behind the scenes
Defining digital with
John Toll, ASC
Icon Films unleashes
River Monsters in 4K 60p
Letter from the Editors Welcome to issue 7 of CineAlta™ Magazine. In this issue we once again cover a diverse range of productions and individuals — from Academy Award winning Cinematographers to the latest in over-the-top content creation. CineAlta Magazine had the unique opportunity of speaking with three-time Academy Award winner Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC, at the Camerimage film festival in Poland, discussing his career and latest accomplishments. Storaro explains the decision to shoot with the F65 which convinced Director Woody Allen to shoot his first ever digital feature film. At the festival, CineAlta Magazine Editor Peter Crithary had the distinct pleasure of talking to twotime Academy Award winning cinematographer John Toll, ASC, as he explained his career and filmography timeline, including his latest project, the hit series for Netflix called Sense8, shot on the F55 in 4K. Also in this issue we hear from Icon Films about their hit show River Monsters shot in 4K 60p on the F55. This in-depth production and workflow analysis is a result of hard lessons learned in the field when dealing with very high shooting ratios. We take off on an exciting project involving jetpacks, an F5 documentary for the Smithsonian Channel. The jet pack took its first flight as a military project in the 1960s. Incredible Flying Jet Packs tells the story of these flying machines. We delve into anamorphic with a feature film shot
on the F55, Automotive Landscape No.1 with the team at Machine Age Media. Cinematographer Eduardo Barraza teamed up with director Alonso Llosa and producer Olga Goister to create the dark world of Living Legend and brought the F55 on the South American adventure. After a series of cameras DoP Jeff Erwin takes us on his journey to the F55 and shooting his latest documentary project. We also have Waffle Street, an F55 feature film where Cinematographer Johnny Derango explaining how he shot the film. In the “What’s New” section we discuss the anxiously awaited release of Version 7 firmware for the F5 and F55. We also hint at things to come for the CineAlta platform, as our engineers are never sitting still. As always, the goal of CineAlta magazine is telling the production stories of creative professionals — cinematographers, DIT’s, Directors and more — using Sony’s motion picture cameras in diverse production and post-production workflows. We want to tell these stories in your words, and we welcome your feedback. If you have any productions stories you wish to share with us please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks, and enjoy the magazine. Alec Shapiro and Peter Crithary
President Professional Solutions Americas Sony Electronics Inc.
Marketing Manager (Twitter: @CineAltaNews) Professional Solutions Americas Sony Electronics Inc.
What’s new By Peter Crithary New firmware, a new live web show and more. With the passing months, Sony’s CineAlta platform is garnering more production credits while camera upgrades deliver greater artistic expression, greater functionality – and greater return on your investment. The new firmware Version 7 for the F5 and F55 is another big step forward. Like many of our firmware upgrades, it’s the result of feedback from users like you. And like all of our CineAlta firmware releases, Version 7 is absolutely free. The star of the show is the Quick Menu. As the name implies, it’s a far faster, easier way to access all the day-to-day camera settings. Quick Menu takes advantage of the side LCD panel and the six, silver context-sensitive buttons to give you direct access to literally dozens of settings. You get logical placement of key functions in six clean, clear pages: Project, Monitoring, MLUT, Media, Viewfinder and Others. In everyday use, you’ll no longer need to dive into the complete menu system. In fact, the main menu becomes more like a setup or engineering utility. Documentarians and natural history DPs are increasingly turning to 4K 59.94p production. And they’ve been asking us for 59.94p Simultaneous Recording. Version 7 delivers. You can shoot your full res footage at 50p or 59.94p in 10-bit, 4:2:2 XAVC™ at either 3840x2160 or 4096x2160. The F55 will simultaneously capture 50i or 59.94i proxy files to the same SxS™ Pro+ card in MPEG2 50 Mbps 4:2:2. As always with Simultaneous Recording, the files will have matching timecode and file naming for seamless conforming. We are enabling Rec. 2020 in Custom mode for XAVC recording in 3840x2160 and 4096x2160. Formally known as ITU-R BT.2020, Rec. 2020 establishes a superior color reproduction pipeline from lens to living room, for delivery to a new generation of 4K Ultra HD televisions. Not only is the Rec. 2020 color gamut broader than HDTV (Rec.709), but it even extends far beyond the digital cinema gamut (DCI-P3).
Because Sony’s S-Gamut3 color space is even wider than Rec. 2020, we are able to implement Rec. 2020 without sacrificing the rich color palette of the F55. If you need to bake Rec. 2020 into your 4K Ultra HD deliverable, simply select Rec. 2020 in Custom mode. If you are shooting 16-bit Linear RAW, then select S-Gamut3 as your color space. You can apply Rec. 2020 in post-production with minimal adjustments. Rec. 2020 is just one of five visual advances that define the new 4K Ultra HD televisions. The new specs call for 3840x2160 resolution, Wide Color Gamut, High Frame Rate, High Dynamic Range and 10-bit Grayscale. As you probably know, CineAlta cameras hit five out of five targets. It’s a clear confirmation of the forward-looking approach of Sony’s engineers. And it’s a clear demonstration of how CineAlta cameras continue to anticipate your needs. Among these 4K Ultra HD improvements, High Dynamic Range production is gaining ground as more and more people are wowed by the difference HDR can make. The F65, F55 and F5 have been shooting HDR from day one. We were proud to provide cameras for the world’s first theatrical HDR production (Disney’s Tomorrowland, F65) and the world’s first OTT HDR production (Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, F55). There are many more HDR titles now in development. So expect more HDR production stories in future issues of CineAlta Magazine. For an inside look at some of today’s coolest projects, check out #SonyProLive, our new interactive web series. We’ll hear the in-depth, personal stories of top creative talents. The show streams live from our Digital Motion Picture Center on the lot at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. And when you watch live, you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and hear the answers. For more information and show times, visit sony.com/SonyProLive. There’s more good news waiting in the wings. Our engineers are hard at work developing new tools to extend the CineAlta platform even further. Stay tuned and enjoy the ride!
Interview with Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC Three-time Academy Award winner reflects on his career and working with Director Woody Allen on his first ever digital feature film
Interview with John Toll, ASC Two-time Academy Award winning cinematographer talks about his career and his latest project Sense8 for Netflix shot on the F55 in 4K
Capturing Monsters with the F55 Icon Film’s quest to unleash River Monsters in 4K 60p on the F55
Content 1 Interview with Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC 21 Interview with John Toll, ASC 41 Capturing Monsters with the F55 81 R ecovering Memories through Anamorphics
95 F5’s First Flight 103 Living Legends 121 Johnny Derango serving up the F55 on Waffle Street
Recovering Memories through Anamorphics
F5’s First Flight
The team at Machine Age Media on creating the refined looks in their 1960’s short film
Shooting the Incredible Flying Jet Packs with Sony’s F5.
137 T aking Flight with the F55 at red jet films
Taking Flight with the F55 at red jet films
How Cinematographer Eduardo Barraza brings to life his dark comedy
J ohnny Derango serving up the F55 on Waffle Street
Owner/DP Jeff Irwin talks about his creative arsenal
V Q&A with
Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC Interview By Peter Crithary Edited by David Heuring
Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC is one of the most revered and influential filmmakers of our time. Born in Rome in 1940, he joined with director Bernardo Bertolucci to make The Conformist (1970), which revealed a bold and singular sensibility behind the camera. In 1972, the duo made Last Tango in Paris, an instant classic that shocked the cinema world and earned two Oscar nominations. Storaro made eight films with Bertolucci (The Sheltering Sky, Little Buddha) and went on to make films with Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now; Tucker: The Man and his Dream; One from the Heart), Warren Beatty (Reds, Dick Tracy, Bulworth), and most recently, Woody Allen. He earned Oscars for Apocalypse Now, Reds and The Last Emperor and has been honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers and the Camerimage International Festival of the Art of Cinematography, among many others. Throughout his career, he has been an enthusiastic advocate for the prerogatives of the cinematographer, always emphasizing the importance of passion and emotion in his artistic journey.
Q&A with Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC
Question: How did you get started as a cinematographer?
to see the moving image. To me, cinema is an expression of moving images.
I was very lucky, because my father was a projectionist with a big company in Italy, Lux Film. Without any doubt, his desire was to be part of the images that he was screening, and watching those images probably pushed me to start with photography and cinematography. He put his dream on my shoulders, and step by step it became my own dream. One day my father came home with a piece of machinery. I didn’t know what it was. It was an old projector that the company was no longer using. He put this machine on a little table in the courtyard, and asked myself and my older brother to paint the back wall of this courtyard white. When the daylight was gone, he set up chairs for our family. Suddenly I saw the light come out, and an image appeared on the wall. It was Charlie Chaplin – City Lights, I later realized. That is my first memory of cinema, and it was incredible. I also remember going with my father to work, and watching images through the square window in the projection booth. I heard the noise of the projector instead of the sound of the film. So I was looking at the moving image, and I became fascinated by it. I always loved to go with my father to work because I loved
My father pushed me to study photography, and I did five years of study in photography. We were poor, so in the afternoon I was working in the laboratory, and later, a photography studio. I was learning theory in the morning, and the practical elements of photography in the afternoon.
course is three years, and one is able to experiment without the pressure of film production. I was so happy because I was able to study what I really loved without having the kind of pressure that everybody was telling us about in the industry. The beauty of being a student is fantastic. But as a student, and even later on when I started to work professionally, I always pushed myself to research, to study, to know, to amplify my knowledge, particularly in art, because in school they were only teaching about technology. Technology is very important in the sense that technology helps you to express yourself. You can have a brilliant idea, but if you don’t know how to write you don’t become a poet. If you don’t know how to play an instrument, you don’t become a musician. If you don’t know how to materialize your ideas, you don’t become a cinematographer. To know the history of cinema is very important. That’s what you’re supposed to do in school, and to know the tools, to know how you can materialize your concept. The first time I saw a painting of Caravaggio, I realized that I didn’t know anything about painting. I didn’t know anything about philosophy, and I didn’t know anything about music, and so on. So I remain a student, even to this day, because it’s a wonderful blessing to have the will to know.
“I remain a student, even to this day, because it’s a wonderful blessing to have the will to know.”
I was only 16, too young for the Italian national film school, so I spent two years at a small film school, and then, two years studying cinematography at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Roma, the best school there was at that time in Europe, which was my dream. At that time, there were only three people selected each year out of 500 applicants. It was a narrow window, but I was determined to jump through. My concentration and will were so strong that I won the selection. Today, the
Q: What were your first steps in the professional world?
I was very well prepared, at least in a technical way, and I started my career. I quickly became an assistant camera operator, and I was the youngest camera operator in Italy at 21 years old. I was a camera operator for seven years, and several directors proposed me as a cinematographer, but I declined, because I felt that I was not ready. It was not the appropriate time to move on from the search for the language of camera movement and the composition of the image. I did not have the necessary magnetic feeling with the director. Step by step, I built not only my technical knowledge but my artistic 5
knowledge, which in my opinion must work together for creative cinematography. Q: How did your relationship with Bernardo Bertolucci come about? What is the secret of your collaboration?
Bernardo’s father, Attilio Bertolucci, was a poet, one of the greatest poets we had in Italy. Attilio Bertolucci’s close friends were Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alberto Moravia, so Bernardo practically grew up in the company of these great writers. I did a picture with Bernardo when I was an assistant, Before the Revolution. I was 23, and he was 22. Even then, he came to the set with a viewfinder and he was trying to find the proper way,
in his opinion, to shoot an image. He was not even asking Mr. Aldo Scavarda, the cinematographer, what he was thinking. This was something that belonged to him. When I was 28 years old, I felt I was ready to move into cinematography, and I made my first movie with a wonderful director, Franco Rossi. Soon after that, Bernardo also called me, and it felt so appropriate to work with him. For a time, I didn’t work with anybody else. When you’re young, you feel that you want to go in one direction. Step by step, you realize that what you’re really doing is searching to prove, to materialize your thoughts, to realize your dream, to understand who you are, to try to answer your own questions. The Conformist, the movie we
made in 1970, was an important moment, and a big presentation all around the world. Our collaboration stretched for 25 years, and eight movies together from The Spider’s Stratagem, The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, 1900, La Luna, The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky and Little Buddha.
Q: May I ask why your collaboration came to an end?
It seemed to me that he almost needed to prove that he could do a movie without me. I don’t know how this idea came into his mind, but some people were aware that his name was no
Storaro. I said, “Bernardo, you are free to do whatever you want.” At one point later on we spoke about a great story, the unknown life of Jesus Christ, but at that time he began to have some health concerns, and he told me he didn’t have the energy to do that kind of project any longer. I assured him that we could do it, that we were using this great camera, the F65, and that he could direct the camera and the actors from a big monitor. John Huston did something similar – he had trouble moving, but his mind was perfect. He told me he would think about it. I would love to start this new journey if it’s possible.
“The Conformist, the movie we made in 1970, was an important moment, and a big presentation all around the world.”
He never clearly told me the reason. It was something he needed to do. He told me that he needed to do something that would surprise everybody.
longer a single name. Instead, it was a double name: Bertolucci/
Q&A with Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC
Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC in Jon Fauer’s “Cinematographer Style” Photo by Joe Christofori 7
Q: You were ahead of the technological curve on One from the Heart in 1981.
Mr. Francis Ford Coppola saw The Conformist in New York, and later on he called me to do Apocalypse Now, which was perhaps even more important as my presentation to the international film industry. When we did the One from the Heart with Francis, in his mind there was at that moment the beginning of a big change with electronic cinematography. Along with Sony, he had the idea to record an entire film in video, and he wanted to use all the new technology as much as possible, in a very modern studio. I was in complete agreement with him in that regard – the use of the video camera next to the film camera, the use of electronics in editing and postproduction, and the use of any electronic tools to prepare the picture. But I was not in agreement with him on recording the film in the standard definition that was available at that time. I said to Francis, “I’m sorry, but I think it would be a major mistake for us, because your ideas are probably more advanced
than the technologies. The images might look beautiful in a small screening room. But there’s no way we can maintain that quality level when they are transferred to film and shown on big screens in every theater around the world.” Francis proposed that I help choose the technology for this studio. I told Francis that my desire was to control all the light in the studio through one light board. He brought me to Las Vegas to a huge convention of technology, and he showed me the beautiful toy which was the light board, and I said “This is what we need.” With that, I was able to change all the light within the studio during the same shot, during the same sequence, during the same moment that a character was moving from place to another, from one emotion to another. When I went back to Italy, I needed the same system, because the story required an eclipse of sun. From that moment on, I have always used the light board – even the last movie I did, with Woody Allen.
“When we did the One from the Heart with Francis, in his mind there was at that moment the beginning of a big change with electronic cinematography.”
Q&A with Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC
Q: You were involved in some early tests with high definition cameras, correct?
Storaro: Three years later, Sony made a proposal to many television companies around the world to test the first high definition video camera, and I was involved through the Italian television company. Sony knew my background and work with Francis Ford Coppola, and they needed people who were used to expressing themselves on the big screen. Giuliano Montaldo and I did a short film in Venice, the most difficult location possible. It was a very interesting experiment, the very beginning of an attempt to understand what was possible to capture with that camera. The chance to see the image that we were recording was a revelation. There was no longer a question mark about how it would look later on, in the cinema, after development. It became a conscious act at that moment. But the technology was not, in my opinion, ready to compete on the big screen with images recorded on film. Soon after that experiment, I wrote a long letter to Sony with my opinion on the elements that needed improvement. I was very happy that less than one year later, they came back to Italy to do another experiment with RAI, a strong company that was in a position to push high definition into national distribution. The camera was the first prototype, 9
even before it was called CineAlta, and I was very happy to see that all the suggestions from around the world, including mine, were incorporated into this camera. This was about 1984. Later RAI made a proposal to me and Giuliano Montaldo to make Julie & Julia, the first film to be made with HD video system. We couldn’t agree to do it unless they agreed to present the film as an experiment with technology that was still in development. At that time, we felt that the high definition tools were
hand to improve it. I was teaching at the time at the Academy of the Image at the University of L’Aquila, and over the course of ten years, I used the camera to do all the small films with the young students. The video image gave us an incredible opportunity in expression, but it was not at the highest quality. It was not time yet, in my opinion, particularly for some specific films. Q: How does technology influence creativity in filmmaking?
Storaro: The companies build the tools we use to materialize and express our ideas. Without it, the idea stays in your mind. I’m always collaborating with many companies. What’s in your mind is not always appropriate for the tools at the time. I’m always pushing the technology to go further, to give me what I need. That’s very important. Only by using the technology can you say, “It would be great if you can change this or adapt that.” Step by step, these cameras, for example, grow up. Practically speaking, if you don’t marry the technology with creativity, you cannot perform your creativity in any art.
“Practically speaking, if you don’t marry the technology with creativity, you cannot perform your creativity in any art.” still in the prototype stage, and we couldn’t lend our name to the project unless this was clear. So we refused. But the film was made, and it was an important chance to see how the tools worked from a normal production point of view. A few years later, they came out with the first CineAlta camera, the F900. Sony promoted the camera as the first to be at the film level, and I was not in complete agreement. No doubt it was an incredible improvement. But the more a tool can be used, the more we can work hand in
As for technology’s effect on creativity, it was major adventure to my mind when I could see exactly in color what I was doing without any question about what the image would be the day after.
I was seeing my dailies in the moment that I was recording, on the monitor. I was able to look at my own thoughts. You can see your creativity in front of you. If I was thinking it may be better to have more light or more contrast, and so on, I was able to see right away. You’re not guessing any longer, you don’t dream any longer. You know how that image is supposed to be recorded in order to give that kind of emotion and expression. So, to me, that change marked a great jump between my innocent time, and the mystery of recording an image, to the conscious, with an image in front of you. I realized that the period in which the cinematographer was the only one who knew how an image would be seen by the audience was finished, because everybody can see the image. Of course the cinematographer should be educated in not only technology but also in the symbology, physiology, and dramaturgy of the visual elements, the relationship between darkness and light, cold and warm, color and so on, so that when he or she sees an image together with the director, the costume design, production design and so on, the cinematographer is able to know what is possible, and what can be changed in order to achieve an image that is more connected with that specific story.
Q: Tell us about your thought process in creating the visuals of Muhammad: The Messenger of God.
The principle of Muhammad from the beginning of his journey was that he believed in one single God. At Mecca, every caravan from Persia, Syria, China, Arabia was crossing this sacred city. Each one wanted to build a statue representing their divinity, so there were hundreds of them. Muhammad said that
of Islam of that moment, and to understand why you cannot see the face of the prophet. Muhammad: The Messenger of God is the first segment of a trilogy that will build the entire history of the prophet. The government of Iran planned this not only for Islamic culture, but for international culture, to present what they believe is the appropriate reading of the Quran. In my opinion, each person is free to represent their faith in the way they think is appropriate, but each one should respect the other. That’s the union of the different religions, that respect. I don’t think we have a different God if we speak a different language or if we have a different belief in different history, even if you call it different names. You can represent what you believe, express your faith in the appropriate way, according to your culture. That’s the most important thing.
“...the cinematographer should be educated in not only technology but also in the symbology, physiology, and dramaturgy of the visual elements...” this idolatry was wrong. Others were against him because it was bad for business, and eventually Muhammad had to escape to Medina. And later he returned to Mecca and destroyed the idols. So that is the reason why the philosophy of Islam is not to visually represent Muhammad, because that image would become another idol. So I knew that in our movie we could not show the face of Muhammad. In fact, we show only the back of the little child. The point of the story is for everyone to go to see the picture and learn the history
[Director] Majid Majidi asked me to stay close to him during preproduction, and I worked closely with the production designer, the costume designer, the makeup artist, and so on. I stayed for a year in preproduction, which I loved, because the best thing we can do is to prepare well. I became as knowledgeable as possible in the references from history, painting, photography, and imagination, even in the way the women, men, children are praying there today. For me, it was really an incredible impression. 10
Q&A with Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC
Muhammad was done in Iran in such a variety of different environments and weather conditions, which meant it was not appropriate for an electronic camera, in my opinion. We shot in the desert near the Persian Gulf in sandstorms, 50 degrees Celsius in desert and zero degrees in the winter time. Plus, to capture the different high levels of the light in the desert, the darkness of night was, letâ€™s say, too extreme. That was not yet the time. We used film. But during the period of preproduction, production and postproduction, which took about three years, the industry changed completely. Digital projection came to any theater, they stopped making prints. Technicolor closed their office in Rome. After Muhammad, I had close to three years in which I did 11
not find a project that was appropriate. By the time I met with Woody Allen, I felt the time was right for capturing with digital. Q: I generally think of you as an epic visionary, so your collaboration with Woody Allen surprised me. For me, he is a more minimalist filmmaker.
Usually the best collaboration, at least for me, is when you capture a very inner concept from the director. It becomes a dream project for the director, and that dream becomes your dream. This movie is about a Jewish family that lives in New York. One member of the family goes to Los Angeles to be a film agent, so the story goes back and forth
Q&A with Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC
“Usually the best collaboration, at least for me, is when you capture a very inner concept from the director. It becomes a dream project for the director, and that dream becomes your dream.” between the Bronx in 1935 and Hollywood in 1935-40. First of all, I loved the fact that this is really a Woody Allen movie in the sense that he’s the narrator. I recognized his personality in it. He is deciding if it will actually be his voice doing the narration, and I hope it will. With narration, we can be more free, in some ways, in telling the story. With a narrator, you lose contact with reality, and the world is a painted picture, which can require some kind of visual reference in connection with the social, political, artistic period of the film. That something I usually like. It can give me several approaches. That period in Hollywood is very interesting, in the sense that you can have a lot of reference from photography, from painting,
and from the German influence at that time. And between the two worlds, there are some opposites, and some similarities. I always like a kind of dialogue and balance between opposite elements. At the beginning we made it very clear the fact that the way that he was thinking the visualization of the picture could be was exactly the way I was already reading the script. I spent two hours with Woody speaking about the vision for the film, and I had prepared myself with three different styles – the Bronx, Hollywood, and the character’s return to New York, when he’s participating in a higher social level, with dinners in tuxedos.
Q&A with Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC
We spoke about the kind of capture we wanted for the movie, because recently, without any doubt, there has been a major revolution in the film industry. I thought that the time was right for the Sony F65 – based on my experience with HD going back to 1983, and on my use of the first CineAlta as a teaching tool at the Academy of the Image, and on my experience using digital on Carlos Saura’s movie, Flamenco, Flamenco. I wanted to see what I could achieve through digital media, without many of the elements we had in photochemical. I flashed the original negative of Apocalypse Now. I flashed Last Tango in Paris, and I flashed every positive print from that moment on in order to have more tonality in one area, but I also used a ENR system to have a better black in another area. So I always try to add more information than normal film color had. The F65 was the closest to my dream camera that existed. At the time I had begun my previous film, Muhammad: The Messenger of God, which was in 2010, I had done 59 films, and 58 of them were done on film. When I spoke with Woody, I told him it was time that we face one special word: progress. It’s something we can speed up or slow down, but we can’t stop it. Practically, in Italy we no longer have Technicolor and we no longer have Kodak. We can’t be attached to one way of working. Visual expression goes back to cave paintings, painting on wood, on canvas, black & white photography, color, 3D. Now is the time for digital. Through all of my experiments, I have pushed to have a specific level where I can feel comfortable. The only camera, in my opinion,
that is at that level is the Sony F65 – not only because it can give us 4K, 16-bit color, which is the minimum that we can consider to be as close as possible to the level of film, even if it’s not yet there. For me, it’s either 4K 16-bit or film negative. The F65 and the F55 are not perfect yet, but very close. But the camera also can deliver the 2:1 aspect ratio that I love, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of “The Last Supper”. Woody was not willing in the beginning, because he was used to film. But I convinced him to make this step. Q: Many cinematographers push back on 4K, they don’t want it. They think it’s not filmic. They think it’s too sharp, too much visual information, whereas film traditionally has been very soft. But you’re saying that your requirement for digital is 4K.
Storaro: At a minimum, yes. No doubt the image is different, but we must try to do our best to improve it, to elevate the level on film capture one more time. Some cinematographers are focused on more sensitivity. To me, that is not the problem. I’m not in agreement with my peers who love to work full aperture so everything is soft on the eye. Perhaps some of the younger cinematographers don’t love to use light. They don’t know the philosophy, the relationship between this kind of light over here and this kind of darkness over here. The meaning of the different elements of visual art, and what they can do to the human body, to the human mind in showing an emotion – that’s what I’m talking about. But sometimes it seems that I am the only one.
“We spoke about the kind of capture we wanted for the movie, because recently, without any doubt, there has been a major revolution in the film industry. I thought that the time was right for the Sony F65.”
ÂŠ Gravier Productions, Inc. Photo by Sabrina Lantos 14
Q&A with Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC
Q: I understand you also used the F55.
When I began to prepare the film with my DIT, we realized that probably F65 was a little too heavy for a Steadicam. So I used the F55 for the narrator, and the F65 for normal capture. At the beginning, they told me, “Vittorio, don’t waste time or money on a big monitor for Woody, because he never looks at the man who’s doing the shooting. He always looks at the actor directly.” But I insisted on Woody having the best monitor possible. We ordered 25-inch Sony monitors that were calibrated by Technicolor. I wanted to see exactly what he was going to see later on, as far as I can. On the first day we were doing makeup and costume tests, I put the monitor over there for him. My monitor is on the side because I use my light board console to adjust the lighting according to the image. I don’t use my light meter. If I had a specific question, I would call Woody over to see the image. But he didn’t pay too much attention. The first day of actual shooting, he started to like it. And soon after the first shot, he never stopped to ask what was on my monitor is because he was able to see the image all the time. And I think we made a great experiment between the two of us.
improvement has to do with the sensor. It is not possible to work with only one sensor for every kind of light. A single sensor is not able to capture all the information you need from darkness to white. We used to have in cinema four different films – two for daylight and two for tungsten light, at different levels. If I were shooting in daylight in bright sun, I would have a specific film that is able to capture as much information as possible. If I go in interior, in daylight, I would have another film. That gives me the maximum range of possibilities. If I go in tungsten light, I also have two different choices, 200 or 500 ASA. I can choose my sensor according to where I am and which kind of light I have. It is not possible to have one only sensor with 800 or 1250 ASA, especially in exterior. Also, we are in a cage when it comes to neutral density. We’re forced to use neutral density of .09 or .18, otherwise we cannot film. This is absurd. If I cut the sensitivity, in practice, I cut the information in my darkness, in my bright light. That’s not good. That is a compromise. When you put strong neutral density on top of the image, it becomes flat, and you tend to lose the emotion of an image. That kind of flat recording doesn’t allow for all the necessary color range. And when I try to push it in the color correction, it begins to look like a video image. Perhaps the image is too thin, too superficial, too video. A camera must give me the chance to record as far as possible all my information, without any additional filtering between. I would like to be free to capture the elements that are in front of me to start with. After, if I need to, I can use diffusion, I add a net, I can flash. I can use any additional element. Those are the only things that I really do not like at all about the new camera.
“The first day of actual shooting, he started to like it. And soon after the first shot, he never stopped to ask what was on my monitor...”
Q: What are your impressions of the camera after having made this film with it?
Storaro: The F65 is a great camera, but it’s not the final one, in my opinion. Some particular elements have to be improved. I asked my camera operator, my assistant and my DIT for their opinions on how it could be improved, and I wrote a long letter to Sony in Tokyo. The most important
Q&A with Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC
Q: Which lenses did you use on the Woody Allen project?
Cooke, the English series. To me, Cooke is the one because Cooke built their lenses for cinema. Other companies usually use photographic lenses, rehoused for use with cinema cameras. We need serious lenses to record the plastic movement of light on the face, for example, from maximum brightness to the maximum darkness, the penumbra, as Leonardo called it. Q: And how did you approach the project with respect to lighting?
Q: Generally, what are you looking for in the content for our cinema?
Storaro: I think each one of us in every profession, particularly in cinema, tries to do what is
“...the meeting between cinematographer and director is elective affinities. You have to feel that you’re thinking in a similar ideological direction.”
That is a complex topic. The lighting system we use is very special lighting system, all tungsten light and going through a light board. I love to have control of the lighting in a single console, so I can not only adjust the different levels of light to my satisfaction, I can also change the mood during the same shot. That’s the most important thing for me. Q: Is Woody Allen happy with the imagery?
For the moment it looks like he’s very happy. We’ll see after the digital media. The digital intermediate will be very important once again to achieve on the screen the maximum of what the camera was able to capture.
appropriate for our personality. So many times in my history I have said “No, thank you” to different projects – not because the project was wrong, but because it was not going in the direction that I felt was my direction, my need to discover, my need to know, to grow up in a different way compared to another director, or another story. With all due respect, the meeting between cinematographer and director is elective affinities. You have to feel that you’re thinking in a similar ideological direction. It’s a kind of train that you want to jump onto because you want to investigate and answer the questions that you have in your mind. When I get on alongside Bertolucci, I recognize that he is going in exactly the same direction that I want to go. He can help me to understand.
Francis Ford Coppola helps me to understand the relationship between the opposite elements or among the colors of emotion. So when I tell a director, “No, thank you,” it’s not because that director is wrong – just different. You try to stay rooted and continue your journey from matter to energy, from body to spirit, from darkness to light. That’s our journey. Q: Any thoughts as you look back on your amazing career thus far?
Storaro: Two years ago, I was presenting a book called the “The Art of Cinematography.” I was with my son Giovanni, the producer of book, along with Lorenzo Codelli, Luciano Tovoli, Gabriele Lucci, Daniele Nannuzzi and Bob Fisher. The book includes a series of texts and symbolic images from different cinematographers that made the history of cinema, cinema that made me dream, gave me emotion, and taught me about cinematographers. Realizing a story like Little Buddha or Muhammad, we weren’t just doing professional work. We were also learning some principles of life and asking some important questions. I realized that I’m 72 years old, and so happy now. To whom do I owe thanks? I saw that I still had the chance to do an incredible project – epic, classic, spiritual, the way I desired and dreamed it should be. I have to thank my father for giving me the first push. I have to thank my teachers, and the
collaborators who have worked with me for so long, and the great directors I’ve met. But I also have to thank all the cinematographers who came before me – Roland Totheroh, who did Chaplin’s City Lights, Karl Freund, who did Metropolis, Gregg Toland, who did Citizen Kane, and so on. I couldn’t be here today without the strong bonds created by these great cinematographers from all around the world. At some point, I became not just a student, but also a teacher. I’m part of this history now for other generations, but I had to make an homage to them. Q: What are the most beautiful moments you have in your mind?
Storaro: That’s a very important question. For example, a company sent me an email yesterday asking me to participate in a program by choosing five images in my life that describe my journey. At the beginning, you don’t know exactly who you are, what you’re searching for. You are some kind of dreamer. I was lucky to meet a young girl when I was a teen, she was 16, at the same moment that I was ready to do the examination into Italian high school. Having the chance to grow up together and achieve a balance between family life and creative life, personally and professionally, was most important. Without that kind of relationship, I could never leave my house for one year, go to Iran and do Muhammad, and be serene in the knowledge of what’s happening to my house with my wife and children and my grandchildren. Without that, I could not have my mind free to create something. Other moments: the day we moved into our house – I was 26 – and the moment I first saw my daughter – those are images that stay with you. I also remember the first dailies of the first movie I did as a cinematographer. I remember the numbers counting down on the screen, and boom, the first images appear. The moment I saw my thoughts materialized, I felt incredible emotion. Another example that comes to mind is the day I arrive on the set, and Bernardo Bertolucci says he wants to start from a place that is totally the opposite of what I was thinking. In that moment, you don’t know what to do, because you haven’t given any thought or ideas to that direction. That moment forces you to search within yourself and find a new idea. You open a new door, and discover a new area. When you see through that door, that is a great emotion and a great moment. 18
Q&A with Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC
Q: What is good cinematography?
Storaro: Probably the world itself telling you that you are right. I’m not a painter. People often tell me that I am painting with light. That is not true. I am a writer of light. Cinematography requires multiple images. Photography is an expression in one single image. I’m not a good photographer. I am a cinematographer. I need more than one image. I need time to develop the idea, and a specific rhythm. So image, word, and music are the three elements for my creativity. With images, we are using a very universal language, images, to express ourselves. A writer can use his own words to express a concept, to express an emotion. And a musician does the same thing using notes. Today, we are at a moment of history in which images are much more international. This is the century of images. Images don’t need translation. If you make a great film, everyone can understand. Cinema is the common art because it incorporates all the other arts: literature, music, painting, sculpture, architecture. It becomes the tenth Muse.
“Cinema is the common art because it incorporates all the other arts: literature, music, painting, sculpture, architecture. It becomes the tenth Muse.”
ÂŠ Gravier Productions, Inc. Photo by Sabrina Lantos 20
John Toll, ASC By Peter Crithary Edited by David Heuring Academy Award-winning cinematographer, John Toll ASC sits down with Sony’s Peter Crithary for a conversation about his journey to becoming a cinematographer, from small projects to major feature films – to Netflix’s Sense8 on the F55.
Interview with John Toll, ASC
Question: Tell me about your history as a cinematographer. How did you get started, and what sparked your interest in the art and craft of cinematography? Toll: As a child I always had some type of inexpensive camera around and used it frequently. I learned how to process film and make prints in a darkroom, but I never pursued a formal education in photography. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 19, and while attending school here I had an opportunity to get a part-time job working at a documentary film company, Wolper Productions, as an office PA. David Wolper was a documentary producer making very good documentaries and one-hour 23
network specials in the ‘60s and ‘70s. There was a full-time staff of writers, directors, and editors working there and this was my introduction to professional filmmaking. I immediately became interested in the entire process. When they were in production I went out as a PA and tried to attach myself to the camera crews as much as possible, carrying camera cases for the camera assistants – anything I could think of, really. Eventually I acquired some basic skills as an assistant cameraman – how to load 16 mm cameras and change lenses, really basic stuff. When I got out of college I stayed with it and started working full-time as a camera assistant, eventually in television and then feature films. I worked my way up through the system as an
â€œHaving the ability to pick up a motion picture camera and create any image, no matter how simple, only triggered the impulse to do more. â€œ assistant, camera operator, and eventually as a director of photography. Q: So narrative cinema had a stronger impact on you than documentary? Toll: Not necessarily. It was all filmmaking, but working on documentaries introduced me to cinematography and it was a great way to acquire experience. Simply by picking up a 16 mm camera, putting it on my shoulder and walking around looking at images, even without shooting film, I learned something. Once in a while I had the chance to shoot an insert or something. Having the ability to pick up a motion picture camera and create any image, no matter how simple, only triggered the impulse to do more.
Q: What drew you to feature filmmaking? Toll: I had always been sensitive to motion picture imagery and how the photography of some films definitely influenced the experience. I couldnâ€™t define it in terms of specifics, like composition or lighting; it was just the recognition that some films definitely had more visual impact than others. I was still in school when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [1969; cinematography by Conrad Hall, ASC] was released and I recognized there was something unique and different about how it was photographed and how the images enhanced every aspect of the story. Once I started working on documentaries and learning something about cinematography, the natural extension of that for me became feature filmmaking. 24
Interview with John Toll, ASC
Q: While you were learning the craft and absorbing it all, which projects and cinematographers really impressed you? Toll: Well, primarily it was a combination of some classic cinematography represented by the work of cinematographer/ director collaborations such as Gregg Toland and Orson Welles. Also Freddy Young and David Lean, as well as traditional American cinematographers like James Wong Howe and Arthur Miller, just to name a few. There was also the influence of the European New Wave of the 50s and 60s, which was in direct contrast to Hollywood-style filmmaking. The “younger” American cinematographers receiving attention in the late 60s and early 70s were probably my greatest influence. People like Conrad Hall, Gordon Willis, Haskell Wexler, Owen Roizman, John Alonzo, Vilmos Zsigmond, and Laszlo Kovacs. Vittorio Storaro and Sven Nyquist were two European cinematographers who were also doing great work. Directors like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola were using these cinematographers and they were the people who were being emulated. For my generation of cinematographers, these were many of the people we looked up to and aspired to work with. I had the opportunity to work with John Alonzo. I did several pictures with him as an assistant cameraman in the late 1970s, and he promoted me to camera operator on a movie he directed called FM. So I started working as a camera operator and I worked for several years with John, as well as with other great cinematographers like Conrad Hall, Jordan Cronenweth, Allen Daviau, and Robbie Greenberg. Q: How did you move up to cinematographer? Toll: While still working as an operator, I began shooting commercials on my own, and then for a couple of years exclusively as a director of photography. During that time I also shot a pilot for a TV show called The Young Riders. I actually moved up officially to DP when Haskell Wexler asked me to shoot a 2nd unit on the feature film Blaze. Immediately following Blaze I did a series of commercials with Carroll Ballard, a great director who had done beautiful feature films like The Black Stallion and Never Cry Wolf. He was about to do a movie called Wind, and he asked me if I’d like to do it. He knew I had never done a feature film as a director of photography, but he knew my background on features as an operator, and also my commercial work and the TV pilot. 25
“The “younger” American cinematographers receiving attention in the late 60s and early 70s were probably my greatest influence.”
Interview with John Toll, ASC
Wind was a very difficult film to shoot, but it’s still one of the most visually interesting films I think I’ve done. It was a story about America’s Cup yacht racing and we worked on 12-meter yachts on the open sea, primarily with handheld cameras. It was a great opportunity for me to demonstrate that I was capable not just of shooting a feature film, but of shooting a very difficult feature film. The work on Wind led to a recommendation to director Ed Zwick, who was doing a movie called Legends of the Fall and looking for a cinematographer. Ed asked me to do Legends and that worked out pretty well, and also led to the opportunity to do Braveheart with director Mel Gibson.
Q: So Wind essentially launched your career as a feature cinematographer. Toll: Yes. It wasn’t necessarily planned that way, but that was the result. I was both flattered and excited to have an opportunity to work with a great filmmaker like Carroll Ballard. Going into it, I was thinking we would need to design and build some very complex camera rigs. But Carroll is a very practical filmmaker who had come out of UCLA film school and had shot his own films as a young director. He believed the best approach would be to simply pick up a camera and shoot, in a documentary way, with the smallest, most lightweight cameras possible. It only took about 30 minutes on our first trial run on the boat in 20 knots of wind for me to realize that Carroll was
“Wind was a very difficult film to shoot, but it’s still one of the most visually interesting films I think I’ve done.” right. I immediately gave up thinking about anything other than picking up the camera and shooting documentary style. Fortunately, I understood what that meant because I’d done it. We were able to acquire two lightweight 35mm Aaton cameras and we figured out how to make them waterproof without adding much weight handheld, and that’s how we made that movie. Q: And that led to Legends of the Fall? Toll: It definitely helped enormously. Having done Wind, as welI as all my previous work as an operator, and in shooting commercials and TV, all influenced Ed Zwick to take a chance with me. I give him a lot of credit for doing so.
Q: What were your camera and lenses of choice at this time? Toll: I had been using the Panavision Panaflex camera since it first came out around 1972. It was revolutionary, because prior to that there were no portable, lightweight, sync sound 35mm cameras. The Arriflex cameras had been around for quite a while, but they were not blimped and you couldn’t shoot sync sound with them very easily. The Panaflex camera changed all that. Panavision had also created a cohesive system of lenses and accessories that was very efficient. They were also either manufacturing their own lenses or re-housing other manufacturers’, so I stayed with that system.
Interview with John Toll, ASC
Q: Braveheart brought your second Oscar. What came after that? Toll: After Braveheart, I did two pictures in a row with Francis Ford Coppola. One was called Jack, a movie he did with Robin Williams, and after that we did The Rainmaker, a John Grisham courtroom drama. I had worked as a camera operator with Francis and director of photography Jordan Cronenweth on Peggy Sue Got Married. Right after we finished shooting Braveheart, I had a call to meet Francis about doing Jack. Francis had been a producer on Wind and knew my work as a DP, and also knew me personally from Peggy Sue Got Married. Q: How did you connect with Terrence Malick? Toll: I received a call while we were doing The Rainmaker. Terry Malick was preparing to do The Thin Red Line and the producer was a man named Grant Hill. Grant had been the Australian producer on Wind. Terry hadn’t done a movie in 20 years and he was taking his time and considering many different cinematographers for The Thin Red Line. Grant asked if I would be interested meeting Terry and I of course said yes. It was obvious how great it would be to have an opportunity to work with him. The Thin Red Line was a James Jones World War II novel that I knew very well, and Terry was doing much of his initial interviewing over the phone. We had long phone conversations about what he would like to do and various ideas for doing it. Having previously done three feature films in a row that were heavily dependent on working in challenging exterior environments, I completely understood many of the issues involved. Q: In the interview, how do directors try to qualify you? Compatibility with the vision, a certain aesthetic for the film they are hoping to achieve, whether you’re in sync with them – what are those conversations like?
Toll: I think it’s some of all of that. For a director, I imagine they are looking for compatibility, as well as artistic qualities, technical competence, and a personality that they’ll to be able work with over an extended period of time. The director is asking if this is the right person for my film, and the person being interviewed is likely trying to ask the same type of questions, but without being obvious about it. I think it’s probably the same for everyone being considered for a project. Q: At the end of the day what is the primary qualifier? TolI: I’m not sure there is a primary qualifier. Every film and set of personalities is different. I don’t think there is a simple answer to this question. Q: What came after The Thin Red Line? Toll: For the year after Thin Red Line, I stayed in LA and did TV commercials and smaller projects. I was trying to stay flexible. I didn’t want to get involved in another feature with a long schedule because I wanted to be available for postproduction and color timing for The Thin Red Line. That meant I couldn’t really commit myself to any long-term project. Right at the end of that period, I met a director named Matthew Warchus who was an English theatrical stage director doing a feature film called Simpatico. It had a small budget and short schedule, but was a very interesting project. The cast included Nick Nolte, Sharon Stone, Jeff Bridges, Albert Finney, and Catherine Keener. It was a Sam Shepard play that had been converted to a script. Matthew was a first-time film director but had extensive stage experience and had great visual ideas. It was a very good experience. Following that I met Cameron Crowe and did Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky with him. I also did Captain Corelli’s Mandolin with John Madden during that period.
Interview with John Toll, ASC
Q: Fast-forwarding to Sense8, how did you get involved with the project? Toll: I had done two feature films with the Wachowskis, Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending, and they asked me to do Sense8. They are great filmmakers and I enjoy working with them, so Sense8 was a natural extension of that working relationship. Q: How would you characterize the style at the early stages? How did you approach it? Toll: Itâ€™s a fairly unique story. The eight main characters all live in different cities and countries throughout the world. At the beginning of the story they are unaware of one another but circumstances slowly bring them together. An important aspect was seeing all of the characters in their various environments, and a creative decision was made to shoot everything in practical locations. Visually, this meant adopting an approach that allowed us to stay very mobile and to take advantage of all the natural characteristics of these different countries. Technically, this meant being very flexible and fluid, quite often using the Steadicam and handheld cameras, but at times with very formal, controlled compositions.
â€œTechnically, this meant being very flexible and fluid, quite often using the Steadicam and handheld cameras, but at times with very formal, controlled compositions.â€? 32
â€œ...I believed the F55 made the most sense for us in terms of reliability, flexibility, technical recording capabilities...â€? 33
Interview with John Toll, ASC
Q: Walk me through the camera tests and choices. With Netflix, 4K is mandated, so that immediately eliminates a lot of the contenders. How did you ultimately arrive at the F55? Toll: I knew we would need to be as mobile and flexible as possible, and the Netflix 4K requirement limited the choice of cameras somewhat. This, combined with the handheld and Steadicam issue really narrowed it quite a bit. Also, if we ever had a need for technical support for the cameras, out of geographic necessity we would likely be doing it ourselves. I did quite a bit of research, spoke to other cinematographers, and did tests with the F55 and other cameras. Based on all of this, I believed the F55 made the most sense for us in terms of reliability, flexibility, technical recording capabilities, and options for establishing a look that was appropriate for the project. Q: How would you characterize the look of the camera? Were you happy with the results in terms of skin tone reproduction and dynamic range? Toll: Yes. It has good skin reproduction and an impressive dynamic range. Also, the characteristics of the overall look of the project evolved somewhat in the process of shooting, as opposed to being firmly established prior to production. The F55 was flexible enough that we had the ability to develop this as we were shooting.
Interview with John Toll, ASC
“We actually had multiple units that traveled and worked in nine different countries, all using F55 packages, and we never had any major problems.” Q: What’s your opinion on 4K? Toll: I’m not 100% on board with the idea that a 4K capable camera automatically separates itself qualitatively from other cameras that don’t meet a 4K requirement, particularly at this point in history. As a logical argument, I can understand why some content providers are mandating a 4K requirement. They believe they need to try and future-proof their product as much as possible, and are attempting to prepare for the next round of higher resolution display product. I’m not sure how valid this idea is, but without the 4K 35
requirement I don’t know if I would have used the F55. I hadn’t used it before, so I probably would have gone with a camera I used previously on feature films with very good results. Q: What about the other characteristics of the image that the camera produces? Were you happy with those? Toll: I was more than happy with the camera. Otherwise, we would not have been using it. I’m not a highly technical cinematographer, never have been. Especially in terms of digital
Interview with John Toll, ASC
technology and various technical components and how they affect the quality of the image. Primarily, what I do is look at an image and I either respond to it or I don’t. I can differentiate individual visual characteristics. I can see noise, black levels, dynamic range, contrast, color response and saturation. But I can’t tell you how or why something happens in terms of digital technical specifics. I actually can’t say I’m vitally interested in why an image technically looks like it does, as much as the fact that it actually does. All I know is the F55 satisfied my aesthetic requirements, and it fulfilled Netflix’s technical requirements, and that’s why we decided to use it. Q: What was your choice of lenses? Toll: I went with Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses because they made sense for this project. They’re very good lenses. I know the Master Primes probably are technically higher quality glass, but they are also physically larger and heavier. So, because we planned on being very mobile and flexible with Steadicam and handheld cameras much of the time, high quality smaller and lighter weight lenses made more sense for the overall project. Q: Given you experiences with the camera on this project, is the F55 something that you would select again? Toll: Yes, there are plans for a Sense8 season two. In fact, we’re bidding the job right now and we’re bidding F55s because of our experience on season one. We actually had multiple units that traveled and worked in nine different countries, all using F55 packages, and we never had any major problems.
Q: Aside from the weight and the size, is there anything you would want to see changed in the camera, any improvements? Toll: I think a higher exposure index would be desirable. Especially on a show like Sense8, where we could have used more exposure. My basic IE was 640 but we increased it at times. We were often doing minimal lighting, relying on practical existing lights for backgrounds and augmenting with our set lighting. It was the only way that we could work in some of the locations. A little more exposure would not have hurt us. Q: You created LUTs with the Technicolor people and applied them on set? Toll: Well, we started with an overall LUT as a reference, but I would do color correction on set with DIT Ethan Phillips and create CDLs for individual scenes or shots. Those CDLs would be applied to the dailies at the Technicolor lab that traveled with us. Every setup would be monitored on location by Technicolor lab technician Zander White to see if the CDLs were tracking correctly. He was preparing dailies while monitoring and doing additional dailies color correction if needed. I was constantly doublechecking with him while we were shooting.
“Every setup would be monitored on location by Technicolor lab technician Zander White to see if the CDLs were tracking correctly.”
Q: And you followed Sense8 into postproduction? Toll: Yes, we did final color correction at Technicolor with colorist Tony Dustin. I wasn’t able to work on the entire color master due to another commitment, but I was there often enough that I felt comfortable we were in good hands. 38
â€œDigital cameras are getting better, and I know some cinematographers who actually prefer the look...â€?
Interview with John Toll, ASC
Q: You have such extensive experience with film. Are you happy with the progress of digital? Do you think it’s going in the right direction? Toll: Well, I think going in the right direction means the manufacturers and providers of digital equipment should listen to the ideas of the people who are actually using it – the directors of photography and various technicians, and give them the tools they need. I think this is happening more frequently. When digital cameras were first being seriously proposed for feature films and single camera television, say fifteen or more years ago, there were some really bizarre conversations going on about how much money could be saved by using digital cameras, i.e., no lighting required, smaller crews, et cetera. Much of this was coming from people who were trying to sell the cameras and really should have known better. It was so idiotic. Fortunately certain digital camera manufacturers and suppliers began asking cinematographers what we wanted, as opposed to telling us what we should be using and how to use it. So we’ve made some progress. Our conversation here is taking place at the Camerimage cinematography festival and there is an abundance of equipment manufacturers here. The festival has almost become as much a trade show as film festival, which I think is great. This is a film festival emphasizing cinematography. What better place for the companies providing camera equipment to engage and get input from the people who use it?
should obviously be the primary consideration, but practical considerations can’t be ignored. It’s becoming more difficult to shoot film because major film labs are going, or have gone, out of business. Depending on where you’re shooting and the budget of a project, it’s becoming logistically and financially challenging to actually transport negative and process dailies at a distant film lab. Digital cameras are getting better, and I know some cinematographers who actually prefer the look of certain digital cameras, or believe the requirements of a particular project make digital origination the only logical choice. Q: So if the next project had nothing to do with 4K and it had nothing to do with resolution, would you consider the F55 again? Toll: I would definitely consider it, but every project has its own particular requirements. I would probably start all over with an idea for a look appropriate to that story and test a couple of different possibilities, including the F55 and film. Q: What is the most important characteristic for you visually? Toll: It’s the way it looks on screen. If I can see a large-screen, projected image looking the way I feel is appropriate for a particular story, then I feel I’m doing the right thing. I’ll certainly listen to opinions regarding technical considerations that might not be visible, but the less we impose technological limitations the better..
Q: How about current technology compared to film? Toll: I’d love to go out and shoot something on film, but I think we’ve arrived at a point where the practical requirements of individual projects have as much to do with a choice of film vs. digital as aesthetic issues. Visual style and look 40
Icon Films, which is celebrating 25 years in the film production business, recently broke new technical ground in the making of its long-running series River Monsters. Two episodes of season seven of that series were shot using a 4K RAW 60p workflow, bringing stunning clarity to the programâ€™s imagery. In light of what was learned from the endeavor, Icon has adapted its standard HD production workflow on River Monsters to a UHD workflow.
Capturing Monsters on the F55 Interviews by Peter Crithary Written by David Heuring All Photos: ÂŠIcon Films 41
Mid shot of Jeremy front on with big Stingray catch. Episode: Silent Assassin Photographer: Daniel Huertas 42
Capturing Monsters on the F55
Who We Are
A continually growing, ambitious and evolving indie producer, Icon Films has produced over 350 hours of high-end factual content for the UK and International market. Icon Films is the producer of River Monsters, a show that has been Animals Planet’s highest rating series over the last eight years, and the highest rating series in the Channel’s history. Presented by angling legend and explorer Jeremy Wade. It is distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment. Season 7 launched April 2015 and was the most watched season premiere ever on the channel. Icon Films brings together international funders working with BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, National Geographic Channels, Discovery Networks, PBS and Arte. Our work is internationally distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment, BBC
Worldwide, Zodiak Rights, Fremantle Media International and TCB Media Rights. We have a track record of ratings, originality and excellence, across the breadth of factual content including history, travel, science and wildlife says Managing Director Laura Marshall. This combination of hybrid vigour and robustness coupled with maturity gives us the ability to deliver logistically challenging productions to audiences with our distinct brand of top quality storytelling. Recent productions include Return of the Giant Killers, (1 x 60 BBC), Ben Franklin’s Bones (1 x 60 WNET), Spawn of Jaws 2 The Birth (1 x 60 Discovery Channel), Survive The Tribe (6 x 60 National Geographic Channels), Multi Million Pound Mega Yachts (1 x 60 Channel 4), Britain’s Medieval Vampires (1 x 60 More 4, PBS), Africa’s Fishing Leopards (1 x 60 BBC), Betty White’s Smartest Animals (2 x 30 mins GAC), Big Foot Files (3 x 60 Channel 4).
Capturing Monsters on the F55
Harry Marshall My wife, Laura, and I originally set up Icon Films in the basement of our house in Bristol. She had been working as an agent in a literary agency, and I’d been working at Channel 4 Television. In the beginning we had 4 people: a researcher who has gone on to become a celebrated composer and a PA, who is currently the Head of BBC 1. So I obviously made good choices. Back then, our focus was natural history and in particular Indian and Asian natural history. We were making films on the Himalayas, films on elephants and tigers. My title is Creative Director, and my job has been to come up with ideas – and that hasn’t changed much. My wife is the managing director who looks at the fiscal and the contractual, and that has really freed me up to be the creative. In the old days, I was coming up with ideas, writing everything up, and meeting the broadcaster. Now, rather than making two/three hours a year, we’re making 30 or 40 hours a year, and we’re somewhere north of 100 people. Icon Films is unusual for a British production company in that about 60% of our production is funded from North America. That’s because when we began, we were making fairly high-end, expensive natural history films, and the only way we could fund them was through co-production. So we developed relations with American coproducers like National Geographic, PBS, and Discovery. When we broadened our production into more popular television, we were able to take those contacts with us.
River Monsters obviously has quite a lot of natural history in its DNA, so many of the same skills are required, including the ability to function in challenging environments. And we continued to work with those original partners whose trust we had gained when we had a much more natural history focus. It’s been such a dynamic industry. Responding to the advances in technology, to the emergence of different markets, and to the changing tastes of audiences, while retaining our core ethos, has, I think, been our greatest achievement. When you look at the programs that we made 25 years ago and the programs we make now, I think you can see the same signature. We have certainly been interested in challenging environments. We’ve always worked with the idea that there has to be authenticity, and there’s no fudging a tiger or a river monster. You either have filmed it or you haven’t filmed it.
MS of Duncan Fairs filming Jeremy holding a Giant Trevally Episode: South Pacific Terrors Photographer: Ross Hamilton
“Now, rather than making two/three hours a year, we’re making 30 or 40 hours a year, and we’re somewhere north of 100 people.”
“Jeremy Wade, for example, who presents River Monsters, is someone who’s been fishing for the last 40 years.” You’ve either caught it or you haven’t caught it. You can’t cheat and be authentic (the buzz word of the moment) – this is, and has always been, what we’ve tried to retain. Over 25 years, we’ve asked, “Is this an Icon project? Are we proud to put are name on it?” And I think that that’s been very important to how we’ve evolved. When it comes to presenters, I think audiences have a sixth sense, and they can smell fakes and phonies. People want someone who really knows what they’re doing. It’s a matter of depth and authenticity. We work with experts. Jeremy Wade, for example, who presents River Monsters, is someone who’s been fishing for the last 40 years. If he wasn’t making River Monsters, what would he be doing? He’d be fishing. We want to hear from people whose wisdom we’re going to take with us. We will always need credible presenters, because in an age where you have 47
Arapaima Episode: Body Snatcher Photographer: Brendan McGinty
Jurassic Park or Avatar, what is true? But if you have a presenter you trust, who has this avuncular integrity, then at least you can trust what you’re seeing. You need this honest broker, in an age of infinite media possiblity, who’s going to be your gold standard. Television is 24/7 now. Years ago, you had three channels in the U.K., and at the end of the evening they played “God Save the Queen.” What we’ve got now is a faster and faster churn, so the life of programs becomes shorter and shorter. River Monsters is an absolutely aged theory. We’re now into our eighth year and we’re still developing new films. Not many programs make it to series nine. Successful programs get repeated and seen again and again, and they are replicated. Brands wear themselves out much more quickly. It’s pretty relentless. River Monsters came about because I was working with an editor who had met a fisherman with an incredible story about man-eating catfish in the Himalayas. It was that combination – man-eating catfish and the Himalayas. The Himalayas was a place that I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time making films, but I thought, “Surely not – so far from the sea, fish that eat people? That’s just sharks,
that do that – isn’t it?” And I thought there was something truly terrifying about a river monster, because it’s not what you’re expecting. It’s all about the shock of the new. We managed to get it commissioned as a one-off, and Jeremy [Wade, who presents River Monsters] went off to northern India. The first time he came back, I looked at the rushes, and the fish that he had caught was not, in my opinion, a fish that could have eaten someone. It wasn’t big enough. So I said, “Jeremy, we’re not interested in ‘what if?’ That’s the usual kind of bullshit. We’re interested in ‘this is.’ We need to say ‘This is a fish capable of eating a human being.’” And that’s what we did, but it took 3 trips. For River Monsters, we had a test called the “f*** me” test. If, at the moment the fish broke the surface of the water, the audience says, “f*** me!” then we knew it was good enough. This fish certainly passed that test. That has been the test, and only once has Jeremy returned from an expedition without being able to catch the fish that he set out to catch.
Capturing Monsters on the F55
I’m blessed with a pretty wonderful production team. Andie Clare is our Director of Production, I call her the Rochdale Hornet, and she is very much on top of the new technologies. It’s not that I’m not, but that’s what she does, and I absolutely trust her. I began working with film. We shot on Kodak, and when it got to about 4:30 or 5 o’clock in the evening, it was too dark to film, even for graining % or 1000D, 500D/ pushed six stops. Now we’ve got infrared and thermal cameras. We shoot everything in at least 4K if not 6K. We have octocopters that deliver the most unbelievable aerials. We have underwater housings. So the technology has come an awfully long way, and we definitely embrace it. We are the first company delivering Natural History to Animal Planet and Discovery in 60p UHD. I’m loving UHD. Sometimes it’s a little unflattering to the presenters, who might look a little better when the focus isn’t quite as crisp and sharp. That’s something you have control of in the postproduction process. You can manipulate scene by scene. It doesn’t have to be flatly applied to every single scene in the show. But I am a great believer that you can never add. You come away with what you’ve got, and all you can do in the edit is take away.
Jeremy Wade Fishing Episode: Canadian Horror Photographer: Brendan McGinty 49
I saw some high dynamic range imagery of River Monsters at Jackson Hole film festival earlier this year, and I thought it was just extraordinary. Suddenly Jeremy’s lure was unbelievable, so vivid, so distinct coming through the water, which previously you couldn’t really see. The whole point about this lure is that it’s designed to stand out and be attractive, and yet you couldn’t actually see it very well. Suddenly, bang, you could, and that meant you could use it very purposefully. The whole show is about catching fish and attracting fish, and that’s what a lure does. Suddenly the technology is playing to the editorial. Fantastic. But in the end it’s still down to the camera team, so again we are blessed.
“I saw some high dynamic range imagery of River Monsters at Jackson Hole film festival earlier this year, and I thought it was just extraordinary. Suddenly Jeremy’s lure was unbelievable, so vivid...”
Jeremy placing Saw Fish back in water Episode: Chainsaw Predator Photographer: Poppy Chandler
CU of Jeremy Wade looking down at a red feathered fly Episode: Canadian Horror Photographer: Brendan McGinty 50
MS of crew in helicopter about to film aerials Episode: Canadian Horror Photographer: Brendan McGinty 51
Capturing Monsters on the F55
Cinematographer Brendan McGinty I began as a stills photographer. Both of my parents were stills photographers. So I grew up with still photography, and then moved into shooting on film 20-something years ago. I actually came through drama, and I still shoot a lot of drama and commercials, which is slightly unusual. In documentary, there’s lots of handheld, and I like to think I bring a lot of the aesthetics and working practices of drama shooting and commercial shooting into documentary. About five years ago, I worked on a series called Austin Stevens Adventures. I shot about a dozen of them over a couple years. It was an adventure documentary series, but one of the directors I worked with, a fellow called Chard, brought me onto River Monsters, in the very early days of the series. We had made five or six films together.
“I’ve lost count of how many River Monsters I’ve shot – probably between 15 and 20.”
I’ve lost count of how many River Monsters I’ve shot – probably between 15 and 20. They’ve taken me to some very exotic places. The first couple I did were in the Congo. They were very memorable, particularly since it wasn’t really an established genre of shooting. If there was an established look, I was unaware of it. So for me, it was an open canvas for how it could be shot. The Congo is an extreme environment. I’ve filmed in most countries in the world, and I can’t think of anywhere more difficult and challenging. We ended up going upriver for days with a tiny little crew, and getting ourselves into some quite dangerous situations fairly frequently. There was a real team spirit. It felt very true documentary in the sense of we didn’t know what would happen day to day. 52
memorable. I did a feature length one in Guyana, while I shot on a 35mm imaging camera. We tried to take a more cinema-style approach, because we were shooting feature length, and it was just a very epic journey. I was shooting high resolution at the time, 4K, and that’s quite a few years ago.
Jeremy holding Goliath Tigerfish Hydrocynus goliath Episode: Demon Fish Photographer: Daniel Huertas
It was completely unscripted, and the stories developed as exactly as they unfolded. We shot two films back to back, “Demon Fish” and “Congo Killer.” In the first film, Jeremy desperately tried to catch a fish. On the final day of the shoot, he caught this fish, which was extraordinary, and the drama of that is in the film. There’s no contrivance there. There was no forcing or heightening of the drama. That was my induction into River Monsters, and hopefully I established a certain look for them early on. This was quite a few years ago, and there wasn’t much around by way of super 35mm cameras, but I was using quite a lot of super 35mm imaging for all the dramatic construction stuff, but also a lot for weird abstract stuff of Jeremy, trying to get a sense of what he was going through on the journey. From there, I’ve gone on to do films with Jeremy in South America, Mongolia – Chernobyl is very 53
Shallow depth of field was involved, but more importantly, I wanted to bring more color depth to the documentary genre. I was tired of shooting on 8-bit-color cameras or even 10-bit-color cameras. The optics of traditional video-style lenses designed to focus through prisms were never giving me what I was used to seeing in the commercials world or the drama world. I had a lot of experience with super 35 mm lenses, and super 35 mm imaging, and larger, medium formats. I’m a complete cinephile. I live and breathe cinema. As good as video and broadcast and ENG-style lenses and cameras got – and they did get very good at one point – I was always frustrated by the look that they delivered. I shot some work I’m very proud of on those cameras and lenses, but because I’ve kept my feet in both worlds, I was always pushing for more potential. I’m still with River Monsters. I just shot one in Thailand a month ago. I love them. No matter where my career takes me, I would always want to come back and do River Monsters, because of Jeremy and also because of Icon, a great company. I’ve got good relationships with them and they’re good people. They’ve always encouraged the best in my work, and when I’ve tried stuff, they’ve always embraced it and supported it, which is not the case with a lot of other companies. I shot a 3D film for them as well, which was very hard to do, particularly since I shot it all handheld, which was at the time supposedly not possible. That was a big push again from me to do something different.
Capturing Monsters on the F55
Jeremy Wade sizes up a Dunklosteus skull Episode: Prehistoric Terrors Photographer: Jackie Forster
I’ve always had a very comfortable facility with handheld, and I don’t separate it out as neatly as a lot of people do. I’ve never subscribed to the idea that TV and documentary are about handheld, and drama is all on dollies and cranes. I use both for both worlds. But handheld is very much a signature of River Monsters. I’m not sure if I’ve put a camera on tripod for that show. I’m quite particular about handheld as well. When I watch TV, I don’t like a lot of the handheld that I see. It can be brilliant, but it isn’t always. It’s as different as the types of grip equipment you can get. I’m not necessarily saying that I like very smooth handheld. I like very aggressive handheld if the script or the story is suited to it. For example, in River Monsters I’ve had scenes of Jeremy very aggressively trying to pull a fish onboard. We’re in terrible currents and we’re spinning around. I quite like to employ very aggressive handheld to that, very quick reframes, being responsive to the energy of the subject with the energy of the camera work. If Jeremy’s flicky and erratic in his motions, I echo that with a flicky, erratic style in the camera work.
“...handheld is very much a signature of River Monsters. I’m not sure if I’ve put a camera on tripod for that show.”
MS of Jeremy Wade casting a line Episode: Canadian Horror Photographer: Brendan McGinty
I did a film in Columbia where Jeremy was catching a ray. There were meant to be only small rays there, but Jeremy caught this absolutely enormous ray. It was so big it broke his fishing rod, and being there in the moment next to him was terrifically exciting. I’m shooting handheld. I can be very responsive to Jeremy falling over and nearly going in the water. He grabs the line with his hands. He starts hand-lining. The drama in something like that could never be scripted in a million years. Real life with someone like Jeremy is far more exciting. There’s always a large degree of unknown and a slight chaos to the shoots, which I love. The scripts are, at best, broad strokes. It’s like a piece of paper with the director’s dreams on it. You’re asking channels to hand over a lot of money for a proposition. I respect the business angle, but anyone 55
“I like to shoot Jeremy on a wide lens very close. For a lot of the action, I’m as close to him as I can get.”
Capturing Monsters on the F55
who has done any amount of fishing knows you can’t guarantee anything. But it gets back to the authenticity. When we went out to Chernobyl, in the script Jeremy was going to catch the fish in the first act. He couldn’t get the fish that he hoped to get, but he ended up with something far more interesting that came out of the accident and the adventure we went through, something better than anyone could have imagined. I almost always use cinema-style lenses, but for something like River Monsters, it’s cinema-style zooms. I’ve used everything that’s out there, but my personal favorites are the Angenieux. I don’t think anything can compete. Their DP range of lenses is extraordinary. I think they’ve very much built and designed their glass around the look and feel of cinema-style prime lenses, whereas some of the other
Shot of Crew and Helicopter Episode: Canadian Horror Photographer: Brendan McGinty
lens manufacturers, Canon and Fuji, have come from a different perspective. They haven’t been in that world as long as Angenieux. Particularly when it comes to flare or bokeh, I prefer the cinematic quality of Angenieux. I use the 1642 mm a lot, and every bit of that range is perfect. That said, for the last River Monsters I did I was using a mixture of Canon and Fuji glass. Canon and Fuji have really pushed the boat out recently, and they’ve shown tremendous versatility. I used the new Canon zoom, and that’s an incredibly versatile lens to have on a cinema-style camera. It gets you from a pretty wide frame to a pretty tight frame in one zoom. That’s never existed in the world of cinema before – or if it has, it’s been mounted to a crane, because it’s heavy. To have a handheld lens that does that is really an interesting proposition. I like to shoot Jeremy on a wide lens very close. For a lot of the action, I’m as close to him as I can get. For every reason, he looks great on that lens. I’m putting the audience right next to Jeremy. He is pure authenticity and I’m adding to that by putting the audience in the front row. The point of view that you get from a longer lens further away would be different for the audience, more voyeuristic. When I’m right next to Jeremy, almost dangerously close, I think an audience probably unconsciously feels that. I think they feel some of the vicarious thrill of being in an exotic place with Jeremy doing something very extreme on a dangerous river. 56
Capturing Monsters on the F55
Obviously, night scenes on River Monsters I light. I go with very simple, very lightweight lighting packages. On the Congo films, I brought the first LED lighting they’d ever even seen, never mind used. I was a very early adopter of LEDs, and I was using Litepanels. I worked with a gaffer in America on a commercial and he was an agent for Litepanels. So I had a very early introduction to LED, which at the time, no one was using. The 1x1 Litepanels are small, lightweight and work on batteries. I would only use one light, maybe two, always natural sources, essentially firelight or a bit of moonlight if it was night. Working with available light is actually a hard thing to do. Particularly when you’re shooting places like jungles, the light can be very hard to deal with. You get very high contrast ranges, and the early cameras really struggled with that level of light and shade. You’d have hard shafts of light compared to pitch black bits under trees, and the cameras just weren’t capable with dealing with some of that. I’d always be looking to play a scene in a certain direction, maybe keeping the light behind them, for example. I have always used flare aggressively in my work – tons of it. I did one River Monsters on sharks in South Africa, and the whole thing is about flare. If I was shooting straight into the sun, the sensor couldn’t handle it, and it would just burn out. It was kind of interesting, but frustrating at the same time, because I was used to camera systems and lenses that could withstand that. For me, it’s not only an innovation but a relief to shoot with Super 35 mm lenses and optics, with cameras with extended latitude and extended color depth which can handle the sun burning past the edge of someone without completely destroying the image. I can hold the flare in the lens as well as holding the 57
Jeremy Wade fishing at huge rapids between Brazzaville and Kinshasa Episode: Demon Fish Photographer: James Bickersteth
silhouetted subject of the flare. That, for me, has been a big innovation. For some of the episodes in season seven, we shot with the Sony F55 in RAW at 4K. Sony has really pushed the boat out with their new offering of cameras. I used some of the early incarnations, and they didn’t quite get there, but the F65 in particular is an astonishing camera, and the F55 I think is a very powerful tool as well. Picture-wise, I thought the camera delivered an extraordinary amount of latitude. I’d say it was up there with the ARRI ALEXA and the RED Epic Dragon. The F55 and the F65 are in that world in terms of latitude, certainly. I think something like the ALEXA is getting left behind in terms of resolution. I’m sure ARRI are going to do something about that, but the latitude that those cameras offered was always a real deal breaker. As a cinematographer, latitude is very, very important, particularly when you’re shooting in environments when you have little control over light, over what’s going to unfold. It’s not like you can go again. It’s not like you can necessarily shoot from the direction that you want to shoot in order to take best advantage of the lighting. Dynamic range or latitude in the lighting is a very big deal in documentaries, and I think the F55 has got exemplary latitude. It depends on whose test you read as to which of those three cameras has the edge in latitude, but they’re all great. They’re all up there in a cinematic league.
“It’s great to be shooting on cameras that can see all the beautiful articulations of blues and greens in the water, whereas on other camera systems, it’s just a blanket of green or a blanket of blue.”
16-bit color is something I’ve been used to using for a few years. It makes a huge difference in terms of the look that one can generate, particularly in post, because often while you’re shooting you can’t really see. You won’t be able to monitor or see 16-bit color, but it’s great to know that it’s there. Water, for example, is so different at different depths with different colors and different times of day with different lighting. It’s great to be shooting on cameras that can see all the beautiful articulations of blues and greens in the water, whereas on other camera systems, it’s just a blanket of green or a blanket of blue.
Capturing Monsters on the F55
WS of Jeremy Wade standing on a jetty Episode: Canadian Horror Photographer: Brendan McGinty
I shot up in Canada and the Great Lakes for an episode of River Monsters, and it’s so beautiful up there. It’s absolutely exquisite, and framing these jaw-dropping landscapes, it’s great knowing that the camera is going to see every gradation in the sky, every nuance in the light in the leaves. I’ve had the inverse of that. I’ve had cameras that I knew were failing me. I was seeing the best of the landscape, and the camera was never going to quite bring that home. I’d be out in Ethiopia at sunset in the desert
looking at the most exquisite landscape. It’d be heartbreaking for me to get back and see the images. They had the same graphic quality. It was the frame that I presented, but it was never tonally and even texturally what I’d seen with my eyes. I’ve been fortunate to be in the most beautiful parts of the world, but I could never see or even explain to people what I’d seen in Mongolia in the Gobi Desert or wherever I’d been. Now, we’ve actually approximated something that the human eye is seeing, which is beautiful. The F55 has extraordinary lowlight ability. The native ISO is 1250. I was quite keen to deliver as much as I could, and to compromise as little as possible, so I generally stayed at 1250. You can obviously push it a bit more and end up with something more like 3200 with very little noise, and that is pretty extraordinary. A few years ago, that would have been unthinkable – science fiction. Combined with fast lenses, you can really shoot in almost no light at all. For the Great Lakes episode, Jeremy was catching a Muskie, and we were shooting way beyond dusk. There was the tiniest
bit of ambient light in the sky, and I was still able to shoot reflections on water, and silhouettes of Jeremy against the sky. I had some fast T-1.4 primes. We could get these very atmospheric moments through the lowlight capability. I shot the first of the films that were 4K RAW at 60p. The images were S-Log2 and S-Gamut3.Cine. The frame rate was actually 59.94p, which compromised the light level. I’m used to shooting in Europe at 25p, and when you step up to, let’s call it 60p, you’re halving your light level. So, as much as I was amazed by the camera’s amazing low light potential, due to the delivery requirements of the channel, I was halving my available light by going to this format. I had to shoot 180-degree shutter, so I’m down at 120th of a second exposure time instead of a 50th of a second, using only half the sensitivity of the camera. I have subsequently used the camera for other projects in 25p, and it has incredible low light performance. I can see why people like 60p. They love it for sport in particular. People love the fact that you can follow high speed action with 60p without any flicker. You’ve got more fluidity to the action, and I would say that there’s an increase in perceived resolution. You’re not actually increasing the resolution, but your perception of resolution is increased by seeing more frames per second.
“...it’s great knowing that the camera is going to see every gradation in the sky, every nuance in the light in the leaves.” 60
Capturing Monsters on the F55
Musky Episode: Canadian Horror Photographer: Brendan McGinty
I’m probably old fashioned in that I’m still more of a fan of 25 or 24. I grew up with cinema, and I still shoot some cinema, so I’m more comfortable in that world. Initially, 60p looks alien. But I came around to it. There’s a push at the moment for resolution. People are selling a lot of high-resolution televisions. I think people are going to want to see some of that resolution on their screen, You could, of course, put a camera on a tripod, and you’d have that same perception of resolution, because the minute I start shooting handheld at say 25p, the blurring that I’m inherently getting from the movement is going to decrease apparent resolution. The 60p is obviously reducing that and giving you more resolution, 61
because your shutter increments are that much tighter. So if you’re shooting a lot of handheld, 60p probably makes a lot of sense. If resolution is the thing you’re after, that’s the way to get it. The behind-the-lens NDs on the F55 were fine. There are obviously limits. You can only fit so many filters into a filter wheel, so some of the jumps are quite substantial between them. I wouldn’t have wanted to put more NDs in the front, because I was trying to deliver as clean an image as I could. I always use polarizers when I’m shooting outdoors, particularly on something like River Monsters. I’m shooting against the sky a lot.
“The amount of sky I can pull back into the picture with a polarizer is unrivaled, but more importantly, I’m shooting to the water all the time...”
everyone else was, because for me it’s more about a beautiful picture. I love slow motion, but I think it’s overplayed quite often. There was a delay in record, which was troubling and tricky to deal with. In a documentary environment, that’s tough. When Jeremy is fishing, I have to be ready for anything. We were generating an enormous amount of data. That was probably the biggest challenge, but a challenge well-met. With a 512GB card, we were getting 26 minutes. So, we were shooting an average of five terabytes a day, and in a threeweek shoot we shot over 100 terabytes. Even in the dramas and commercial world that is a lot of data. Our solution worked very well. We had two DITs who were basically on shift work, and there was a constant flow of cards back to them. While one was sleeping, the other was ingesting. They were laying off initially to drives just to get the cards down so that they could get them back out to me, because I was getting through a lot of cards.
The amount of sky I can pull back into the picture with a polarizer is unrivaled, but more importantly, I’m shooting to the water all the time, and I’m trying to see through the surface of the water or I’m trying to hide the surface of the water with reflection. Reflections on the water surface are key to a program like River Monsters. To shoot it without a polarizer would be unthinkable. We used either Tiffen Ultra Pol or Schneider True-Pol. There were a few downsides of shooting RAW and 4K on the camera at 59.94p. We were unable to shoot slow motion at that frame rate. That was missed a little bit. I wasn’t as worried about that as
On a documentary you shoot a lot. You’re shooting real life. You don’t know what will be a great moment and what won’t. So you shoot a lot more than you do in drama or commercials. The camera’s not quite always rolling, but there’s a version of that. If Jeremy’s fishing, I’m rolling. I’m a firm believer in process, so there’s a significant amount of footage where nothing happens, but that can be fascinating, too, and visually captivating. I think they are all integral parts of what makes River Monsters great. Given the format, that results in a tremendous amount of data. It all went off without a hiccup, but it was pretty labor-intensive. 62
Capturing Monsters on the F55
The viewfinder I found difficult. I knew focus was at an absolute premium, because I was shooting with very high resolution, and the difference between being slightly soft and being sharp is enormous when you increase the resolution. What you perceive to be sharp at 720 lines is hopelessly soft at 4000 lines. I did more double checking than I would have usually. I wanted the piece to be about resolution. I didn’t want to come back with anything shot wide open on the lenses at 2.8. I was more 5, 6, 8, even 11. It was a very self-conscious aesthetic. We didn’t want artificial, heightening, bristling sort of edge enhancement. We wanted a feast of resolution for your eyes. You want to see Jeremy out in the Great Lakes, but you want to see the texture of the boat and the little bubbles in the water next to him. We wanted to get a real sense of all of that. So, by day certainly, I was shooting slightly deeper stops than usual, and I think it worked very well. If you watch the film, there is a real joy in the detail and texture in it. I was using all of the focus tools. There is an edge tool and a peaking tool, and I was using those in the viewfinder. They were helpful, but I did crossreference from the monitor. I was a bit more cautious with focus than I’ve been on the 1080 show. Also, I was running a histogram in the viewfinder. It’s a tool that I’ve become used to using as a clipping indication and I found that very useful. I think I also utilized very high-level zebras in the viewfinder. I still find zebras a useful tool, but I don’t use them as some people do, for the middle range tonality. I just use zebras as alarm bells. Essentially if they’re in the very high, 95% level where if I’m seeing them, I know that I’m potentially losing that bit of the picture. There was a real joy for me in shooting skies. We had some very, very dramatic skies while we were out there, and often I was holding Jeremy in the bottom third of the frame, and in my upper two-thirds of the frame I knew from the tests that I had done that I could trust the camera to be holding all the detail. Similarly, when I was shooting against the sun on the water, I’d have very, very hard pings of light and trails of light moving across the water. Even though in my monitoring conditions on set, all I was seeing was the semblance of these highlights, it was good to know 63
“I was using all of the focus tools. There is an edge tool and a peaking tool, and I was using those in the viewfinder.”
Jeremy looking at native rock art at Rowan Lake Episode: Canadian Horror Photographer: Bess Manley
End of the day at Rowan Lake Episode: Canadian Horror Photographer: Josh Forwood
that the camera was doing its work and capturing those with the safety net of RAW recording. My advice to a colleague embarking on a similar project would be to not go into your data requirements blindly. Familiarize yourself with the focus tool capabilities of the camera, and use them all. They’re there for a reason. Have a close look at your lenses and make sure that you’re absolutely confident that the lenses are appropriately collimated, and that you are able to take focus judgments off the barrel as well as the viewfinder, because the viewfinder can’t show you 4K. If you’re shooting wide open at T 2.8, 2.9, and you think something looks sharp, particularly on a wide shot in a viewfinder, it may well not be on a big screen at that resolution. So your optics need to entirely be up to the game. You need to do some good old-fashioned lens tests before going out so that when you see six-foot on the barrel, you know that lens is sharp at six feet. You can’t just go to a facilities house, pick up a couple of zooms, and go off to the jungle to shoot at T 2.8, hoping that it will all be sharp with 4K. I would occasionally glance down at the barrel of the lens to know I’m at 12 foot. This is discipline that came from film, but I think it’s now re-applicable.
Episode: Canadian Horror Photographer: Lorne Kramer
Capturing Monsters on the F55
Ross Hamilton I joined Icon Films in 2008. My role is a Production Technical Coordinator. When Iâ€™m on location, I operate as assistant camera, sometimes second camera and even sometimes principle camera. I also plan the workflow and look after the media on location. Before a shoot, I discuss what equipment we should take with the DP. Iâ€™ll then go about sourcing it. As well as all that I also offline edit. On River Monsters, we were midway through shooting series 7 when Animal Planet asked if we could deliver in UHD. This would mean shooting at 4K RAW. Up until this point we had been shooting 1080, initially at 50i on seasons 1-6 and then 25p on season 7. Working with HD material on location had always been manageable and could be downloaded and spot checked by the camera assistant (often myself) in the evenings, without losing too much sleep. Shooting 4K RAW at 59.94 would produce five times the data we would normally, so we knew we had to dramatically re-think our media management plan. After several meetings and a lot of data transfer calculations we decided we would take two additional crew members who would be full time data wranglers. Between the two of them, someone would have to be working 24/7 throughout the shoot to ensure the media was safely offloaded in time for us to keep re-using the cards. 65
Side profile of Ross Hamilton looking through viewfinder Episode: Canadian Horror Photographer: Rob Wootton
“On River Monsters, we were midway through shooting series 7 when Animal Planet asked if we could deliver in UHD. This would mean shooting at 4K RAW.”
We were three weeks away from shoot, it was all systems go as I (along with the DP) began researching, sourcing and testing the additional kit we would need to shoot to this spec. Going to our local hire company and asking them to show me their best PL mount zoom lenses was particularly enjoyable! Two dedicated data wranglers on location, meant that for once I was hands off in that regard. At the end of each shooting day I would deliver the shot cards to the Data HQ (a spare room at our crews accommodation. There could be up to ten AXSM™ cards and five SxS per day). The media cards would first be copied to a Raid 1 hard drive system (we used Cal-Digits). The media would then be copied to two LTO 6 tapes (this was not a quick process). Once a checksum had been carried out on the LTO tape the hard drive would be formated and re-used for more downloads. Backing up to hard drives before backing up to LTO basically gave us a buffer, as the copy time of an AXSM or SxS card to a hard drive was much shorter than to an LTO tape, and we could fit several cards onto one hard drive. By doing this we could crucially re-use the AXSM and SxS cards 67
each day for filming. In terms of kit for this we used four MacBook Pros/Sonnet SxS readers/Sonnet QIO readers/Sony USB3 AXSM readers. The transfer checks were done using Shotput Pro. Other software used was Content Browser/Raw Viewer/Adobe Premiere/Media Encoder. The great thing about doing linear RAW on the F55 is that we could simultaneously record our edit proxies in the camera on the SxS cards. This material was copied to a separate Raid 1 hard drive. This was frequently used by the director and DP for reviewing rushes. In the field, we don’t watch dailies as religiously as, say, the drama productions do. The Director will usually be looking at a monitor when we’re rolling and so will have a good idea of what we’ve got in the can. That being said, every couple of days the director will come in for an hour or two to have a review. As the raw material was so data heavy we could not review any of it on location. The proxies were the only accessible copy of the media. With this being
“The great thing about doing linear RAW on the F55 is that we could simultaneously record our edit proxies in the camera on the SxS cards.”
the case we wanted to ensure the Raw material was going to turn out the way we had hoped, so we did extensive testing in the UK shooting and then reviewing the Raw footage, making sure that the in-camera tools we were using were giving us the focus and exposure results. When we first got our hands on the F55 and set it to shoot 4K RAW at 59.94, we quickly learned that there was some functionality that we weren’t going to have. One was the preroll, the cache. You lose cache and not only that, there is a two second delay when you hit record. When we are filming the fishing scenes on River Monsters we like to utilize around 4-6 seconds of pre-roll, so when Jeremy has got a fish on, you can hit record and know you’ve got that dramatic moment of the fish attacking the lure. So it was quite a big deal for us to lose that, given the nature of the show. We had to find out a way to still get that moment. Over the course of the two films we made at this spec we tried numerous methods. One option was to have two cameras poised on the action which would double our chances of getting that ‘fish on’ moment. Another option was to have one camera constantly recording throughout the day, re-formating when the card was full (if nothing had happened). This didn’t really work as we would always capture odd moments that we would be loathed to delete.
Capturing Monsters on the F55
Given that we had lost pre-roll we had expected our shooting ratio to go up, just to try and get those explosive moments, which we did. You’re always praying for a bit of luck too, being in the right place and the right time when your turning over. For the most part, when shooting these 4K RAW episodes, we would have two Sony F55’s. The main DP’s (Brendan McGinty in Canada and Duncan Fairs in Fiji) would usually be on the wider zoom (Canon 15.547mm) and I would be on a longer zoom (Fuji 85-300mm). We found these focal lengths combined would give us good coverage. One big consideration for us when trying to meet this new higher specification was how we get the shots we would normally get with GoPro’s or other action cams, as these would not meet the new spec. When Jeremy has a fish on the line we always like to utilize a Go Pro on a pole to get an underwater angle. These shots are always dynamic and energetic and were something we didn’t want to lose. The only way we could attempt to get the same content was to upgrade (quite considerably) and get a Gates with either an F55 or a Red Epic inside. That meant some of the time, I had to be in a wet suit on the side of the boat ready to jump in at any moment and start turning over. Ultimately we made it work but it was far less practical than using mini cams. There were instances where we strayed from the Sony F55 and called in the services of the Red Epic. This was for use in a Gates housing. I started off using the F55 in a Gates, but felt restricted by the ‘monitor out’ being HDMI, and having to use a third party monitor. This 69
“...shooting these 4K RAW episodes, we would have two Sony F55’s. The main DP’s ... would usually be on the wider zoom (Canon 15.5- 47mm) and I would be on a longer zoom (Fuji 85300mm). ”
MS of Duncan Fairs in helicopter with Jeremy Wade and Clare Dornan Episode: South Pacific Terrors Photographer: Ross Hamilton
Greenland Shark Episode: Legend of Loch Ness Photographer: Jody Bourton
meant I lost some of the tools you would get when looking at a feed from the viewfinder output, mainly ‘focus peaking’. Although the third party monitor has peaking I didn’t find it that accurate. The Red Epic (in the Gates housing) uses the Red five inch monitor and therefore allowed me to use all the tools I would use if the camera was configured for topside. I felt much more confident judging exposure/focus with that.
Side profile of Duncan Fairs filming from a boat Episode: South Pacific Terrors Photographer: Ross Hamilton 70
Capturing Monsters on the F55
At Icon, we’ve taken the F55 everywhere you can imagine – the jungle, sub-zero, on the ocean – it’s always performed brilliantly. Initially the technical prospect of filming a River Monsters at 4K RAW 59.94 was a daunting one. The show has such a distinct look to it and I think we were all desperate to maintain that look despite the fact we were having to change a lot of the tools we would normally use i.e GoPros/preroll/slo-mo. Once we found inventive ways to capture the same material with new tools, what we have ended up with is a show that feels like a River Monsters, but actually ‘given the uplift in spec’ has improved picture quality. When I heard what a great response the series premiere received I was delighted, as this was the first film we had shot 4K RAW. I think it is testament to the endeavor and ingenuity showed in producing it. Jeremy with Black Piranha – CU of teeth Episode: Piranha Photographer: Barny Revill
“At Icon, we’ve taken the F55 everywhere you can imagine – the jungle, sub-zero, on the ocean – and it’s always performed brilliantly.”
Filming by the river in Ethiopia Episode: Rift Valley Killers Photographer: Daniel Huertas 72
Capturing Monsters on the F55
Tom Cooper I’m the post-production supervisor at Icon Films. My responsibilities include looking after our in house edit suites and working with the production teams on workflow design. We have a really diverse technical team at Icon and my department ensures the offline infrastructure they need to produce their best work. When we heard that we were going to be delivering River Monsters in UHD everyone was really excited and determined to bring all our experience together to pull it off. The development of the River Monsters UHD workflow involved the Icon production team, post house Films@59 as well as the technical team at Discovery. We had to review the acquisition process, including cameras and memory card formats, backing the data up on location, transcoding and prepping for the offline, the NLE we chose and finally delivering the project and media to our post house – Films@59 – for the online. The Discovery tech specs required delivery at 4K and at 60p. River Monsters was one of the first natural history productions delivering to this standard so it was a learning experience for everyone. On paper there were several iterations back and forth before it was completed. Our initial approach was to build on our previous experience with River Monsters as we already had an established HD workflow. We had to identify what would work and what we would have to adapt. There was a lot that would stay the same but with three major challenges – the resolution, the compression and the frame rate. We had been acquiring a percentage of our rushes at 4K for some time already, with a lot of underwater footage captured on the Red Epic, but here we had to shoot everything 4K and maintain that resolution right through to delivery. 73
“The development of the River Monsters UHD workflow involved the Icon production team, post house Films@59 as well as the technical team at Discovery.”
Icon Films River Monsters Series 7 & 8 4K Workflow
Capturing Monsters on the F55
F55 2160p/59.94 XAVC 4K 600Mbps
GoPro Hero 4 1080p/60 H264 Quicktime 35Mbps
Red Epic 2160p/59.94 R3D 4K/5K 1200Mbps
Canon 5D MKIII Timelapse
Shared Storage Native Camera Files
Transcode Adobe Prelude/Adobe Media Encoder
Shared Storage Edit Proxies 1080p/59.94 DNxHD 90
25p Archive (Old RM eps) Interpret to 23.98
LTO-6 Replicated LTFS
Offline Edit at Icon Films Adobe Premiere 1080p/59.94 Sequence Animal Planet 42' CTC + 6min snap-ins Offline Edit at Icon Films Versions cut from AP 42' Playout + Snap-ins Animal Planet 46' CTC Discovery Canada 45'50" CTC ITVG 48' Seamless End of Edit Premiere Project
Split Track Quicktime
Picture and Audio EDLs
Films@59 Storage ISIS & Storage DNA
4K Conform and Pregrade Adobe Premiere
Grade Baselight Pro Res 4444 UHD
Online Adobe Premiere Pro Res 4444 UHD
Animal Planet UHD Master XAVC UHD 59.94p
Animal Planet HD Master DNxHD 120 1080i/29.97
Animal Planet Supersize HD Master 1080i/29.97
Disc Canada UHD Master XAVC UHD 59.94p
ITVG UHD Master UHD 59.94p
Disc Canada HD Master XDCAM 50 1080i/29.97
ITVG HD Master HDCAM-SR 1080i/29.97
Jeremy and two locals, hold the Monster Goonch Episode: Killer Catfish Photographer: James Bickersteth
Discovery were very clear about us capturing the highest quality images from the outset and maintaining that at every stage of the process. Based on the tech specs the two episodes we delivered from series 7 were shot 4K RAW 16-bit at 2160p/59.94 on a pair of F55s. Shooting 4K at a standard frame rate like 25p or 29.97p already produces a lot of extra media but shooting in RAW at 60p we had to deal with around 24 times the amount of media we were used to. This turned out to be between 80TB for each three week shoot. This had implications across the workflow for storage, processing times, transfer speeds and network bandwidth. Even though the resolution and lack of compression contributed most to the file sizes it was actually the frame rate which impacted us most in postproduction. We transcoded to ProRes Proxy 1080p for the offline to ease the load on our offline setup 77
but the frame rate had to stay consistent for the conform. So we were still dealing with double the amount of media and the need for beefed up hardware even with a proxy workflow. The frame rate had implications in the online as well as a lot of the software and storage that Films@59 were using had been developed with 4K in mind but not high frame rates. What all of this meant is that we were delivering the highest possible quality of images we could by pushing the F55 to its limits. We knew that we needed to capture everything live because we would not be able to push in or reframe in post and risk degrading the image. We did look at other cameras such as the RED but to deliver the most crisp and clear images we wanted to go as low compression as possible. One of the other big challenges in the initial Discovery specifications was a zero percent
Capturing Monsters on the F55
“Discovery were very clear about us capturing the highest quality images from the outset and maintaining that at every stage of the process.”
allowance for non-UHD material. No HD, no 30fps, no compression and no reframing in post. It limited the number of 2nd unit and action cameras such as GoPros, which couldn’t deliver at the right spec, and also our access to our library of River Monsters archive. The move to 4K is about delivering something bigger and bolder visually, but we had to retain the feel of a River Monsters episode. Editorially River Monsters relies on its archive so there was a challenge for the editorial team to make sure it felt like a regular episode.
For series 7 we were also commissioned to create HD versions of the episodes for Animal Planet HD and ITV in the UK. For these we had shot some extra 1080p/29.97 material on location and also used 1080p River Monsters archive.
single version which would work for both a 4K and HD delivery. So the specs did become a little more forgiving, but we are really proud as a team that we delivered those initial episodes to the highest possible standards demanded by Discovery.
As we moved into series eight, Discovery handed a new set of specs to us with a tiered system of acquisition. All along delivery had been at XAVC™ 4K so I think they realised we could still deliver an amazing looking product but allow some leeway in how we captured it and where we could introduce some non-UHD elements that were important to the feel of the show.
With series 7 we shot everything on two F55s but because it’s a caught-in-action documentary series not having that action cam like a GoPro did make it a challenge in the edit to deliver the River Monsters house style. So for series 8 introducing non-UHD cameras we were faced with the challenge of making sure these did not look out of place next to the F55. At the time the GoPro Hero 4 could shoot 4K but only at 29.97p, if you wanted 59.94p you had to work at 1080, so we had to compromise one way or the other to get those action shots from the side of a boat or car. We shot a few tests and sent them to our post house to view the results with their workflow team on a 4K screen. In the end we went with frame rate over resolution, it simply looked better keeping everything at 59.94p.
Tier one delivery was fundamentally what we had done with series 7 and that option was still open to us. We decided to take up the second tier which meant we could shoot at a compressed resolution, such as XAVC 4K, and also gave us an allowance for 10 percent non-UHD material. Moving to tier 2 for series 8 meant we could film and edit a
Golden Dorado Episode: River of Blood Photographer: Jose Macerola
Capturing Monsters on the F55
On the DIT side of things we also changed the workflow from series 7 to series 8. For 7 we had a solid base in a hut next to a lake which meant we could lay out several laptops, hard drives and LTO machines and get everything done in the field. The AXSM cards were copied off to RAID drives for a quick turnaround then onto duplicate LTOs. For 8 we have moved back to hard drives in the field and then transfer to LTO’s when we get back in the office. We don’t always have the luxury of a stable environment for kit such as LTO decks which are susceptible to humidity and dirt and the LTO production was becoming a bottleneck on location. Now we produce a duplicate set of LTO-6 tapes back in the UK and deliver those to Films@59 who index them using Storage DNA. When they receive our picture lock sequence they perform a “select and restore” from LTO of just the clips used in the final cut. For the offline we transcoded everything to ProRes Proxy 1080p/59.94 and cut in Adobe Premiere. At picture lock we delivered the project to Films@59 who then conformed back to the 4K rushes from LTO and applied pre-grade effects, still in Premiere. Everything was transcoded 79
to ProRes 4444 UHD for the grade in Baselight, then back into Premiere for post-grade effects and versioning. As far as the direction UHD is going it is only one way – higher resolutions and higher frame rates. We are currently delivering to the standards laid out in DVB UHD-1 Phase 1 and the road map that has been laid out means we will be delivering our films at more ambitious specifications in the coming years, with the move to even higher resolutions such as 8K and higher frame rates such as 120fps. Along with Discovery we’ve already started exploring the possibilities of HDR and the results so far on some of our rushes are breathtaking. As a company we are always pushing ourselves to deliver our films to the highest specifications and the whole team is proud that River Monsters has been one of the leaders in the industry when it comes to UHD.
WS of Lorne Kramer backing up UHD footage in the field Episode: Canadian Horror Photographer: Josh Forwood
River Monsters is Animal Planet’s most popular series, so it’s no surprise that it was renewed for season eight before season seven even began airing in April of 2015. The success of the show is often attributed to the drama the filmmakers create and capture. Marshall says that while Icon Films will maintain its dedication to quality programming, they continue to evolve. “We began with that bluechip approach to natural history films,” he says. “Over time, we’ve moved to a much more formatted type of programming, which involves quite a lot of drama and dramatic recreations. And I think as storytellers, fully blown drama is definitely on our horizon, and we’re excited by the challenge.
Episode: Legends of Loch Ness Photographer: Jody Bourton
Recovering Memories through Anamorphics By Anna Rowser with contributions from Stefan Wiesen and Arthur Hurley
Audrey finds herself driving to the beach again. Courtesy of Machine Age Media
We set out to shoot a period piece that involved nine different indoor and outdoor locations we were trying to cram into a 7-day shooting schedule. In order to pull it off weâ€™d need to find or build an austere dreamscape-like space, wrangle some classic cars, find a location to stage a crash, and keep up the momentum through the August heat of the Palm Springs desert where we initially planned to shoot most of the film. In order to meet this challenge, we needed a camera that would produce a quality image and was versatile and reliable.
Recovering memories through Anamorphics
From the start, we knew we wanted to use anamorphic lenses. Our short film is set in the 1960s and tells the story of Audrey Steele, a woman attempting to recover her memories of the car accident that claimed her daughter’s life. Throughout the film, Audrey Steele, played by Murielle Zuker, is being guided through experimental therapy by her psychiatrist, Dr. Koenig, played by Richard Neil. So not only is our film a period piece, but it involves a more distant, fractured past. We needed an overall look for the film that provided a period feel, as well as the capability of achieving subtle looks to differentiate the scenes based in memory. We also thought the anamorphic lenses would best capture the filmic possibilities of the sweeping vistas that had so impressed director Arthur Hurley and producer Anna Rower on their numerous scouting expeditions to the desert around Palm Springs, CA and the southern California coast. In addition, a major part of the film revolves around the family in their car, a long, sleek Rangoon red 1963 Ford Galaxie. Arthur talked
Family at the beach. Courtesy of Machine Age Media
Audrey Steele (Murielle Zuker) begins experimental therapy with Dr. Koenig (Richard Neil). Courtesy of Machine Age Media
We needed an overall “ look for the film that provided a period feel, as well as the capability of achieving subtle looks to differentiate the scenes based in memory.
Family approaches interesection seconds before the crash. Courtesy of Machine Age Media
with DP Stefan Wiesen about how to present these locations and driving scenes with the Galaxie. They decided that choosing an anamorphic cinemascope aesthetic commonly used in the early 1960s would be the best choice to showcase the design of the car and mid-century architecture of the Steeles’ house. At the time, Stefan had owned his Sony PMW-F5 for about 10 months. He had used the camera mainly for documentary projects. Our first thought was to use 1.3x anamorphic lenses on this camera since they are designed for a 16:9 sensor and would thus cover the entire 16:9 sensor area. Instead, we eventually settled on a set of vintage Kowa 2x anamorphics. The Kowas are not lenses one would pick for technical reasons, more for their “imperfections” which served us perfectly for a period piece dealing with memory. These aberrations and unique bokeh provided our film with a vintage look, as well as the feel of fragments of memory imperfectly recovered. 85
Recovering memories through Anamorphics
...we eventually settled “ on a set of vintage Kowa 2x anamorphics. The Kowas are not lenses one would pick for technical reasons, more for their “imperfections” which served us perfectly for a period piece dealing with memory.
Martin Steele (Jordan Simkovic) takes Audrey Steele (Murielle Zuker) to an overlook to show her their new house. Courtesy of Machine Age Media 86
Recovering memories through Anamorphics
Since the F5 has a standard size S35mm 16:9 sensor, we questioned if the final image would hold up because the 2x anamorphic optics would properly expose only the 4:3 portion of the sensor. This could produce a loss of resolution of the final de-squeezed image when using a lower resolution sensor or codec. But since we used the AXS-R5 RAW recorder, which takes full advantage of the F5’s high resolution sensor, we could use a 4:3 portion of the F5 sensor for HD delivery by capturing 4K RAW. The F5’s 16:9 sensor uses more of the optical center or “sweet” spot of the lenses compared to a larger 4:3 sensor, which provided the benefit of some of the extreme soft edges and geometric distortion being less pronounced. This allowed us to achieve the look we were going for without overdoing it.
However, we did sacrifice a shallower depth of field compared to using a larger 4:3 sensor. Since the softness and flare could become too extreme, Stefan preferred to stay around T4 -5.6. Although we were on a small budget, we made sure to have a DIT on set to play back and do some preliminary grading on the fly. This also included dialing in the proper scale of the image. The 2x anamorphic creates an image that is very wide once de-squeezed in post, somewhere around a 3.55:1 aspect ratio vs. 2.35:1 for cinemascope, so it needed to be resized for proxies. The F5 has a built‑in de‑squeeze option for using 2x and 1.3x anamorphic lenses. We used the “Look 709TypeA” for onset viewing and proxies.
Cindy Steele (Scarlet Ward) plays with her doll on the way home. Courtesy of Machine Age Media
DP Stefan Wiesen films while AC Andy Kuester operates follow focus. Courtesy of Israel Valencia, Infinity Visuals
The F5’s 16:9 “ sensor uses more of the optical center or “sweet” spot of the lenses compared to a larger 4:3 sensor, which provided the benefit of some of the extreme soft edges and geometric distortion being less pronounced.
Audrey is confronted with another side of herself in the dreamscape. Courtesy of Machine Age Media
The AXS-R5 RAW recorder was easy to set up and integrates well with the camera. It delivers plenty of resolution with 16-bit Linear sampling. While shooting RAW creates a large amount of data, it was worth it to be able to capture the high dynamic range and fine gradation of our many exteriors with natural highlights and light changes. One little quirk Stefan discovered was that if you set your SxS proxies to MPEG you canâ€™t shoot high FPS on the AXS-R5. AC Andy Kuester quickly figured this out, so it was only a minor setback.
Audrey Steele wakes up in a dreamscape dressed in Blue. Courtesy of Machine Age Media 89
Production started with some of the more challenging scenes in a white dreamscape environment that also included the climactic crash. We were able to shoot at Palm Springs Film Factory with its amazing studio manager and former stuntman, Bruce Carson. The facility had a large green screen stage, but our instinct was that the breaking glass and chrome parts of the car in our crash would prove challenging to key out effectively in post. For this reason, we changed the backdrop to a seamless white.
Recovering memories through Anamorphics
The collision had originally been conceived as a VFX shot. However, producer Anna Rowser was able to locate a couple of derelict vehicles that would work and give us the realism we sought. In order to capture the dreamscape collision between truck and car in extreme slow motion, we brought in a Phantom Miro as the additional camera for two scenes so we could go beyond the 240fps available with AXS-R5. The F5 proved itself to be easy to use and versatile throughout the shoot. One of the more challenging scenes to capture was a drive up a windy desert road. It was at least 110 degrees that day, plus the heat coming off the car. Stefan covered the camera to protect it, but there were no problems with overheating. And because of the F5’s light weight and low power consumption compared to other camera systems, it was easy to mount onto the vehicle, which we did multiple times.
Crew discusses setting up crash scene. Courtesy of Machine Age Media
The AXS-R5 RAW “ recorder was easy to set up and integrates well with the camera. It delivers plenty of resolution with 16 bit Linear sampling. While shooting RAW creates a large amount of data, it was worth it to be able to capture the high dynamic range and fine gradation of our many exteriors with natural highlights and light changes.
DP Stefan Wiesen puts final touches on car camera rig. Courtesy of Machine Age Media
Audrey Steele (Murielle Zuker) and Cindy Steele (Scarlet Ward) play in the surf. Courtesy of Machine Age Media
Close up shot with Audrey Steele (Murielle Zuker) and friend Barbara (Martha Hamilton). Courtesy of Israel Valencia, Infinity Visuals 91
Shooting in the breakers at Crystal Cove State Park. Courtesy of David Newland
Several scenes took place at a beach with our child actor, Scarlet Ward, so we needed to be quick and efficient. The F5/AXS-R5 combination was small enough for easy hand held shots and shoulder work, and we could follow some of the great improvisation of our actors, Murielle Zuker and Jordan Simkovic who played Audrey and Martin Steele. The camera was also exposed to sand and seawater spray with no problems. We lost power once, unexpectedly during recording, but we didn’t lose any shot material due to the “restore” process. The power consumption of the package
The F5/AXS-R5 “ combination was small enough for easy hand held shots and shoulder work, and we could follow some of the great improvisation of our actors...
(F5, AXS-R5, AC monitor, wireless video tap) was very manageable compared to other camera systems, and the size and weight increased only a bit. The F5 was better balanced in many situations with the attached AXS-R5. The cutting in post was relatively simple using Adobe Premiere CC on a Macbook Pro. We used the proxy files generated by our DIT with the intention of going back to the RAW for color correction and online. Being a period piece, there was a fair amount of special effects used to remove modern day artifacts like wall speakers and outlets in the psychiatrist’s office. Premiere allowed a seamless flow between edit and FX compositing through dynamic linking in the timeline. A good portion of the special effects, like the ShopMart sign at the grocery store, the sun glint off the windshields and the three-car pre-crash intersection composite was done by Michael Miller at 9iFX using proxy material first, and then final renders with the color corrected material. The lawyer’s office scenes were shot on a built set 92
Recovering memories through Anamorphics
with blue screen windows. Based on Michael’s recommendation we decided to shoot plates with the background in focus to aid in keying the more extreme bokeh and aberrations of the anamorphic Kowas. It worked flawlessly in the end using the 1080p color corrected outputs. Knowing we had the more robust RAW 4K to fall back on for compositing work provided peace of mind. The round trip for color correction between Premiere CC and DaVinci Resolve was done using xml. It worked pretty well for the most part, although there are always issues with speed changes and freeze frames that need special care. Our colorist, Loren White, was able to draw on the extra information provided by the RAW codec to even out light changes between portions of scenes, as well as turn up the rosy sunset-like glow in some of Audrey’s beach‑scene memories with her daughter. He also pushed the palette of the dreamscape scenes toward the Technicolor look we wanted. We were able to easily reconnect to the color corrected images for the online.
Audrey stands in the fading light overlooking the beach. Courtesy of Machine Age Media
The F5 allowed us to make the film we envisioned with a more refined look than we thought we might be able to achieve. The cast and locations look gorgeous, and the aspect ratio created a tremendous canvas to work with. In our experience, shooting 16-bit RAW transformed the F5 into a real worthy motion picture camera. Automotive Landscape No. 1 premiered at the 2015 Los Angeles International Shorts Fest. Check out our website for more information and future showings. www.machineagemedia.com. Find out more about DP Stefan Wiesen’s other projects at www.stefanwiesen.com.
Audrey Steele (Murielle Zuker) and Cindy Steele (Scarlet Ward) share a moment. Courtesy of Machine Age Media
The F5 allowed us â€œ to make the film we envisioned with a more refined look than we thought we might be able to achieve. The cast and locations look gorgeous, and the aspect ratio created a tremendous canvas to work with.
Flight By Stefan Wiesen Director of Photography
The jet pack took its first flight as a military project in the 1960s. Incredible Flying Jet Packs tells the story of these flying machines. The audience will get to know the pioneers of the jet pack flying era and the present time visionary engineers who help stuntman Nick Macomber achieve a record-breaking flight at the end of the film.
The documentary was written and produced by Pip Gilmour. Amy Rankin was the Associate Producer. It premiered on July 19th on the Smithsonian Channel. Click Here for the showâ€™s webpage: Incredible Flying Jet Packs.
Ms. Gilmour and I have worked together on different projects in the past and I was excited when she contacted me about “Jet Packs” back in 2014. I had just purchased a Sony PMW-F5 and I thought it could be a perfect fit for this project due to a high quality, but manageable 10bit codec, HFR capability, good value, good ergonomics and a good EVF. I prefer the OLED over the LCD EVF. I mostly shot the project on lightweight PL Canon zooms CN-E 15.5-47 and 30-105, but it was great to be able to swap the mount in seconds (without screws) and use some EF specialty glass at times (macro, very long lens etc.) Locations included Denver, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Houston, Black Rock Desert (NV), Newfoundland (Canada), and Miami. 97
We shot several water jetpack flights from a boat, a jetpack flight and a rocket launch in a hot and windy desert – I never experienced any significant camera-related problems with the F5. The camera and lenses were easy to carry-on when traveling. The crew size was very small, so the light-weight, low-power consumption and smaller form factor was an advantage. I’m a big proponent of having an actual camera on my shoulder vs. holding it in front of me. I really like the ARRI broadcast plate which offers plenty of adjustability so different lenses can be used without sacrificing proper balance. Due to the lightweight camera body the center of gravity is quite forward when using lightweight PL zooms and a matte box. For documentary gigs I prefer a VCT14 plate solution since I can quickly change from tripod to shoulder-shooting without adding/ taking off parts. This is very important to me.
F5â€™s First Flight
We shot several water jetpack flights from a boat, a jetpack flight and a rocket launch in a hot and windy desert â€“ I never experienced any significant camera-related problems with the F5.
I never experienced any issues with restored clips. The XAVC/SxS workflow is a robust system.
F5’s First Flight
We didn’t have a dedicated DIT or data handler, but shot long interviews often. So we accumulated a lot of footage at times. XAVC™ really offered a great codec solution for us, since it’s a good compromise of size and quality. Around 100 MB/dec is very manageable with 128G SxS media and offers 10bit recording which I consider important later when grading the footage. Of course XAVC is HFR capable which was also important.
happen from time to time during recording due to a loose battery connection or when pushing a battery to the limit with many added accessories. I never experienced any issues with restored clips. The XAVC/SxS workflow is a robust system. We shot in HD Slog3 XAVC. I used a Rec709 LUT for EVF viewing, my onboard Transvideo Rainbow HD monitor and a wireless feed to a director’s monitor.
I really appreciate the “restore” function after a sudden power loss, which can 100
F5’s First Flight
The climax of the film features Go Fast Jetpack pilot Nick Macomber flying around a 45-story downtown hotel in Denver. We had spent a lot of time with Nick beforehand showing him working on or testing his equipment and discussing strategy with his partner Troy Widgery at the Go Fast headquarters in Denver. Nick is very diligent and detail-oriented when it comes to his jetpack setup. Frequently he completely disassembles and re-assembles the entire machine since his life depends on the perfect flow of fuel and the perfectly controlled combustion of it. We spent a lot of hours in Nicks’ workshop often not able to interrupt his process when filming, because it would distract him. Most of that was shot on the shoulder so I wouldn’t get in his way. 101
We accompanied Nick on a location scout the day before his flight when he measured the roof surface and structure, figured out the flight route and possible “emergency” landing spots. Being up there really made us aware of how risky this flight would be. Nick would have to fly a perfect circle around the building to land exactly where he had started – knowing he had fuel for a maximum 30 second flight! No parachute on board and it was quite a windy day – especially up there on the roof! We had a camera in a helicopter and an additional camera on the roof, plus the jetpack and Nick’s helmet were equipped with GoPros, of course. I had my F5 on the shoulder for last preparations, “famous last words” and the start and lucky landing. We found out a few hours later that the Jet Pack flight had made it onto all major news networks that day including our crew.
Living Legend By Eduardo Barraza
Cinematographer Eduardo Barraza teamed up with director Alonso Llosa and producer Olga Goister to create the dark world of Living Legend and brought the Sony F55 on the South American adventure. Early on, Alonso chose the setting of his Columbia University thesis film to take place in his hometown of Lima, Peru. With Limaâ€™s growing industrial economy there also underlies a dark underworld, and this is the world that we wanted to bring to life in the dark comedy Living Legend. Protagonist Charly, played by Pietro Sibille, is a hardened but charismatic criminal on the rise, who wants to finally move out of his motherâ€™s house in order to maintain his legitimate street status. Although he is able to easily lead and intimidate thugs, he cannot face his mother. The situation is intentionally ludicrous on the surface but fundamentally explores a very real predicament.
Most of the scenes for Living Legend take place at night and in practical locations so we needed a camera with low light sensitivity that would allow us to work without a very large lighting package. We also knew that a camera like the Sony F55 would let us embrace the darkness as a story motif of our urban landscapes. Our locations became characters in the film but they were also one of the greatest challenges of the production. We paired the Sony F55 with the Cooke S4 Prime Lenses to achieve the look of Living Legend. 106
The film opens with Charly and gang in search of some merchandise. Alonso wanted this scene to portray the brutality of Charly and his unchallenged position of power outside of his mother’s house. Charly’s mother Norma is played by Peruvian actress Haydeé Cáceres. The scene called for an old house in an old part of downtown Lima. The house was a historic house from the early days of the Peruvian republic, protected by the local government as cultural patrimony. It was being guarded by two very charismatic old ladies who lived on the first floor of the house. The second and third floors were unoccupied. The third floor was our location: it was an open courtyard scenario, which made it more of a night exterior/interior situation. A whole section of the floor had collapsed onto the second floor of the house, leaving a large, unprotected hole on one side. Dozens of cats had made their home in these ruins. There was so much texture everywhere from peeling paint to cracked tile and piles of decaying wood, it was pretty much in ruins — it was perfect. We parked the electrical generator a block away and had to cable it all the way up the third floor with minimal crew. We staged on the second floor and took only the essentials to the third floor.
We decided this opening scene had to really draw the audience in, to feel bleak and visceral, almost making them think they were watching a different kind of movie. Alonso and I designed a single long stedicam shot following the character of Rata around the various rooms and hallways of this ominous place. I had to light the set for one continuous shot and the collapsing structure meant we could not add much more weight with equipment. This ruled out anything other than 109
very small units for lighting. We built a couple practicals into the production design with the help of art director Renzo Bazan. These bulbs were to act as dim light sources that crossed the lens, but our biggest light source came from two floors below. We bounced a few units onto beadboard and shaped it with flags to provide a glowing source from beneath the center atrium. Additionally, we strategically splashed very small Fresnel units like Arri 150s, 300s and 650s
around the rooms, just giving hints of what could be between shadows when the camera moved through. I was surprised how much the camera saw with very little light. We really embraced the shadows and knew that we could work that way with the Sony F55.
I loved the flexibility of shooting RAW, knowing that we would be able to bring back what we pushed later on. Iâ€™m a fan of the ability to import custom LUTs into the camera. I had experience working with LUTs with the Sony F3 cameras on previous projects where I had captured in S-Log. Although the F3 didnâ€™t have that feature, I recall 111
using an external device to display my LUT via the SDI connection to an external monitor while recording S-Log in camera. I had enjoyed that workflow especially when I got into the color grade. Although we did a lot of tweaks, that LUT I had used for viewing is what gave uniformity and communicated to us in the grade. The
F55 now has the ability to import and display LUTs in‑camera simplifying the workflow I had previously used. On Living Legend, I used VisionColors Osiris Film Emulation LUTs for monitoring, which gave me a sense of control over what the movie might look like in the end.
Charly’s mother’s house was our most important location and incidentally was also the director’s relative’s house. It had an emotional significance to him but it also gave us the opportunity and freedom to do a lot of things in terms of production design and lighting set-ups. We used a panther dolly to achieve some tracking shots in the small space. Thanks to Congo Films Peru that made things happen and were supportive to us with all of our needs.
â€œI was surprised how much the camera saw with very little light. We really embraced the shadows and knew that we could work that way with the Sony F55.â€?
The F55s ergonomics were great for travel and allowed things to move fast on set. In the camera’s lightweight configuration, I was easily able to switch back and forth from handheld to sticks. The ergonomics of the camera became crucial to us when we got to the location used for Charly’s new apartment. Because it was located in an upscale part of town, the buildings had specific rules we had to follow including not using the elevator to get to the eighth floor where we were shooting. The director decided to stick to this location because of the impressive view of modern Lima, which was something he thought was essential to the story and contrasted the old Lima of the other locations. We couldn’t use the elevator and we had to finish close to nightfall! Getting the light camera package up made the crew grateful we were not working with other camera systems. It went well until we faced the Stone Age old challenge of fighting the sun. It was great to have the dynamic range hold up as the direct sun bathed the background buildings and our actors were in shade. It was an exposure conundrum but the camera held well.
“We wanted the emotion of this climactic scene to be elevated by the visuals. We designed a continuous stedicam shot that danced around Charly and his mother, displaying the feeling of dread and betrayal in the mother’s face.”
The base ISO of the camera in S-Log is 1250. This kept pushing us to make bold choices. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when the mother catches Charly sneaking out of the house for good. The scene was a night exterior in a location in a central part of Lima where we were unable to do any street closures. We wanted the emotion of this climactic scene to be elevated by the visuals. We designed a continuous stedicam shot that danced around Charly and his mother, displaying the feeling of dread and betrayal in the motherâ€™s face. The design of the shot had us seeing 360 degrees into distant streets. We used a 10K Tungsten Lantern Ball (that had been custom made by Congo Films) that was essentially a giant 10K china ball about 7' in diameter. We rigged it high on scaffolding above a tall building. This helped light the characters and setting, but we had little control over the deep backgrounds other than streetlight. For this we relied heavily on the F55s sensitivity to dig deep into the shadows and backgrounds we could not control. We may have not been as bold to try such a shot without a camera with such high sensitivity. It was also thanks to the dedication of the camera and lighting crew that we were able to pull off the shot. Alonso and I really wanted the style of the film to maintain a uniformly consistent feel throughout. We fell in love with the look and feel of the 25mm Cooke lens. That lens rarely went back into the case during production; even for extreme close-ups I would just bring the camera right up to the subject rather than narrowing the field of view with a tighter lens. The wide 25mm lens really helped connect our characters to their environments and grounded us to a consistent stylistic choice for the film.
FORMAT Living Legend was shot in Sony S-Log3, S-Gamut. We used the Sony R5 Recorder and captured in 4K RAW. Shooting in Log gave us a significant amount of dynamic range. This helped tremendously during our day exterior work where we shot in the busy streets of downtown Lima. The days were somewhat unpredictable between full sun and cloud cover. We had little control over deep backgrounds so having the 14 stops of dynamic range in those contrast situations was critical. I would monitor the Histogram in Log Mode to make sure nothing was peaking and then turn the LUT back on without any hassle. It was comforting to know I could bring the highlights back down later. It was also great to simultaneously be able to record proxies in-camera for the editor. In spite of the unconventional story and situation, our approach to the compositions was very classical. For this film the feeling is a combination of a dark, heightened hyperrealism and a visceral surrealism. The multinatrional crew was a mix of Americans, Colombians, Mexicans and local Peruvians that all lent their talent to make the film. We are grateful we were able to have the Sony F55 in our tool bag to make Living Legend.
Johnny Derango serving up the F55 on Waffle Street By Johnny Derango Behind the Scenes Photo Credit: Jay Drowns
Photo Credit: Angelo Perrino
Johnny Derango serving up the F55 on Waffle Street
A couple of years back, I was fortunate enough to collaborate with filmmakers Ian & Eshom Nelms on their feature film Lost on Purpose. Lost on Purpose starred Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle), James Lafferty (One Tree Hill), C. Thomas Howell (Southland) and Academy Award-Winner Octavia Spencer (The Help). The film went on to win the special jury prize at the Beverly Hills Film Festival and Best Feature Film at ReelheArt in Toronto and has received many rave reviews for its look. For their second feature film, Waffle Street, the Nelms Brothers once again turned to me to photograph it. The film is based on the true story of Jimmy Adams (played by James Lafferty), a V.P. of a $30 billion hedge fund, who loses his job and winds up working as a waiter at a waffle shop. Amid the greasy madness of the 24-hour diner, Jimmy befriends Edward (played by Danny Glover), an ex-con grill master who serves up hard lessons about life, finance, and grits. I knew the Nelms Brothers would likely want to shoot Waffle Street on a RED camera as we had a great experience the last time out on Lost on Purpose. Early on in the preproduction process, we began discussing which camera package we might use on Waffle Street. While my experience shooting with the RED in the past has always been excellent, I recently had the pleasure of attending several classes at the Digital Motion Picture Center on the Sony lot where I was able to test the Sony F55. It was during these classes that I came to understand some of the flexibilities the F55 has to offer and how it could aid in my productions.
While I was sold on things such as the amazing color space, the latitude and the ease of the AXS-R5 4K bolt on recorder, I knew a huge selling point to my directors would be the cameras ability to record 4k and 2k proxies simultaneously. This may not sound like a groundbreaking feature, but I remembered that on the last film the directors, who also served as the editors, spent up to two weeks transcoding RAW 4k footage into ProRes files to edit. With the F55’s ability to capture RAW 4K files and 2K proxies, if needed, we could cut a scene together using the proxies during our lunch break.
Another selling point for the F55 was an increase in our working ISO. The base ISO on MX RED, on which we shot Lost on Purpose was 800, with the F55 that base ISO was now 1250. On Waffle Street, we were able to team the F55 with its base ISO of 1250 with the fairly fast Fujinon Cabrio (T2.9). We actually never changed lenses during the entire shoot, which was a first for me. It’s pretty incredible what a little extra sensitivity and a fast lens can buy you over the course of a feature.
“Another selling point for the F55 was an increase in our working ISO.” 124
Johnny Derango serving up the F55 on Waffle Street
Top: Jimmy Adams (James Lafferty) looks on as he questions the decisions he has made in his professional life. 125
Early on in the film, Jimmy Adams helps his finance company to sell another company on a questionable deal. This particular scene was shot in a conference room on the 34th floor of a gorgeous office building downtown Salt Lake City. I knew from the tech scout that it would be impossible for us to light from outside the windows, but it was my goal to keep the exposure inside the room balanced with the exterior. During the tech scout, I was able to map out the direction of the sun to make sure that it would never directly strike the surrounding buildings in the direction we would be filming. As a Cinematographer or viewer, nothing bothers me more than seeing grossly overexposed buildings directly behind the subject of a scene. Thanks in large part to the tech scout, I knew that the only real thing I would have to contend with was the sky.
Praying for a blue sky that was not overcast and using a polarizer, I was able to find an exposure that I could match with my small HMI package.
For this particular scene, I was able to create a booklight consisting of a 1.8K HMI, 6'x6' ultrabounce and some 250 half white diffusion. The single 1.8k HMI was enough to get the exposure on my subjects up to a level that I felt worked against the windows and move us forward with our shooting day.
â€œI knew from the tech scout that it would be impossible for us to light from outside the windows...â€? 126
Johnny Derango serving up the F55 on Waffle Street
Top: DP Johnny Derango lines up a shot.
Nearly half of the film takes place in a practical diner with windows covering 3/4 of the set. I knew I would need a camera with a huge dynamic range. The seating areas of the restaurant were always brightly lit from the windows while the kitchen/ service areas were underexposed by several stops. I would need to be able to hold as much of the detail looking out the windows as possible while bringing up the overall restaurant fill level with a less than ideal lighting package. A few years ago and with a lesser camera, I may have had to settle for visually unappealing digital clipping outside the windows. With the sensitivity and dynamic range of the F55, I was able to hold almost all of the detail outside of the windows using only a small HMI lighting package comprised of one 1.8k HMI, two 1.6k HMI’s and one 800W HMI. A 4K HMI was also occasionally positioned outside for a more directional sunlight. The F55 is so sensitive that I found myself routinely adding a polarizer or ND’s on my interiors just so I could open my lens wide enough to get a shallower depth of field. The trickiest part of shooting the diner was creating a look that felt consistent for the space, but didn’t become redundant over time. For certain scenes I created harder more contrasty light, on other days, I would let the overall exposure ride up and get slightly flatter. The look varied depending on scenes, but always felt believable in regard to what you could see outside the windows weather wise. It was a difficult way to work, but if I had tried to keep it lit consistently as you might on a stage it would have never worked visually. 127
“With the sensitivity and dynamic range of the F55, I was able to hold almost all of the detail...”
The restaurantâ€™s changing look continued...
Bottom: Steadicam/A-Camera Operator Jess Haas, SOC lines up a shot.
Johnny Derango serving up the F55 on Waffle Street
Johnny Derango serving up the F55 on Waffle Street
One of my favorite scenes of the film takes place when Jimmy (James Lafferty) returns home from work to announce to his wife Becky (Julie Gonzalo) that he is going to put their home up for sale. It was our third day of shooting in a location that we only had for three days and the schedule was incredibly tight. We were in a tough spot, as the scene would ideally work its way through three rooms, cover some important dialogue and needed to be shot out in less than three hours. It’s times like this that you have to buckle down and get creative. To their credit, directors Ian & Eshom Nelms, who I’ve worked with on several features, and I were able to craft one steadicam shot that covered the entire scene. My longtime steadicam / A-camera operator Jess Haas SOC worked magic navigating through the space. I was able to light the set with no more than 5 lights thanks to the cameras huge dynamic range.
The shot begins as Becky Adams comes down the stairs to meet Jimmy as he enters the front door. I was able to send a 1.2k HMI down the stairs and fill from the living room off screen to Becky’s left.
As the shot continues the camera wraps into a two shot where the fill light becomes Becky’s key and a 1.8k HMI fakes sunlight on the background. Becky continues down a hallway into the kitchen where she is backlit by another small HMI faking sunlight with a bounce card returning that light as her key.
Johnny Derango serving up the F55 on Waffle Street
She then returns to the dining room area, this time entering a little deeper. I was able to clamp a 300 Watt Arri lamp gelled with full CTB to the top of the doorframe to give her a little pop of light.
Eventually the fight intensifies and Becky retreats to the window where she is illuminated by the hard HMI sunlight which is the coming though the window and filled by a single diffused 1x1 daylight LitePanel. The scene ends as Becky leaves the house and Jimmy is left pondering whether he has made the right decision. 133
Johnny Derango serving up the F55 on Waffle Street
All in all, I couldnâ€™t have been happier with my choice of the F55 on this film. The latitude of the camera rivals anything else Iâ€™ve shot with to date and the color space is astounding. Waffle Street, which was written and directed by Ian and Eshom Nelms and produced by Autumn McAlpin (also a co-writer), Brad Johnson and John J. Kelly (127 Hours, Deadpool), has gone on to win the Hollywood Film Festival for Best Feature Film, The Carpe Diem award at the Woodstock Film Festival and the Best Fiction Feature Audience Award at the Red Rock Film Festival. The film will be released in 2016. For more info on Johnny Derango, please visit his website at www.johnnyderango.com
Taking Flight with the F55 at r e d j e t
f i l m s
By Jeff Erwin Owner/DP/Producer www.redjetfilms.com Produced by Mike DesRoches @DesRochesSony
Jeff Erwin shooting with the F55 for Seattle Museum Of Flight
I have spent thirty years in the production business – the last twenty as a business owner. In that time I have made some great decisions when it came to equipment purchases and some not so great. About a year ago we bought a Sony F55 and after a year using it I can say it has been my best camera purchase ever, partly due to Sony’s 0 down, 0% interest promotion at the time. That was huge for us, a real no-brainer. It allowed me to get an entire camera rig for a monthly payment of what amounts to a day rate. But I’m getting ahead of myself. When you shoot and produce documentaries or corporate projects, the client may not understand that much about the gear you use and quite often, they don’t really care. You are judged by your previous work and the outcome of the movie you make for them. We seldom get work because of the gear we own. A common request might be for 139
our MoVI M10, but not historically for the cameras we choose to defend. Unless you only rent gear, defending the choices you make for the tools you buy is something everyone eventually faces in this business. It was probably back in 2004 that clients started to ask us to shoot HD, so we chose to rent cameras. The Varicam was the first as I recall. We even had to rent a deck from a competitor to capture the footage. We were an AVID house and since our AVID was standard def, the minute you captured the footage you had down converted it – but it did look somewhat better. For a time, that made the clients happy. As far as they knew, they were making movies in HD and it felt like progress. We went on that way for some time and then one
Taking Flight with the F55 at red jet films
day a friend brought me this little JVC camera, a GY-HD 110 that shot 720p HDV. To my eyes the image was a good as the Varicam and it cost $5,000.00 not $105,000.00. I bought two of them. I never traveled anywhere that I did not take two cameras because they seemed so fragile compared to anything I had ever used before. I eventually owned their 250 model and then their 700 and 750 – always two at a time. We used Focus Enhancement hard drives until we acquired the 700 models, and even then we used a Nanoflash to record 422. Not a bad workflow and not a bad cameras for the rigors of documentary work we did in developing countries.
“About a year ago we bought a Sony F55 and after a year using it I can say it has been my best camera purchase ever...”
Taking Flight with the F55 at red jet films
I have shot thousand of hours of footage all over Africa, India and South America for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the UN, the Global Fund and other NGO’s – all with those little JVC cameras. These clients were never anything but complimentary about the images and stories we made for them and that went a long way in defending my choice to use those cameras. Even at that, these cameras had many limitations and I really want my work to look more cinematic and less like a TV news story. Then came the DSLR and all of the gimmick devices to make them function like actual video cameras. I was not surprised at how many folks jumped on that crazy train and you could understand it based on cost. I asked one of my favorite sound mixers if he had been on many DSLR shoots and he said, “Yes as well as many re-shoots because the first footage was out of focus.” That, the audio issues and workflow problems were enough for me to confirm I was not going there but the look I wanted. Then in 2011 at NAB, there was a sea of people around the Sony F3. It took me thirty minutes to beat my way to it. It was dark in there, but I really liked what I saw. Admittedly, not owning any prime lenses I
“The F3 was a world of difference compared to the JVC cameras. Smooth, beautiful images, better in low light, latitude and color space. I had not owned a Sony camera in years and I was loving this one.”
was attracted by the model that came with three of them: a 35mm, a 50mm and an 85mm. And it was inexpensive – around 18K as I remember. It took a few months but we bought one when they became available and the world of Super35 began for us. The F3 was a world of difference compared to the JVC cameras. Smooth, beautiful images, better in low light, latitude and color space. I had not owned a Sony camera in years and I was loving this one. There were some drawbacks and a few I created for myself. First, like other cameras in this class, the viewfinder was a complete afterthought and worthless. Unless you are an Olympic weightlifter, you would never hold the camera out in front of you like a kitten. It needed a viewfinder on the side of the camera where it would be if the camera were on your shoulder. A real viewfinder lets you see what you’re doing in bright light, even when the camera is on a tripod. It took a year to find an aftermarket viewfinder. That was okay and even then, the eyepiece did not really adjust to my prescription. I can’t stress enough the importance of this viewfinder thing, especially in the documentary world where I am often on my own. A little monitor with a cardboard box around is just not a good solution.
Taking Flight with the F55 at red jet films
After I bought the F3 I was surprised at the level of support I received from Sony. As an example, we were shooting these funny inserts for a movie about ceramic fireproof glass when I noticed what appeared to be a dead pixel. I called Mike DesRoches – Sony’s technical guy – to ask if there was some kind of pixel compensation I could run. He asked if he could call me back in a few minutes. Next thing I knew he was standing in my office to help me with my problem first hand. Pretty good considering he lives in LA. It was a dead pixel – on my monitor. Not the first time I have felt like an idiot. And then 4K. I will admit the thought of it overwhelmed me at first. None of my clients were asking for it and my production peers that were shooting it mainly grumbled about the crazy conversion time necessary to prep it for edit. I heard one horror story after another about projects shot 4K in RAW and then spending days in post converting the footage – all of the time knowing the final deliverable was 720p. It just seemed crazy. Our clients just do not have the budget to add two additional days to the edit to down convert footage. It’s as simple as that. But then again, the second you say to yourself, “I’ll just hold here technologically,” you’re already dead in this business. 4K is not just coming. It’s here and being ready with an easy workflow is just necessary. The only thing I had to do was figure it out before a client asked if we could do it and that mainly meant choosing a camera and codec. I have met some very decent people from Sony because of my F3, so when they asked if I could get together a few DP’s from the Seattle area to look at two new cameras, I jumped on it. Keith Vidger brought the F5 and F55 and Josh Ewing with Fujinon brought their 19-90mm Cabrio. There were actually too many folks in attendance to really handle the cameras, but all I needed to see was the higher end viewfinder and I was halfway there. Compared to my F3, the F55 had everything I could see I would need for the foreseeable future. Fourteen stops latitude, 4K onboard recording, RAW if needed, the global shutter, an incredible color gamut plus and all of the other things that make this camera world class. I waited nearly a year to purchase an F55. I had committed to a MoviM10 and the fifteen thousand dollars of additional tools to really make it work correctly. It took a bit of doing on the part of some folks, but I eventually got an F55 camera to test. That was pretty much it. I just needed to find the correct time to extract forty grand from the business. Then Sony announced that 24-month 0% financing deal and we pulled the trigger. For the time being we do not shoot RAW. I purchased the camera with four 128-gig SxS Pro+ cards and the OLED viewfinder. My friends at Ikan helped with two things: a base plate and matte box built by Tilta. Outside of that and Anton Bauer power, I have kept the camera as stripped down as possible. Wireless receivers and wireless video are all rail mounted so they only live on the camera if we need them.
â€œ...the F55 had everything I could see I would need for the foreseeable future. Fourteen stops latitude, 4K onboard recording, RAW if needed, the global shutter, an incredible color gamut... â€? 144
â€œ...there are really many challenges with the light in the museum. The main hall is all windows and a lot of the aircraft are hanging.â€? 145
My first official shoot was for the Seattle Museum Of Flight. Pretty sweet for a company called red jet films. We shot each of their galleries for a short piece set to music. I shot both 4K XAVC and MPEG HD at the same time to the same SxS card. The shoot was contained to two days so we never even changed cards. I used S-Log2 because there are really many challenges with the light in the museum. The main hall is all windows and a lot of the aircraft are hanging. Open areas get you on a level field with most things but that means in many cases, windows directly behind the subject.
It would truly take two full grip trucks full of instruments to light this place â€“ but would you want to? My approach was exactly like what I would do in Africa shooting a doc: look for good natural light and shoot or move the subject into that light. The F55 is stunning in what it sees. S-Log2 holds a full 14 stops of latitude making what once was impossible a walk in the park when it comes to holding exposure. The museum has just as many dark environments as it does bright ones. The cameraâ€™s ability to produce detail in both at the same time is incredible. 146
Taking Flight with the F55 at red jet films
Our workflow is simple: In shooting the 4K XAVC and MPEG HD simultaneously, there are no real dailies as we edit with the native footage. From the beginning of solid-state recording, red jet films has used a cloned drive method for media storage. Each client receives two or more identical drives that hold all of the elements of their project. Native media, edit project files, music, you name it lives on at least two drives in the exact same form. Only the exports for delivery will be converted to Pro-Res or H.264. Premier CC handles the XAVC files seamlessly. On the drive, a folder is created for each dayâ€™s
footage. The HD files from that folder are imported into the edit project. It took some time but after a few projects I have learned what works for us. I shoot everything in the 4K/HD simultaneous mode in 23.98 S-Log2. In the beginning, I experimented with STD Gamma5 and Hypergamma7 but decided S-Log gives me the best control in all lighting situations. Today, you need to have color grading skills plane and simple. We edit in Premier CC 2015 so between Speed Grade and the color tools in Premier weâ€™re good to go.
“Our workflow is simple: In shooting the 4K XAVC and MPEG HD simultaneously, there are no real dailies as we edit with the native footage.” 148
Taking Flight with the F55 at red jet films
“And we have an F55. Even if it means nothing to the client, to me it’s the confidence that I have a tool that’s up to any task...” 149
On a side note, I bought a Sony A7S for our MoVI M10 but I now use it on many shoots as a B camera. I even took it to Cambodia as my only camera for a doc about human trafficking. A lot of stuff was shot at night and WOW, what a sweet tool. It’s no F55 but it has a solid place in my arsenal. The F55 has changed once again how we do business. We now encourage clients to shoot both HD and 4K for future use. It just makes sense. red jet films is a unique place. The vast majority of work we do is for clients who need someone to handle the whole movie start to finish. It usually starts by educating the client as to what they can truly get for the budget they have. Besides thirty years of shooting all over the world about many different subjects, we have a great track record for pleasing clients. We have good and sometimes brilliant ideas. We own all of the equipment and we are competitive. And we have an F55. Even if it means nothing to the client, to me it’s the confidence that I have a tool that’s up to any task for any project from a B-Roll for Starbucks to a feature film. That’s a great feeling!
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