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A M E R I C A N C I N E M ATO G R A P H E R • AU G U S T 2 0 1 7 • D U N K I R K – T H E L A S T T Y C O O N – T H E B E G U I L E D – A G H O S T S TO RY – D R O N E S • VO L . 9 8 N O. 8

AU G U S T 2 0 1 7





















An International Publication of the ASC

On Our Cover: Allied troops keep an eye on the sky as they wait to be evacuated in director Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk, shot by Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.)

FEATURES 30 42 50 58

Dunkirk – Great Escape Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC and director Christopher Nolan go all-in with large-format film and a photochemical workflow

The Last Tycoon – Classic Hollywood Danny Moder and director-showrunner Billy Ray restage the glamor, discord and artistic innovation of the 1930s studio system


The Beguiled – Dark Hospitality Philippe Le Sourd, AFC frames director Sofia Coppola’s Civil War-era thriller on 35mm film

A Ghost Story – Haunted House Andrew Droz Palermo and director David Lowery tell a tale of a bedsheet-clad spirit anchored in a 1.33:1 frame 58

DEPARTMENTS 10 12 16 26 68 72 74 75 76 77 78 80


Editor’s Note President’s Desk Shot Craft: Drones • CRI • Waveform Short Takes: Momma Filmmakers’ Forum: Employing drones on Whale Wars New Products & Services International Marketplace Classified Ads Ad Index In Memoriam: Fred J. Koenekamp, ASC Clubhouse News ASC Close-Up: Gordon C. Lonsdale



Update Your Bookmarks Formerly a single site, we now offer two unique destinations for our visitors from around the globe: is dedicated to the American Society of Cinematographers and the activities of its worldwide membership. Sections include: • News - • Committees – • Members - • Calendar of events - • ASC Master Class - education/master-class • ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards - is a true online version of American Cinematographer magazine, the award-winning international journal of motion-picture techniques. Sections include: • In-depth production reports • New Products & Services - articles/new-product • Filmmakers’ Forum - • Podcasts with top cinematographers - • Historical stories from the AC archives - articles/historical • Friends of the ASC exclusives - • ASC Store and subscriptions -

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EDITOR-IN-CHIEF and PUBLISHER Stephen Pizzello ———————————————————————————————————— WEB DIRECTOR and ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER David E. Williams ————————————————————————————————————

EDITORIAL MANAGING EDITOR Jon D. Witmer ASSOCIATE EDITOR Andrew Fish TECHNICAL EDITOR Christopher Probst CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Benjamin B, Rachael K. Bosley, Mark Dillon, Michael Goldman, Simon Gray, Jim Hemphill, Jay Holben, Noah Kadner, Debra Kaufman, Iain Marcks, Matt Mulcahey, Jean Oppenheimer, Phil Rhodes, Patricia Thomson PODCASTS Jim Hemphill, Iain Marcks, Chase Yeremian BLOGS Benjamin B; John Bailey, ASC; David Heuring IT DIRECTOR/WEB PRODUCER Mat Newman ————————————————————————————————————

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American Society of Cinematographers The ASC is not a labor union or a guild, but an educational, cultural and professional organization. Membership is by invitation to those who are actively engaged as directors of photography and have demonstrated outstanding ability. ASC membership has become one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a professional cinematographer — a mark of prestige and excellence.

OFFICERS - 2017/2018 Kees van Oostrum President

Bill Bennett Vice President

John Simmons Vice President

Cynthia Pusheck Vice President

Levie Isaacks Treasurer

David Darby Secretary

Isidore Mankofsky Sergeant-at-Arms

MEMBERS OF THE BOARD Paul Cameron Russell Carpenter Curtis Clark Richard Crudo George Spiro Dibie Fred Elmes Victor J. Kemper Stephen Lighthill Karl-Walter Lindenlaub Woody Omens Robert Primes Cynthia Pusheck John Simmons John Toll Amy Vincent

ALTERNATES Roberto Schaefer Dean Cundey Lowell Peterson Steven Fierberg Stephen Burum MUSEUM CURATOR 8

Steve Gainer

In May 2016, Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan paid a visit to the ASC Clubhouse with his wife and producer, Emma Thomas, and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC. The trio mingled amiably with Society members and associates before discussing their latest project during an enthusiastic question-and-answer session. Beyond outlining strategies for the ambitious production, they made a strong case for the continued viability of film as a creative medium — a cause Nolan has supported passionately over the course of his celebrated career. With the July release of Dunkirk, Nolan, Thomas and van Hoytema demonstrate the visual power of film with a go-bigor-go-home epic shot on a combination of 15-perf Imax 65mm and 5-perf 65mm, and finished entirely in the photochemical realm. Nolan feels that the movie can stake a claim to being “the highest-resolution feature film that has ever been made,” while also providing ample evidence of celluloid’s additional merits. Although van Hoytema concedes that the size of the 65mm cameras made his extensive use of handheld work a bit challenging, he calls the added camera weight “an insignificant element when compared to the quality of the images we produced.” Shooting in these formats on such a grand scale required a number of innovative approaches, detailed by Michael Goldman in his main article on the show (“Great Escape,” page 30), two sidebars, and bonus coverage posted on our newly redesigned website (which is now accessible via two URLs: on the magazine side, and for the Society). On the Civil War-era picture The Beguiled, Philippe Le Sourd, AFC used the 35mm film format to lend a painterly elegance to a hothouse drama that earned Sofia Coppola Best Director honors at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Coppola’s adaptation of the novel of the same name — about an injured Union soldier taking refuge in a Confederate girls’ boarding school — is the second after Don Siegel’s version in 1971. “Sofia wanted to take a more feminine approach,” Le Sourd tells New York correspondent Iain Marcks (“Dark Hospitality,” page 50). “The fact that it was a woman director telling this story completely transformed the mood and feeling, and brought a new essence to the film.” The old-Hollywood series The Last Tycoon, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famously unfinished novel, finds cinematographer Danny Moder and director Billy Ray mining the intrigue inherent to moviemaking during the 1930s — and working from scripts that evoke “how movies began, how they evolved, how innovative the technology was, and who the revolutionary thinkers were,” as Moder relates to writer Jim Hemphill (“Classic Hollywood,” page 42). A Ghost Story, whose titular spirit is cheekily presented as a traditional Halloween figure clad in a white sheet, uses a single-camera approach and melancholic compositions to lend its spectral protagonist an eerie, contemplative presence. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo and director David Lowery provide their insights in Q&A interviews with managing editor Jon D. Witmer (“Haunted House,” page 58). This month’s special focus on drones, an increasingly popular tool for achieving dynamic aerial perspectives, is showcased by several items in our new department, Shot Craft (page 16), and in this month’s New Products & Services section (page 72) — as well as in a Filmmakers’ Forum written by Gavin Garrison, a producer and cinematographer on the reality series Whale Wars (page 68).


Stephen Pizzello Editor-in-Chief and Publisher

Photo by Owen Roizman, ASC.



Photo by Jacek Laskus, ASC, PSC.

Is he fast enough? Does he take a lot of time lighting the set? When is the first setup? Through my whole career, I have been pursued by these questions. Even when you choose to photograph a set without any lighting because it looks beautiful exactly as is, if you then move a small LED light in to clean up a close-up, they’ll again question your speed: “You said you didn’t need any lighting here.” Most of us stay calm, though, and shrug it off with a comic remark. “We are artists — and we don’t always know what we are doing.” There is actually a lot of truth to that statement. I think that many times we are not exactly sure what we are going to do. After all, we get inspired by the story, by the environment. Yes, we plan and analyze, but rarely will our drawings translate to the definitive image that we’re striving to put on the screen. They only serve the purpose of liberating us, giving us options, and, perhaps most importantly, giving the world around us the impression that we are prepared. Ironically, when we turn on all the lights we might have indicated on our plan, it probably won’t appeal to either our taste or our intention. We will quickly find ourselves scrimming lights down, adding diffusion, and, more often than not, turning them off as we search for a balance of light and dark that artistically and creatively supports and enhances the story. Our euphoria swells when the backlight hits the subject just right, when a sidelight creates the perfect atmosphere. But with the constant demand for speed hanging over our heads, it can start to feel like we’re bricklayers. Would anyone expect a bricklayer to stop what he’s doing and start musing about how the bricks are stacked? No — that guy has to work. Philosophy and bricks don’t go together. But I feel that cinematography and bricklaying do sometimes have a lot in common. When Frank Lloyd Wright set out to design Fallingwater — the magnificent house in the Pittsburgh area with various levels cantilevered over a small river with a waterfall — he sketched the concept with a few Picasso-like lines on paper. The Kaufmann family, who had approached Wright to design the home, loved the design and moved ahead with the construction. But the builders rebelled, complained and recalculated — and many concluded, “It can’t be built.” Eventually, though, one builder said “yes” and started to construct Fallingwater in an unconventional manner: slowly, layer by layer, imbuing the home with strength and integrity — and, in the process, creating art. So maybe we have to accept that we can be slow, and admit it to the outside world. As it is, it seems like we’re always working, always moving, constantly running options through our mind while negotiating for a minute here and a minute there in the hopes that we might improve on and make the most of the images we’re creating. Maybe we need to slow down. Gordon Willis, ASC could spend hours looking at a scene through the lens, demanding absolute control of the set, which would be shrouded in silence to the point where you could hear a pin drop. When he was finished, though, there would be 15 setups chalked out on the floor, specifying angles and focal lengths, and all of those setups would be shot in short order. To me, that is all the proof we should need that intellect and inspiration provide the clearest route to being a fast — and artistic — shooter.

Kees van Oostrum ASC President


August 2017

American Cinematographer

Drones have become an indispensible tool for capturing compelling aerial imagery.

Welcome to Shot Craft, AC’s new section for emerging cinematographers, focusing on tools, techniques, and tricks of the trade.


Learning to Fly By Patricia Thomson

Last year, brothers Corey and Ian Bracone — a Local 52 grip and a Local 600 focus puller, respectively — joined the throngs taking advantage of a Federal Aviation Administration gamechanger. Under the old regulations, one had to be a licensed pilot before applying for drone-pilot certification. No longer. As of August 2016, Part 107 of the regulations governing small unmanned aerial systems (UASs) requires just an aeronauticsheavy written exam, opening the door to serious drone hobbyists like the Bracone brothers, who have since started their own business — New York Action Unit — and, with the requisite FAA certifications, have become Local 600 UAS pilot/operators. Local 600’s West Coast division now has around 100 certified drone pilots, while the East Coast has about 20. (FAA restrictions on flying in New York City’s congested airspace play into that discrepancy.) Michael Chambliss, a technologist and business representative for Local 600, is bullish about the future of drones on movie and television sets. “This is really a new vernacular within the language of cinematography,” he says. “It’s a development similar to the Steadicam that opens an entirely new kind of shot.” As a new specialty within the motion-picture industry, it’s suffering some growing pains. One evolving area is the question of who operates the remote head on dual-operator heavy-lift drones — the gimbal operator on a specialized aerial team hired specifically for the shot, or an operator already on the production? 16

August 2017

“The decision about who should operate a specialty shot is always up to the cinematographer and the A-operator,” says Chambliss. “Currently, the common practice is for the pilot and drone camera operator to be a team that are brought in for the shot. There are a lot of reasons, starting with the variety of equipment; a lot of it is customized.” Even when it’s not, a drone’s controls and “personality” take getting used to. “On traditional flight heads, the joystick controls are very refined; we don’t tend to push a full-scale airframe to the same extremes or find that a lens change materially alters the craft’s flight characteristics,” he points out. “The smaller the craft, the more flight performance changes with different lenses and bodies.” An aerial team knows how their various drones will react. Like Steadicam, drone work can be very spontaneous during complex sequences, with pilots filling in the blanks as they execute a shot. Flight teams develop their own shorthand language. “It’s ‘Fred and Ginger’ doing the dance routines,” Chambliss says. But there can be pushback from production. “On most shows and sets, the cinematographer would rather have his guy operating the remote head on the camera, and you’d just hire a pilot,” says Eric Fletcher, technical chairperson of the Society of Camera Operators. “Camera operating on a drone is very similar to camera operating on a Technocrane. A camera operator is hired for very specific reasons: They know how to tell the story and how to operate the camera, and they make the cinematographer comfortable. You get two guys walking on set, saying, ‘Hey, we’re here with the drone! What do you want us to do?’ That’s a little unsettling to a cinematographer.” Fortunately, the choice isn’t binary. Max Tubman, director of North American operations for Gryphon Dynamics — as well as a pilot and co-founder of Steam Machine Aerial — prefers to integrate these approaches. His ideal aerial team comprises a drone pilot, a gimbal operator and a gimbal tech. Once on set, his team brings out wheels. “They’re very familiar to a lot of people,” he says. “The gimbal tech will go to the A-camera op and say, ‘This is how it works. Would you like to operate?’ Sometimes they’ll say ‘yes’ and slide into the role, and other times they’ll say, ‘I don’t want this to be on me, because I’ve never done it before.’ But we always offer. Eight or nine times out of 10, a camera operator says, ‘Let the gimbal tech operate the camera.’” That ratio is likely to change as more operators get handson experience. Forward-looking camera operators would be wise to familiarize themselves with drone heads, whether or not they want certification. (Only the pilot in command needs a license.) But new pilots should be prepared for a fluid, confusing regulatory environment — and perhaps some advocacy work. Current regulations leave many practical questions unanswered. “What the FAA told me is, ‘We establish a baseline. Your industry is free to create higher standards as you might see fit,’” says

American Cinematographer

Photo courtesy of Vertical Images.


Chambliss. “Safety Bulletin #36 by the Joint Labor-Management Safety Committee is an excellent start. Going beyond that, we’re encouraging the community to develop a set of operational standards that would be applicable across all sets.” On the East Coast, Corey Bracone and an ad-hoc committee of drone specialists are part of that effort to develop a best-practices handbook and are pushing for easements in NYC-specific restrictions. That advocacy work is as much a part of their nascent business as the fleet of five drones that Bracone and his brother fly. They consider it a necessary investment in their future. Once the dust settles, he says, “We’re ready to go!”

Tech Essentials Drone Primer Drones have become a hot new tool in imaging. What was previously the purview of helicopters armed with gyroscopes — or, worse, operators hanging out open helicopter doors — is now becoming the task of unmanned copters of all sorts. UAS (unmanned aerial system) or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) have become increasingly popular for all kinds of image capture, from news gathering to feature filmmaking. Although some may find these drones a nuisance, they afford the opportunity to achieve dynamic shots in a signifi-


August 2017

The Fault in Your CRIs By Jay Holben For lighting professionals, CRI — color rendering index — is a ubiquitous term. Most everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the scale, which runs from 0100, and knows that the closer you get to 100, the better color fidelity your fixture will have. But let’s take a closer look. The International Commission on Illumination, otherwise known as the CIE (Commission Internationale de l’Eclairage), invented CRI as a methodology for determining the comfort levels for human beings around non-continuous-spectrum light sources. It was first published in 1965 after fluorescent lights had started to become

cantly safer manner than ever before. In the world of motion-picture drones — not to be confused with sporting or racing drones — companies such as DJI, Freefly Systems, Shotover, Gryphon Dynamics, Traxxas, Autel Robotics, Yuneec and Xiaomi make aircraft suitable for image capture. All of them require a delicate hand to control, and require registration with the Federal Aviation Administration ( before piloting. All of these models are governed by FAA regulations, and it’s the responsibility of the pilot to follow those regulations and maintain a safe flight at all times.

American Cinematographer

Some general tips for drone piloting: • Get to know the laws in your area before piloting • Practice makes perfect — drones are delicate and require considerable time to operate properly, safely and effectively • Always follow a preflight checklist • Know your hardware, its flying modes and functions • Slow and steady nearly always does it • Never overshoot your flying time • Avoid wind, rain and other inclement weather • Plan your shots carefully • Maintain direct sight whenever possible — Jay Holben

CRI images courtesy of Jay Holben.

The original eight color patches in the CRI test protocol (top) were a somewhat random selection of pastel colors. The six extended patches (bottom) add saturated red, green, blue and yellow, along with yellow-pink and greenery.

widely used. CRI was designed for architectural applications in locations — shopping malls, restaurants, airports — that would benefit from the high efficiency and long lives of non-continuous-spectrum sources such as metal-halide gas discharge and fluorescent lighting. In the 1980s — with a great deal of thanks to Frieder Hochheim, who would later found Kino Flo and is now an ASC associate member — the humble fluorescent fixture became a viable tool for the motion-picture industry. Hochheim struggled for several years to come up with the right alchemy of phosphor coatings in his tubes that would produce solid, correlated color-temperatures and a high-enough CRI for photography. CRI has been used since the 1970s with HMI fixtures as well, again to identify the color fidelity of a light source. Indeed, despite some inherent shortcomings of CRI and the fact that the system was never designed for photographic applications, it has been widely adopted, with every manufacturer of a non-continuous-spectrum light source testing and reporting the CRI of their fixtures. Enter the 21st century and the lightemitting diode (LED) technology that has suddenly become viable for use in photography. In keeping with established tradition, the manufacturers of those LED fixtures of course reported their CRI ratings — many of which were super-high, at 95 and above. But testing the fixtures revealed that those

super-high CRIs weren’t always entirely trustworthy, and many times — especially with digital sensors — the colors they generated could be very skewed. Obviously, there was a problem. Acknowledging the fact, in 2015 the CIE released an official statement noting, “For some types of light sources, the CIE General Colour [sic] Rendering Index does not agree well with overall perceived colour rendering.” Some people were very outspoken about the issue, but most seemed to sweep it quietly under the rug, as there didn’t seem to be a viable alternative to CRI. The fault in the original CRI measurement methodology lies in the limitation of the color patches used for testing. A mere eight pastel colors from the Munsell color wheel were chosen for the test — colors that don’t necessarily represent anything in real life or anything that we traditionally photograph on a regular basis.

The spiky nature of the LED color spectrum meant that there were some test patches that had no representative spectral response from the LED and others that had sketchy response; the result was that a fixture could score very high on the CRI, yet yield very poor color fidelity when used photographically, and vice versa. In 2004, an update to the CRI — called extended CRI — added six more color patches: primary red, green, blue, yellow, olive (leaf) green and light yellowpink. These additional patches gave the measurement protocol more viability, but it was still not sufficient for LED technology. To fully understand the shortcomings of the color validity system, we need to understand the physics of color, the eye and the camera. “White” light, specifically light from the sun, is a combination of all colors of the rainbow. When light from the sun travels to

Earth, it contains wavelengths of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet in various strengths, but in a smooth and continuous spectrum. When those wavelengths of light strike objects in our world, some are absorbed by the object and others are reflected off. The wavelengths that are reflected off become the color that our brain interprets. When we look at a strawberry under white light, that delicious red color is the result of the strawberry’s skin absorbing most of the green, blue and violet wavelengths and reflecting back a lot of red, and some orange and some yellow, to our eyes. If we deprive the strawberry of the light that it ‘wants’ to reflect back by introducing a cyan filter that stops red, orange and yellow light from passing through, then those wavelengths of light are no longer present to reflect back to our eye — and ➣ the strawberry will appear black.

streets below. “The common denominator with these,” he adds, “is that the locations were “Heavy lifter” isn’t offivery tight, much too small cially defined, but in drone for a full-size helicopter, yet parlance it’s generally taken to we could safely get the mean a UAV that can carry a drone in there and capture professional-grade camera amazing footage.” with a cinema lens — as Safety is paramount, opposed to a GoPro or other Kolias stresses. “As drones compact action camera. become more common on Weight-wise, some define it set, it’s important to stay as anything over 40 pounds vigilant and avoid a complatotal, including the drone, its cent attitude,” he says. “The payload, and batteries. The equipment we use, our FAA limit is 55 pounds; heavmaintenance regimen, our ier setups require a waiver. flight testing and verificaA Freefly Systems Alta 8 heavy-lift drone flies above the treetops. Nick Kolias — a cotion, the preflight checks owner, pilot and aerial coordiand status monitoring are all nator at Aerial Edge — has recently been Alexa Mini with Super Speeds on a Freefly intended to ensure the safest drone operaflying heavy lifters on a slate of car commer- Systems Alta 8 drone. tions possible.” cials. In one, he explains, “we start a few “Another interesting setup was For Kolias, knowing that drones have hundred feet over a tree canopy, then flying through the urban canyons and alley- advanced from their scratch-built phase to descend rapidly at a strategic angle through ways of the San Francisco financial district, proven, reliable, industrial-grade aircraft small gaps in the trees, all while keeping the chasing cars for Lexus,” Kolias continues. manufactured by respected companies picture car in frame and leading it at just the “In that case, we had an Alexa Mini with makes all the difference. As he attests, “I right distance. We’ve done that with a Red Leica Summicron-Cs on an Alta 8. We were literally sleep better at night because of Weapon and Zeiss Super Speeds on a Freefly right in-between high-rise buildings at that.” Systems Cinestar 8 HL, as well as an Arri around the 10th floor, looking down at the — PT


August 2017

American Cinematographer

Photo courtesy of Freefly Systems.

Pro Perspective Nick Kolias: The Heavy Lifters

Cinematographer Kaity Williams poses for a battery of tests of current LED fixtures. The top-left image provides a skin-tone reference under tungsten light; there are substantial variances in each subsequent image, despite all of the LEDs’ high CRI ratings.

This is a challenging concept for many people to understand because our brains have wonderful color memory. Even though our eyes don’t see the red, our brains remember that the strawberry is red, and we imagine that we still see that color. Film and digital sensors, however, don’t have such memory. They can only show you what is actually there. When the strawberry doesn’t get red light, it looks black to the camera. So in order for us to see real colors as they appear in the real world, the light that we’re using has to contain those colors; if it doesn’t, then we’ll never be able to record the true color of the object we’re looking at. Red, as it happens, is a crucial color for most applications, as it is the primary hue in skin tone — and most of us are shooting human faces on a regular basis. That means it’s very important to have the red wavelength when we’re lighting. The extended CRI tries to take this 22

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into account by incorporating the saturated red and yellow-pink chips. That helps, but it doesn’t solve the problem for the rest of the color spectrum. There have been several proposed alternates to CRI, such as the Television Lighting Consistency Index created by color-science expert Alan Roberts; the TLCI employs the Macbeth color chart’s 24 color patches and incorporates the opinions of colorists on whether or not the light from a specific luminary could be timed to look proper. This system, however, was based on a theoretical digital camera in Rec 709 and is only somewhat useful for the abundance of digital-sensor color matrices out there. Other concepts such as the Color Quality Scale (CQS) and the Gamut Area Index (GAI) were proposed but never widely adopted. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been aware of the limitations of CRI and the problems of LED American Cinematographer

lighting for a number of years, and the organization has been thoroughly researching and testing. Late last year the Academy published a paper in the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal describing the Spectral Similarity Index (SSI), a new methodology for measuring color fidelity from non-continuous-spectrum light sources. Due to the work of Academy members Jack Holm, Tom Maier, Paul Debevec, Chloe LeGendre, Joshua Pines, Jonathan Erland, George Joblove, Scott Dyer, Blake Sloan, Joe di Gennaro and Dan Sherlock, the SSI stands to replace CRI as the primary methodology for measuring color fidelity for the motion-picture industry. Pines, Erland and Joblove are also ASC associate members. “A new color index is proposed that is based upon the similarity of a luminaire’s spectrum to a reference spectrum that eliminates the need for any assumption of a specific observer or camera spectral sensitivity,” reads the SSI report’s abstract. “The index yields a ‘confidence factor,’ where a high score implies predictable color rendition for cinematography, and a moderate score implies possible color rendition challenges.” With just a spectrometer, a lighting manufacturer can measure the spectral output of a given fixture and plug the results into a look-up table to find its score, which relates the spectral output of the light to a reference illuminant: sun, tungsten, etc. The resulting number is a “confidence factor.” If it is 90 or above, then you can know the light source will result in colors that nearly mimic those from the specified reference source. If it is 70 or below, you know that there will be problems and some colors will not reflect accurately. Employing this system removes the bias of human vision and eliminates any direct comparison to a specific camera or color matrix. You simply get a result that relates the spectral curve that is being tested to that of a reference spectrum. For the time being, though, manufacturers continue to employ CRI. So when you read a data sheet and you notice what’s sure to be a high CRI, remember to take it with a grain of salt. ➣

Tech Essentials The Waveform Although the light meter is still the best tool for exposure judgments, in the digital age we have a number of additional tools available to us. A keen understanding of how to interpret them is necessary to a smooth workflow. Probably the most common is the waveform, which is built into many production monitors and camera systems today. Waveforms have been around since the early days of analog video and have been used by engineers to monitor the values of an image for over half a century. Reading a waveform monitor takes a little practice, but it is mostly intuitive. There are three primary display modes on most waveforms: luminance, luminance with chrominance, and parade. We’ll start with the luminance function. The waveform monitor starts with a grid marked out on the screen. The primary section of this grid is marked in horizontal delineations from 0 to 100. This represents the signal intensities from 0 percent (black) to 100 percent (white/peak). The markings actually represent IRE (Institute of Radio Engineers) values, which translate to percentages of luminance in the image. Some waveforms have a scale that goes beyond the standard 0-100, having values below 0 (generally to -40) and above 100 (generally to 120). The lower values are for the sync-pulse signals, or line-blanking 24

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intervals, and are of no importance to us in judging exposure. The area above 100 is the “super-white” area; generally any signal in this area has complete loss of image detail. In addition, some waveforms have a marking at the 7.5 IRE for “setup”; this was required for getting solid blacks in standard definition (Rec 601), but you can completely ignore 7.5 for HD and cinema signals. Although waveforms do consider chrominance information, they are primarily for measuring luminance information. The vertical IRE scale represents a percentage of luminance of the image. When you see areas of the waveform above 100 IRE, you know those areas are “clipping” — they have become pure white and cannot be brought down. If areas of the scene are below 0, they are pure black, without detail. In fact, whites should really sit between 80 and 100 for a well-exposed image; if you’re shooting a wedding scene, the bride’s dress shouldn’t register above 85 IRE or else you’ll risk losing detail in the lace. Medium gray should be set between 45 and 55 IRE. Caucasian faces generally fall between 60 and 70 IRE. We can also combine chrominance (color) information, but this can get kind of messy and hard to read, so if your waveform has adjustments, it’s better to set it to IRE or “luma” only and ignore the chrominance — unless you’re in the parade mode, which we’ll discuss shortly. American Cinematographer

Waveform image courtesy of Jay Holben.

A typical waveform signal.

While the Y-axis (vertical) scale on the waveform represents luminance percentage, the X-axis (horizontal) scale represents the image from left to right. This is where things can get confusing. If we’re photographing a white piece of paper in the upper half of the frame and a black piece of paper in the lower half, each point along the waveform will register both white and black. Similarly, if we have a grayscale positioned vertically in the frame, you’ll notice that each point on the waveform has a line that represents the steps of that scale. You can use the waveform monitor like a light meter if you put a gray card out into your scene where the talent will be, fill the screen with the gray card, and then adjust your aperture until the waveform reads between 45 and 55 IRE. This will give you a proper exposure for that area. The waveform is a solid tool for seeing your overall exposure range and for maintaining a solid signal-to-noise ratio in your image. With a low-light scene, you’ll notice that the signal is crowded toward the bottom of the waveform; in that case, you’re likely to be picking up a lot of noise in the recorded image, and it’s generally better to open up, expose a little higher on the waveform scale and, if needed, reduce the brightness later in post. With the waveform’s parade mode, we separate out red, green and blue into their individual components so we can look at the luminosity of each channel side by side. It’s a quick way to see if you’re overexposing your skin tones too much — is the red channel running hotter than green and blue? — which can lead to strange clipping and color solarization. It’s important to note that most waveform monitors are only going to work properly with Rec 709 signals. Log and raw signals are much more difficult to interpret on a waveform, although new tools are beginning to come out for just this purpose. — JH ●



Childhood Interrupted By Lauretta Prevost

Cinematographer Alexandre d’Audiffret believes his experience as a documentary stills photographer is more closely related to narrative filmmaking than it is to motion-picture docs. “My main goal is to shoot emotional stories,” he says. “In photography I’m really focused on emotion and storytelling, but in movie documentaries I don’t have time for that — we have to rush to cover the story. It’s not the same for a photo, where you can focus on a specific thing. Narrative [filmmaking] is very close to that. You can make choices.” D’Audiffret grew up on the west coast of France. He is welltraveled and often packs a Leica still camera with a 35mm lens. He has worked extensively under renowned French photographer and Academy Award-nominated director Eric Valli, and he draws inspiration from the evocative imagery of photographers Steve McCurry, William Albert Allard, W. Eugene Smith and Sebastião Salgado. The cinematographer brought these influences to bear while shooting the short Momma, which follows 9-year-old Darius (Maceo Smedley Jr.) as he lives alone in a trailer in Arizona — guiding himself through his daily routine, going to school, shopping for groceries, preparing his meals — following the unexplained disappearance of his mother. Director Nacho Arenas wrote the script, which was inspired by a tragic true story. It was important to Arenas that there be a visual distinction between Darius’ controlled world inside the trailer and the hectic, destabilized world the boy confronts when he ventures outside. To that end, d’Audiffret shares, “I wanted to shoot the outside portion with a doc feel. It’s all handheld, and the spherical lenses we used don’t distort much — it’s the same feeling as my Leica [still] images.” 26

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Thanks to ASC associate Seth Emmons, marketing director for CW Sonderoptic, the cinematographer was able to secure a set of the company’s Leica Summicron-C primes for everything outside the trailer; he shot predominantly with a 29mm. In contrast, interiors in the trailer were shot with Cooke Anamorphic /i primes. This space was meant to feel protective, and d’Audiffret’s impression was that the Cooke lenses provided a softer and warmer look that would invite viewers to connect with Darius. The cinematographer underexposed night interiors in Darius’ home by more than two stops. “I love to build an atmosphere for the talent,” he says. “If the scene is dark in the script, I want to shoot it dark. The talent has to feel the script.” Helping with this approach was the wide dynamic range of the production’s Arri Alexa Mini camera. The filmmakers shot all trailer interiors at 2.8K in the camera’s 4:3 mode with the Cooke Anamorphics; non-trailer shots were recorded at 4K UHD and cropped to 2.39:1. D’Audiffret set the camera’s ISO to 800 for interiors and 1,280 for exteriors. “I got this tip from colorist Fabien Pascal at Technicolor in France,” the cinematographer notes. “He told me it’s good to shoot the Alexa at a higher ISO, as it helps compress the blacks and gives more headroom in the highlights.” Given this approach, d’Audiffret adds, “I checked the noise limits on the Flanders [Scientific] monitor’s waveform to be sure I wasn’t going too far. Underexposing can be risky!” Between the two lens sets, 1st AC Jay Dallen had 15 primes in his care. D’Audiffret notes that Arri’s WCU-4 wireless lens-control unit allowed Dallen to program marks for all of the lenses during prep, in turn enabling fast lens-swapping during the shoot. With a production schedule that allotted only four days in which to capture 147 shots — roughly 37 shots per day — and working with a child

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All images courtesy of the filmmakers.

In his mother’s absence, 9-year-old Darius (Maceo Smedley Jr.) fends for himself in the short Momma.

Left: Darius prepares his lunch in the kitchen of his trailer. Right: Cinematographer Alexandre d’Audiffret frames the production’s Arri Alexa Mini camera.

actor, which limited each day’s schedule to 8 or 9 hours, every minute mattered. To further streamline the work, d’Audiffret planned to divvy each day’s shot list among four or five general lighting setups, and he came up with detailed diagrams for each of those setups ahead of time. Working with a local grip and electric crew in Arizona, d’Audiffret’s initial apprehension melted into appreciation as he got to know gaffer Jacen Sievers. “In France, gaffers are more direct interpreters of what you say, whereas in the U.S. I find the gaffer has more artistic power,” the cinematographer observes. “Sievers is only 24 years old, but he was one of the best gaffers I have worked with. He understood without needing to ask, and if he did ask it was because it was needed. He used the tools he preferred to work with, and I could trust him from beginning to end.” The location for Darius’ home was a practical trailer, albeit a run-down one in which floors had to be installed. The production carried a 6K generator, and the biggest unit in d’Audiffret’s arsenal was an Arrimax M18 HMI. For a kitchen scene where Darius is packing his lunch, the crew shot the M18 into Ultrabounce and let it come through Quarter CTO and 251 diffusion before entering the trailer through the window as a soft daylight key; an 800-watt daylight-balanced K 5600 Joker-Bug was aimed through 251 and Quarter Straw to light the back area of the kitchen. Outside the trailer, the crew controlled the natural light with large rags — typically bleached and unbleached muslin, Quarter and Full Grid Cloth, and Half Silk, 28

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complemented with black duvetyn. Sievers carried a light meter, and he and d’Audiffret aimed for a classic 2:1 or 3:1 contrast ratio. “As we were rushing, my biggest concern was keeping continuity between the shots — the direction of the light and the shape of the light on the face,” the cinematographer recalls. “The face and the eyes are most important. If light is the same on the eyes [from one shot to the next], the other mistakes are less important.” D’Audiffret operated the camera, and when outside he used an Easyrig to help him keep the camera on the eyeline of his 9-year-old star. Inside the trailer, the crew executed gentle moves with a Chapman Cobra dolly, which is basically a column that can also function as a riser within the shot, making vertical moves possible, too. Despite its condensed footprint, the camera operator can still ride the dolly. The cinematographer and director had more than seven months to prepare for the shoot; during most of that time, d’Audiffret was in France, but he kept in touch with Arenas through Skype sessions in which they would discuss shot lists, color palette, and influences such as Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC’s use of natural light. “Alex has a great knowledge of lighting,” Arenas enthuses. “He knows how best to use natural light and not oversaturate.” D’Audiffret adds, “I always long for my director to give me emotions, so that I can focus on that and feel that part of the story we are telling.” The director and cinematographer spent the final week of prep together on location with production designer Marcia American Cinematographer

Calosio. The three of them were then able to finalize all of the details inside the trailer. Throughout post, the cinematographer was grateful that Arenas sent him different rough cuts and allowed him the opportunity to share his opinion. And thanks to Arenas’ friendship with Lubezki, Momma found its way to Los Angeles-based colorgrading facility Shed, which was founded by colorist Yvan Lucas. At Shed, the short was paired with colorist Élodie Ichter, who worked with FilmLight’s Baselight system. “She’s amazing,” says Arenas. “She comes from the same school of thought as Yvan. She has a great eye, and she found this project fun to color because Alex had done such a great job.” During prep, d’Audiffret designed four reference LUTs that he sent to Ichter as a guide for her work, along with mood pictures and stills he had graded on set. Due to a commitment on a commercial in France, he was unable to join the coloring sessions in person, but he kept in touch with Ichter via Skype. “I told her to start the grade with skin tones,” the cinematographer notes. “If the skin tones are right, you can do anything.” D’Audiffret’s attention to detail, from the amount of material he provided the colorist to his down-to-the-diffusion lighting diagrams, underscores his deep investment in telling emotional stories to the fullest extent of his abilities and resources. Following Momma, Arenas has another short and a feature in mind to complete what he’s conceiving as a trilogy on the human condition and, specifically, loss. Looking ahead to those productions, he says, “It is my wish to go on this journey with Alex.” ●


Escape Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC reteams with Christopher Nolan to push large-format narrative filmmaking to new heights. By Michael Goldman •|•


uring a meeting to strategize how best to shoot aerial dogfighting sequences for the World War II epic Dunkirk — an entirely large-format film production — director Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC quickly realized that solving one problem had created the potential for another. For these sequences, which were crucial to Nolan’s vision, the director was determined to use a 15-perf 65mm Imax MSM camera inside the tiny cockpit of a replica vintage Spitfire fighter plane as it engaged in actual aerial maneuvers.


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And thanks to a specialized periscope lensing system built by Panavision, the filmmakers solved the problem. However, it occurred to them that acquiring these “intimate angles,” as van Hoytema calls them, foreshadowed a film-printing issue. The duo not only put their heads together — one of them literally stood on his in order to better conceptualize the problem. “[The periscope] gave us a flipped image because of the prism,” van Hoytema explains. “With 65mm 5-perf, that would be a simple problem to overcome just by flipping the negative in the printer. But with Imax — which we were determined to use — where every frame is printed horizontally across the negative, it was not possible to flip the negative in the printer. Flipping the whole negative horizontally would effectively play the scene backwards, and flopping the negative vertically would turn the image upside down. “I remember pondering how we could solve this problem optically,” he continues, “without the interference of a [digital intermediate] or computers. Correcting the image digitally would fundamentally change things visually. Chris and I were trying to do as much as possible in camera for the simple reason that we wanted to avoid scanning and printing back to film, where there would be a huge loss of quality.”

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Opposite: Set in 1940, the World War II epic Dunkirk depicts the evacuation of the British Army from the titular beaches in France. This page, left: Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) stands at the end of a concrete mole that protects Dunkirk’s outer harbor, with a hospital ship moored behind him. Below: Director Christopher Nolan (left) and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC plan a shot on the beach.

Van Hoytema reports that it required “Chris Nolan standing on his head in my office to come to a realization — what if we turned the camera upside down?”

Unit photography by Melinda Sue Gordon, SMPSP, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

*** Dunkirk examines the true story of the famous evacuation of virtually the entire British Army from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, in 1940. The event was the ideal subject matter, and van Hoytema the perfect partner, for Nolan as he took his crusade to promote largeformat filmmaking to new heights. In their second collaboration after Interstellar (AC Dec. ’14) — an Imax/35mm-anamorphic hybrid — they have produced a movie that, according to Nolan, has “a very good claim about being the highest-resolution feature film that has ever been made.” And they did it by “trying hard to do things never done before on such a large and rewarding negative.” Indeed, the filmmakers shot about 70 percent of Dunkirk with 15perf 65mm Imax MSM 9802 and MKIV film cameras, and acquired the rest with 5-perf 65mm Panaflex HR Spinning Mirror Reflex and System 65 Studio cameras. “The noise in the

[Imax] cameras was always a limiting factor, because I don’t like ADR dialogue,” Nolan explains. “[But] with Dunkirk, I was looking at telling the story in primarily a visual way, with less dialogue than in my previous films, so that suggested to me that we could achieve more with Imax MSM cameras [than on Interstellar]. We could use [Panavision 65mm] cameras for [lengthy dialogue scenes], and [achieve] the goal of as much 15-perf [Imax] as possible.” Van Hoytema reports that the production relied primarily on Kodak Vision3 250D 5207 stock, with 200T 5203 and 500T 5219 stock employed

“for a small number of night scenes.” Nolan’s work with van Hoytema on their prior feature was an important factor in the director’s decision to pursue these ambitious methodologies. “We did a lot on Interstellar that gave us confidence we could find solutions,” he says, “such as Hoyte working closely with Panavision to make special lenses and attachments for us. These were huge issues, but Hoyte was able to challenge Panavision and Imax to come up with innovative solutions. He doesn’t take no for an answer. He has an engineering mind — he challenges everybody.” Nolan also points to van Hoytema’s “brute strength as an operaAugust 2017


Great Escape Right: Soldiers wend their way toward the base of the mole, with white sea foam creeping in from the left — an unexpected natural occurrence that gave the sequence its special look. Below: Sea foam surrounds the crew as Nolan finds the desired shot.

tor,” which allowed the Interstellar production “to [shoot] handheld for the first time in Imax. So all that pushed me in the direction of feeling like it really would be possible to do the entire film that way.” The cinematographer’s view of their common goal is similar. Nolan, he says, “has a sense of connection between aesthetics, technology and mechanics, philosophy, and storytelling. He can intertwine these elements into related solutions — making connections while others are still in the dark, but without getting hung up on insignificant detail or being precious.” While Nolan’s prior work with Wally Pfister, ASC — such as on The Dark Knight (AC July ’08) — as well as 32

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with van Hoytema on Interstellar, tended toward a visually evident mix between two negative formats, the director notes that a different philosophy would apply here. “When we approached Dunkirk, it was clear this was not a script we could break down the same way,” he says. “This is a film that’s relentless in its approach — we are always in it. We knew early on, looking at the way this story would unfold, that it would be impossible to say exactly where we would want those visual shifts to occur. Instead, we really wanted a more seamless blend.” It was thus decided to use as much of the larger Imax negative as possible, and to employ flat, spherical lenses with the 5-perf material “so that American Cinematographer

there would be no characteristics of anamorphic distortion, [particularly] flares, so the photography would largely match,” Nolan adds. “And then, hopefully, by the time the Imax film print was completely finished, the difference would be smoother and more subtle.” As in those prior collaborations, for the Imax-projected version of Dunkirk, the on-screen aspect ratio will periodically alternate between 1.43:1 and 2.20:1 — when there is a shift from 15perf to 5-perf capture — while 70mm and standard DCP projection will maintain 2.20:1 and 2.39:1, respectively. It was Nolan’s intention to “put the audience into the situation subjectively,” he says. “To make them feel like they were running along the beach at Dunkirk, to feel like they are dogfighting from inside a Spitfire cockpit, or on a small yacht sailing the English Channel.” “I had a feeling this material would require a purer approach with sphericals,” van Hoytema elaborates. “The whole idea that a spherical lens is built with less glass, and doesn’t have an anamorphizing lens to stretch the image a certain way, seemed right for this material. I didn’t want that extra filter that you often have with thick, anamorphic glass. I wanted to strip all that away.” The cinematographer adds that ASC associate member and Panavision’s

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Left: Nolan checks the shot for a scene with Gibson (Aneurin Barnard, sitting, left) and Tommy (Fionn Whitehead, sitting, right). Below: Van Hoytema sits atop a dolly for a shot that tracks alongside soldiers lined up on the mole.

vice president of optical engineering and lens strategy, Dan Sasaki, “customized a couple of beautiful sets of Sphero 65 lenses for us [for use with the Panavision 65mm cameras] that looked wonderful, and those were more similar to Imax than anamorphic lenses would be. They had the same kind of flare and a softness in the field that was similar to our [Imax footage].” Panavision also customized existing 80mm and 50mm Imax lenses and built additional ones for the production, along with building the aforementioned periscope. (See sidebar, page 34.) In addition to the Imax bodies, van Hoytema also handheld the heavier Panavision 65mm cameras, estimated by 1st AC Bob Hall to weigh approximately 55 pounds — before the 1,000' film magazines and lenses were added, which brought the whole package close to an estimated 90 pounds. The Imax cameras were slightly lighter before lens and magazine, but were still “a very awkward camera, because it is a very big box, definitely not designed to be handheld on your shoulder,” Hall says. The cinematographer insists that his ability to operate such cameras handheld “wasn’t because I’m some sort of superman. I’m just an overweight, non-sporting, slightly drinking, happy cameraman — and I was able to do it

not because I’m that strong, but because it isn’t as difficult as people think, if you know what you are doing and have great people helping you. For me, I think the weight or size of the camera was an insignificant element when compared to the quality of the images we produced.” Handheld Imax work was aided by a custom eyepiece — which Panavision’s Sasaki had developed previously for Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (AC Aug. ’12) — to make the unit more ergonomic. Hall notes that this innovation made it “easier to get the operator’s eye to the camera when it was on his shoulder.” The protocol for van Hoytema’s safe operation revolved largely around a

choreographed dance of sorts with key grip Ryan Monro. Once van Hoytema had secured firm footing, Monro “was like a mountaineer, fixing himself in different positions so he could lift the camera on my shoulder, or help me keep balance if it looked like I might fall over,” the cinematographer says. “That symbiosis between Ryan and I was pivotal to working handheld.” Monro wore a backpack specially configured by 2nd AC Dan Schroer — containing, as Hall reports, a video transmitter, Preston’s FI+Z lens-andcamera control system, a CineTape display, a Dionic battery to power the CineTape, and an Imax battery to power the camera — that also bore August 2017



Inside Panavision’s Optical Engineering


associate member and Panavision’s vice president of optical engineering and lens strategy, Dan Sasaki, was initially surprised by how committed the filmmakers were to featuring Imax footage in Dunkirk, and particularly by their pursuit of Imaxcaptured footage from inside the cockpits of small Spitfire airplanes. With the latter directive, Sasaki launched a project to build “a periscope that can go on the camera and pan, with a mechanically compensated imaging orienting prism,” he says. Panavision ultimately engineered six versions of two different periscopes — including one to acquire the POV of the water from a boat or submarine — to meet Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC’s specifications. Panavision also customized two new sets of Sphero 65 lenses for the Panavision HR 65mm camera system, including creating four new focal lengths (29mm, 40mm, 100mm and 300mm); customized an existing 50mm (T2) Imax lens originally built for The Dark Knight (AC July ’08); and repaired director Christopher Nolan’s personal 80mm (T2) Imax lens. The company then developed from scratch additional 50mm (T2) and 80mm (T2) Imax lenses. Designing the Periscopes Dan Sasaki: Hoyte revealed to me that their original idea of putting a periscope on a camera supported by a large ball-bearing turret mechanism, which would rotate the camera, didn’t pan out — and that by the way, they were talking about an Imax camera, not the smaller 5-perf camera. We had been planning a periscope design based on the other presumption. As a result of collaborating with Hoyte, we had to add another degree of periscope articulation to allow the camera to follow the other airplanes from inside the cockpit


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more dynamically. The final result gave us an Imax-specific periscope that not only tilts, but pans. Basically, we did a lot of napkin drawings to figure out if we could pipe enough light through the system to achieve Hoyte’s target stop of T8. The clock was ticking and there was no time to generate an entirely new orienting prism system. Our solution was to design around the prism assembly, and brute-force the optics to complement the existing light path. Once we solved the orientation, rotation and stop requirements, Hoyte discovered that the system, with Preston motors installed, was too tall to fit into the cockpit, and could not get the full axial adjustments required to capture airplanes flying by. We were able to get the specs of the airplane, and that last bit of information directed us into other design concepts that are used in surveillance aircraft. We learned that if we approached the solution with a nonconventional relay system, we could remote the pupil position of relays and actually achieve a smaller periscope that met the T8 requirements, while still having all the articulated motions Hoyte required. Another thing Hoyte asked for was an optional wider-objective lens to achieve a more expansive field of view. The original periscope had an objective lens that had a field of view equivalent to 120mm in Imax, which is pretty wide, approximately a 35mm in the Super 35 world. But Hoyte requested an additional lens that would produce an equivalent field of view of a 17mm in the Super 35 world, which I think was a 50mm in the Imax world. In creating this iteration, we actually reduced the size of the primary front objective to yield a system that could fit within the Spitfire.

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Creating, Customizing and Rebuilding Lenses Sasaki: The tweaks on the existing lenses included readjusting flange depth, rebuilding mechanical transports and resetting element positions. In the case of the lenses we had to build, the 50s are a proprietary design for Panavision, so we had to pull out old designs we hadn’t addressed since The Dark Knight Rises [AC Aug. ’12], and remanufacture the glass in a short period of time. We basically started over again with the 80mm lenses as well. One problem with the 80mm design was some of the elements in the reproduction were not exactly the same as in the original Chris Nolan 80mm lens. We had to do some work with the optical characteristics of the new batch to get them to match as close as possible. For the 65mm 5-perf camera optics, we had just finished working with Bob Richardson [ASC] on Live by Night, and we adapted the Sphero 65 lens technology we developed for that show to work with film cameras and their spinning mirrors. One thing worth noting is that the actual performance of the Sphero 65 lenses had to be an order higher in performance than the Imax lenses. That is because of the blowup factor and lack of magnification associated with 5-perf 65mm when compared to native 15-perf Imax. Since Nolan didn’t want there to be a contrasting look [between the two formats], we had to be careful about monitoring performance qualifications of the new optics. Some of the older 65mm-format lenses didn’t have the pop to match the Imax images adequately, so we turned to the Sphero 65 lineup and created the four new focal lengths. —Michael Goldman

Great Escape some of the camera’s weight. “[Schroer] made a very efficient, watertight bag that had all the necessary tethers for the camera to run, making it easier to service and taking unnecessary weight away from my operating,” van Hoytema says. “Hoyte was usually okay to operate the Imax cameras handheld without much help from me, as long as the shot didn’t go on too long,” Monro explains. “But when we shot dialogue scenes using the heavier [Panavision 65 cameras], those shots were usually much longer, so I assisted Hoyte by taking some of the weight while he operated. I would hoist the camera onto his shoulder, and then interlock my arms underneath his to push up on the camera, taking as much weight as I could, while being delicate enough for him to still pan and tilt. It seemed to work quite well, but we had to get very close. It was like two men in their mid-40s playing Twister while juggling an old sewing machine.” Van Hoytema also performed handheld work on boats, while shooting on a lake near Urk, Netherlands. For scenes that took place on a small sailboat, for example — a vessel which rocked back and forth in choppy water, making it difficult to keep balance while standing — Monro made a “cradle” for the cinematographer to lean into, built out of rock-climbing webbing and static line attached to various points on the boat. The production also used a large catamaran as a camera boat, on which both handheld and mounted camera techniques were employed. In some cases, the cameras were affixed to a remote, gyro-stabilized Edge Crane and Head to achieve what Monro calls “boat-to-boat filming.” He adds that the production “also rigged a platform to the side of the catamaran, just underneath the waterline, so that we could get down there handheld to film oil-soaked, drowning soldiers struggling in the ocean.” The Dunkirk beach location in France was both “a magnificent place” as well as “an ugly, big, gray monster” that wasn’t particularly compatible with giant cameras, according to van Hoytema. “The beach is endless,” he says. “When you get

Above: With the help of a custommade snorkel lens, van Hoytema lines up an Imax camera for a POV shot. Left: A joint effort by aeronautic engineers and the production’s grips allowed an Imax camera to be rigged on the wings of a two-seater Spitfire replica, enabling visceral in-flight shots of actor Jack Lowden (portraying Collins). Below: Nolan operates the gimbal rotation and van Hoytema uses a wire to simulate realistic camera vibrations on a fully balanced and hand-operated gimbal built on a cliff overlooking the water; this setup gave the filmmakers full control for realistic in-cockpit acting scenes.

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Practical Lighting Approach

Lighting the Destroyer According to European gaffer Helmut Prein, the most apt example of Dunkirk’s need for period light aboard the film’s on-screen ships involved a 420' decommissioned French destroyer, now used as a museum vessel, called the Maillé-Brézé. The ship required the painstaking installation of generators, the rewiring of the power system and existing practical lights, the sealing of the electrical installation against humidity and saltwater, and the addition of more lighting fixtures that could blend in with the ship’s originals. “The existing electrical installation was in very poor condition, and there wasn’t any engine producing electrical power on board, so we had to place two 150-kilowatt generators in the back of the ship with an auto crane,” Prein says. “The generators were camouflaged by set decoration. We also had to rewire 78 existing practicals [due to porous original cabling], as we couldn’t simply feed in 230 volts/50 hertz. Then set decoration added some 48 additional practicals, ending up with 63 practicals on each side of the ship — three different styles of housings. All fixtures were running on separate dimmer channels and controlled by a GrandMA2 dimmer board. “To get a more spiky light characteristic out of the practicals,” Prein adds, “we decided to use a special halogen light bulb in a retro pear shape. They looked period to camera, but had a much higher luminance output. To get a more yellowish period color, we pulled in the practicals to about 50 to 60 percent on the dimmer board.” Prein reports that he found a variety of specialized lighting instruments along the way that helped for specific nighttime looks. “I did some investigation to find unobtrusive lights to integrate into the vessel’s structure,” he says. “In a Paris rental house, deep back in the shelves, I found an old 5K DeSisti Renoir fixture — an open-face,


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bare-bulb light in a [nondescript] black housing, which was perfect to hide. We spread out a dozen of those into the ship, producing a raw and punchy downlight on the lower decks. We also installed three 10K Molebeams as searchlights for certain shots, dimmed down to a period color. “Then, to reach deeper down to the water surface,” he continues, “we stuck out two 16K Dinos on outriggers to reach out over the ship’s bow. Our riggers built a movable truss-boom system, which could be wheeled in and out as needed, with [grips] securing the rig against the movement of the waves. We also used 250K Lightning Strikes rigged just above the waterline to simulate a torpedo impact into the boat.”

“Each period and specialty lamp had to withstand the explosion and capsizing over and over.” Water-Tank Illumination Particularly complex lighting rigs were employed for Dunkirk’s watertank work, shot on Stage 16 at Warner Bros. in Los Angeles, where key scenes aboard a trawler were shot. As American gaffer Adam Chambers explains, for the interior of the trawler, below deck, the intent was to light from the exterior to allow director Christopher Nolan; cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC; and the actors to work without restriction within the vessel. “It was quite dark inside, due to the fact that the trawler had few portholes or hatches,” Chambers explains. “Therefore, we

American Cinematographer


pushed as much light as possible through the existing and available openings.” Rather than manufacture light with no believable source, the filmmakers left the interior unlit, and simply “pushed daylight HMIs through every nook and cranny,” Chambers continues. “The only instrument used within the trawler was a 2-by-2 poly — beadboard — bounce card. We would periodically adjust lights to shoot directionally through the hatches or portholes toward either the bow or stern, accordingly. The trawler sat within the tank, and was surrounded by either box truss or I-beams saddled with trolleys that carried Arrimax 18Ks, M90s or M18s.” Chambers’ team also rigged a 20x40 soft box filled with 60 Arri Skypanel S60-Cs over the top of the trawler within the tank, for overall ambiance. Those were the only LEDs used on the show, due to the production’s mandate to adhere to period light, as Chambers explains. But the toughest lighting work with the trawler, he adds, involved complex setups to film the sinking of the ship in the water tank. “Each period and specialty lamp had to withstand the explosion and capsizing [which were accomplished practically] over and over throughout the day, and night as well,” Chambers says. “Each piece of Socapex [electrical cable] had to be rerun from the edge of the tank, underwater and through set walls — 175 feet to the ship — to the underwater set following each day that was shot, due to the fact that it would be compromised by constant immersion in the water. We had quite a few practicals, as well as open-face lights, working in the shot — all on a dimmer and controllable. The flicker effect on the boat and the foreground were created with eight 24-light MaxiBrutes with VNSP globes.” —Michael Goldman

Great Escape there the first time, you are in awe of the magnitude of the place, and you realize you don’t have to do a lot of complicated things in order to reproduce that magnitude. It was a unique atmosphere, so we only had the core crew out there with the camera — an intimate, contained, focused, down-and-dirty experience.” Monro adds, “We had to keep the camera footprint small and stealthy, to move in and out of the way of [actors portraying soldiers] without the use of large telescopic cranes and tracking vehicles. So we used a lot of dolly track, usually on the edge of the water. We had a team of French and English grips and techs leapfrogging camera dollies to dolly tracks set up further away as the tide came in. On [a jetty known as ‘the mole’], there wasn’t much space for any gear, so we used dollies and track there, also.” As Monro explains, the mole is “a massive pier or breakwater. From the beach it went straight out into the ocean for about one kilometer, and it ranged from 8 feet to 20 feet wide in various spots. Along with using camera dollies on the mole, and due to weight restrictions, we used a lightweight GF-8 camera crane from Grip Factory Munich. In the streets of Dunkirk, we used a Grip Trix electric camera car with a 17-foot telescopic MovieBird mounted to the top.” Van Hoytema also waded into shallow water and shot Imax handheld. For those applications, Imax cameras were placed into special waterproof splashbags designed by underwater cinematographer/engineer Pete Romano, ASC of Hydroflex, so that van Hoytema, wearing a drysuit, could carefully dip Imax cameras underwater while operating by hand. To accomplish this, Hall came up with an alternative way for van Hoytema to be safely tethered to the camera’s electronic components. “We had a cable loom going from the camera to the backpack,” Hall says, “and we had to be very careful that Hoyte didn’t go in too deep, where water could go in through the opening of the sleeve on the [splashbag]. So I found a little [SEAC Seamate] raft, which is designed

Top: An Imax camera in a custom splashbag — and mounted to an Edge Crane on a camera ship — is angled into position for a shot of a Spitfire after a water landing. Above: Van Hoytema and Nolan line up the Imax camera, which is encased in an underwater housing, for a shot of Lowden’s character trying to escape a sinking Spitfire.

to hold a scuba tank for divers, maybe 21⁄2 feet long and 2 feet wide. We put the backpack in a waterproof bag, strapped it to the raft, and let it float along with Hoyte as he was handholding, standing in the English Channel. We were using these cameras exactly as they were not designed to be used, turning a lot of notions about Imax cameras and how to use them upside down.” Indeed, van Hoytema reveals that the production was so eager to “put the camera in places that are normally hard to access in order to provide a firsthand, visceral view of what was

ing,” that they decided to place an Imax camera into a stunt plane — which was “unmanned and catapulted from a ship,” van Hoytema says — and crash it into the sea. The crash, however, didn’t go quite as expected. “Our grips did a great job building a crash housing around the Imax camera to withstand the physical impact and protect the camera from seawater, and we had a good plan to retrieve the camera while the wreckage was still afloat,” van Hoytema says. “Unfortunately, the plane sank almost instantly, pulling the rig and camera to August 2017


Great Escape

Top: The “Frankenhull” — a fully gimballed sinking warship built in Falls Lake at the Universal lot. The funny-looking proportions allowed the ship to look bigger and more complex for shots made on deck. Two 60'x30' overhead frames with gray muslin were employed to replicate the overcast skies encountered in Europe. Bottom: Van Hoytema and Nolan work out a shot on the tilted minesweeper replica.

the sea bottom. In all, the camera was under for [more than 90 minutes] until divers could retrieve it. The housing was completely compromised by water pressure, and the camera and mag had filled with [brackish] water. But Jonathan Clark, our film loader, rinsed the retrieved mag in freshwater and cleaned the film in the darkroom with freshwater before boxing it and submerging it in freshwater.” Hall adds, “FotoKem advised us to drain as much of the water as we could from the can, [as it] is not a watertight container and we didn’t want the airlines to not accept something that is leaking. This was the first experience of sending waterlogged film to a film lab 38

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across the Atlantic Ocean to be developed. It was uncharted territory.” As van Hoytema reports, “FotoKem carefully developed it to find out the shot was all there, in full color and clarity. This material would have been lost if shot digitally.” The process of devising aerial shots was “very meticulous and careful,” van Hoytema says. “Our mandate was that we wanted it to be visceral — for the aerial footage to feel real and not sensationalist, including the experience of sitting in the cockpit of a Spitfire. We felt it was important to avoid any dramatization that defied the laws of physics. We wanted to understand the mechanics of a dogfight, to be aware American Cinematographer

that the maneuvers will place a certain amount of Gs on [a pilot], and that it gets very heavy, physically, on the body.” When the Imax cameras were rigged to peek into the cockpits using the Panavision periscopes, either Nolan, van Hoytema, or aerial-unit director of photography Hans Bjerno squeezed in and partnered with aerial coordinator/pilot Craig Hosking. “We mounted the camera [upside-down] behind the camera operator, and the lens would stick out above him,” van Hoytema explains. “His knee operated the periscoping lens by rotating it left and right. And the camera was mounted so that it was balanced, but we could actually still move it. “For shots done from the wing, inward,” the cinematographer continues, a camera-mount support built by the production’s aeronautical engineers was employed “so that we could physically put an Imax camera on the wing of an airplane. The camera was hardmounted and started and stopped by Craig Hosking, the pilot.” Describing another aerial setup, van Hoytema reports that Hosking “had a EuroStar airplane, and we would have an Imax mounted in the nose of it and in the back of it with hard mounts, so that the only way to point those cameras was to steer the plane, to bank it left or right.” When asked if all the aerial footage in the film was shot on real, flying planes, the cinematographer notes that “we did the meat of it for real, apart from some additional outdoor close-up gimbal work.” In terms of focus pulling, Hall notes with a laugh that he “only experienced the normal challenges that one would associate with pulling focus on the bow of a 1935 sailboat in force-7 seas in the rain, with my CineTape disabled and large-format depth-offield equal to 3 stops less than anamorphic 35mm film.” The depth-of-field issue resulted in Hall’s relying largely on his own seasoned experience for pulling focus. As Hall explains, “When you shoot

Great Escape

Van Hoytema, Nolan and crew prepare an underwater shot in which a soldier submerges to escape the inferno on the surface.

Imax, you are basically losing 3 stops of depth of field. Fortunately, they wanted an epic look, and to utilize as much depth of the large format as they could for lots of day exteriors, when we had the sun — but that was not all the time. We were shooting at an 8-stop, but that left me with an effective 2.8 for depth of field. And then, as the day went on, that diminished greatly.”


Regarding the constantly shifting European skies over the English Channel, van Hoytema decided early on that he would not try to “intervene with light” when shooting day exteriors on the beach in Europe. Rather, he opted to go for “a true visual sense of the moment,” he says. “European skies are very extreme,” van Hoytema notes, “and

weather can change from moment to moment — but we wanted all those changes, as it really is, and we didn’t want to stop and micromanage certain light directions. So for those kinds of scenes it didn’t matter if the light was flat from the front or backlit, or if it was windy and raining and then the next day it wasn’t. We felt that was part of the reality we were filming. Our job wasn’t to create a special look — our job was to observe and take in what we could get.” More traditional lighting was used, however, for such setups as the various ships featured in the production, which needed period-relevant lighting. The film’s most sophisticated lighting rigs were supervised by two gaffers — Helmut Prein handling the European sequences, and Adam Chambers overseeing the water-tank work at the Warner Bros. studios in Los Angeles. (See sidebar, page 36.) Per Nolan’s edict, the movie was finished photochemically at FotoKem,

forgoing digital scanning and recording. Multiple exhibition versions of the movie were output from two separate film masters — 15-perf 65mm Imax and 5-perf 65mm. ASC associate member Dan Muscarella performed final color timing on the film negative in both formats on a custom 65mm Colormaster color analyzer. (See expanded coverage of FotoKem’s and Imax Post/DKP Inc.’s postproduction workflows at Only Dunkirk’s limited number of visual-effects shots — created by Vancouver’s Double Negative — were touched by a computer. But even there, the filmmakers’ analog processing preferences mandated that upon completion, the images were scanned and filmed out for inclusion in reels. “Our original negative is always the color guidance for the visual-effects shots,” van Hoytema says. “When we get our output from DNeg, we end up with a

raw negative that has our [analog photochemical] color correction all over it.” It is the hope of both director and cinematographer that one of Dunkirk’s contributions will be to illustrate to the industry that this kind of filmmaking is possible, and continues to be an innovative process. “I certainly feel a sense of excitement around photochemical prints that I have not felt in years,” Nolan says. “I was in London recently and saw various cinemas that had ‘35mm’ advertised on the marquee as a selling point. I think there is an increased interest from younger audiences. For them, it’s a newer experience to get that emotional connection from the material with these superior prints.”

TECHNICAL SPECS 2.20:1 (5-perf 70mm), 1.43:1 (Imax), 2.39:1 (standard DCP) 15-perf 65mm Imax, 5-perf 65mm Kodak Vision3 250D 5207, 200T 5203, 500T 5219 Imax MSM 9802, MKIV; Panavision Panaflex System 65 Studio 65SPFX, HR Spinning Mirror Reflex 65HSSM Panavision Sphero 65; Imax 80mm, 50mm; Panavision Imax Periscope Printed on Kodak Vision 2383

For additional Dunkirk coverage, visit ●


Classic Hollywood Cinematographer Danny Moder and director Billy Ray balance vintage styles and modern sensibilities on Amazon’s old-Hollywood series The Last Tycoon. By Jim Hemphill •|•


n a soundstage of a historic studio lot that was once the stomping grounds of John Ford, William Wyler and countless other Hollywood legends, a group of contemporary filmmakers gathers to re-create a bygone era for an episode of Amazon’s new series The Last Tycoon. Based on an unfinished novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon follows boy-wonder producer Monroe Stahr (Matt Bomer) and studio head Pat Brady (Kelsey Grammer) as they struggle to reconcile the aesthetic, financial and technical demands of moviemaking in 1930s Hollywood. On the day that AC visits the set, the crew is shooting a scene where Stahr and Brady face off against labor represen-


August 2017

tatives attempting to unionize screenwriters — a surprisingly timely premise, given that at that very moment a writers’ strike (ultimately averted) is potentially about to descend upon 2017 Hollywood. The contemporary relevance is not lost on director of photography Danny Moder, who was attracted to The Last Tycoon partly because of what it had to say about where Hollywood started and where it was going. “The script for the pilot really touched on a lot of interesting ideas about the concept of how movies began, how they evolved, how innovative the technology was, and who the revolutionary thinkers were,” Moder says. “These guys were really the Steve Jobs of their day.” Moder first became aware of the project when he worked with director Billy Ray on the feature Secret in Their Eyes. “I have a hard time looking past whatever job I’m currently doing,” the cinematographer notes, “but Billy kept talking about this Last Tycoon thing — that he might have the rights and he might be able to make it happen. Sure enough, a few months after Secret in Their Eyes came out, Billy asked me to read the script for the pilot.” Ray, who wrote and directed the pilot for The Last Tycoon before going on to serve as the first season’s showrunner — and director of additional episodes — notes that Moder’s collaboration was essential. “I don’t consider myself to

American Cinematographer

Photos by Adam Rose and Jennifer Clasen, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

be a naturally gifted shot-maker, so my director of photography has to be,” Ray explains. “Danny’s compositions are phenomenal, and he has a great sense of how and when to move the camera.” Though Moder hadn’t shot a series before, the prospect of reuniting with Ray, combined with the inherently visual nature of the material, inspired him to sign on. “The period is so cinematic, and it’s such a great subject if you’re a movie lover,” Moder says. “Billy and I had a lot of fun conversations about what we were doing and how it related to film history. We watched Singin’ in the Rain, which is later than the era we’re portraying — which takes place just before it — so how does that style inform what we’re doing? We used a lot of movies from the era as references — like Fritz Lang movies that are so much fun, and that inspire you to ask how they did it with what they had, and why they did it that way.” For Moder, part of the challenge was finding the line between remaining true to the style of the period and formulating a visual style appropriate for contemporary audiences. “They used a lot of light in those 1930s movies, and in more obvious ways,” he explains. “Today we’re always trying to be less on-thenose about where the light’s coming from, or to make it look unlit, and modern audiences expect more contrast. The good news is that even though we’re using a lot of LED fixtures, it’s gotten to the point where we can really soften and color the light, giving it enough density to make it more fitting to this era.” Ray notes that he and Moder looked at a lot of George Hurrell photography to recapture the look of the period. “You don’t want a story set in 1936 to be screaming with 2017 technology that will pop you out of the story,” he explains. “I thought this subject — the contrast between the dream of Hollywood and the reality of Hollywood, and on a deeper level the question of why that dream is so powerful and has such a hold on us — neces-

Opposite: Producer Monroe Stahr (Matt Bomer) battles studio head Pat Brady (Kelsey Grammer) in the 1930s Hollywood-set series The Last Tycoon. This page, top: Celia Brady (Lily Collins) informs her father that she’s joining forces with Stahr to make the perfect picture. Bottom: Cinematographer Danny Moder on set.

sitated a very classic kind of style.” Moder adds that his influences were not limited to films from and about the 1930s. “We talked a lot about The Godfather, which Billy, like so many directors, is obsessed with, as well as Chinatown. For me, John Seale ASC, ACS’s work on The English Patient was extremely important — I wanted to replicate the way he would make you think you were looking at one thing and then reveal it to be something different, which fit in perfectly with the visual language and theme of The Last Tycoon.

I also looked at the use of color in Boardwalk Empire and The Crown. I thought that if we could aim for that level of photography with our budget, our crew, and our time, that would be pretty great.” Those budget and time limitations became more pronounced when The Last Tycoon was picked up for series. “The pilot was done in 12 or 13 days, and we got some pretty good work done,” Moder recalls. “We were working with a phenomenal production designer, Patrizia von Brandenstein, and August 2017


Classic Hollywood

Top: The real-life production crew shoots the story’s filmmakers at work on a soundstage. Bottom: Cast and crew capture a scene in which Stahr romances Kathleen Moore (Dominique McElligott).

a great costume designer, Janie Bryant — and my crew was incredible. It just all felt right.” Moder was initially resistant to continuing on the series, out of fear that the tighter nine-day schedule would require too many compromises to the visual style, but his fondness for the initial scripts and the environment that Ray had devised changed his mind. “You can’t help but be amazed by the costumes and production design,” Moder enthuses. “The places we get to go, the cars we get to see, and Billy’s writing all just give you an amazing opportunity — as does his generosity to 44

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every single person on the crew.” Ray reciprocates Moder’s compliment by adding that the cinematographer is as adept at the “nonglamorous” aspects of photography as he is at the aesthetically rewarding ones. “I’ve been on sets where the director of photography and the first AD are always arguing about schedule versus style, or the cinematographer and the production designer are always arguing about whether or not the sets are camera-friendly,” Ray says. “With Danny, there’s a strong point of view and a strong aesthetic, but a complete absence of ego. The best idea wins and American Cinematographer

he doesn’t care where it came from. That said, 90 percent of the time it came from him. “He also has instant credibility with actors, because they know he’s going to take care of them,” Ray adds. “He speaks their language, so there’s never a hassle about camera versus performance — ever.” Moder notes the importance of communicating his plan to the performers so they can integrate what they’re doing with the cinematography. “The lighting on this show is kind of specific,” he says. “It’s not just, ‘We’ll hit it anywhere.’ Every scene is an opportunity, and it’s something that somebody has written down, and there have been hundreds of meetings about it — about wardrobe and everything else. You try to feel out the sensitivity of the scene, and work out how it will be most powerful with everybody.” For Moder, preparation is also key in terms of accomplishing a featurefilm look on a television schedule. In fact, he notes that “there’s a line in the pilot where Monroe says something like, ‘I’m not good enough to be unprepared’ — and Billy used to say that a lot when we were making Secret in Their Eyes. We have in-depth shot-list meetings — not to lock ourselves into anything, as it could all go out the window, but so that we don’t have to worry about standing on a set with 50 people staring at you and wondering what they’re supposed to do.” Ray adds, “The bigger virtue of shot-listing is that it forces you to ask yourself what the scene is really about. Is it about a shifting power dynamic? Is it about two people falling in love? Is it about tension in a given circumstance? Once you know what the scene is about, you know where the camera should go and how long it should stay there. Then if you get to the set and all of a sudden the cinematographer or an actor or a grip has an idea, you can react to it because it doesn’t change what the scene is about. The rigor that you have imposed upon yourselves now starts to pay off, because it doesn’t matter if

you’re making adjustments to your shot list, as long as the scene is still about the same thing — that’s the North Star.” Moder adds that while the production had more time and resources on the pilot, he hasn’t felt the constraints he’d feared he would on the series’ later episodes. “On a pilot, you have to ramp up from nothing,” he explains. “Now we’ve got this moving army that can get into a place, black out some windows, light it, and get a good camera angle and the actors in the right spot very quickly.” In keeping with Amazon’s mandate that all their shows be shot in true 4K, Moder relies primarily on Sony’s PMW-F55, which he selected after seeing a demonstration on the Sony lot. “That’s been our camera body for both the pilot and the series, aside from a oner we did in the pilot on a Movi — for that we put on an [Arri] Alexa Mini,” Moder recalls. Shooting in Cine E1 mode, the Sony camera recorded 4K raw to AXS cards, with SxS cards as backup, and framed for the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. In terms of lenses, Moder adds, “For the last five years, I’ve just been loving the T1.3 Zeiss Super Speeds. They’re very fast, and I would say we’re wide-open more often than I care to mention. We’ve got phenomenal focus pullers, Jason Garcia and Jan Ruona, who spoil me. They’ve got this [Preston Cinema Systems] Light Ranger system, where the lenses are already calibrated and they tell you exactly what’s in focus at different distances, so you can be leading it or following it. It makes my job so much easier.” The Last Tycoon was captured primarily with Zeiss Super Speed Mark IIIs. The production made use of Angenieux’s Optimo 25-250mm (T3.5) and 28-76mm (T2.6) zooms on the pilot, and occasionally employed Cooke’s 18-100mm (T3) zoom. Moder credits his second unit with alleviating some of the pressures of achieving his vision on a show for which he was the sole first-unit cinematographer. “It was a welcome challenge shooting every episode with different directors, and actually overlapping and

Top: Multiple cameras roll for a scene between Bomer and Collins. Bottom: Moder and his crew finesse Bomer’s lighting.

coordinating crews on ‘double-up days,’” he attests. “Fortunately, my second-unit director of photography, Mike Ozier, is a longtime friend and an excellent cinematographer. He and operator Jason Ellson would take my crew to finish the last day of an episode, while at the same time I would be a couple stages away with capable crew stepping up to start day-one of the next episode with a new director.” Moder adds that he’s benefited from smart producing, which has given him what he needs to move on the fly. “The production went ahead and spent

the money on getting us some of the newest lighting packages,” he says. “Toys like wireless iris control, or LED lighting with wireless connections to make it brighter, darker, bluer or warmer, have allowed us to shoot up to nine pages a day.” Gaffer Nicholas Kaat affirms that the LED fixtures were a central part of his lighting methodology for the show. “The Last Tycoon is the first time I’ve used mostly LEDs in every aspect, from lighting our sets to lighting our actors,” he says. “Of course, we still use big tungsten units or HMIs when needed, but August 2017


Classic Hollywood

A Steadicam is employed for a musical sequence.

many of our other lighting instruments were LED. We had everything from Arri SkyPanel S60s and S30s to LiteGear LiteTile LiteBoxes rigged on our sets, and our floor package was mostly SkyPanels, LiteMats, Arri LSeries Fresnels and ETC Source Four LEDs. We chose those instruments not only for their quality of light, but also their ability to quickly adjust color and intensity. All of these fixtures are bicolor, if not also RGB mixing. As much as possible, we gave control of all these fixtures to our lighting-console programmer, Richard Rasmussen, via wireless DMX Cintennas.” Kaat adds that the tools the crew employed aided Moder in his desire to bring more nuanced lighting than a TV schedule might ordinarily permit. “These choices allowed us to work quickly and precisely,” the gaffer notes. “We could have an average-sized crew working quickly on a very detailed lighting setup, knowing that Danny and I could make our final adjustments to color and intensity from the monitor, without needing electricians and grips to add gel or scrims in the final moments before the cameras rolled.” Moder shares Kaat’s enthusiasm for LED equipment, adding that his favorite piece of gear is the LED Jem Ball. “It’s just a nice, soft orb that can go in a lot of places,” he says. “It really 46

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allows people to get in and out of the space, and not have a push of light in one direction. It comes on and hauls off easily, and actors — especially the ones who aren’t that young anymore — love how it makes them look.” Moder and Kaat both note the contributions of the grip and electric rigging crews, whose system for prelighting the sets provided an infrastructure for expansion. “I can’t say enough about the confidence and security I had with my riggers, Mike Bonnaud for gaffing and Larry Edwards as rigging grip,” Moder enthuses. “They had intuition for my style and gave us great options and an excellent foundation to keep moving forward.” The trickiest part, from Kaat’s point of view, came when the production left the lot for sensitive location work. “Many of our locations were protected because of their history and age,” Kaat explains. “That made rigging and prelighting more difficult, but our production designer and set dressers helped us when they could — and Danny, our directors and camera operators helped us when we couldn’t find any places to hide our equipment.” Moder notes, “Adding to the sensitivity of the historic locations was our need for visual effects to simplify the landscapes back to 1936. John Heller at American Cinematographer

[FuseFX] had a growing list every day and the results are gorgeous. He was onset whenever we needed a bit of guidance to make both of our jobs easier, or on the phone if something came up.” Key grip Pat O’Mara recalls a party scene shot at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif. “No rigging could touch any part of the ceiling or walls,” he describes. “My key rigger, Larry Edwards, installed a freestanding truss that spanned the enormous room, enabling us to light from above.” O’Mara adds that Max Menace Arms were a frequently used tool for difficultto-reach lighting. “I also introduced Danny to 6-by-8 and 8-by-8 frameless Wag Flags we’ve had made in every diffusion possible,” he says. “It’s a very unobtrusive way to diffuse light without all of the extra hardware and stands.” O’Mara notes that Moder and the rest of the crew developed a shorthand on set. “It’s always important for me to stay 10 steps ahead of the game plan, especially when dealing with a new set, a new location or a major rig,” he says. “The working relationship with Danny and Nick, whom I worked with closely on each lighting setup, was pretty seamless.” “We fell into a groove early in the series,” Kaat concurs. “On the first episode, it felt like we were already clicking. Danny always knew the mood and time of day he wanted to convey, and that gave us a solid jumping-off point. Sometimes Danny knew exactly what he wanted the lighting to be, and it was my job to work with Pat to get it there. Other times he would only have a feeling and I would pitch him ideas until something clicked. Sometimes we would build on the ideas he had and sometimes he would build on ours, but it was always in service to the story and style of the show.” That style, according to Moder, relies on a kind of restrained elegance evocative of the Sidney Lumet movies that he and Ray saw as models for their previous collaboration. “Those strong frames, with a lot of depth and clarity, really resonate with me,” Moder says.

Classic Hollywood

Two 6'x13' hybrid HMI/tungsten balloons from Skylight Balloon Lighting help illuminate a ballroom for an awardsceremony scene.

He adds with a laugh, “I guess this show is kind of like a Sidney Lumet version of Singin’ in the Rain.” Moder credits his A-camera dolly grip, Jim Leidholdt, with executing many of the series’ most elaborate camera moves. “So many shots would have been impossible without him,” the cinematographer attests. “It’s a thing of beauty, the way he understands the mechanics, along with the timing of the actors and the timing of the operator. Of course, a dolly grip is operating in a way, when they’re doing their job the way Jim does.” The fluidity of Leidholt’s dolly moves was dictated by the overall approach Moder took to movement and composition. “My A-camera operator, Kim Marks, and I decided on a philosophy where we would move the camera when we really needed to, not for some arbitrary reason,” he explains. “I want it to feel natural; I don’t really like pulling walls if we don’t have to. I like to make it feel like we’re in a real space. The biggest challenge is making the sets feel like they’re not sets, and finding new but motivated angles in rooms we go into again and again.” Moder submits that sometimes the style is at odds with his natural instincts. “It’s funny, because most of the commercials I do are handheld,” he says. 48

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“This is such a departure from that, which is fun, but sometimes I want to shake it all up. That’s where I rely on Kim — he helps me find a more fluid way of responding to those impulses.” In addition to the production’s camera and lens packages, the cinematographer also credits Pandora Technology’s Pluto Colour Management System LUT box enabling him to achieve the precise looks that he’s after. “For the pilot,” he says, “we did the DI at Technicolor Hollywood with Tim Vincent, who’s going to be doing all the coloring on the series with Autodesk Lustre. He created 16 or 17 distinct looks for the pilot, which have now been dumped into this Pluto Box. As we’re putting the scene together on set, I’ll think, ‘I want this to be all warm.’ And then there’s [the ability to make it] super-warm, or neutral, or desaturated, and then there are cool shadows — so for each scene, we just take that look and apply it. We made a black-and-white LUT for when we’re shooting black-and-white. I can just go onto my monitors and choose which LUT looks good and hit the button, and that’s what we’re all looking at. “[I roll] the iris just a little bit the whole time,” Moder adds, “and we’ve got the LUT, so by the time we approach finishing, we’re a lot closer [to the final American Cinematographer

look that we’re aiming for]. Technicolor then gets the raw image and they just apply [the given LUT] for dailies. Maybe not every LUT works for every shot in the scene, so there will be some massaging.” Moder notes that the final color correction has not only allowed him to refine The Last Tycoon, but it has also given him ideas for future projects. “The more I familiarize myself with the post process and the new LUTs, the more excited I get about the possibilities,” he says. “It’s getting easier and easier to achieve your vision, and that just makes me want to push things further every time. I admire a cinematographer like Darius Khondji [ASC, AFC], who on Lost City of Z [AC May ’17] is just pushing himself and transporting the audience,” he continues. “He’s got a vision, and that’s ultimately what you’re hired for; it’s about putting energy and texture into the frame. The more elegantly you can insert yourself into the project, the more satisfying it’s going to be for everyone.” Moder’s desire to express himself was made easier by a crew with whom he found an instant rapport. “The new paradigm supported by streaming services like Amazon,” he says, “where you have just a little bit more money to make the show, helps you find people who are really good at their job and are willing to work with you for a few months and be fully committed. You’re in Los Angeles making a small feature every nine days, using the best crew and the best gear, and everybody’s into it. It reminds you of the maverick filmmakers that this story is about — the innovators.” He smiles and adds, “You know, it’s really the best job ever.” ●

TECHNICAL SPECS 1.78:1 Digital Capture Sony PMW-F55, Arri Alexa Mini Zeiss Super Speed Mark III, Angenieux Optimo, Cooke

Dark Hospitality Philippe Le Sourd, AFC embraces shadows, candlelight and 35mm film for Sofia Coppola’s Civil War-era feature The Beguiled. By Iain Marcks •|•


August 2017


ased on the novel by Thomas Cullinan and set in a Confederate girls’ boarding school in Virginia during the Civil War, The Beguiled is an atmospheric thriller about headmistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), teacher Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and the young women in their charge. The school takes in an injured Union soldier, John McBurney (Colin Farrell), and as the women provide refuge and tend his wounds, the house they inhabit — a stately colonial mansion — becomes a pressure cooker of sexual tension and dangerous rivalries. Philippe Le Sourd, AFC photographed the film for writer-director Sofia Coppola, who was awarded Best Director honors when The Beguiled premiered at the recent

American Cinematographer

Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman, this page, left) runs a girls’ boarding school in Virginia during the Civil War in director Sofia Coppola’s atmospheric thriller The Beguiled. Below: Cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, AFC operates the camera for the scene in which Amy (Oona Laurence) finds wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell).

Unit photography by Ben Rothstein, courtesy of Focus Features.

Cannes Film Festival. Asked how he had first met Coppola, Le Sourd tells AC, “About 15 years ago I was in Paris with Harris Savides [ASC], and we took a picture together. He kept this picture in his office, and later, after he got very sick, Sofia came to him with a commercial project and asked whom she should work with. At the time, he couldn’t remember my name, but he had that picture, and through the picture she found me.” American Cinematographer: What were those early collaborations with Coppola? Philippe Le Sourd, AFC: We did a few Dior commercials together, and I later filmed a stage production of La Traviata that she directed. Finally, she sent me the script for The Beguiled, and of course I was delighted. Sofia wanted to take a more feminine approach than the previous adaptation [from 1971, directed by Don Siegel], which was told more from the soldier’s perspective. The fact that it was a woman director telling this story completely transformed the mood and feeling, and brought a new essence to

the film. How would you describe the film’s mood and feeling? Le Sourd: Sofia wanted something very specific with the tone and the emotions. A film is not only about the story or dialogue, but also about the hidden meanings that are translated between the lines. We looked at references from the Civil War era, the photographers who were working in the medium of tintypes, like Julia Margaret

Cameron. And even though I knew they came later, I was looking at the work of [Alfred] Stieglitz, [Edward] Steichen, and the Pictorialists, whose works manifest a painterly approach to light and darkness, using strong shadow and unusual angles to highlight their subjects. Did you have any other references? Film references? Le Sourd: Sofia had researched the time period extensively. She sent me August 2017


Dark Hospitality

Top: Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) gazes through sheer curtains. Bottom: Cast and crew work through a scene in the kitchen.

some documents about the condition of women living in the time of the Civil War. We looked at the paintings of Caravaggio and Vermeer. The film is filled with influences, from Roman Polanski’s Tess [shot by Ghislain Cloquet, ASC, AFC and Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC] to Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock [shot by Russell Boyd, ASC, ACS], and as the film’s tone becomes darker and darker, it goes more for a feeling reminiscent of Hitchcock or [Charles Laughton’s] The Night of the Hunter [shot by Stanley Cortez, ASC]. 52

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Even in the first scene in the forest you’re thinking Rashomon, and in the house when they’re praying you can think about Gone With the Wind or The Leopard. There are a lot of visual inspirations you can interpret [as a filmmaker], but you have to make sure that you don’t disappear, and that the film stands strongly on its own. Every story speaks with its own language and grammar, and all our decisions were made following the essence of the film. How did you arrive at the decision to shoot on film? American Cinematographer

Le Sourd: It would have been easier to shoot with digital, but Sofia wanted film for its color, the quality of the skin tones, and the quality of the blacks. It was never a question. The real challenge was in seeing how we could make this new interpretation with the lenses, processing, negative, framing and format. It was almost like a new discovery, because when you come back to film after spending so much time shooting digital, there’s something very fresh, something romantic and challenging about shooting a film that’s lit mostly with candlelight. You have to work with the lab to make sure the processing is correct. We did a lot of film-processing tests and lens tests. I was thinking about highlights, if it would flare or not, low contrast versus high contrast, push or pull. Which lenses did you use? Le Sourd: Our lenses and camera came from Panavision, but we used an Arricam LT because I like the viewfinder — it was important to be able to see the light and the focus. As for the lenses, I wanted to give a texture to this period, so I tried to find the most low-contrast lenses with nice texture. For all the interior and exterior daylight scenes, I used rehoused Cooke S2 Speed Panchros, and for the interior night scenes I used Panavision Ultra Speed and PVintage lenses. They vary in speed, but they have a quality in the low light that’s very nice. I try to get the look as dark as possible, to use the low part of the negative when making an exposure. Also I used one zoom, a Panavision Primo 24-275mm [T2.8], in a long tracking shot when Nicole Kidman’s Miss Martha is searching for one of the girls outside. The fact that we used the zoom lens only once makes the feeling of tension completely different. What was your T-stop range? Le Sourd: I shot everything wide open, interiors and exteriors. I used the 50mm Ultra Speed often, so I could go close-up at a T1, which let me [pull] the negative to give us the most detail in the shadows in night interiors. I used Kodak [Vision3] 5219 500T for

its texture and grain, rated at 250 and processed at 250 for the entire film. For our exteriors I used an 85 filter and a lot of NDs to shoot wide open, underexposing to desaturate the color. That is always a challenge, to find the darkest side of the film negative. There’s something very distinctive about the way you framed the film using the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Le Sourd: We watched a lot of [Robert] Bresson movies, like Au Hasard Balthazar, because Bresson was always shooting in a very economical way — for example, using only the 50mm lens. On our film we only had 25 days, and that forced us to make some very economic decisions. Do we need to cover everyone? Do we need only one shot? Where do we put the camera? Do we only need their hand? A close-up portrait in the 1.66:1 frame has a very different focus on the character. We wanted to capture the loneliness and imprisonment of the women’s monastic life, the idea of confinement. If you look at portraits of the 1860s, you’ll see that they had two kinds of lenses: lenses for portraits, like a 50mm Petzval lens, and wider lenses for landscapes. For this film, we were more interested in the people than the locations. Did you have a preferred focal length? Le Sourd: I love the 50mm Ultra Speed prime. There’s something really beautiful about it. You’re never far away from the actors when you shoot and you are not too close, and what you capture in the end is the true emotion of the people. You’re not distracted by any distortion. There are certain scenes, particularly the one in which Miss Martha visits the soldier in the plantation’s garden, where all the detail in the background seems to just disappear. Le Sourd: I shot wide open even outside, to give the exteriors a specific look, almost like a painting with the background out of focus. With the old Petzval portrait lenses, the focus was

Top: Amy goes for a walk. Middle: The camera follows Laurence. Bottom: A dolly move keeps pace with the actors for a shot of Amy guiding the wounded McBurney to the school.

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Dark Hospitality

Top: Alicia (Elle Fanning) studies herself in a mirror. Bottom: Le Sourd frames the shot.

very sharp in the center of the lens, with the bokeh swimming around the frame [in the Petzval design’s characteristic swirl pattern]. I told Panavision that I loved the idea of the swimming bokeh, and they gave me this circular matte with a hole in the middle to put in front of the lens when I was outside. It could give me some vignetting and at the same time change the bokeh — but this matte also made it very complicated for my focus puller, Hector Rodriguez. It’s not only the lens you use that 54

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changes the effect; it’s your distance from the subject — and the effect was more accurate [when the aperture was] wide open. If you do a medium shot or a close-up, the bokeh will be completely different. Even in the wide shots, there was something impressionistic about its character, which made it more like a painting. Had you worked in New Orleans before? Le Sourd: I’d never shot in New Orleans, and I’d never seen a mansion of American Cinematographer

this kind in person. I’d never been on a plantation — I’d only seen them in movies. Did you use a local crew? Le Sourd: First AC Hector Rodriguez was the only person I brought from Los Angeles. Gaffer Bob Bates, key grip Nick Leon, and both of their teams were from New Orleans. Was it a challenge to film in a new place? Did it open up any new perspectives? Le Sourd: It’s not the place that’s a challenge. Working with a new director or with a new talent and story, and trying to figure out what kind of photography you can bring to the story, and to make sure that it doesn’t distract — that’s the challenge. What’s your working relationship with Coppola like? Le Sourd: Every creative decision was a discussion between Sofia, production designer Anne Ross, costume designer Stacey Battat and I. Of course as the director she always has the final decision. She doesn’t use a monitor and we don’t have playback on the set; we have a small monitor for the script [supervisor], and most of the time Sofia is looking at the actor. I operated the camera, so there’s a trust to framing, composition and performance. Was collaborating on a feature any different than working with her on a commercial? Le Sourd: In a feature you’re telling a story, so you have to ask yourself how you cut a scene, how you frame a character — what is the emotion? We had six women and one man in small sets on a real location, and 25 days to shoot the film. You have to figure out what is most important, and what you want to see and hear in the end. You have to question yourself on everything. On this film we never worked with storyboards — compared to commercials, which are storyboarded. We just brought the actors on set to find where to place them and how to frame them in the scene. You mentioned production designer Anne Ross and costume

designer Stacey Battat — can you share some more about your collaboration with them? Le Sourd: Since I live in New York now, Sofia and I spent months going through the script, talking about it, and bringing all of our references together to make a decision about the light and color and what we needed to bring to the set to make the movie come alive. We knew that we were shooting on a plantation and couldn’t make any change to the color of the walls — and shooting at night with white walls is always complicated for a cinematographer, so I knew we would need some help from Anne to give me a background texture for all the interiors. That was a very important collaboration. Stacey spent more time with Sofia to prep the wardrobe, and my conversations about that usually happened with [Coppola, too]. Let’s talk about your approach to shooting at night, on film, with candlelight. Le Sourd: We used double-wick candles, and I had other candle sources outside of the frame. I wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t see any of our electric light, [so that it would look] as if somebody had brought a candle to the set and that was the only light we saw. Most of the time I used Kino Flo Celeb 201 or 401 LED lights through unbleached muslin for an extreme diffusion, to make sure I didn’t see any direction. I also preferred to use LED lights because I knew I could dim them down without changing the color temperature, and these actors all have different skin tones — Nicole Kidman or Kirsten Dunst would require more or less light than Elle Fanning or Colin Farrell. It’s a great thing to shoot today because we have all of this technology: LED lights, [traditional] lights, old lenses, new lenses, film stock, digital capture. You can do more now than ever before. Tell us about working on location at the plantation. The way you photographed some of the night interiors is absolutely uncanny — in

Dark Hospitality

The camera rolls for a scene in which Miss Edwina checks on McBurney as he convalesces in the parlor.

particular the scenes with the girls at prayer. Le Sourd: That was one of the more difficult sets to have to work with because it was very small, with white walls. Not only did I have to create the feeling that everything was lit by candlelight, but you had to see all the characters. I used a wide lens, so there was no room to have any light. It was one of the last things we shot on the film, and it was one of the most challenging. I had my Celeb from the camera side, strongly diffused. Sometimes I have to bounce light off the ceiling. No matter what, I light only where the action is. I want only to play with the character and the emotion of the character. I want to give the negative something, but I avoid 3⁄4 backlight; in general, it makes the scene feel very artificial. What about night exteriors? Le Sourd: When I first read the script, I knew I was going to light the night interiors with candlelight and the night exteriors with ‘moonlight,’ but I didn’t want to have this feeling of going from something that’s very formal and natural to this artificial blue light. Sofia and I decided that we had to avoid this convention and even went in the opposite direction, using warm 20Ks [with56

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out gels] on condors for our nighttime exteriors. I didn’t want to be distracted by the color. We almost never put light through the windows for the ‘night effect’ — it would have been distracting. Let’s talk about day interiors. We spend a lot of time with McBurney in the parlor where he convalesces. That room has two huge floor-to-ceiling windows that the light just pours through. Le Sourd: A couple of months ago I saw this amazing Vermeer exhibition in Paris. If you look at his paintings, everything seems to have been lit by windows. It’s something I tried to achieve on this film. The lights — 12light Dinos with ¾ Blue, and 18Ks — were coming through the window, and I always used atmosphere on all the interior shots. It felt like nothing had been lit artificially. I thought I noticed a distinct yet subtle change in the film’s visual language after the soldier’s leg is amputated. Am I imagining things? Le Sourd: We did change our approach. The camera would be lower to the ground, whereas before it was closer to the actors’ eye level. Our lighting choices would tend towards the more dramatic, with more shadow, more obscurities. And we went wider in American Cinematographer

our framing. Instead of using a 50mm, I’d use a 35mm; instead of a 35mm, I’d use a 25mm or 18mm. Where were your dailies processed? Le Sourd: We sent our negative to FotoKem in Los Angeles. They scanned the negative at 4K and sent me still frames so I could see what our dailies colorist, Dan Garsha, was doing, and I could make adjustments to the color and density using FotoKem’s Cineviewer application. We screened the dailies in 2K on a calibrated monitor or in a theater with a 2K projector. Where did you do the final color grade? Le Sourd: Colorist Damien van der Cruyssen did some beautiful final touches [working in 2K with a FilmLight] Baselight at Technicolor New York. We were basically staying true to what I had shot, making minor adjustments to the skin tones of all the different actors. We never changed the density — that had already been set in the dailies. Did you do a film-out? Le Sourd: We made an amazing print with Technicolor and FotoKem, with Kodak’s Vision Color Print Film 2383. It was such a reward, because I couldn’t have achieved what I did without the beauty of the negative film stock. No matter what the resolution may be, digital can’t give me the textures, the quality in the skin tones, and the beauty in the blacks and the highlights. This movie needs to be seen on film, in the theater! ●

TECHNICAL SPECS 1.66:1 4-perf 35mm Arricam Lite Cooke S2 Speed Panchro; Panavision Ultra Speed, PVintage, Primo Zoom Kodak Vision3 500T 5219 Digital Intermediate

Haunted House Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo partners with writer-director David Lowery for an intimate portrait of a spirit stuck at home and untethered in time. By Jon D. Witmer •|•


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man and woman move into a house. In time, the woman comes to feel they’ve outgrown the space, but her husband feels rooted to the home and its history. After a car accident takes his life, the man’s spirit returns to the house, where his perception of time becomes increasingly abstracted: He watches his wife drive away for the last time, sees new residents occupy and abandon the abode, stalks the halls of the futuristic skyscraper that eventually overtakes the land, and plunges backward in time to witness a family of settlers first drive a stake into what he knows will become personally storied ground. With a small cast — centered around the man, C (Casey Affleck), and the woman, M (Rooney Mara) — A Ghost Story was written, directed and edited by David Lowery (see sidebar, page 64). Prior to making audiences believe in A Ghost Story’s quiet specter, the director had crafted a tale of mythical Americana with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (shot by

American Cinematographer

Photos by Bret Curry, courtesy of A24.

Bradford Young, ASC; AC Sept. ’13) and convinced moviegoers that winged, green-furred beasts hide in the woods of the Pacific Northwest with Pete’s Dragon (photographed by Bojan Bazelli, ASC; AC Sept. ’16). Joining Lowery for A Ghost Story was cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, whose credits behind the camera include the features You’re Next, A Teacher and 6 Years, and the documentary Rich Hill (AC April ’14), which he also co-directed. Faced with a 19-day production schedule — which was followed by about 10 days of additional photography — the filmmakers embraced a predominantly singlecamera approach, shooting with an Arri Alexa Mini as the A camera, which they paired with Panavision Super Speed and Ultra Speed primes, and 19-90mm and 24-275mm Primo zooms (both T2.8). They recorded 2.8K ProRes files to CFast 2.0 cards, working in the camera’s 4:3 mode for a final 1.33:1 aspect ratio presented with rounded corners that were added in post. Although Palermo and Lowery hadn’t worked together previously, their orbits had intersected on multiple occasions, such as when they each had a project at the Sundance Labs — Lowery with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and Palermo with his feature directorial debut, One and Two. But it was mutual friend and A Ghost Story producer Toby Halbrooks who reached out to Palermo to gauge his interest in the project. “We had breakfast and he mentioned the idea,” Palermo tells AC, seated outside at a coffee shop in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, with a Hasselblad medium-format camera at his side. “He said, ‘There’s this movie that we want to do. It’s just a guy in a sheet — that’s the ghost. It’s not supposed to look supernatural; it’s supposed to look like a guy in a sheet.’” American Cinematographer: Were you nervous about it being ‘just a guy in a sheet’? Did you wonder if it would actually work? Andrew Droz Palermo: I think

Opposite: After dying in a car accident, C (Casey Affleck) returns home as a silent specter and watches over his wife, M (Rooney Mara), in the feature A Ghost Story. This page, top: In life, C already feels rooted to the house. Above: Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo (foreground) considers a frame alongside writer-director David Lowery.

David was more worried about it than I was, about whether or not it was working. I thought it was so visually strong. But I knew it was going to be a challenge. It was incredibly hard to shoot. What made it so difficult? Palermo: [Costume designer] Annell Brodeur needed to be a

puppeteer, essentially. She would be just below camera holding different parts of the costume to give it the right expression; if it started riding lower, it would look really sad, and if it got a little too frumpy, it would look comedic. She had done a lot of work before I was involved. She built up this sort of petticoat, with August 2017


Haunted House

Right: M drifts numbly through the days following her husband’s passing. Below: Palermo studies the light outside the house during a preproduction scouting day.

multiple layers, and there was a softformed helmet that gave it structure and a strong bridge of the nose. Still, the ghost becomes so abstracted when you shoot from the shoulder up — it’s just a curve and two dots. You don’t really get the scope of the costume unless you see him head to toe. So David and I were pushed to shoot a lot wider than we were used to — which was something I’d wanted to incorporate more into my work anyway. A lot of it was, ‘How can we make this feel 60

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powerful and imposing, with strong tableaus, like every frame could be taken as a still?’ The impact of the images was always the challenge. If I moved the camera a little this way or a little that way, it would become a stronger image or say so much more about the ghost’s confinement, or his emotional state, or the eeriness of what was going on. The hospital is a great instance of that. We staged the really long take when he first comes ‘alive’ as a ghost on a scout day. Every element was considAmerican Cinematographer

ered within that frame, and that sort of attention to detail was afforded to us by the schedule, even though it was very short. We had a half a day to shoot that one shot, which is incredible. That gave us such an unhurried feel, and it seeped into the core of the movie. David even stated in an early meeting with everyone, ‘Our energy is going to feed the movie. If we’re rushed and we’re hurried and we’re stressed, the movie won’t have that patience.’ I completely agree with that. Was it the realization that you would have to shoot wider that led you to embrace longer takes? Palermo: The script told us that. Time was always a thread for this movie. David pitched it once as Apichatpong Weerasethakul making Ghost — like a Thai art film of the Patrick Swayze Ghost. He and I both love Apichatpong’s movies, Asian cinema, Thai New Wave, Taiwanese films — those were all kicking around in our heads. We wanted to make a film like those films, and we knew that this movie was the one to do it with. In the same way, that’s how 4:3

Left: C finds his way home after awakening as an apparition. Below: The crew captures a dolly shot as the ghost makes his way to the house.

came about. David was like, ‘I’m never going to be able to shoot 4:3 again.’ That aspect ratio is a very different animal to get your head around. Palermo: Completely. I underestimated it, too. You would think that it would be easier than it is, but it’s just totally different than the way I think. When I’m watching older movies now, I’m so envious of the way they used it. I see frames from classic movies, and they put 15 people in a frame and it feels perfect. I’m just blown away by the way they used 4:3. In A Ghost Story, the frame feels like a window — like you’re watching through some kind of portal. Palermo: The rounded corners add an aspect of feeling like you’re looking through something. It was never our intention to make it claustrophobic. I didn’t want it to feel too tight — and with the costume, anyway, you couldn’t go too tight. We shot natively in 4:3 for the main camera, but occasionally we’d have a B camera on set, and those cameras were not shooting natively 4:3.

When we saw the footage, we’d be like, ‘Oh, 16:9’s looking pretty good.’ We’d start to be worried that 4:3 was a crazy choice, but I’m so happy we stuck with it. What did preproduction look like for you? Palermo: It was really abbreviated. I went out to Burbank maybe two or three times, and we shot-listed in the

lunchroom at Disney while some of the color was going on for Pete’s Dragon. We didn’t really look at the shot list on set, but it was super-helpful to get on the same page. David’s a very visual person and has very specific ideas for shots; it’s good to put those down and remember that he’s thinking this way. The house had already been chosen, so then I went to the location August 2017


Haunted House Right: Mara stands in front of a false wall for a shot of her character hiding a note before moving out of the house. Below: Palermo hunkers down in the passenger seat — out of the dashboardmounted camera’s angle of view — for a shot of Mara behind the wheel.

[in Irving, Texas, near Dallas] and took a bunch of photos, multiple times a day, to see the different ways the light would play. And then it was shooting costume tests. Were the production designers, Jade Healy and Tom Walker, already on the project when you came on board? Palermo: Yeah. The house that they used was completely abandoned, and you can’t tell. They did incredible work on it. Early on, Jade sent me a look book with stills of things that she was referencing — other movies, other 62

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books — and when we were choosing the wallpaper for the bedroom, she made a small little ghost on a stick and put it in front of swatches of wallpaper. It was the cutest thing, but it really illustrated what it would look like. Jade had previously committed to go do Yorgos Lanthimos’ new movie [The Killing of a Sacred Deer], so she worked side by side with Tom, who was local, and when we did additional photography in October, Tom did all that. Did you use some atmosphere inside the house? Palermo: We did. Hazers were American Cinematographer

running any time the ghost was present inside the house. That was inspired by some of the photography we were looking at. We really like Gregory Crewdson’s stuff, which always has that eerie quality. I looked a lot at the way he lights day interiors, because he manages to keep his corners really deep. I wanted the walls to stay deep, I wanted to feel the shafts of light, and atmosphere was really important for helping achieve that falloff. What sort of lighting package did you have? Palermo: A very small package. More often than not it was flagging stuff — the Texas sun was just too strong for what we had. We couldn’t afford the kind of HMIs that we would need to overpower it, so it became a game of removal: Let’s block out windows and keep the source coming in one direction. Bret Curry, my gaffer and second-unit cinematographer, and I noticed that there was a lot of green coming into the house, which was mainly from the grass and all the trees; Rooney is so fair, when she would get up to a window she would take on this really lime-green pallor. So we would lay out big sheets of unbleached muslin in the grass, and that would bring it back to neutral. Save for that, daylight interiors were pretty

Left: The ghost sits at a piano that remains with the house from one family to the next. Below: Palermo wears a Ready Rig and operates the Movi M15 gimbal as he gets freeflowing footage of the family that settles into the house after M moves away.

natural. For fill, I had two LED bi-color [LiteGear] LiteMats that I would either bounce off the wall or bring up superdim really close to the ghost. Those were our real workhorses for night scenes, too. As the film changes, the light changes. For example, if you look at the under-lights in the kitchen, I gelled those for each different family that inhabits the house. Casey and Rooney’s were nice and warm; with the Latino family, I went cool blue, very fluorescent; and then for the squatters I put a very thin party gel and made it a little pink. In a couple of instances, the ghost manipulates the house’s lights. Palermo: Yeah, Bret would be off-camera with a few dimmers — and many of them were not on dimmers, it would just be a simple switch. Almost every time we’d shoot the ghost, if there’s not someone else visible, we would be shooting at 33 fps, and so a light would pulse in a way that didn’t just feel like somebody flipping the switch on and off. That was a frame rate that David had started using on Pete’s. It didn’t feel like slow motion, but the ghost didn’t just feel like he was walking.

When the new family moves into the home, a suddenly very mobile camera follows them through the space. Palermo: That’s another thread that I really like about the movie: In the same way the light changes, the camera language changes. The Latino family is presented with a [Freefly Systems] Movi M15 on a Ready Rig gimbal support;

the Movi technician was Shaun ‘Gish’ Falcone. It’s very free-flowing, very wide. After the destruction of the house, when the ghost is roving around the skyscrapers, we used Steadicam. And then the pioneers were all shot on a long lens. We were finally outside, in this expanse, so that just came naturally; now that we were in a period piece, it just didn’t feel right to bring a wide lens close August 2017



A Soul at Home



Ghost Story was shot in and around Irving, Texas, where writer-director David Lowery grew up. “I didn’t intend to shoot there, but that just happened to be where we found the house,” Lowery tells AC over the phone while driving from Cincinnati, Ohio — where he had just wrapped principal photography on his next feature, Old Man and the Gun — back to Texas. “It definitely added a layer of meaning to the entire experience for me.” American Cinematographer: Where were you when you began working on A Ghost Story? David Lowery: I was in L.A. working on Pete’s Dragon [AC Sept. ’16]; it was February or March of 2016. The first draft was only 10 pages, the second draft was 30 pages, and by the time we shot, it was about 40 pages. I’d fly to Dallas on the weekends so we could develop it a little further, put various pieces together, find the location, and go scouting — and then I’d fly back and work on Pete’s Dragon for another week. It kept going like that throughout April and May, and then production began June 12. Just in terms of scale, Pete’s Dragon and A Ghost Story seem like such disparate projects. Were there lessons learned on the former that you could apply to the latter? Lowery: I definitely went into it thinking that it’d be a very different sort of production. After having spent a year at that point in postproduction on Pete’s Dragon, I really wanted to shoot something again, and I felt that this would be quick and easy — which turned out not to be true. I came to the realization within a few days of shooting that it doesn’t matter what scale your movie is; it’s going to take everything you’ve got to give. All of the joys and woes of filmmaking are a hundred-percent scalable. Over the course of that summer, we shot for about 29 days, which was a little less than half of what Pete’s Dragon took, and the budget was less than a single day of photography on Pete’s


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Dragon. But on a creative level and a technical level, it was just as challenging, if not more so — and more daunting because I didn’t have the safety net of a larger budget or a studio. This was a crazy idea that was entirely on me. There was no one else who was going to pay to fix problems. My partners and I were paying for the movie, so anything we screwed up was on us. By bearing that responsibility yourself, though, you had the freedom to do things like shoot in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Lowery: Absolutely. On a very base level I knew that I probably would not have a chance to make a movie in 1.33 unless I paid for it myself — so I’d better take that chance while I’ve got the opportunity. But I also wanted to challenge myself creatively. I love 1.33; it’s a beautiful ratio, and I wanted to learn how to think that way because my brain just naturally thinks in widescreen. I also felt this would be a good film to do it on, not only because it was already going to be an art-house movie, but because it’s about being trapped in a space, and I felt that the constraints of that ratio might add to that. How did cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo complement your vision for A Ghost Story? Lowery: He understood that we

American Cinematographer

were making something that was going to be very handmade, and that we weren’t going to have a lot of tools or time or any of the things that a larger film might have. But also he knew how to make a film this small feel much bigger than it might have. I really wanted to take something that was going to have every limitation, whether it be time or budget or even the aspect ratio, and make it feel epic. That was something I feel he was uniquely suited to because he comes from a microbudget background but his tastes are much more expansive and run towards fine art. He was able to bring a lot in both of those regards. Also, one of the biggest things for me is working with people who — even beyond our creative similarities or similar instincts — have a disposition that’s similar to mine. Andrew doesn’t like to yell, he doesn’t get riled up, he’s very calm, and that really suits me well; that allows me to be in the best space for my own creative needs, and I think the same goes for him. We’re both able to complement each other in our chilled-out dispositions. — Jon D. Witmer Click here for an extended interview with Lowery.

Haunted House to this pioneer. Was there a stop you tried to maintain? Palermo: No, I don’t normally shoot for stop. The 50mm [Ultra Speed] would go to a T1, and I was in love with that idea. The first time we used it was the close-up of Rooney with her headphones on; that lens was just stunning. So that lens worked in close-ups all the way open. But otherwise I just set the aperture as felt appropriate. Generally I was shooting as wide open as I could. There’s still a lot of depth in the image. Palermo: That’s from the lenses being so wide and the subjects always being so far from the camera. But I would always snug up against a doorframe so there would be a little something on the side that’s soft, and then everything else would be sharp past the midground and into infinity. There’s a shot in which the camera pushes in as Rooney is seen walking out of the bathroom, crossing to the front door, and leaving the house multiple times in a row, each time wearing different clothes. Did you have a motion-control rig? Palermo: This speaks to the benefit of shooting films where you have a support system. The producers had a friend, Stewart Mayer at CamBlock, who had developed this motion-control rig. The camera had to be totally stripped down and very lightweight, and he had a very small set of sticks that went on a track system. He could set pan, focus and the push, and he could set key frames. We had Rooney, her standin and another woman; they went in a train, one after the other, and we had Rooney change positions in each take, and then it was all comped together. We used the motion-control system for just a couple hours and then it was gone. That shot swiftly illustrates that time is beginning to slip by. Was visual-effects supervisor Richard Krause with you during the shoot? Palermo: Not every day. I’ve had some experience shooting visual effects,

and David of course has as well, so we both had an eye on it. I don’t think we ever had markers except for greenscreen stuff. The scene in which the ghost climbs to the top of the skyscraper, that’s all work that [visual-effects facility] Weta did, and it’s absolutely stunning work on their part; we shot the ghost on greenscreen, climbing up apple boxes, with some markers in the studio. Who did you work with for the color grading? Palermo: Joe Malina in Austin. He and I have done a few things together in the past, but it was the first time David had worked with him. It was a real race to get the movie done in the end [once it had been selected to screen at Sundance]. We did five days of color correction in early December, before the cut was locked. Because there are so few shots, we got pretty far — but there was a lot of work to be done on each shot. We didn’t have any kind of pre-grade, so the footage came in exactly as shot — different months, at different times of day, the same scene shot over different conditions. When David locked picture, there were an additional two or three days, and then a few more days after Sundance. But it was not that long. I really love color timing, and it’s always sad for me to do it quickly. You could still be in there working on the movie? Palermo: I really could, trying to do the most with as little as possible. There’s a point of diminished returns, where we’ve gone too far and it becomes way too manipulated, but I really feel a lot of the emotion comes out in color. Were you watching any dailies during production? Palermo: Yeah, and I was also capturing stills on my day off. That would give me a whole day of sitting with the drive, watching the footage, seeing what was working, what wasn’t. The time off in between principal and pickups was really educational, too — seeing the cut, seeing where I should push harder. Some of the widest shots in the movie were shot after principal. ➣

Haunted House As time slips away, the ghost suddenly finds himself amid a construction site where his home with M once stood. He will continue to haunt this space long into the future — and far into the past.

You’ve directed, and David’s notched credits as a cinematographer. Do you feel those experiences elevated the collaboration, or helped you find a shared language? Palermo: His shooting I can definitely speak to. He has very specific shots in mind sometimes, but even then there’s so much collaboration. He’s never over your shoulder — ‘I wanted it like this.’ It’s always, ‘How can I improve on it? What can I do to make this really sing?’ It’s fantastic because he knows exactly what he wants and he knows when it’s right; if I made a recommendation for a shot, he would know immediately whether that shot was valuable to him. He and I both are also very avid film watchers, and as a result we had a shorthand. I’m astounded by his ability to edit. It’s one of the things that I admire the most about him. When I see the way he used stuff out of context and what you can get away with in an edit, it’s incredible. The ghost looked over his left shoulder; you can’t really tell what the background is, so David would put it in this scene — it didn’t matter if it was a totally different room, different 66

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time of day. I’m always surprised by the way you can divorce footage of its original intent. Probably his biggest asset is his general placidness. He will say that he feels like the world is crashing down on him when he’s making a movie, but he gives off a calm that really trickles down. And it also trickles down from his producers. That really sets a mood: nothing’s a disaster; there are no real fires here; we’re all making a movie, and what a blessing it is to be doing that. And as a result, as you mentioned earlier, the movie has a real calmness to it — even as the ghost becomes increasingly untethered and time slips by at an accelerating rate. Palermo: That was the thing that I was so touched by in the movie. The script so perfectly nailed that, and it kind of does away with the feeling that we need to have a legacy at all. It’s so at peace with our position in this world. When I first started making things I was really concerned with how they’re perceived, how I’m perceived through them, what they look like in the long run. As I’ve become more comfortable with myself or more comfortable with American Cinematographer

the work I’m putting out there, I just want to make things for the sake of making them; I want to make them for the process. This film’s process was one of the best I’ve ever had. I’ve made some great friends and had a great time making them. The fact that there is this movie at the end of the process that I like is another aspect of it, and I do like that it’s going to live on, and that it’s this document of a time in our lives when we all got together in Dallas, in the sweltering heat, and put an Oscar-winning actor in a sheet. Not to get all philosophical about it, but that’s ultimately the beauty of this film to me. ●

TECHNICAL SPECS 1.33:1 Digital Capture Arri Alexa Mini, Alexa Classic EV; Red Weapon 6K Panavision Super Speed, Ultra Speed, Primo Zoom



Drones Lend an Antarctic Advantage By Gavin Garrison

My first Antarctic adventure for the Animal Planet series Whale Wars began on December 25, 2012, when I flew across the world to join the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society — the wildlife activists on whom the show is based — and their fleet of ships at a port in New Zealand. As conveyed via a thick style-guide, my crew’s mission was to stick closely to the show’s established “docu-adventure” aesthetic that had captivated audiences since the series premiered in 2008. That style was rough-and-tumble, with single-source, highkey interviews; predominantly handheld camerawork; crash zooms; GoPro-style POVs; and an infinite depth of field courtesy of the small sensors on which the show was birthed. As both a producer and a cinematographer on the series, my goal is to remain loyal to the highadrenaline aesthetic that audiences have come to know and love while simultaneously pushing a look that keeps us relevant and engaging in today’s television market. And so, when I began prepping Season 10 in late 2016, I was eager to introduce some of the modern technologies that have become commonplace on other productions — specifically, 4K capture and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aka drones. If you take a look at any number of today’s adventure-themed unscripted series, it becomes immediately evident how readily drones have been adopted by the genre — and how heavily they’re relied 68

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upon to provide extensive coverage. Projects like Planet Earth II have embraced drones in order to realize unprecedented shots and jawdropping camera moves, bringing sweeping, cinematic movement into the documentary sphere. However, I’ve also seen a trend in which shows substitute what would ordinarily be conventional coverage with a drone’s telltale high- and wide-angle view. Though the average viewer may not notice, to the discerning cinematographer, a show that’s inundated with drone footage can start to feel like shooting choices were made for convenience’s sake rather than the story’s. For Season 10 of Whale Wars, my goal was to split the difference between the high bar set by Planet Earth II and the examples I’ve seen from other unscripted productions in our genre. Balancing utility with beauty, we would employ drones to create “cinematic” coverage to the best of our abilities, and we would use the drones’ unique perspective to capture master shots that we could default to in scenes that demanded context for the viewer — for example, if one ship collided with another at sea, or if a ship sailed through a thick field of ice. The trick, I felt, was to be discerning with our deployment, lest we give post too much to hang their hats on. We chose to capture this season in 3.8K UHD, in part because I believe the footage has a much longer shelf life with the higher resolution. We also chose not to capture in log, as I thought log would have created a workflow issue down the line. Those decisions, though, were made in somewhat of a vacuum — as we on the production crew don’t have any communication with post.

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Photos by Gavin Garrison, Simon Ager and Ashleigh Allam, courtesy of Sea Shepherd Global.

The Ocean Warrior patrols the Antarctic Ocean in the documentary series Whale Wars, which follows the efforts of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. For the show’s 10th season, cinematographerproducer Gavin Garrison employed a UHD workflow and aerial photography captured from drones.

Because we weren’t recording log, we had to do as much color-matching as possible in-camera. To accomplish this, we brought all of our camera’s profiles to neutral and worked our way up from there. We were using Panasonic’s AG-DVX200 as our main camera, with profiles generously provided by our account manager Steve Slade and Panasonic guru Barry Green, along with Sony’s a7S II, which was recording to an Atomos Shogun Flame; DJI’s Phantom 4, Osmo X3 and Osmo X5; and GoPro Hero4s and Hero5s. All cameras recorded in UHD to SD media, save for the Shogun, which carries its own SSDs. Capturing accurate skin tones with the Phantom 4s was not a priority, so we elected to let the Phantoms go with only a few minor adjustments, dropping the contrast and sharpness; we took a similar approach with the GoPros. We inevitably encounter many wild color environments over the course of a season, so while we’re in production we do what we can to adjust on the fly. We’re not allowed to modify the lighting aboard the ships ahead of shooting, and we’re hardpressed to find any two practical fixtures that match. Most of the shipboard lighting is fluorescent, and the ambient daylight temperature in Antarctica is a touch cooler than 5,600K. In Season 10, the organization gained a new ship, the Ocean Warrior, whose windows contained embedded heating elements that created an unpleasant color cast — something we could do little to control, and could only barely adjust for in-camera. Shooting in Antarctica also brings with it high-contrast lighting environments, extreme temperatures, high winds, moisture and splashing, drone-calibration errors due to the ship’s constant movement, and compass errors due to the ship’s metal structure and occasional proximity to the South Magnetic Pole. Challenges aside, one of the great aspects of filming in Antarctica during the austral summer is the extended twilight hours; the sun never quite sets, and instead hangs around the horizon for three to four hours twice a day. It’s an absolute delight for a cinematographer. Knowing that we would need to be ready to fly at a moment’s notice, we built our drone kits to accommodate rapid deployment. For us, that meant using the

Top: The Steve Irwin is silhouetted against an Antarctic sunrise. Middle: Sandra Alba operates a Panasonic DVX200 as Capt. Adam Meyerson (foreground) helms the Ocean Warrior. Bottom: Garrison preps a DJI Phantom 4 drone outfitted with a DroneRafts WaterStrider.

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Top: Two Phantom 4 drones are readied for deployment. Above: Simon Ager (left) and Garrison prepare to launch a Phantom 4.

CasePro Phantom 4 carry-on hard cases with custom foam, which allowed us to store the drones with the props installed and most of the accessories nestled alongside. Those accessories included PolarPro ND/PL filters, which I consider an absolute necessity; a long-range antenna-modification kit that helps ensure signal robustness when multiple drones are in the air at once; a desiccant pack; a lanyard for the transmitter; extra batteries; touchscreen gloves; an iPad; and Light & Motion’s Seca 2200D, a small LED light that can be rigged on the top of the drone via a GoPro mount and is excellent for peering into caves and other dark areas. With this arrangement, an operator 70

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could grab a single case and be ready to fly. On occasion, we also employed the Shogun as a director’s monitor, plugging in via the Phantom transmitter’s HDMI-out. Because we often fly the drones from rigid inflatable boats (RIBs), which are very wet and offer little room to maneuver while on board, having a well-packed kit is particularly critical to each flight’s success. To provide some additional security while flying, we also carried a pontoon assembly from DroneRafts called a WaterStrider, which allows you to land on the water in an emergency. Many pilots who fly over water suggest attaching a hydrostatic float (originally designed for fishing poles), American Cinematographer

but we have avoided these due to their low success rate. Once the drone is in the air, the trick is to capture shots that are a pleasure to watch, aid our narrative, and conform to the stipulations of our UAV permit, which is granted by the Australian Antarctic Division. It was quickly apparent that surprising the viewer wasn’t going to be difficult; with its icebergs, penguins, whales, seals and more, Antarctica abounds with fascinating frames. What we needed to do, we decided, was to go beyond the subjects alone and move our aerial cameras in ways that would help tell our story. Once we had a few flights under our belt, we began to grasp exactly how we could use aerial camera moves to aid our narrative. For one thing, drones allowed us to get much closer to wildlife than we would otherwise have been able to, resulting in footage that many non-production crew remarked they “could see being on TV.” Drones also allowed us to provide context by situating the ships within the larger environment; you don’t quite grasp the scale until you see a ship dwarfed by the towering icebergs that dot the landscape. Even if we placed crew on an iceberg and sailed by a few times, we wouldn’t be able to achieve the sheer sense of scale we get from the air. In this case, the relatively wide angle of the Phantom 4’s lens plays to our advantage — the perceived distance between objects is slightly exaggerated, which underscores the expansiveness of the environment. As with our “conventional” shipboard cinematography, we relied heavily on natural light to help improve the images we were capturing with the drones. We would position the Phantom 4 to place the sun behind icebergs and ships to create silhouettes, take advantage of twilight’s long shadows to create texture, and use the twilight hours’ lower ambient exposure to aid the small sensor’s compressed dynamic range. We also employed classic camera moves to strategically reveal objects or place focus on an area. For example, we might skim the drone low over the water with the camera pointing 70 or 80 degrees down, then gain altitude and tilt up as the aircraft traveled up and over an iceberg, revealing a sunset or a ship in the distance; or we might

move the drone laterally — as if it were on dolly track — from behind an iceberg, revealing a ship traveling on the other side. By taking advantage of planned camera moves, the environment, and the time of day, we were able to create the kind of cinematic shots that I wanted to replicate from Planet Earth II — and from Disney’s Soarin’ Over California, which I think stands as one of the finest examples of aerial cinematography. Now that LED lighting has become so lightweight and powerful, we’ve started to attach fixtures such as Light & Motion’s 2200D to our Phantoms to help illuminate objects during both the day and night. The 2200D is powerful enough to create some additional fill in a cave or on the shadowside of an iceberg. At night, a drone carrying a light can also create the feeling of a mystery — for example, when it illuminates the name on the side of a ship that’s a target of interest. Larger drones can carry lights like Light & Motion’s Stella Pro 10000C, which can more easily illuminate a large area. As both drone and LED technology continue to evolve, remote lighting is certain to play an increasing role in our productions. For all that drones help us achieve, we can’t yet reconcile the disparity between the serenity of their gimbal-stabilized “God’s eye view” and the relative chaos of the handheld camerawork on the ship. The two perspectives feel very different. To me, though, this can create a welcome release; the drone footage allows the audience a moment to take a breath and soak in the scene before diving back into the handheld, high-energy footage and the adrenalinepumping narrative. Drones have certainly become an indispensable tool that adds enormous value to our productions. With them, we can achieve breathtaking imagery that just isn’t possible any other way — even with a full-scale helicopter. UAVs such as DJI’s Phantom 4 will continue to inform how we go about shaping the aesthetic of our shows. As long as we strategically deploy these highly capable tools to underscore our storytelling, I have high hopes that drones will help us craft narratives that continue to surprise and delight audiences ● around the world. 71

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DJI Launches 3 UAVs DJI has expanded its drone offerings with the introduction of the Inspire 2, Matrice 600 Pro and Mavic Pro. DJI’s Inspire 1 UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) integrated an HD video transmission system, 360-degree rotating gimbal and 4K camera, as well as simple app control. Building on the Inspire 1’s successes, the Inspire 2 boasts an all-new imageprocessing system that records at up to 5.2K resolution — with the Zenmuse X5S camera — in formats including CinemaDNG raw and Apple ProRes. The drone can go from 0-50 mph in 5 seconds and can hit a maximum speed of 58 mph, with a maximum descent speed of 9 meters per second. A dual-battery system prolongs the flight time, while self-heating technology allows the drone to fly even in low temperatures. Flight Autonomy has also been revised, with the Inspire 2 providing two directions of obstacle avoidance and sensor redundancy. Multiple intelligent flight modes have been added, including Spotlight Pro, giving even single pilots the ability to create complex, dramatic shots. An upgraded video transmission system is now capable of dual signal frequency and dual-channel streaming video from an onboard FPV camera and the main camera simultaneously, enabling a smoother collaboration between pilot and camera operator. The Matrice 600 Pro (M600 Pro) professional hexacopter can carry payloads up to 13.2 pounds; with a Ronin-MX stabilizer, the system can carry cameras including a Red Epic or Raven, Arri Alexa Mini, Sony a7S, or Canon EOS 5D. The M600 Pro inherits everything from the M600 and adds improved flight performance and better loading capacity. Pre-installed arms and antennas reduce the time required for setup, and the system’s modular design makes it easy to mount additional modules. The M600 Pro airframe is equipped with the latest DJI technologies, including the A3 Pro flight controller and Lightbridge 2 HD transmission system. The sixbattery system enables flight times of 15-35 minutes, depending on payload. All Zenmuse cameras and gimbals are natively compatible, and the M600 Pro 72

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offers full integration with third-party software and hardware. DJI’s Mavic Pro is a smart, portable, easy-to-fly drone that features 24 high-performance computing cores, an all-new transmission system with a 4.3-mile unobstructed range, five vision sensors, and a 4K camera stabilized by a three-axis mechanical gimbal. For additional information, visit Yuneec Flies H520 Drone Yuneec International has expanded its commercial UAV offerings with the H520, an advanced six-rotor drone. The H520 offers longer flight time, greater payload, modular design and enhanced components. The H520 features a high-visibility Hazard Orange fuselage and a sixrotor design capable of emergency flight with only five rotors. A 360-degree, 3-axis gimbal coupled with retractable landing gear provides an unobstructed view from any angle. The camera and gimbal are capable of a 20-degree up-angle for upward-looking inspections. Yuneec offers three camera options that include the CGO-ET dual thermal RGB camera, CGO-CI seven-element inspection-ready camera, and CGO-3+. Targeting the broadcast and cinema markets, the CGO-CI’s longer field of view and edge-to-edge distortion-free lens captures sharp, high-contrast imaging to meet the needs of filmmakers and broadcast producers. Additional upgrades to the H520 camera options include a panoramic shooting function along with burst, time-lapse and metering modes. Challenging angles and locations are more accessible with the safety backup of Intel RealSense Technology, which enables the aircraft to intelligently navigate around objects. Coupled with uservariable speed control, pilots can confidently approach critical structures without concern of impact. The H520 comes with the professional-grade Android-based ST16 controller, which has a large 7" integrated display and HD 720p video downlink for real-time video reception, and an HDMI uplink for distribution to external monitors Yuneec is also launching a software developer kit (SDK) platform that allows third-parties to develop value-added applications and services on the H520 platform for a variety of industries and commercial markets. ● For additional information, visit

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August 2017

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Fred J. Koenekamp, ASC, 1922-2017

Fred J. Koenekamp, ASC, an Academy Award winner for the iconic disaster film The Towering Inferno, died on May 31 at the age of 94. Born in Los Angeles on Nov. 11, 1922, Koenekamp was introduced to filmmaking in his youth by his father, special-effects cinematographer Hans F. Koenekamp, ASC, who often took him to work on Saturdays at the Warner Bros. Camera and Special-Effects Department. “There was a balcony that overlooked the stage where they had all the miniatures, [and] I used to just love to go up there and look around,” the junior Koenekamp told AC (Feb. ’05). But the bug didn’t bite until many years later, after he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy following World War II. He had met a woman he wanted to marry, and when the head of the camera union offered him a job as a film loader at RKO, “all of a sudden, I was totally fascinated by the picture business,” he explained with a smile. He spent the next decade working his way up the ranks, mostly at MGM, where he arrived as a camera assistant in 1955, moved up to operator in 1958, and then moved up to cinematographer (on the TV series The Lieutenant) in 1963. At MGM he also shot four seasons of the series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — receiving two Emmy nominations in the process — as well as its bigscreen spinoff, The Spy With My Face, his first feature as a cinematographer. Koenekamp became an ASC member on Aug. 7, 1967, after his father proposed him for membership, and his biggest break came soon thereafter: Patton, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (AC Aug. ’70). To tell the story of maverick U.S. Army Gen. George S. Patton’s quest for victory in World War II, the filmmakers shot on 71 locations around the world, filming just 20

percent of the picture onstage. Adding to the scope was the format: Dimension-150, a widescreen process that paired the titular lenses with Todd-AO Mitchell 65mm cameras. The process was named for the 150-degree angle of view facilitated by its widest taking lens, the 18mm; proper D-150 exhibition required a wall-to-wall curved screen and custom optics, but release prints in the usual range of formats could easily be struck from the negative. Koenekamp did extensive handheld operating with the Mitchell AP-65, which weighed about 30 pounds minus the lens. “I gave the AP one big workout,” he told AC. “[Often] I would handhold the camera on an approaching tank or vehicle and inch it out of the way of the treads as it passed. The 28mm lens was very effective for this.” Patton brought Koenekamp his first Oscar nomination, and he and Schaffner went on to collaborate on five more pictures, including Papillon and Islands in the Stream. “Frank was the most congenial gentleman I’d ever met,” Koenekamp observed, “and the most prepared director I’ve ever worked with.” Noting that Patton often achieved 20-30 setups per day, he added, “With all the complexity of that shoot, it’s amazing how smoothly it went.”

To capture all the drama of a conflagration in a San Francisco skyscraper for The Towering Inferno (AC Feb. ’75), producer Irwin Allen formed two units to handle the principal photography: a main unit led by Koenekamp and an action unit led by Joseph Biroc, ASC. The logistics included location work in San Francisco and soundstage work on 57 sets built at 20th Century Fox, a record for the studio at the time. Only eight sets were intact when production wrapped; typically, when Koenekamp’s team finished with one, Biroc’s team would move in and burn it to the ground, saturate it with water, or both. “I keep telling Joe he had most of the fun!” Koenekamp told AC. Koenekamp and Biroc shared the Oscar for their work on the film, and Koenekamp accepted their statuettes. The Nov. ’76 issue of AC featured Koenekamp’s production journal from Islands in the Stream, which brought him his third Oscar nomination. The complexities posed by the Hawaii-based shoot included extensive day-for-night photography with interior and exterior in shot, filming aboard a 36' yacht, and shooting on the open water. Koenekamp’s feature credits also included Uptown Saturday Night, Fun with Dick and Jane, The Champ, The Amityville Horror and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. He retired after shooting Flight of the Intruder (AC July ’90). When he was honored with the ASC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005, he noted, “What I still miss is the camaraderie of the crew. I’d love to call every one of them today and tell them we’re starting a picture tomorrow.” — Rachael K. Bosley ● August 2017


Above: David Klein, ASC (left) talks with AC contributor Jim Hemphill. Below: Frederick Elmes, ASC accepts his AFI honor.

ASC Elects Officers, Board Kees van Oostrum has been reelected ASC president for the 2017-’18 term. The other elected officers are Vice Presidents Bill Bennett, John Simmons and Cynthia Pusheck; Treasurer Levie Isaacks; Secretary David Darby; and Sergeant-at-Arms Isidore Mankofsky. Elected as members of the Board of Governors were Paul Cameron, Russell Carpenter, Curtis Clark, Richard Crudo, George Spiro Dibie, Fred Elmes, Victor J. Kemper, Stephen Lighthill, Karl Walter Lindenlaub, Woody Omens, Robert Primes, Pusheck, Simmons, John Toll and 78

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Amy Vincent. The alternates are Roberto Schaefer, Dean Cundey, Lowell Peterson, Steven Fierberg and Stephen Burum. “As an organization, we are focused on education, international outreach, diversity, and preservation of our heritage,” says van Oostrum. “Over the past year, we expanded our Master Class program internationally to Toronto and China; we launched a Chinese version of American Cinematographer magazine; we are preparing for a third International Cinematography Summit, which sees attendees from several other societies around the world; and our Vision Committee has many initiatives planned, after presenting two very successful ‘Day of Inspiration’ events in Los Angeles and New York, which were designed to inspire female cinematographers and crewmembers.”

Patel, Hammond Named Associates New associate member Snehal Patel currently serves as the sales manager for cine at Zeiss in Los Angeles. Patel’s first production experience was at the age of 17, as the host, director and producer of his own cable show. A decade later he attended film school in Chicago, after which he moved to India and worked in the Bollywood film industry for almost five years before returning to Los Angeles. Patel has worked professionally as a freelance cinematographer and director, and previously as a camera salesperson for Arri. Dan Hammond currently serves as senior account executive, business development for Production Resource Group (PRG) in Los Angeles. Hammond is responsible for developing markets and a range of services in the fields of feature film, television and commercial productions. Hammond previously worked as director of cinema technical services at Doremi Labs, and spent 19 years working various positions at Panavision’s international corporate headquarters.

American Cinematographer

Coffee and Conversation in Hollywood The Society recently held a pair of “Coffee and Conversation” events at the Clubhouse in Hollywood. The events featured David Klein, ASC, who discussed his work on the Showtime series Homeland, and Robert McLachlan, ASC, CSC, who discussed his work on the Showtime series Ray Donovan. The discussions were moderated by AC contributor Jim Hemphill. Johnston Joins ZGC Associate member Eric Johnston was recently appointed to the role of sales, Americas for ZGC. Based out of the company’s New Jersey offices, Johnston’s role will be to develop and grow sales opportunities in the film and broadcast sectors across North, Central and South America. Johnston previously held the position of strategic account manager for digital cinema and rental houses for the Vitec Group. AFI Honors Elmes Frederick Elmes, ASC received the American Film Institute’s Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal during the 45th annual AFI Life Achievement Award Gala, recently held in Hollywood. According to AFI, this honor “recognizes the extraordinary creative talents of an AFI alumnus or alumna who embodies the qualities of filmmaker Franklin J. Schaffner: talent, taste, dedication and commitment to quality storytelling in film and television.” Elmes graduated from AFI in 1972. Previous recipients include Caleb Deschanel, ASC; Wally Pfister, ASC; Janusz Kaminski; Darren Aronofsky; Lesli Linka Glatter; Patty Jenkins; David Lynch; and Terrence Malick. For more complete coverage and additional Society news, visit ●

Photo of Clubhouse by Isidore Mankofsky, ASC; lighting by Donald M. Morgan, ASC. Coffee and Conversation photo courtesy of Alex Lopez. AFI photo by Kevin Winter, courtesy of Getty Images.



Gordon C. Lonsdale, ASC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you? Birdman of Alcatraz.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project? The first time I saw a TV movie I had shot projected on the big screen. It was called A Loss of Innocence, and the director, Graeme Clifford, struck a print and showed it to me at the Deluxe laboratory. It looked beautiful.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire? Caleb Deschanel, ASC — The Black Stallion totally impressed me. The photography told the story. T.C. Christensen, ASC — his beautiful lighting always touches my heart. Nancy Schreiber, ASC is so tenacious and driven. She will succeed against all odds.

Have you made any memorable blunders? I remember the first time I flashed a roll of 35mm film in the darkroom. As I took the lonely walk to the set to tell my cinematographer, I realized how important the loader’s job was. If you screwed up, then all these people have to come back and do it again. Or even worse, if reshooting was not possible, that work and effort is lost forever.

What sparked your interest in photography? When I was 15 years old, my aunt gave me an Argus rangefinder camera. I lived in Solvang, California, and remember shooting in this old abandoned Danish academy. Once I got my first prints back from Kodak, I was hooked. Where did you train and/or study? While pursuing my bachelor’s degree in communications with emphasis in photography from Brigham Young University, I interned for three years at the BYU motion-picture studio, spending summers there, working on movies. I also trained on movie sets, working as camera assistant, grip and electrician. Then as now, I watched those around me, learning daily. Who were your early teachers or mentors? Bob Stum was the first cinematographer I worked for, and I learned a great deal from him about using hard light. I also worked for Reed Smoot for eight years. He demanded perfection, and I learned to demand the best from myself. Ron Vidor taught me assistant-camera techniques on my first feature, which I still use and share. What are some of your key artistic influences? I still remember the first time I visited the Louvre in Paris and saw the brush strokes and layers of paint, and the direction, color and quality of light. I wanted to create that same feeling in my photography. I remember hearing people say how beautiful ‘Rembrandt lighting’ was. When I saw my first Rembrandt painting, I got it. How did you get your first break in the business? Peter Johnson hired me as a cinematographer at a small studio in Provo, Utah. For the first time, my business card listed only one job: ‘Director of Photography.’ Peter allowed me to do side projects when studio work was slow, which eventually led to shooting the TV series Northern Exposure.


August 2017

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received? After we watched the dailies of the first commercial I ever shot, producer Darryl Bateman looked at me and said, “Anyone could have shot that. I thought you would give me more.” After that I made a commitment to make my work stand out from everyone else’s. Key grip Bob Blair once said to me, “If you want to make it, you need to figure out how to light fast and make it look beautiful. Do that and you will always work.” He was right! What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you? American Cinematographer magazine. Movies and TV shows include Moonlight (2016), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Crown, The Young Pope. Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try? I would really love to do a film-noir project. If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead? No question, a heavy-equipment operator. As a kid, I worked in the oil fields of Southern California, and I was always assisting with a shovel at the bottom of a hole they were digging. Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership? Caleb Deschanel, Reed Smoot and Bill Wages. How has ASC membership impacted your life and career? I feel like I have a whole new family of brothers and sisters who share the same love of photography — a whole group of people I can call on for help or ideas. Some of my best times are being at the ASC Clubhouse, meeting members and catching up. ●

American Cinematographer

American cinematographer august 2017  
American cinematographer august 2017