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.