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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

Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul

On the set of “Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul”

Steve Swisher

Section: Premieres

Dir: Adamma Ebo, DoP: Alan Gwizdowski
Format: 5k R3D, IPP2 REDWideGamutRGB
Camera: Red Gemini
Lens: Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 and 85-300, Panavision Primo 70 Spherical, Panavision T-Series Anamorphic

Gwizdowski: We chose to shoot on two Red Gemini DSMC2 cameras provided by Panavision Atlanta, mainly for their low-light capabilities. This allowed us to use a polarizer to control the sheen and shape of light on the actor’s skin tone in low-light situations. Most of the interior scenes were shot at ISO1600 with the Gemini’s low-light sensor, occasionally needing to push to 2000 or 2500. Adamma and I needed to create a visual language that allowed the viewer to differentiate between the documentary within the film and what’s going on behind the documentary. These two styles have distinct looks that eventually blend into each other as the film progresses.

For the documentary footage, we used spherical lenses, Fujinon Cabrio zooms and Panavision Primo-70 Primes. This provided a clean digital look combined with handheld motion, zooming, and frame adjustments within the shots. We cropped the doc footage to a 14:9 aspect ratio to bring it closer to the native 4:3 aspect ratio of the archival sermon footage that was shot on Beta-Cam. This also worked to further distinguish it from the 2.40:1 aspect ratio of the cinematic footage, for which we used Panavision’s beautiful T-Series Anamorphic lenses on a gimbal or dolly.

Leonor Will Never Die

Leonor-Will-Never-Die_Carlos-Mauricio_Cinematographer

Cinematographer Carlos Mauricio on the set of “Leonor Will Never Die”

Aisha Causing

Section: World Dramatic Competition

Dir: Martika Ramirez Escobar, DoP: Carlos Mauricio
Format: ProRes 422 and 6k Raw
Camera: Panasonic EVA-1 and Red Epic
Lens: Dalsa Leica 19mm prime, Zeiss Super Speeds, and an Angenieux 25-205mm zoom

Mauricio: The script required that half of the film was set to look like old Filipino action films, so it was fitting that we used old lenses (Zeiss Super Speeds). There was also a budget restriction, so the Super Speeds’ opening made up for the lack of bigger lights during big night scenes. When the shot was too big and we did not have enough lights, sometimes we just shot day for night. We would adjust the color temp on the camera to make it look like the sunlight coming in was hard moonlight. The other half of the film, on the other hand, made use of long takes to minimize the cuts in a scene to make it feel set in a more real world. We opted to use a 19mm Dalsa Leica prime all throughout this part so that we could have a wide enough frame and still take close-ups with the same lens.

Living

On the set of “Living”

Courtesy of Filmmaker

Section: Premieres

Dir: Oliver Hermanus, DoP: Jamie D Ramsay
Format: 3.4K OG ArriRaw
Camera: Alexa Mini
Lens: Zeiss Supremes

Ramsay: Our reference palette was made up primarily of the likes of Bresson, leiter and Meier, and we found that we had fallen for the dense photographic feel of their mid-century work. Oliver and I went back to the combination that we used on “Moffie,” the Zeiss Supreme LF lenses. These lenses combined with an open gate sensor gave us a large format print feel, which lends itself to our style of composition and lens language.

“A Love Song”

Cinematographer Alfonso Herrera Salcedo on the set of “A Love Song”

Courtesy of filmmaker

Section: NEXT

Dir: Max Walker-Silverman, DoP: Alfonso Herrera Salcedo
Format: Super 16mm
Camera: Arriflex 416
Lens: Cooke SK4, Cooke S4

Salcedo: Shooting on 16mm opened up a great visual palette needed to achieve the right tone for Max’s unique vision of the West. The story contained many elements that had to be precisely balanced in order to convey a proper amount of comedy, tenderness, hurt, and wonder. The color, contrast, and sharpness of 16mm allow for a very distinct aesthetic, which lent itself perfectly to equally render evocative faces and landscapes alike. Paired with the famous Cooke look, the overall definition of 16mm can vary from extreme sharpness to an almost abstract, painterly quality depending on the distance to the captured element. This was a great visual technique used to portray our main character Faye and her peculiar sense of time and place.

In line with the idea of balancing realism and stylization, we relied mainly on natural lighting for the former and composition for the latter. To enhance the presence of the dramatic wilderness, most of the film was shot using deep focus (f.8). The use of both natural lighting, especially harsh midday sunlight as well as deep focus come out particularly organic when recorded on film as opposed to digital. It gave us a look and feel that stylized the recorded element subjectively, giving it a magical quality but without overpowering the story.

Mars One

Cinematographer Leonardo Feliciano on the set of “Mars One”

Courtesy of Filmmaker

Section: World Dramatic Competition

Dir: Gabriel Martins, DoP: Leonardo Feliciano
Format: 3.2K ProRes 4444
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Zeiss Standard Speed 2.1

Feliciano: “Mars One” portrays a Black family living in a poor neighborhood in the city of Contagem, Brazil. Shooting with the help of Arri’s color science was paramount for us for its response to specularity and rendering of the undertones of the Black complexion. Meanwhile, we needed a relatively small setup to deal with the small locations found in these neighborhoods. Hence the Arri Alexa Mini with Zeiss Standard Speeds were a good choice for our aesthetic intentions. Furthermore the softness of the old optical designs of the Standard Speeds set gave us a very welcome smoothness (enhanced with Tiffen Black Diffusion FX series) that mitigates the acuteness of modern sensors.

Master

On the set of “Master”

Linda Slater Kallarüs/Amazon

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Mariama Diallo, DoP: Charlotte Hornsby
Format: ArriRaw
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Arri/Zeiss master anamorphics, Angenieux 24-290mm

Hornsby: “Master” is a supernatural thriller, which is a genre I love as it invites a very active camera and surreal, expressionistic lighting. Because we were constantly moving from dolly to steadi to handheld and often shooting at night, we needed a versatile camera package that would allow us to move quickly and shoot wide open. The Alexa mini with master anamorphics was a perfect fit. The build was compact and the lenses perform well at a T1.9 and faithfully render nuances of skin tone, which was really helpful as we had a diverse cast and were often moving from naturalistic to expressionistic lighting. As the sinister energy of the school began to emerge in the film, we played with underlighting (titan tubes, covered wagons, candles), hard shadows (dedos, lekos), sickly green fluorescents (fluoros with ¼ green), fire light (fire bars, covered wagons), and red strobes (titan tubes and colt tubes). Along with long zooms and creeping dolly moves, these lights really allowed us to build suspense and dread as our protagonists uncover the dark secrets of their school.

“Nanny”

On the set of “Nanny”

Courtesy of filmmaker

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Nikyatu Jusu, DoP: Rina Yang
Format: Sony Venice 6K
Camera: Sony Venice
Lens: Panavision Ultra Panatar, Panavision H-series

Yang: We shot “Nanny” on the Sony Venice and Rialto — we liked the Venice’s low-light capabilities, and ability to go compact with the Rialto mode since we were shooting in small, real NYC locations. We used the subtle anamorphic Panavision Ultra Panatar x1.3 for Amy and Aisha’s world, and for the scenes with Mamiwata. I wanted to slightly heighten these moments visually — so the anamorphic focus fall off and the flare felt like the right choice. For Aisha’s world we used the spherical lens, Panavision H-series with handheld movements, to give it a more grounded and intimate feeling.

Neptune Frost

Director and cinematographer Anisia Uzeyman on the set of “Neptune Frost”

Section: Spotlight

Dir: Saul Williams & Anisia Uzeyman, DoP: Anisia Uzeyman
Format: 2.8K ArriRaw 
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Lomo Illumina s35

Uzeyman: We wanted a super 16mm film look with a twist of modernity. Also “Neptune Frost” has a lot of night scenes and we had limited light equipment so we needed lenses with the maximum aperture. There is no camera equipment rental in Rwanda, so we partnered with our camera assistant and focus puller Ishmael Azeli’s rental facility in Nairobi, Kenya, and we were very happy when he proposed and brought the set of Illumina s35. They were perfect and a great combination with the Arri Alexa Mini.

Palm Trees and Power Lines

On the set of “Palm Trees and Power Lines”

Courtesy of filmmaker

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Jamie Dack, DoP: Chananun Chotrungroj
Format: 4K Red Raw
Camera: Panavision DXL-M
Lens: Panavision Ultra Speeds

Chotrungroj: We wanted to capture the emptiness, boredom, and suburban malaise our adolescent protagonist, Lea, is experiencing, which eventually causes her to make certain life-altering decisions. We intentionally isolated her in mostly static frames until she meets the other main character, and he begins to invade her world and her frames. The Panavision DXLM with a Red Gemini weapon was a great fit for our film. The story explores sensitive subject matter and features a debut lead performance, which meant that we wanted to shoot on as small a camera as possible, without sacrificing the quality of the image.

The Panavision Ultra Speeds are from the mid 1970s, and have a sensitivity that naturally elevates the emotions of our story — the low contrast and warmth of this lens package created a strong feeling throughout the film. Pairing the Ultra Speeds with the Panavision DXLM gave us a lot of versatility. We were able to craft breathtaking images thanks to the combination of cutting-edge tech in camera with the legacy of Panavisions’ lenses.

“Piggy”

Laura Galán appears in <i>PIGGY</i> by Carlota Pereda, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jorge Fuembuena.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.

“Piggy”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Section: Midnight

Dir: Carlota Pereda, DoP: Rita Noriega 
Format: 3.2K Prores 4444 2.0:1
Camera: RED Monstro 8K VV
Lens: Cooke anamorphic special flare

Noriega: I was looking for this softness and unique texture Cooke anamorphic SF has. Their bokeh, aberrations, and flares were what the film needed. I wanted something very organic. I shot many scenes wide open, looking for even more imperfections. We did an unusual combination of lens and aspect ratio in this film. The aspect ratio was 4:3, and we were shooting Anamorphic. I wanted the specific look this Cooke lenses have, regardless of aspect ratio, which was a creative election based on narrative aspects of this film.

Sharp Stick

Cinematographer Ashley Connor on the set of “Sharp Stick”

Em Michelle Gonzales

Section: Premieres

Dir: Lena Dunham, DoP: Ashley Connor
Format: 2.8k ProsRes 4444, 1.66 Aspect Ratio

Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke S4

Connor: Lena really wanted the look of the film to reflect that special winter California light, so we created a LUT with my colorist Nat Jencks and used filtration to create a lower contrast image that still had depth and life to it. I always love the Cooke S4s for their softness and how they render faces, and since we knew so much of the film hinged on experiencing our main character Sarah Jo’s sexual awakening, I knew they’d be perfect for how close we’d be to our characters.. We wanted the cinematography to make you viscerally feel her obsession, her desire, her pleasure — the camera had to be a friend and ally to her emotional journey. A lot of our references were films like “An Unmarried Woman,” “Turkish Delight,” and “Belle du Jour”: films that dealt with women and sex from the ’60s and ’70s. Lena and I love this genre of film, but since they all tend to punish the women for their sexual freedom, we knew we had to be careful not to tread the same territory. The visuals had to empower Sarah Jo and not condemn her for her search for pleasure.

Something in the Dirt

On the set of “Something in the Dirt”

Courtesy of filmmaker

Section: NEXT

Dir: Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson, DoP: Aaron Moorhead
Format: Redcode RAW 8k
Camera: Red Monstro VV, DVX-100, Panasonic GH4, iPhone, Wyzecam, Panasonic Varicam
Lens: CP2s

Moorhead: The film is a hybrid of a narrative and faux-documentary mixed media. While much of the story is shot on Red, the characters in the film have their own cameras, and we aimed to make those cameras look as heterogenous as possible to reflect their personalities. One guy who fancies himself a future Errol Morris has a slightly more polished prosumer DSLR, and the other, who holds no delusions of grandeur, hasn’t a clue that his 20-year-old standard def DVX-100 looks a bit ridiculous nowadays. This film was shot without a traditional crew, so we used the Monstro’s 8k sensor allowed for framing adjustments in post since we weren’t able to monitor each others’ shots to know if we were matching our own coverage.

Speak No Evil”

Morten Burien and Sidsel Siem Koch appear in <i>Speak No Evil</i> by Christian Tafdrup, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Erik Molberg.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.

“Speak No Evil”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Section: Midnight 

Dir: Christian Tafdrup, DoP: Erik Molberg Hansen
Format: 2.39:1 Scope 4.5K
Camera: Alexa Mini LF
Lens: Canon K35 Primes mixed with some Leica R lenses

Molberg Hansen: We wanted to create a more eerie feeling in a normal drama set up, that something was not quite right and lurking under the surface. The charming imperfections of the K35s was an obvious choice for this in a full-frame universe.

Utama

On the set of “Utama”

Santiago Loayza Grisi

Section: World Dramatic Competition 

Dir: Alejandro Loayza Grisi, DoP: Bárbara Alvarez
Format: 3.4K ArriRaw
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Zeiss Super Speed

Alvarez: The Alexa Mini with the Zeiss Super Speeds were our choice not only because of the look they deliver together, which is not the sharpest and “perfect” as of last generation lenses and 4K+ sensors, but also because they let you work faster and lighter than other sets. The crew and equipment had to be small due to budget/logistic reasons, so anything that could help organize ourselves in an efficient way was welcome. We used natural and available light most of the time, and especially when we shot “day for night” exteriors and had to wait until the daylight was almost gone, the Super Speeds made the difference.

Watcher

Watcher_Benjamin-Kirk_Cinematographer

On the set of “Watcher”

Courtesy of filmmaker

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Chloe Okuno, DoP: Benjamin Kirk
Format: 4.5K Open Gate ArriRaw 2:1 aspect ratio
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini LF
Lens: Vantage One4

Kirk: Our main character, Julia, relocates to her partner’s native Romania and is tormented by the feeling that she is being stalked by an unseen watcher in an adjacent building. We wanted to show that Julia is feeling distanced and isolated in her new surroundings. The large format sensor of the Alexa Mini LF gave me a more narrow depth of field, which helped me in isolating Julia from the background. It was also important to us that the story unfolded with Julia, and that the way the camera portrays her was closely linked to her state of mind. Without the distortion of a wider lens, the large format sensor and the very close focus abilities of the lenses helped me in creating a much more intimate connection between Julia and the camera. We wanted to give the film a sense of heightened realism. To achieve this we chose to use the Vantage one4 lenses. They were magical. They have some characteristics of vintage lenses but with the engineering of a modern lens. To me that is a perfect combination. I added Glimmer Glass filtration in front of the lens to give a subtle halation to the highlights and to slightly soften the skin details. I believe that this combination augmented the look towards a sense of heightened realism.

“When You Finish Saving the World

When-You-Finish-Saving-The-World_Benjamin-Loeb_Cinematographer.

On the set of “When You Finish Saving the World”

Karen Kuehn

Section: Premieres

Dir: Jesse Eisenberg, DoP: Benjamin Loeb
Format: S16mm
Camera: Arri 416
Lens: Panavision Primos

Loeb: Jesse wanted a feeling of imperfection and a grounded naturalism that comes with shooting on film, so it wasn’t really a question. The producers were even pushing to shoot this on film, which made things much easier on my end. The biggest topic of conversation in terms of the format was about 35mm versus 16mm, and we just felt that the deeper depth of field and the way the texture comes out in S16 just felt right. We did spend quite a bit of time figuring out the stocks — it was important for the film to still feel contemporary so we ended up with the Vision 3 200T stock for most of the film. This gave us a bit of a cleaner negative to work with while also requiring a bit more light, which my gaffer, Andrew Hubbard, and I thought was a good starting point for us to sculpt from.

“You Won’t Be Alone

On the set of “You Won’t Be Alone”

Noomi Rapace

Section: World Dramatic Competition 

Dir: Goran Stolevski, DoP: Matthew Chuang
Format: 3.2K ProRes, 6K R3D
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini, Red Komodo
Lens: Cooke Speed Panchros rehoused

Chuang: Goran describes “You Won’t Be Alone” as “a story about a witch, but it’s not really a horror movie, it’s about her feelings.” All our creative choices were all based on how it all “felt.” Our actors were given the freedom to discover moments, so, instinctually, the Alexa Mini handheld with the painterly quality of the older Cookes felt right. We stayed away from anything that felt too designed or too staged; we never set marks for actors or camera. It placed a lot of pressure on the entire crew to adapt and to be incredibly focused, but they could feel we were onto something tangible. The complexity of natural light was embraced and I would “light” by the way the handheld camera moved with the actors and any lighting we did do was hidden within the space. To us it felt more intimate, sensory, and humanistic.

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