Super Speeds, which have fast aperture, would give us a lot of flexibility to capture what we saw while still maintaining the gentleness we wanted in our imagery.

“Brian & Charles”

Brian and Charles Murren Tullett Cinematographer

Cinematographer Murren Tullett on the set of “Brian & Charles”

Barney Coates

Section: World Dramatic Competition

Dir: Jim Archer, DoP: Murren Tullett
Format: 2.8k ArriRaw
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Leica Summicrons

Tullett: The film was always intended to have a documentary feel, but we were keen not to lean on the use of zoom lenses to sell this style, feeling it had been done too many times before in the comedy genre. Jim and I discussed shooting anamorphic, though I felt that in the tight space of our main interior location, a small remote Welsh farm cottage, we would struggle with the physical size of the lenses. The close focus of anamorphic’s would also be an issue as Jim was keen to let scenes play out in long, handheld single takes, tracking and moving around the rather unpredictable movements of a 7-foot homemade robot!

After testing, we opted to shoot on the Leica Sumicron lenses, framing for 2.35.1, to complement the beautiful Welsh countryside and further move us away from the ob-doc feel. These lenses gave us a great range for our small interiors and car work, brilliant close focus and low veiling flare, which I didn’t want to be distracting in our often single-window, single-source interior scenes. Shooting in December in the consistently overcast Welsh countryside also helped define the look of the film. We wanted a certain drabness to convey Brian’s loneliness before the arrival of Charles. Using a cool low contrast show LUT created with the film’s colorist Matthieu Toullet helped to reinforce this theme.

“Call Jane”

Call Jane Cinematographer Greta Zozula

On the set of “Call Jane”

Wilson Webb

Section: Premieres

Dir: Phyllis Nagy, DoP: Greta Zozula
Format: Super 16mm
Camera: Arri 416
Lens: Zeiss Master Primes

Zozula: The choice to shoot film, specifically Super 16mm, was one of the first things Phyllis and I started talking about regarding the format for “Call Jane.” Just as the costume and production designers were looking to the past for textures, looks, and colors, we did the same with the mediums available during the era of the actual story. In addition, shooting film helps create a unique set experience where the process is respected a little bit more. It really transforms the set in a great way. It doesn’t slow the process but just gives greater intent for every frame you are capturing. Super16 paired up with Master Primes gave me the added sharpness that only a modern lens could, as this ultimately will be presented in a 4K DCP. The film stock gave the richness and texture we needed, so we didn’t want to distract from that and wanted to preserve as much of the negative as possible with cleaner glass.

“The Cathedral”

The-Cathedral_Barton-Cortright_Cinematographer

On the set of “The Cathedral”

Mike Kohlbrenner

Section: NEXT

Dir: Ricky D’Ambrose, DoP: Barton Cortright
Format: 5k REDCODE Raw
Camera: RED Gemini
Lens: Cooke 18-100 T3

Cortright: Early on, Ricky showed me many 35mm photos and VHS footage from his childhood that would visually inspire the film. With the film being shot digitally, it was important to me to find a lens that took that crisp digital edge off and could emulate an ’80s or ’90s look. The script called for a number of zooms, so I narrowed down my lens choice to older zooms. After a test shoot with the Cooke 18-100mm T3, I knew it was the right lens. It had both the range and a subtle softness that I thought would work nicely for the project. As a bonus, I knew from working with Ricky previously that he’d be interested in the low contrast look that the lens offered.

Ricky is very specific about everything featured in each frame, so it makes sense that he’s interested in deep focus, which proved to be a bit of a challenge lighting-wise. However, I knew to remedy this we’d want a camera that was good in low light in case I needed to stop down for depth. To that end I thought the RED Gemini would be a great fit. Its dual ISO modes allowed me to boost the ISO without adding too much noise, while also being a lightweight and modular camera — a must since we’d be using a 14lb lens with a very small crew.

Cha Cha Real Smooth

Cha-Cha-Real-Smooth_Cristina-Dunlap_Cinematographer

Cinematographer Cristina Dunlap on the set of “Cha Cha Real Smooth”

Courtesy of filmmaker

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Cooper Raiff, DoP: Cristina Dunlap
Format: 4K UHD ProRes 4444 XQ
Camera: Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke S4’s and Angenieux HR 25-250 Zoom

Dunlap: After testing many lenses, we ended up landing on the Cooke S4’s because of their rendering of skin tones and ability to hold contrast and detail. Since we were shooting in such a wide variety of locations and had a colorful lighting palette, I wanted to make sure that we had a pretty true to life rendering from the lenses. Early on in our discussions, Cooper described wanting to think about the camera as drunk/focused/loving eyes. For this we used an old Angenieux HR 25-250, usually at the long end to capture the emotion of seeing someone you like across a crowded room and feeling as though they are the only thing in focus and that you are being drawn toward them.

Dos Estaciones

Dos-Estaciones_Gerardo-Guerra-Soriano_Cinematographer

Cinematographer Gerado Guerra Soriano on the set of “Dos Estaciones”

Section: World Dramatic Competition

Dir: Juan Pablo González, Dir: Gerardo Guerra Soriano
Format: 3.2k Prores 4444
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke Mini S4i, 300mm Meyer-Optik Görlitz Orestegor, 80-200mm Leica Vario Elmarit

Soriano: We shot on the Alexa Mini with a set of Cooke mini s4i lenses, also with a Meyer-Optik Orestegor lens for very specific shots. We had done plenty of tests with this camera configuration. The low profile and compact setup was something that worked pretty well for us since we had plenty of lengthy Steadicam and handheld sequence shots in the film. It also appeared to adapt very impressively to highly contrasted lighting scenarios. We explored a number of options to use for lenses but ended up going for the minis, plus they were seriously accessible to us. In our sequence shots, they seemed to have a beautiful soft rolling off focus, silky flares; with foreground characters, they give a very special sense of dimension to the spaces, and the warmth inherent in them suited our red dirt world beautifully.

The real challenge was shooting a film with a documentary soul and pushing that aesthetic in a fictional story. We wanted something stylized, but realistic, naturalistic, and coherent at the same time, walking that line and traversing between reality and fiction. The success rested on making sure this place and these people felt real.

“Dual”

Dual_Michael-Ragen_Cinematographer

Cinematographer Michael Ragen on the set of “Dual”

Courtesy of filmmaker

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Riley Stearns, DoP: Michael Ragen
Format: X-OCN 4k 4:3 in 1.3x Anamorphic, 1.85 finish
Camera: Sony Venice
Lens: Hawk V-lite 1.3x Anamorphics

Ragen: “Dual” was filmed in the winter in Finland, which provided its own unique set of challenges. By the end of our shoot the days were so short and dark that we were shooting at 2500 ISO with no ND filters outside, with very few hours of useable daylight. Many of the interiors had to be shot night for day because of the short days and lack of natural daylight. The Venice allowed us to shoot in this low light while maintaining image integrity. Our second camera body we kept in Rialto mode, which was great for mounting the camera in tight places like car interiors.

We selected the Hawk V-lite 1.3x anamorphics after testing a variety of lenses at Vantage in L.A. We didn’t feel a wider 2.40 aspect ratio was appropriate for this story but shooting anamorphic helped us put the images in a slightly different reality. The 1.3x squeeze format gave us exactly what we wanted with the 1.85 aspect ratio finish, and beyond that we fell in love with the look of the lenses.

“892”

892

“892”

Care of filmmaker

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Abi Demaris Corbin, DoP: Doug Emmett
Format: 6K X-OCN
Camera: Sony Venice
Lens: Zeiss Supremes

Emmett: Abi and I arrived at the look of “892” through many conversations about the interplay between light and shadow, controlling the color palette, and what is considered “natural” vs. “stylistic.” We agreed the film could be cinematic without appearing overly lit. Abi and I gravitated toward a deeply rich blue/green color palette and emphasized rich, black shadows where we could. To capture an unrelentingly honest image, we chose Zeiss Supremes and shot in 6K to photograph every detail on our actor’s faces.

At the core of our process, Abi and I selected focal lengths and designed actor blocking to feel authentic to our characters’ motivations while allowing us to make visually dynamic choices. Initially we were entertaining a different aspect ratio for “892” but all discussion quickly ceased when we found our primary bank location — it was immediately obvious that the 2.40 ratio would allow us to make the strongest compositions while utilizing various planes of focus within individual setups. The experience of working with a director as visually adept as Abi, who insisted on the integrity of every moment, made for a creatively fulfilling collaboration.

Emergency

emergency_Michael-Dallatorre_Cinematographer

On the set of “Emergency”

Quantrell D. Colbert

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Carey Williams, DoP: Michael Dallatorre
Format: ArriRaw 4.5K
Camera: Arri Alexa LF Mini
Lens: Panavision PanaSpeed large format primes

Dallatorre: Our vision for “Emergency” was to create layers of emotional experience and honor the reality of the situation. Part thriller, part dark comedy, part love story between two friends, balancing those along with the social commentary was a challenge. I wanted to subtly create a visual language that represented the dichotomy of their situation.

I did some blind test for Carey and there was an intimacy and vulnerability that was felt with the Alexa LF and Panaspeed lenses. The combination gave us wider frames with rectilinear distortion and a pleasing perspective that will make the audience feel like they are along for the ride. We are big on contrast and both the camera and lens set gave us the look we felt fit the overall tone. It was important for the camera to inhabit the van, as a third of the film takes place there. Although we filmed all the driving on an LED stage, the size of the camera along with the lens’ close-focus ability gave us the opportunity to get emotional expressive angles. We also had a custom right angle relay tube made by Dan Sasaki at Panavision, which helped us get into some tight spaces of the van. Throughout the film there is a lens/camera proximity that differs between Kunle and Sean. We would match fields of view but with different focal lengths subjectively representing their different points of view.

Emily The Criminal

Aubrey Plaza appears in Emily the Criminal by John Patton Ford, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Low Spark Films.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“Emily the Criminal”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Section: NEXT

Dir:John Patton Ford, DoP: Jeff Bierman
Format: X-OCN 4K
Camera: Sony Venice
Lens: Kowa Cine Prominar Spherical

Bierman: The film is set in L.A., but Emily’s world is not the glamour we often associate with the city. John and I wanted to portray a more honest version of what it’s really like there. For her, I always think it’s like being on the 10 freeway at rush hour, sweating in the dead of summer, your AC is broken, you’re stressed out and late for work at your dead-end job. That’s what we wanted the film to feel like.

We thought to create an image that had the coarseness of films like “The French Connection” or “Mikey and Nicky,” but we couldn’t shoot film so I wanted to do what I could to bring that textural life to digital capture. And I also I knew I wouldn’t have rigging crews and lots of resources for the night exterior work so I needed a format that could shoot in low light in Los Angeles at night. The 2500 ISO of the Venice supported both of those ideas. I used that as a base for day and night to bake in and maintain the consistency of texture in the image throughout the film. The Kowas paired great with this to soften out the harshness, while still maintaining contrast. Their coatings are beautiful on skin and highlights and the natural characteristics add a creamy element to the photography. Combined you get this wonderful push and pull between the two techniques that balance each other out.

Every Day in Kaimukī

edik_Chapin-Hall_cinematographer

On the set of “Every Day in Kaimukī”

Alika Tengan

Section: NEXT

Dir: Alika Tengan, DoP: Chapin Hall
Format: 4K
Camera: Sony PXW-FX9
Lens: Atlas Orion Anamorphic Primes

Hall: From the earliest conversations about this film, discussions about the aspect ratio were an important choice that the director and I knew would shape how it felt to watch and, maybe more importantly, how the characters and world of the story fit on screen. We knew we wanted to use Atlas Orion anamorphic primes as we had on our last project together but knew we wanted to find a unique look that was special to this story. By looking at lots of reference images and designing camera and lens tests to try different things, we arrived at a process in which we used the camera rolled 90 degrees to the right but mounted the 2x anamorphic lens normally to result in our final 1.33 (4:3) aspect ratio. This gives the film a natural way to use the large sensor of the FX9 fully and keep our field of view wider while putting a lot of the aberrations, flares and optical artifacts that can come with shooting anamorphic into the top and bottom of frame rather than the standard left and right. This choice felt right from day one and continued to serve the story throughout filming by allowing us to work quite close to the actors in a way that we both like while using a longer focal length than usual to render the backgrounds and landscape of the film in that way only anamorphic does.

Gentle

Cinematographer Zágon Nagy Gentle

On the set of “Gentle”

Szilagyi Lenke

Section: World Dramatic Competition

Dir: László Csuja & Anna Nemes, DoP: Zágon Nagy
Format: 3.2K
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Arri/Zeiss Master Primes

Nagy: Before this feature, we shot a documentary with other female bodybuilders. This was incredibly helpful for us to find our visual language of what we wanted to use in “Gentle” very early on. We found that this sport can be quite lonely. Often, you’re just standing, pushing and pulling while you concentrate inwardly. We used static camera most of all, some Steadicam shots and a handheld camera once. Our aim here was to “rhyme” or align the camera movements with our story. With these shots and the lighting, we wanted to follow our character’s life as she changed throughout her journey. After some testing, I chose Arri Alexa Mini and Arri/Zeiss Master Prime lenses for this film. I liked how they helped to serve the story with a sharp and clean digital texture. I didn’t want to hide the digital look — I wanted to involve it as a big part of this film.

Girl Picture

Girl-Picture_Jarmo-Kiuru_Cinematographer

Cinematographer Jarmo Kiuru on the set of “Girl Picture”

Ilkka Saastamoinen

Section: World Dramatic Competition

Director: Alli Haapasalo, DoP: Jarmo Kiuru
Format: 4.5K Open Gate, Prores 444
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini LF
Lens: Samyang XEEN Cine FF

Kiuru: We knew that the world in which the story takes place would need a great dynamic between the frail daylight and more colorful, nocturnal sequences. That’s why I love the Arri sensor, its latitude and organic color space I was already familiar with. Large format seemed like a great tool since we wanted to achieve not only an intimate and subjective connection with the characters but also to see them in a larger, more iconic context. The shape of LF’s sensor worked great with the aspect ratio as well. We used the academy ratio as it felt more intimate for framing singles and even more dramatic when someone else enters that space and makes it in to a two shot.

I used Samyang XEEN lenses, as they rendered actors in a pleasingly three-dimensional way. They provided an appropriately modern look while not feeling too clean or sterile. For the handheld operating I also wanted something compact and lightweight. This certainly was helpful when operating the camera while skating in the rink!

“God’s Country”

Gods-Country_Andrew-Wheeler_Cinematographer_1

On the set of “God’s Country”

Courtesy of filmmaker

Section: Premieres

Dir: Julian Higgins, DoP: Andrew Wheeler
Format: 8K R3D 1:85 aspect ratio
Camera: Panavision DXL2
Lens: Panaspeeds and 2 H-Series 

Wheeler: Director Julian Higgins and I were trying to achieve a big-screen, epic feeling while retaining a sense of intimacy with the main character. We’d shot every project together thus far on film, so we felt that if it couldn’t be film we wanted it to be a large format. We knew we wanted to shoot primarily with a shallow depth of field, sometimes even in wide shots and the DXL2, paired with the Panaspeeds, allowed maximum control over depth. Our guiding principle for the look of the film was to place the audience with the character. That’s how we made decisions. We never wanted the camera to be looking “at” Sandra. Instead, it needed to play a subjective role, so that the audience would be sharing the experience with her. One choice we made was to restrict the number of over the shoulder shots on to Sandra — she is singular. Anytime we began to deviate from that point of view, it stuck out like a sore thumb. We strove for simplicity in the photography. The camera is patient, and it’s positioning and movement motivated.

Good Luck To You, Leo Grande

“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”

Nick Wall

Section: Premieres

Dir: Sophie Hyde, DoP: Bryan Mason
Format: 6.5K ArriRaw
Camera: Arri Alexa 65
Lens: Arri DNA Primes

Mason: This film is basically two people in a hotel room for 95 minutes, so we really wanted a camera and lens package that would be great for faces, for characters, for portraits. That size sensor means that an 80mm lens has a field of view equivalent of about 40mm in S35 terms, but with all the optical qualities of an 80mm lens. So, although it took me a while to really get my head around that, the possibilities it opened up were exciting.

Hatching

Hatching_Jarkko-T-Laine_Cinematographer

On the set of “Hatching”

Andrejs Strokins

Section: Midnight

Dir: Hanna Bergholm, DoP: Jarkko T. Laine
Format: 3.2K
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Arri Master Primes

Laine: I wanted to keep the camera package lightweight and compact, and Alexa Mini is a camera body exactly like that. It was also a flexible solution for us, since we had quite a few days and sequences on Steadicam. It is also very good body for handheld work. My choice for lenses were Arri Master Primes based on my good experiences with them earlier and also because I knew we would operate in very low-key conditions at times. I also like the way they take ambient light and flares in. Also, in terms of post production and CGI, I wanted to capture the images as clean and crispy as possible, lens-wise.

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