Oliver Bokelberg, ASC Prepares for Season 3 of ABC’s Scandal

Scandal is an ABC dramatic series set in the highest levels of U.S. government. The characters are smart, savvy, and complicated – none of them are completely villainous or angelic – and they all have secrets. At the show’s center is the crisis management firm run by Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), who knows how to fix everyone’s life but her own.

The political thriller’s creator is Shonda Rhimes, best known for her association with Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. Both of those shows went well over the magical 100-episode mark. Scandal, now in production on season three, is well on its way.

“Shonda’s writing is brilliant, and sometime outrageous, but always emotionally plausible,” says Oliver Bokelberg, ASC, BVK, who has been shooting the show on the ARRI ALEXA since its inception. “Visually, it’s most important for the audience to buy into our truth, to believe everything they see. I just like the look of the ALEXA. Our cast is diverse, and the ALEXA handles all our skin colors beautifully. To my eyes, there is no other camera that can handle this as well. There’s a certain softness to it, almost an organic grain structure. I feel it’s the closest I can get to a film look.”

Bokelberg plays with subjective and objective camera placement, usually with two cameras. Using two and sometimes three cameras has prompted the filmmakers to move beyond standard coverage, he says. In keeping with the secretive subject matter, watching the show often feels like peering in on a conversation from another room.

“It’s as if we are witnessing a real-life scene out of the corner of our eye,” says Bokelberg. “We pick our moments. We try to leave our characters’ dignity intact. If a character is crying, we might give them privacy and let them step or turn away from camera. That rings true to me. At other times, when a character is emotionally involved, we might choose a subjective view, to enter their frame of mind and join their journey.”

Omitting certain information is key in either situation. “You don’t want to chew information for an audience,” says Bokelberg. “You want them to be engaged. If you don’t show everything, they want to see more. If it’s all there, one easily becomes bored.”

The search for realism leads the filmmakers to embrace “flaws” like camera flares. Sometimes beveled glass panels are set before the lens, adding dynamic distortions to the image as the camera dollies past. This technique is in harmony with the beveled glass doors and partitions in the Pope & Associates offices set. Bokelberg credits pilot director Paul McGuigan for this technique.

“I don’t necessarily place the camera in the perfect spot,” he says. “I sort of peek in on the situation, and that helps it become more real.”

The show is produced mainly at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood and at locations around Los Angeles, including Griffith Park, Hancock Park, Pasadena and downtown L.A. An episode is usually made in eight first-unit days, with one additional double-up day. Sometimes park scenes shot green-screen in L.A. are composited with recognizable Washington DC backdrops.

“Ideally, we get our master against the green screen, and then get the long lens coverage in our set environment without visual effects,” says Bokelberg. “That keeps our images less ‘effected,’ and saves production the expense of compositing shots. For all green screen work we shoot clean, removing our Glimmerglass filters, and in general keeping our ISO at 400 or below. This way the ALEXA delivers at its best for an easy compositing key.”

Bokelberg has a long history with the camera, having shot another ABC show in 2010, No Ordinary Family, with ALEXA bodies number 3 and 4. At that time he and DIT Andy Lemon developed a smooth workflow in close collaboration with Technicolor. On the Scandal set, a new ASC-CDL (Color Decision List) is created for every setup. On-set color correction is done with the Technicolor DP Lights system, which they use to dial in colors and contrast while lighting.

“I am constantly balancing how detailed we need to get with the lighting and where my color correction takes over,” says the cinematographer. “Without a doubt this system makes us faster and saves production valuable time on set.”

The images are recorded using SxS cards, and the format is C-log 4:2:2 ProRes. The color correction is not baked into the files, but is instead sent to Technicolor with the hard drives, where dailies timer Ben Chan uses the numbers as a starting point in Colorfront. These adjusted CDL numbers also provide guidance for colorist Gareth Cook in the creation of the on-air master.

“We have a great working relationship with Technicolor, and Gareth is an integral part of the look of the show,” says Bokelberg.

The camera is almost always moving, usually on a dolly and sometimes with a simultaneous zoom on an Angenieux Optimo zoom lens. “I was inspired by something Vilmos Zsigmond says on the bonus tracks of The Long Goodbye DVD,” says Bokelberg. “He says that a sideways dolly combined with a zoom appears as a diagonal dolly movie. To me, it feels like I’m wrapping around the character, being sucked into his or her frame of mind. If successful, the zoom becomes imperceptible, and doesn’t call attention to the camerawork. We jokingly call this our ‘Scandal Vortex.’”

Bokelberg prizes a clean white, and white is an important color in the show. It shows up in the many iconic buildings and monuments of Washington, DC, and is echoed in the wardrobe of the Olivia Pope character.

“The cameras can handle the contrast very well,” he says. “There is no need to ‘tea’ down the materials. To me, a white shirt should be white. One of my favorite movies of all time is Jean-Luc Godard’s 1961 classic A Woman is a Woman, photographed by Raoul Coutard. The lead character lives in an apartment with white walls and white sheer curtains. A few touches of controlled reds or blues here and there, and the result is absolutely gorgeous.

“On Scandal, we tend to stay away from overly warm lighting, it feels too ‘west coast’ to me,” says Bokelberg. “Gaffer Roger Sassen brings in a lot of steel blue, cyan and some slight plus-green gels that work together with white light, or sometimes 1/4 or 1/2 CTO.”

Most interiors are shot at ISO 800, but Bokelberg feels comfortable going to 1280 or even 1600. On exteriors, he starts at ISO 200. “One of the beautiful features of the ALEXA is its ease of use,” he says. “And then there is the reliability – I’ve been shooting somewhere around 500 production days with the ALEXA, and it’s been extremely dependable.”

Co-executive producer Tom Verica has directed a half-dozen episodes of Scandal, with more on the Season 3 schedule. He also preps incoming directors on the nuts and bolts of the show, while encouraging them to bring their own flavor. “Oliver and pilot director Paul McGuigan defined the language of our show,” says Verica. “What we have now was borne out of their original. Oliver is a constant collaborator in making the show interesting, different and organic as possible.”

Verica says that the ARRI ALEXA is a key to the show’s visual signature. “I love the flexibility that the ALEXA has,” he says. “I’ve just been very happy with the results. Situations can be challenging with the amount of light we have, and I’m always very pleased with what comes out. They’re just really brilliant pictures. I come from the acting world – I’ve been an actor for 25 years – and I think back to a time when we shot all film. The freedom to keep rolling, to keep performances fresh without worrying about reloading, is a tremendous asset.”

Verica and Bokelberg have been employing a new technique on the show that involves shooting the ALEXA at 120 frames per second for to create a still image with the slightest bit of selective motion. “It’s a way of heightening a specific moment in time,” Verica says. “It’s a graceful way of integrating historical images that lends the images a different visual style. We’ve been very pleased with the results.”

Bokelberg describes the shooting style as free-form, and credits his “incredibly talented and committed crew” with making it work smoothly. “Michael Wojciechowski and Steve Fracol, SOC, our camera operators, who both have an incredible sense of story, framing and timing supported by dolly grips Rick Maxey and Eugene Rivera,” he says. “The camera assistants Jon Zarkos, Emily Mackley, Tony Schultz and Gayle Hilary are extraordinarily intuitive and masters at pulling focus and keeping the technical machine running smoothly. DIT Andy Lemon has a beautiful eye for mood and colors, but is also greatly accurate and reliable at the management and safekeeping of our data. Utility George Montejano manages our wireless transmitters and helps run the operation. Also essential is my longstanding collaboration with gaffer Roger Sassen and key grip Kevin Kennedy and their teams.

“I love having together this team of collaborators,” says Bokelberg. “Everyone’s eyes help and elevate the final product.”

Season 3 of Scandal will premiere on October 3, 2013.


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Alan Heim, ACE Honored at Camerimage Fest

Oscar-winning editor and ACE vice president Alan Heim was feted this past December at the Plus Camerimage International Festival of the Art of Cinematography. The festival, which was celebrating its twentieth anniversary, presented Heim with Its “Award to an Editor with Unique Visual Sensibility,” and honored him with a retrospective series of screenings. Heim also served as head of the jury in the Polish films competition.

The festival is held annually in Bydgoszcz, Poland, and is focused on cinematography and its practitioners. Awards are also given to key collaborators of the director of photography. This year’s honorees also included Lifetime Achievement laureate Vadim Yusov, the Russian cinematographer best known for his work on the early films of Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Andrei Rublev, Ivan’s Childhood), the documentary filmmaker Steven Okazaki (White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street), and David Lynch.

In the main competition, the Golden Frog was awarded to War Witch cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc; the Silver Frog was awarded to Holy Motors cinematographer Caroline Champetier, AFC; and the Bronze Frog was awarded to Rhino Season cinematographer Touraj Aslani.

Regarding the recognition, Heim says, “It’s wonderful. It’s a great honor. I’ve won an Academy Award and been nominated. I’ve won an Emmy and the British Academy Award, but this is just very moving to me at my stage of life. It’s really absolutely terrific.”

Heim spoke at an extended question-and-answer session following a screening of All That Jazz, one of his collaborations with Bob Fosse, and the film that won him an Oscar. That film’s cinematographer, Giuseppe Rotunno, ASC, AIC, took home an Academy Award nomination. In all, the movie won four Oscars and was nominated for five more, including best picture and best director.

“Giuseppe was a wonderful, wonderful man, as most people know, he was Fellini’s main cinematographer,” said Heim. “Bob Fosse loved Fellini and he loved Fellini’s movies. This was an interesting situation because Peppino didn’t speak much English. The film, when I finished cutting it, needed massive color corrections, but still each shot and each day’s dailies were beautiful. I don’t usually have a lot of contact with cinematographers, but it was clear what he was going for. He is an incredibly talented cinematographer. It was one of the nicest experiences I’ve ever had. In fact, he had a great sense of humor.”

In one scene, Heim had a cameo and a line. “Peppino lit me from the bottom and he said, ‘I’m lighting you like one of Fellini’s whores.’ And I was flattered!”

When Heim’s scene came up in the editing room, he told Fosse that the scene was awful. “Bob said to me, ‘How could I let you do that? You’re not very good in that scene.’ I said, ‘Bob, I’m not an actor.’ And he said, ‘But you’re a human being! I should be able to get a better performance out of a human being.’ And I said to him, ‘That’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me in two weeks,’ and we both had a good laugh.”

Being honored at the festival was an occasion for looking back, but Heim is quick to add that he is still working, and considering several prospective projects.


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Behind the Scenes with Florian Ballhaus on Hope Springs

Hope Springs offers moviegoers the chance to watch two great actors shine. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are paired as characters trying to save a marriage in which the thrill is gone. Steve Carell also stars as the therapist who offers banal advice in an attempt to rekindle the romance.

Director David Frankel re-teamed with cinematographer Florian Ballhaus (The Time Traveler’s Wife, Definitely Maybe, Flight Plan) for the production. They had previously collaborated on The Devil Wear Prada, Marley & Me, and several episodes of Sex and the City. Ballhaus is the son of world-renowned cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, ASC.

Early on, when the question of format arose, Ballhaus did not hesitate. “I first used the ARRI Alexa two years ago, on Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and I haven’t looked back,” he says. “I had been very hesitant to make the move from film to digital, until I tested the Alexa. It’s so intuitive to use that it became completely natural for me. I didn’t have to change the way I worked, or the way I thought in images. Hope Springs is my third feature film on the Alexa.”

Frankel trusts Ballhaus, but he had heard about HD nightmares with overcranked sharpness making talent look bad. “Obviously it matters, ” says Ballhaus. “We had two older actors, and we wanted to make a movie that didn’t gloss things over, but we didn’t want them to be grotesque. Once I showed him a test, his concerns were eliminated.”

The production built two main sets where big chunks of the movie take place – the therapist’s office, and a hotel room. The rest of the film was made on location in Connecticut. In the therapist’s office, where the shoot began, Ballhaus often shot with two cameras. Extremely long takes allowed the actors to experiment and explore the roles. “It’s very much about the actors,” says Ballhaus. “It’s a very intimate movie. In a way, it was like witnessing intimate theater. They would perform nine-minute scenes, doing what they do best, and we just wanted to capture that without getting in their way, rather than putting the camerawork in the foreground.”

This method allowed the filmmakers to shoot as many as eight pages a day. Ballhaus says that shooting Alexa had additional advantages in terms of efficiency. “We knew what we had, which meant that there was no need to go back and do another take,” he says. “If you have a moment of doubt about focus, you can replay it. It’s great to walk away knowing that we have it.”

Ballhaus framed Hope Springs in a widescreen, 2.40:1 aspect ratio, using a common top-line approach. “It seems counterintuitive, maybe, but David and I felt it was important to have the extra real estate in the frame, and to really make it part of the storytelling,” he says. “Being able to show their isolation, and to play three-shots with the therapist in the frame, gives it such a cinematic feeling. In a movie with so much dialogue, anything you can do to push it away from the look and feel of a TV movie really helps. And the Super 35 format works well with the Alexa.”

DIT Abby Levine set up a workflow that kept control in Ballhaus’ hands. The cameras were set up to record ARRIRAW using onboard Codex recorders. “That makes it very mobile,” Ballhaus explains. “You are not tethered to anything. It works great with Steadicam and it works great with handheld.”

SxS PRO cards also recorded the scenes as a backup, but not a frame was lost. Sixteen 19, a boutique postproduction company, set up shop in the production office, and dailies color correction was done on set by Levine. “One of the beautiful things about working digitally is taking control back from the lab and putting it in the hands of the filmmakers,” says Ballhaus. “If the lab creates dailies that are not representative of how you want it to look, the director ends up watching those images for months in the editing room, and it can be an incredible struggle to recreate your intended look for the final product.”

After de-Bayering, the original ARRIRAW files were used in the final color timing, done with Joe Gawler of Harbor Picture Company, who has worked with Ballhaus on the cinematographer’s last four features.

Ballhaus is currently in London on his next assignment, another feature film with David Frankel, titled One Chance. He plans to shoot with the ARRI Alexa.

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2 Days in New York is “Delightfully Eccentric”

According to Steve Rose of The Guardian, 2 Days in New York is a “delightfully eccentric comedy . . . big on laughs, low on pretense, exaggerated but emotionally sincere.” The film is a sequel to 2 Days in Paris, and features some of the same characters, including Marion, the hilariously neurotic compulsive liar played by director Julie Delpy.

Delpy studied filmmaking at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, but is best known for her work as an actress in films like Europa, Europa, Before Sunrise, Killing Zoe, and the television series ER. 2 Days in Paris earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Feature.

Also returning was Lubomir Bakchev, AFC, a Bulgarian-born cinematographer whose credits also include The Secret of the Grain, Black Venus, Le roman de ma femme, Calm at Sea, and Le Skylab, which Delpy also directed and acted in.

Bakchev shot to 2 Days in Paris in HD format using a Sony HDW-F750, a camera with a 2/3-inch chip. For 2 Days in New York, “Julie wanted a 35 mm look,” he says. “I thought the ARRI Alexa would allow us to shoot digital and achieve a film look. I also felt that the Alexa’s wide latitude – 13 stops – would help with the range of skin tones in the movie, and that the camera’s sensitivity would help us move quickly.

“The new film is a bit more sophisticated, with more shots done on dollies with tracks and less handheld camera,” he says. “Because it’s a comedy, we didn’t want to create strong contrast, and Julie wanted to make sure the audience could see the actors well. I thought the Alexa might be the right camera for this movie, and as it turned out, it was.”

Jean-Jacques Neira, who served as producer on the film, felt that in addition to cinematic images, the Alexa delivered efficiencies throughout the production.

“In addition to images being recorded to hard drives, the Alexa also gave us a very light, easy-to-handle downconversion that allowed us to keep our producing partners in France, Belgium and Germany informed about what was happening on the set in New York,” says Neira. “It was much handier than DVD dailies and overnight packages. And when it came to postproduction, the ProRes files were extremely flexible and easy to translate from one machine to another, which saved us a lot of time.

“Of course, these attributes are in addition to the most important advantages of the Alexa,” says Neira. “It delivers very high quality images, saves time on the set, and the director has a direct impression of the footage as she is working on the set.”

In addition to Delpy, 2 Days in New York stars Chris Rock, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau and Alexandre Nahon. In the story, Marion has left behind her lover and moved to the city with her son. Her new American boyfriend, played by Rock, and her eccentric French family make for a combustible mix. Racial insensitivities and sexual hang-ups lead to smart comedy. Adding to the stress is Marion’s imminent photo exhibit.

The film was made on a quick 30-day schedule, entirely on practical locations in New York City. Where possible, Bakchev used existing natural light. In other situations, like a Brooklyn loft that was dressed to portray Marion’s apartment, Bakchev lit from overhead to facilitate Delpy’s improvisational approach to directing, with versatility and efficiency in mind.

“We could shoot 360 degrees, and we could adapt to any angle or scene by switching a few lights off and a few others on,” he says.

Bakchev usually set the Alexa for 800 ASA, and he used Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses. “I often shoot with Zeiss,” he says. “I like the sharpness of these lenses. We didn’t need Master Primes, because with 800 ASA, we don’t need the big aperture. Outside in New York, I shot with no additional light at a stop of 2 or 2.8.”

Bakchev generally used the 35 mm and the 50 mm. “With framing a bit wider, it’s more natural and funny, not so intense,” Bakchev says. “When we are too close, it’s more stressful. I like the 35 mm lens – if we had only one lens to shoot the movie, I’d choose that one. In situations like the art exhibit, we wanted to be able to see the artwork in the background, and maintain that context in the shot.”

On the set, the DIT applied preset LUTs to the images. The on-set monitor was an important tool given that Delpy was acting in most scenes and Bakchev was operating the camera.

“I always operate my camera,” he says. “I really love to feel the actors and react. It’s more natural for me. It would be very difficult for me to give up the camera and just watch. Under the right circumstances, the on-set monitor can enhance creativity, because we can speak more specifically with the director, and take the images further.”

2 Days in New York premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, screened at Tribeca, and hit theaters in France in March. The film will open theatrically in the US in August.

Bakchev recently finished principal photography on a French film directed by and starring Agnés Jaoui, Un jour mes princes viendront (Someday, my prince will come). He is prepping an Italian documentary, and considering shooting it on the Alexa.

“I can see that the Alexa’s latitude and sensitivity would also be very good in documentary situations,” he says.

Delpy, meanwhile, has hinted in the press that she is leaving behind acting in favor of writing and directing. She is currently in preproduction on her next directing project, The Right Profile, reportedly a biopic about Joe Strummer, the late frontman of the iconic British punk band The Clash.

See the trailer here: http://bit.ly/P9f3DY







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The Forest is Red Sees NYC from Unique Perspective

The Forest is Red is a feature film about a socially dysfunctional man living in New York City. He wanders the city in a hypnotic daze, hearing voices that sometimes demand his subordination. Surrounded by people, he nevertheless struggles to truly connect. At times, his city is surreal. The story underlines the ideas that we are not alone in our loneliness, and that we each see life from our own unique perspective.

Cinematographer John Schmidt built his plan for the film’s images in part on these ideas. “We wanted to represent the film’s reality from Nathan’s perspective, no matter how far off center it may be,” says Schmidt. “We framed the city very specifically. The cityscapes and wide shots show off just how big the city is, and how small and insignificant it makes you feel.”

The film cuts between sequences where the character is completely alone and others that are filled with nameless, faceless crowds. “Most of the film was designed to cut a certain way, and we justified the specificity of each shot,” he says.

The film was done on a very tight budget, reportedly about $50,000. “The interesting thing that happens when it’s so small is that you can pretty much do whatever you want, within confines,” says Schmidt. “Sometimes it was just our lead, the director, and I, so we were often able to choose locations based on production quality or sun position because we weren’t limited by the logistics or the price of getting gear and crew to them — there were none!”

Schmidt’s camera was a Canon 5D Mark II. He framed for a widescreen 2.35 image, and planned for full desaturation to black and white in post. “The director, David Jakubovic, wanted the city to be colorless to emphasize Nathan’s perspective,” says Schmidt. “Also, we loved the format’s poetic rendition of New York City in old Woody Allen movies.”

Manhattan (1979), photographed in unforgettable black and white by Gordon Willis, ASC, springs to mind. That film was also widescreen, with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio achieved with anamorphic lenses. “Nowadays, black and white is often looked at as being too artsy, but our choices were grounded in the story, so we didn’t care and just went for it,” says Schmidt. “The 5D held up really well on the big screen, and because we planned for black and white, blown out skies seemed less abrasive, and not having the budget for HMIs for daytime interiors was less of a problem.”

The Forest is Red was Schmidt’s first endeavor in black and white, so he researched extensively. “With black and white, you can’t create contrast with color, so I learned a lot about separating solely by luminance,” he says. “I used my spot meter religiously and viewed images on the LCD in color so as to not get lazy. I also tried to keep the stop deeper than I would usually. Grayscale is more apt to turn to mush with out-of-focus backgrounds, and despite my tiny lighting package and the 5D’s large sensor, I kept the f-stop around an 8 for exteriors and pushed for a 4-5.6 inside almost never pushing the ISO higher than 800.”

The Forest is Red earned Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Cinematography Awards at the 2012 Avanca Film Festival in Portugal, and Best Non-European Dramatic Feature at the European Independent Film Festival. Learn more about the film at http://www.theforestisred.com/.

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Matty Libatique, ASC Shoots Ruby Sparks

With credits like Requiem for Dream, Pi, The Fountain, and Iron Man, cinematographer Matty Libatique, ASC comes with a major “cool” factor – and that was before his Oscar nomination for Black Swan. Since then he’s added to his eclectic resume the high concept action flick Cowboys & Aliens. His latest, Ruby Sparks, is a romantic fantasy directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the team behind Little Miss Sunshine.

Libatique (right) at the wheels. (Photo by Joey O'Donnell)

The idea behind Ruby Sparks is that a shy, struggling novelist falls so hard for one of his characters that she comes to life. Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan star, with Elliott Gould, Antonio Banderas and Annette Bening in supporting roles. The budget was reportedly between $6 and 7 million, with roughly 30 days of production, mostly at locations in the Los Angeles area. Almost three weeks of that time was spent at the location portraying the writer’s house, an actual home in the hills of Los Feliz.

Libatique had previously photographed commercials for State Farm and the Nissan Leaf using the ARRI ALEXA, and he felt that the camera’s sensitivity would help with on-set efficiency on Ruby Sparks.

“The schedule meant we had to go at a certain pace,” he says. “I knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time for setups, and because of my previous experience with the ALEXA, I knew how little light I could get away with. I knew that in some cases, I could get an image out of a location by using negative light, versus actually lighting. At the main location, we wanted to incorporate as much natural light as possible for the day interiors. The house had a view of Los Feliz and downtown Los Angeles, and to capture that on film would have been harder.”

The camera was set up to record uncompressed, 12 bit logarithmic ARRIRAW files to Codex ARRIRAW recorders that were mounted directly on the camera. At times, a dual record setup also sent lower resolution images to SXS cards, and these images were used for on-set viewing, quick turnaround dailies or editorial.

“This was Jonathan and Valerie’s first time shooting with a digital format, so I wanted to give them ultimate flexibility in the DI,” says Libatique. “They come from commercials so they are well-versed in post color. I wanted to take everything that the camera had to offer. I learned that by shooting it RAW, I could literally go into the DI and just rewrite the file. If I had shot it at 400 ASA, and I wanted something different out of it, I could just plug in 800 ASA. I like that ability.”

Libatique handheld the camera for virtually the entire shoot. “I would often record the whole shot with the stand-ins first,” he says. “Then I’d run over to the monitor and have it played back, to see what it looked like. Then I’d make some adjustments and do the shot again with the cast.”

Libatique says that his best friend on the job was a Leader waveform monitor, which had a spot function that allowed him to move a cursor around the image to get the IRE value for any point in the frame. “I started using that like a spot meter,” he says. “It didn’t take long to get used to it.”

During prep, the workflow was also tailored to Libatique’s eye through the use of custom-made LUTs provided by EFilm. He shot a series of tests, and asked EFilm to create ten LUTs, each at a different stage of contrast and numbered from one to ten. He says this obviated the need to color correct every shot and scene on the set.

“I’d shoot a shot, and then I’d pick,” he says. “I’d say ‘I like six for that one, and five for that one.’ Eventually, we zeroed in on the look that we liked, and it would always land between five and seven on that scale. For the shoot, I had the LUTs installed into our system, in a box provided by EFilm, so they could be applied to what we were seeing on the set.”

Lens choice was another crucial aspect of the visual design. Libatique had recently shot a commercial digitally using his father’s old Nikon still lenses and liked the result. He looked at older Canon lenses, Kowas and uncoated Zeiss Standards before settling on a rehoused set of Cooke Panchros.

“They have a nice, warm feel that Jon and Val really responded to,” he says. “In so much of what I see in films and on television, the patina is all very sharp. These lenses counteracted that sharpness. They were housed really well by Camtec in North Hollywood, and they’re the best set I’ve ever worked with. We basically shot the film on that set of five lenses.”

Overall, Libatique describes the imagery as naturalistic. “I like to think it’s not a lit film,” he says. “I was going for something a little more found. Even though there was lighting involved, it’s very practically oriented, appropriate, and not too stylized. I’d say the film is not aware of itself. The camera is in just the right place – that’s one of Jon and Val’s strengths. They find emotion in their comedy.”

Libatique is currently scouting in Iceland for his next project, Noah, a feature film retelling of the story of Noah’s ark that is being directed by Darren Aronofsky.

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BSC Reveals Cinematogapher Award Nominees

The British Society of Cinematographers recently announced nominations for their BSC Best Cinematographer Awards 2011. The winners will be announced and presented with the award at the BSC Summer Luncheon, which will take place in the ballroom at Pinewood Studios on Sunday, July 22, 2012.

In the feature competition, the nominees are:

Guillaume Shiffman AFC for The Artist

Robert Richardson ASC for Hugo

Darius Khondji ASC AFC for Midnight In Paris

Emmanuel Lubezki ASC AMC for The Tree of Life

To read stories by David Heuring with Shiffman, Khondji and Lubezki, click on the nominated cinematographer/film.


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Emmy Nominations in the Cinematography Categories

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has announced this year’s Emmy nominations. The nominees in the narrative fiction cinematography categories are listed below, with links to articles about the shows and their cinematography when applicable. Congrats to all the nominees!


Game Change


Jim Denault, ASC


Hemingway & Gelhorn


Rogier Stoffers, ASC, NSC


Great Expectations, Part 2


Florian Hoffmeister


Treasure Island Part 1


Ulf Brantas


Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia


Fabian Wagner

(Read more about Wagner and Sherlock here:http://www.creativeplanetnetwork.com/tags/sherlock/sherlock-modern-mysteries-layered-inventive-visuals/59018)




Boardwalk Empire – 21


Jonathan Freeman

(Read more: http://www.studiodaily.com/2010/09/shooting-boardwalk-empire-on-super-35/)



Breaking Bad


Michael Slovis

(Read more: http://motion.kodak.com/motion/uploadedFiles/breakingBad.pdf)



Mad Men – The Phantom


Christopher Manley, ASC

(Read more: http://motion.kodak.com/motion/About/Emmys/madmen.htm)


Glee – Asian F


Michael Goi, ASC


Pan Am


John Lindley, ASC




Two and a Half Men


Steven V. Silver, ASC


Mike & Molly


Gary Baum


2 Broke Girls


Gary Baum


Pair of Kings

Disney XD

John Simmons, ASC


How I Met Your Mother


Chris La Fountaine


A full list of nominees is at: www.emmys.com.


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Oscar-winning DP Wally Pfister, ASC Turns to Directing

Wally Pfister, ASC

Wally Pfister, filmmaking ally of Christopher Nolan, is deep into preproduction on his directorial debut, an as-yet-untitled major feature film. Nolan and his wife and producing partner Emma Thomas will serve as executive producers on the project. An early fall shoot is planned.

The project’s script explores the human love affair with technology. The story considers a world where machines can transcend the abilities of the human brain, and depicts the epic conflicts that result. The project is currently in the early stages of scouting, design and casting.

Nolan has made seven films with Pfister at the camera, including this summer’s The Dark Knight Rises, as well as Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, and Inception, which brought Pfister an Oscar. Nolan is known for boosting visual impact by shooting on large film formats like 65 mm and IMAX. The Dark Knight brought in upwards of a billion dollars for Warners.

Pfister brings directing experience on a number of high profile ad campaigns including the recent Salma Hayek Got Milk? spots and a series of critically lauded PSAs for The Montana Meth Project.

Pfister is well aware that cinema history is littered with failed attempts to cross over from camera to directing. On the other hand, there are significant successes like Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, the Men in Black series of films), Jack Cardiff, ASC, BSC and American Society of Cinematographers founding member Phil Rosen, who went on direct more than 140 films in the early decades of Hollywood.

“I’m really focused like a laser beam on directing my first feature film,” says Pfister. “The task is huge. I’m going to have a lot of great people to work with. But it’s all beginning with the screenplay, and while I’ve been working on that with the writer, I really never for one minute thought about the visuals. I’m hoping my transition from cinematographer to director will be successful, of course. And if it is, I think one of the keys will be the ability to completely switch tracks. I found that the writing process was 100% about clarification of the story, and developing these characters and their arcs.

“Working as a cinematographer, I always had an eye on what I was doing visually to tell the story of the characters,” he says. “You have to be alive to ways to augment the narrative, and the goals of the director. So now, as a director, it really feels like I am taking that to the next level, and not thinking about it just in terms of visuals. Once we get the script to a certain point, I’ll start to think about how to integrate the visuals. But the first step there is not the cinematography at all, but choosing locations and designing sets. Every bit of that is about what’s right for the story. Everything has to come from a credible place. It’s all about believability, and getting the audience to be there with you, and to trust you. Once you do that, you can begin to sell some higher concepts.”

Pfister says that many of his lessons were learned by watching and working with Nolan over the course of seven pictures. “During this preproduction process, I’m always hearing Chris’ voice,” he says. “I know how he would approach things. Chris has a very frugal approach to filmmaking. He never wastes anything. So I am trying to be clever about spending money so I can maximize our budget.”

After more than three decades of shooting, Pfister can’t completely escape his cameraman’s instincts. “It’s an enormous advantage in decision-making, and that is especially true when we’re scouting,” he says. “I can walk into a room, and really know right away whether it’s going to photograph well. I try to look at the location first in terms of whether it makes sense for the story, for the characters and their personalities, their socio-economic status, and then whether the location will be expensive and time-consuming to light and photograph, and how it will look on film. That is hard to get out of your mind. But I think having that toolset is wonderful, as long as I can compartmentalize it. The one lingering consideration is when I’m scouting exteriors, I can’t help but think about where the sun is going to be. Will the light be good on that building? It’s tough to keep my mind off of that. On the initial scouts, I found myself peeking at my compass. So that’s something I’ll need to purge!”

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Schaefer Uses Rare Format, Looks to 70s Films on Paperboy

Roberto Schaefer, ASC, AIC recently used an unusual film format, chosen to give the images more grit. The film was The Paperboy, and the format was a 2.40 frame center-cut and extracted from a Super 16 film negative.

The Paperboy is director-producer Lee Daniels’ return to the big screen following the phenomenon that was Precious (2009). Precious took home two Oscars, and also earned nominations including Best Director and Best Picture. The Paperboy, based on a novel by Peter Dexter, follows a reporter who returns to his home town to investigate a case involving a death row inmate. The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman and John Cusack.

Roberto Schaefer, ASC, AIC

Schaefer’s previous film was Machine Gun Preacher, the tough, real-life tale of Sam Childers. Childers is a former biker-outlaw who experienced a religious conversion and gave up a violent life of drug abuse and dealing to dedicate himself to helping war orphans in the Sudan.

Schaefer and director Marc Forster chose to film Machine Gun Preacher in Super 16 anamorphic format, using Hawk lenses with a 1.3x squeeze and Kodak film stocks. Some wider shots were done in 35 mm. Schaefer also used ARRI Relativity grain management software to match the grain structure of the two formats. “We wanted it to have that immediate feeling of a real down and dirty story that people could relate to,” says Schaefer. “But it also seemed to want an epic feel, but without gloss. In Africa, there are the physical landscapes, and also a lot of big action sequences, with machine gun fights and burning villages. The wide frame would give us that real horizontal landscape, as well as the intimacy that anamorphic can bring.”

For The Paperboy, Schaefer considered a similar path, but instead chose to shoot spherical and extract the image. In this case, the smaller negative area would give the images additional texture.

“Lee and I went over film after film, and we looked at a lot of photographs,” says Schaefer. “We looked at old DVDs of films from the 1970s, DVDs that had not been remastered. We looked at films like The Graduate [shot by Robert Surtees, ASC], The French Connection [Owen Roizman, ASC], Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? [Haskell Wexler, ASC], and The Landlard [Gordon Willis, ASC]. We looked at these films on a poor monitor. Lee wanted to deliver that feeling to the audience. I told him that in order to recreate that look, we’d have to degrade the image. We decided to try the 2.40 extraction, and to not prettify things.”

The other aspects of the cinematography were true to the late 1960s period – no Steadicam, and no remote heads. There are many master shots that move into two-shots and singles. Other scenes play out in a master. “In terms of staging and blocking, we took our cues from The Graduate, mostly,” says Schaefer. “In that film, there are so many wonderful master two-shots, with someone walking into a closeup. Or someone walks out of the master and a third person comes in. They did some beautiful blocking on that film.”

The story of The Paperboy unfolds in the American south, and in some cases Schaefer tried to communicate the oppressive heat with the character of his lighting. In one small garage location with an eight-foot ceiling, he pounded light through windows and through the garage door opening. “That scene was influenced in part by Richard Kline’s [ASC] work on Body Heat,” says Schaefer. “I remembered seeing those scenes where William Hurt goes into the diner, and you can feel and see the heat. It’s a little bit overexposed and it just feels burnt. So I wasn’t afraid of pushing it. We tried to make it authentic and strong, and to make a statement with it.”

Schaefer also took inspiration from a scene in The French Connection, and later had an opportunity to discuss it with Roizman, who shot that 1971 film and earned an Oscar nomination for his gritty imagery. The movie also took home five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for William Friedkin.

“There’s a scene in The French Connection where Popeye and his partner go into a bar and see the dealers, and it’s lit very red,” says Schaefer. “Later Owen told me that he’d put up white lights, some with red filters, some with yellow filters, and some with blue filters. Where they all crossed, it was white light. And you’d get shadows in different colors where they didn’t all cross. I didn’t know that when I shot our scene for The Paperboy – I wish I had – but I used a lot of red and blue filtering. It was fun trying to be authentic to those films from the 1960s and 70s.”

The Paperboy premiered at Cannes this past May, and is slated for a limited release in the US in October 2012. The film will screen in Europe later in the Autumn, with a wider release planned in early 2013.

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