SXSW: Here Are the Cameras Used to Shoot This Year’s Films
IndieWire reached out to the directors of photography behind the scripted narrative features that were set to premiere last week at SXSW to find out which cameras, lenses, and formats they used, and why they chose them to create the looks and meet the production demands of their films. Here are their responses.
Dir: Caleb Michael Johnson, DoP: Adam J. Minnick
Format: XAVC S
Camera: Sony a6300 & Sony a7R III
Lens: Contax Zeiss Photographic Lenses, 28mm, 50mm, 85mm, & 135mm.
Minnick: We wanted a very precise look with choreographed camera moves to come out of a 12-day-shoot, so we knew we were going to be flying. We didn’t even slate. This set-up allowed for a light and versatile two-camera system to create a one-of-a-kind texture and maximum flexibility. Caleb likes to have hands on the camera while directing and I wanted us to be in sync stylistically and nailing it with image quality. My First AC, Brandon Bowman, designed a custom settings array that allowed astonishing flexibility between harsh Texas sunlight and our minimally lit night scenes.
On the set of “Crestone”
Dir: Marnie Ellen Hertzler, DoP: Corey Hughes
Format: 4k XAVC & h264
Camera: Sony FS7, DJI Osmo, DJI Mavic
Lens: Sigma Cine Primes
Hughes: Marnie and I shot the whole film in eight days in the desert town of Crestone, Colorado in the summer of 2018. It was just the two of us out there so we chose tools that would make it possible to operate everything ourselves. Most scenes were shot in one or two takes so It was important that we could be as mobile as possible. We lit the whole film with two LED panels, some gels, and headlamps. Marnie directed and ran sound. I did the lighting and filmed.
The idea for the cinematography was to recreate the feeling of scrolling through Instagram or Snapchat, seamlessly moving between real and virtual worlds. The majority of the film is shot handheld on the FS7 with two Sigma Cine Primes (35mm and 50mm). The motivation for the FS7 was for the camera to move as if it were a stoned friend of the characters. The camera is constantly wandering, observing, and adjusting. Getting too close. Looking at trees. Spacing out on details. The Osmo and Drone footage function as these floating, digital, alien POV’s. I love the way these cameras look. They are so digital and glitchy.
On the set of “Critical Thinking”
Dir: John Leguizamo, DoP: Zach Zamboni
Format: Sony XOCN ST 4K 17:9 with a 2:39 Matte
Camera: Sony Venice
Lens: Cooke S4 Primes and Angenieux Optimo Zooms.
Zamboni: Miami ’90s period piece. All practical locations. Fast shooting schedule, low budget, huge cast. And a great cast. Only a few scenes have two people, most have four to six key players all having interactions with each other. The terrific director, (also starring in the film) John Legiuzamo, wanted the energy and authenticity you find in documentary work, following and responding to conversations as they unfold. We’d shoot in multiple directions at once — shooting out two sides of a conversation simultaneously rather than the traditional “turning around” all the time. Many times we designed and lit to shoot in 270 or 360 degrees. John liked the ability to improvise if needed. Production design by Mark Harrington made a huge positive impact on the locations.
I was very lucky to have the best lighting crew in Florida, headed by Jim Pescrelli. Everything was controlled wirelessly so we could tweak on the fly. His rigging crew was essential to staying on schedule, allowing us to shoot quickly after John arrived on set. We used mostly LED’s inside, various types from titans to skypanels. For larger setups we used maxi brutes outside instead of traditional HMI’s. I wanted a narrative arc to the lighting, moving from underlit, institutional, and cloudy to sun blazing into the rooms when the heroes find inspiration. The lighting feels natural to keep you in the story, and is dramatic when needed.
90 percent of the film is handheld, responsive and dynamic. Lensing was mostly primes, Cooke S4, with a few shots on the Optimo 3:1 and 12:1 zooms. I was very happy to have two Sony Venice cameras with their dual ISO and internal ND. Color and grain work was Sean Dunckley, he and I spent five days in the theater together at Lightiron.
On the set of “Drunk Bus”
Dir: Brandon Laganke and John Carlucci, DoP: Luke McCoubrey
Format: 3.2k Pro Res 4444 Log-C
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Zeiss Super Speeds mk 2
McCoubrey: In “Drunk Bus” our protagonist, Michael, experiences two worlds. The familiar confines of the late night bus, which he uses to drive drunken passengers to their destinations on the same, repetitive loop each night, and the harsh winter environment outside the bus acting as a barrier between his go-nowhere job and the prospect of a brighter future. To help translate the idea of being stuck we wanted the images to feel mushy with the colors and textures all blending and bleeding into one another like a slushy soup. To achieve this we shot on the Alexa Mini pushed a stop along with Zeiss Super Speed lenses close to wide open. Every scene was underexposed and then brought up a bit in post which helped soften the contrast and add a milky quality to the images.
The inside of the bus was drenched in a consistent yet slightly discomforting fluorescent light while outside of the bus I used a lot of hard light creating multiple, sharp shadows to enhance the brutal feeling of the frozen nighttime environment. We shot at a breakneck pace in the dead of winter, 90 percent nights, in Rochester, NY so honestly, it wasn’t that difficult to express what in reality we were experiencing every day, but luckily we persevered and the film got into SXSW for a World Premiere so it was all worth it. Oh, wait…
Shooting “Echoes of the Invisible”
“Echoes of the Invisible”
Dir & DoP: Steve Elkins
Format: 1080p HD 10bit 422HQ
Camera: Sony PMW-F3 (in s-log w/ HD-SDI out to AJA Ki Pro for 10bit 422HQ recording) and Sony A7s Lens: Zeiss Super Speed Prime PL mount
Elkins: We chose this as our main setup to get the highest possible bit-rate while keeping cinema look of the older prime lenses for grit and sharpness. We wanted to keep the film from looking too clean or digital and this workflow does the trick. A7s’ incredible low-light ISO was used to facilitate shots in ancient cave dwellings in Ethiopia and India.
Dir: Bobby Kennedy III, DoP: Ian Quill
Format: Arri UltraHD Prores 4444 and Super8 film
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini, Canon 1014 XL-S
Lens: Canon K35 Primes and K35 Zooms
Quill: The Alexa Mini and K35 zoom combo was a decision we made essentially the moment I was hired. Bobby really loved the style of a music video I had shot with Jay (our lead actor) where I first experimented with this camera/lens combo. We loved the zoom for all its quirkiness and also needed the flexibility it brought to our insane shooting schedule. We decided to fill out the kit with a few K35 primes for our more intimate tracking shots and scenes in tight spaces. We wanted to bring the tongue in cheek, “gonzo” style that Hunter was famous for to the look of the film, so the motorized zoom was key to adding some charm. With that same spirit in mind, we chose to cover a lot of the film on Super 8, mixing formats to bring in more documentary feeling segments and help bring the time period to life.
On the set of “Freeland”
Dir: Mario Furloni and Kate McLean, DoP: Mario Furloni
Format: 4K digital format
Camera: Primary camera Canon C300 mkii. Secondary cameras A7s ii, Digital Bolex
Lens: Canon CineZoom 18-80 and rehoused Leica primes
Furloni: We approached every aspect of the film from a “materials available” perspective, trying to keep things as technically simple as possible. I do a lot of observational documentary work, and we tried to bring that sensibility into this project — reduced technical footprint, natural light, minimal interference in existing spaces, patient and nimble camera/sound work — to catch remarkable moments in the performance and find details that surprise and reveal.
So for our primary camera we decided to go with a workhorse doc package that I own and know inside out. We knew we wanted to shoot in a very naturalistic way, using real locations and available light whenever possible. We also knew we wanted to stay nimble and to privilege performance, allowing the actors to try out things, to improvise, to change blocking and so on. So we used the zoom when shooting scenes that were a bit more unpredictable, and the primes for scenes that were a little more easy to control. We also used a smaller camera for underwater and gimbal sequences, and a Digital Bolex to emulate 8mm film footage.
On the set of “Golden Arm”
Dir: Maureen Bharoocha, DoP: Christopher Messina
Format: 3.2K ProRes 4444
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke Speed Panchros
Messina: The director, Maureen Bharoocha and I discussed early on that we felt the movie would benefit from a naturalistic approach that would help ground the story in reality. The film is definitely a comedy, but we wanted to avoid the typical modern comedy look, and treat the look of the film more like a sports drama. These women’s arm wrestling leagues really exist and we felt that a degree of realism would add to the drama of these scenes and keep the comedy from feeling too broad. That being said, we weren’t looking for documentary realism and wanted the film to still feel cinematic, so in selecting our lenses, I chose vintage Cooke Panchros. I’ve always found that the older Cooke lenses have a pleasant softness, and lower contrast, that combined with our levels of filtration, gave the final image more of a look of romantic realism.
This movie was also a “big” movie for its budget, and so with every project I always try and find the sweet spot visually for what I think we can consistently achieve across the film given the equipment resources, man power and schedule. Finding ways to build off the natural light that exists in a location, and to light for 360 degrees whenever possible were things that made it possible to get all the setups that we needed, maximize our time rolling the camera, and allow the action in each scene to flow so we could capture the natural energy of the scenes — in particular the arm wrestling bouts, and the improvisation from our lead actors.
“I’ll Meet You There”
Dir: Iram Parveen Bilal, DoP: Anthony C. Kuhnz
Format: Prores UHD
Camera: Arri Alexa SXT Plus
Lens: Cooke S4s
Kuhnz: Our camera was generously donated to us by Francisco Velasquez at Film Independent in LA. It was my first choice anyhow: the Alexa’s latitude and color rendering is beautiful and perfect for our variety of locations and colorful costumes. We wanted a 4K finish, cropped to 2.40 and the SXT Plus can deliver that. The Alexa’s menu simplicity reminds me of shooting on film. I’d rather choose one or two looks than get bogged down in picture profiles, color matrices and curves, saving those fine adjustments for the grade. That way I can focus on working with Iram to pick our shots and light more by eye with Ryan C. Mooney our gaffer.
We shot Arri’s Log C and just used their default 709 LUT on the monitor in order to get a great look in camera while covering ourselves with the extra latitude in the log image. Iram and I love Cinemascope and we talked about shooting anamorphic, but I was concerned about our schedule and smaller lighting package making that difficult so we chose to shoot spherical on Cooke S4s. I often like to use older or quirky lenses to bring organic imperfections to the digital image. The Cookes are sharp but bring a warmth and softness that fit the skin tones in our film. I also like the way the focus rolls off gradually, giving a smoother transition from sharp to soft that feels more natural. This pairing of Alexa and Cookes worked great for our film, giving us the classic, dramatic look we wanted. It has become my first choice for character-focused dramas.
“I Used to Go Here”
Dir: Kris Rey, DoP: Nate Hurtsellers
Format: 3.2K ProRes 4444 XQ
Camera: Arri Amira
Lens: Kowa Cine Prominar Spherical Lenses and Zeiss Super Speeds
Hurtsellers: Kris and I were after nostalgia. We wanted a little romance, a little softness. A lot of the film explores the idealization of memory, the false beauty of the past. We didn’t want to undercut that with clean, flat, modern lenses. So we tested a bunch of vintage options and fell in love with the Kowas, especially at 3.2K. They are soft, but not too soft. Not too much halation, which fit with the practical-heavy lighting. And they fall apart at the edges spectacularly, giving a bit of a portraiture quality. The super speeds we used for occasional low light work.
Carl Nenzen Loven on the set of “I Will Make You Mine”
“I Will Make You Mine”
Dir: Lynn Chen, DoP: Bill Otto, Carl Nenzén Lovén
Format: Anamorphic 8k Red Monochrome and Sony 1080p | Anamorphic 6 K, RED Epic Dragon, red RAW
Camera: Red Monochrome and Sony fs100
Lens: Cooke, Nikkor, Atlas Anamorphic
[Note: The film was divided into two different shoots with two different cinematographers.]
Otto: After a long discussion with director Lynn Chen on whether we should shoot the film in color or black and white, we opted for black and white to stay consistent with the first two films of the trilogy. The first two movies were shot in 1080p color and converted to black and white in post. For “I Will Make You Mine” we decided to shoot on the Red Monochrome, mainly because of its extra dynamic range. Also because I like to commit to the look of a film in-camera. This decision proved difficult because there are only a handful of these cameras in existence, so our only choice was to have it shipped from the east coast. The tone of this film was a departure from the first two, as its cast of characters are now more grown-up – so we felt shooting 2.40 anamorphic best suited the nature and scope of the film. Anamorphic has a distortion to it (especially in the bokeh area) that the characters were enmeshed in, helping to reinforce the story.
Dir: Estevan Oriol, DoP: Francisco Pugliese
Format: ProRess 422 (HQ) 2k
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Canon EF L series 16-35, 24-105, 100Macro, 100-400 Ultrasonic
Pugliese: “LA Originals” had a very unpredicted production calendar, very spread out and interrupted, especially for the interviews. We could have a “we need to go and shoot now” on the same day without any anticipation and no location scouting whatsoever. So I had to be ready to shoot interiors, exteriors, day or night in any light condition or time of day. We had to be guerrilla-style or in this case gangster style. So I needed to have the same gear during entire the process to be consistent with the look every time I went out on the field.
The Alexa Mini and the Canon EF lenses were the tools that I could always have available to be ready to shoot anytime any day as my main camera. As back up and sometimes B camera, I had a Blackmagic 4k and a couple of 5Ds (not much from the B cam made the final cut). That was the main reason I picked the Alexa Mini, other than it is one of the most if not the most reliable and solid tools in the business that I trust and that I can operate with a lot of confidence.
The production took around three interrupted years in the making on my end, and more than 30 years of footage shot previously by Estevan. I needed to be consistent in the look of my footage because it had to live mixed with footage shot by Estevan back in the day, in different formats, from VHS, DV, HDV, and stills, so I had to have a contemporary look that could separate from all of the older footage. The Alexa Mini gave me the freedom to work almost always with the available natural LA light or any interior that had its lighting, I had to make it work and it did at least in my opinion. The dynamic range shooting mostly at native 800 ISO, but being able to go up to 3200 ISO, the internal NDs and the possibility of recording the sound straight to the camera made it my weapon of choice.
On the set of “Lapsis”
Dir: Noah Hutton, DoP: Mike Gomes
Format: 5K RED R3D
Camera: Red Gemini
Lens: Cooke Xtal Express Anamorphics & Panavision Z10A 50-500 Anamorphic Zoom
Gomes: In my first meeting with Noah, the director and writer of “Lapsis,” about the aesthetic of the film, we both immediately agreed that with the world building involved, sense of scope that we wanted, and openness of the exteriors we’d be in, it was an obvious choice to go with a widescreen anamorphic approach. I believed that giving this “parallel present” and its characters a big screen look would ultimately empower the storytelling and overall emotion of what this world feels like, from its big wides to intimate close-ups.
We didn’t want super sharp or rectilinear lenses. I chose the Cooke Xtal Express as my main set because they have style and texture — a unique look, especially the bokeh on the wider sizes, which we definitely wanted. These lenses were paired up with the RED Gemini 5K camera whose sensor was a low-light one which helped us tremendously shooting in the woods. In addition to that, I knew how much flexibility there was shooting onto Redcode Raw and the advantage that would give us in post.
I needed to be fast and flexible in the woods and shooting on the Gemini allowed me to do that. There’s a lot of movement with our main character Ray as he travels through the forest as a “cabler.” I wanted the audience to discover and feel like they’re experiencing it for the first time as he is. For that I used the Freefly Systems MoVi Pro which I knew would be an incredibly versatile tool to use with the camera whether it was for walk and talks, cable cam or remotely operated.
The story isn’t only about the characters though, it’s also about a strong quantum computing industry looming over with pressure on its human workers. For that aspect of the story specifically, we wanted to add another perspective into the film that played like the workers in the field were constantly being watched which is where the Panavision 50-500 zoom came into play.
Dir: Natasha Kermani, DoP: Julia Swain
Format: ARRI ProRes 4444
Camera: Arri ALEXA Mini
Lens: Panavision T Series Anamorphic
Swain: The color in the world of “Lucky” was something we were really particular about and wanted to push in post, so shooting LogC and 4444 was a priority. Things are off in the our hero May’s world so shooting on wider anamorphic lenses gave us the ability to naturally distort the world a bit. It also allowed for really isolating and/or trapping May within the frame. Besides just having less depth and more field of view, we played with negative space around her, stacked her against other characters at times and then isolated her from them at others.
The T Series were our go-to lenses for this. They’re a perfect balance of sophistication and character. We tested lenses a bit before shooting to find our perfect match, knowing how we were going to want to flare practicals in the frame, etc., as the story progressed and things get weirder. The Alexa Mini and Panavision T’s were a perfect fit for us.
On the set of “One of These Days”
“One of These Days”
Dir: Bastian Günther, DoP: Michael Kotschi
Format: 4:3 – 2.8K – Anamorphic – 2880 x 2160 (padded to 2944 x 2160)
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: CineoVision High Speed Anamorphic Prime Lenses and Lomo Anamorphic Prime Round Front Lenses
Kotschi: We used two different set of lenses from the late ’70s and early ’80s. The main and first set were the Japanese CineoVision High Speed Anamorphic Prime lenses, and for special occasions where we wanted to have more colorful flares we used the Russian Lomo Anamorphic Prime Round Front lenses. I especially like their defects, which create nice flares and quite obvious corner distortions.
We also used a 360 degree camera — Insta360Pro — to generate the google street view look. We drove near the cost and shot thousand of images. In the end we had to bring all together in postproduction through animation and stitching.
On the set of “The Outpost”
Dir: Rod Lurie, DoP: Lorenzo Senatore
Camera: Alexa mini and Alexa SXT
Lens: Zeiss Super Spaad and Cooke S4
Senatore: We used mostly the Alexa mini in combination with the Zeiss Super speed for most of the scenes, the camera was stripped from all the accessories which they where mounted into a back-pac that the operator would carry on his shoulders, this very small and lightweight configuration allow us to be very mobile and very flexible during the long oners that we designed with the director. Also, because the camera was so light the operator was able to support it only with his arms avoiding lots of the bumps that are usually coming when a camera is rested on the shoulder in traditional handheld. This set up was a key element to be able to follow the action of our cast in these long shots.
On the set of “PG (Psycho Goreman)”
“PG (Psycho Goreman)”
Dir: Steven Kostanski, DoP: Andrew Appelle
Format: 2.8K ARRIRAW
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Kowa Anamorphics, Angénieux Anamorphic 56-152mm
Appelle: This movie was crazy ambitious, an effects heavy monster space epic with child actors shot for well under a million dollars… now my job was to make this look like a real movie. In a dream world, this movie would be shot on 35mm. At our budget we obviously didn’t have that luxury but it had to feel as close to film as it possibly could.
Many of the visual references Steve and I tossed around were films from the late ’80s and early ’90s — “E.T.,” “Terminator 2,” “Highlander 2,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Epics in super grounded settings (with the exception of “Highlander 2”). After some testing, it was clear to the director and I that this film needed to be shot on anamorphic lenses. This movie bounces between the small boring suburbs of a factory town and the colorful insane world of a galactic space council, everything needed to feel epic, including the mundane, what better way than vintage anamorphic lenses.
Anamorphics also appeal to an indescribable nostalgia we all have for classic film and that psychologically pulls you in and suspend your disbelief a bit easier. We also knew that when the violence pops off and things get crazy we’d be diving into handheld shooting. Handheld in an anamorphic lens is much different than a spherical, it’s much dreamier and smoother, we knew we needed to pack in as much psychotic imagery into the frame as we could and not have it lost by a bouncing jerky camera.
As for lighting, we kept it super simplistic whenever we were in the “real world” (the family home, the school, etc), which meant soft and warm. Once we entered PG’s world (the Warehouse, the Forrest, Space Council) I went as theatrical as I could with the lighting.
“Pink Skies Ahead”
Dir: Kelly Oxford, DoP: Charlie Sarroff
Format: 3.2K ProRes 4444XQ
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini/Arri Amira
Lens: Panavision Super Speeds/Cooke Speed Panchros
Sarroff: “Pink Skies Ahead” is a coming of age dramedy that’s set in the 1990’s. Anxiety is a major theme within the film. Director Kelly Oxford and I wanted to create two subtly different worlds. One world is when Winona (Jessica Barden) is going through her daily life and in a more calm state. For this, the camera is more locked down. Wider lenses were used and the images were slightly cleaner.
The other look was during Winona’s anxiety/panic episodes, where we allowed the lenses to bloom out and flare more easily, whilst having more unhinged handheld camera movement on longer lenses. We opted for two styles of vintage lens sets: The Panavised Super Speeds and Cooke Speed Panchros. The Super Speeds were selected for everyday life as we liked the flattering focus roll-off, bokeh and lightweight build. We used the Cookes for panic scenes because we liked the softness, flare and overall quirky nature of the lenses. Our principle camera was the Arri Alexa Mini, but we also used an Arri Amira as B Camera for certain scenes. We opted for Arri cameras because of their filmic qualities, efficient workflow, dynamic range, and compact build.
On the set of “The Quarry”
Dir: Scott Teems, DoP: Michael Alden Lloyd
Format: 6.5K ARRIRAW
Camera: ARRI Alexa 65
Lens: Prime DNAs (45, 60, 80, 110mm)
Lloyd: Well, the first thing Scott said to me was that we had to find a way to marry the epic with the intimate. My mind immediately went to medium format photography for inspiration, then how to apply this quality to motion picture. So, I sorted out a test with ARRI for us to look at the Alexa 65. The image that camera produces is remarkably close to my eye, which gave us a great deal of control and the ability to put the audience exactly where we wanted. And I loved the subject/background relationship and the way everything falls around the focus plane to create this incredibly nuanced perception of depth.
We wanted to lean into the fable as much as possible so I let the backgrounds fall away a bit more than usual. We were able to do this even in the tight spaces, which was nice because it didn’t feel like forced perspective. I particularly enjoyed photographing Shea’s hands. Those closeups feel like these beautiful subjective impressions — just putting your eye right there.
For the lenses, we went with the Prime DNAs, largely because of their character (again leaning into the fable). They were really nice on the skin and had some vignetting that I liked. They resolved nicely at a 2.8/4, and I could easily push the camera to 1600ASA when I needed it. The combination was perfect for “The Quarry.” The whole thing just feels very elevated and immersive and subjective, like the way you’d remember this story had it actually happened and we were recounting it on some porch somewhere back home in Southeastern Kentucky.
Dir: Natalie Erika James, DoP: Charlie Sarroff
Format: 3.4K Open Gate Arri raw
Camera: Arri Alexa SXT/Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke S4
Sarroff: “Relic” is a dramatic horror centered around the theme of dementia. As the film progresses the visuals darken and become increasingly unhinged as Edna (Robyn Nevin) is consumed by the disease. The film’s tone dictated the importance of having a versatile camera and lens package that worked well in low light conditions.
We opted to use the Arri Alexa SXT as A cam, often switching to an Alexa Mini for gimbal, Steadicam, or handheld shots when in tight spaces. I appreciate the Alexa’s filmic qualities, dynamic range, and reliable workflow. It was important that the director Natalie Erika James and I established a look on set that would be similar to what we carried through post and into completion.
With the help of our colorist, CJ Dobson we created two LUTS, both with similar muted colder tones, but one for day/light scenes and the other for night/dark scenes where more shadow detail was needed. We used Cooke S4 lenses because of their pleasing contrast and focus roll-off. I loved the way they beautifully capture skin tones, are fast in low light situations and practical in confined spaces. We worked with a lot of practical lighting, such as iPhone flashlights, I was pleased with the way the Cooke S4 handles flare and reacts to those type of sources in frame. We filmed “Relic” with a predominantly small selection of mostly wider focal lengths, the dominant being the 18mm, 25mm, and 32mm and then used longer focal lengths during certain pivotal moments in the film.
On the set of “She Dies Tomorrow”
Brett Allen Smith
“She Dies Tomorrow”
Dir: Amy Seimetz, DoP: Jay Keitel
Format: ProRes 4444 4K UHD Log C
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini, Canon C300 MKII
Lens: Richard Gale Clavius Primes, Arri Uncoated Ultra Primes, Angenieux Uncoated 26-78 Zoom
Keitel: Amy and I talked about Kate Lyn Sheil’s character and what she would be experiencing as well as hallucinatory vision-like images: plants and trees at night. Her character cycles through many emotions and I felt like using a lens that had many different characteristics would express this, in the best way. I really love what some people call imperfections in a lens, like enhanced flares and edge softness. I think this adds more interesting qualities and layers to the image. Emotions aren’t perfect: for this reason I didn’t want to use a perfect lens.
I remember talking about the idea of opposites or opposing emotions. That made me think of when I’ve used tungsten film outside and daylight balanced film inside and then corrected the color in post — which produced color shading in the mid-tones and shadows. To achieve this with a digital camera I used the Clavius primes: inside the lens you can color the shadows and mid-tones with a rear filter.
We also used sharper lenses for the flashback sequences, to give a sense of a vivid memory. Memories also fade and change, so using the uncoated Ultra primes increased the flare and added another layer. We thought it would be interesting to build on that and make the last scenes in the film even sharper: to make the present seem hyperreal, like it was already becoming a memory. I added to this feeling by choosing the uncoated Angeniuex zoom lens, which has longer extended flares. I liked the characteristic of the noise/grain of the Canon camera for the scenes of Kate alone: it felt more personal and connected to her emotions and as the story progresses the Alexa mini added more sharpness and clarity while still retaining a pleasing subtle softness that reminds me of film.
On the set of “Shithouse”
Dir: Cooper Raiff, DoP: Rachel Klein
Format: 3.2K Arri Raw
Camera: Arri Amira
Lens: Panavision Ultra Speeds
Klein: Despite its title, “Shithouse” is actually a fairly sensitive relational dramedy exploring the struggle to adapt away from home. I went with the vintage Panavision Ultra Speeds (paired with black pro mist filtration) to help create a soft and safe space for the films themes and characters. I was immediately drawn to the vulnerability and honesty of the script when I first read it and wanted to honor that with the visuals. We chose the Amira from both a budget standpoint and my comfort and attachment to that camera, coming from a heavy documentary background, but I think it’s look and workflow was perfect for the film overall.
Dir: Emma Seligman, DoP: Maria Rusche
Format: 2K ProRes 4444
Camera: Arri Alexa XT 4:3
Lens: Kowa Anamorphics and a 10:1 Cooke Cinetal Zoom
Rusche: The film takes place in one anxious day and almost entirely at a shiva. A large part of what builds the tension is that our protagonist Danielle is in a pressure-cooker being confronted by more and more people at a time in a small house, and we knew these scenes relied on our amazing ensemble cast’s ability to play off one another. With the anamorphic field of view, we could fit multiple characters in a frame while maintaining the depth of a longer lens and separating them from the sea of other mourners.
We also wanted to translate Danielle’s anxiety and stress visually, and the warping of the Kowas helped make it feel like the walls could literally cave in on her. We loved how they intensified the claustrophobia Danielle feels and exemplified her distorted reality as her anxiety worsens. We tested a number of anamorphic lenses at Panavision during prep. We liked the Kowas specifically because they’re a good balance of edge distortion without falling apart or losing too much sharpness at the edges. They’re also quite light which was essential since about half the movie is handheld.
On the set of “The Surrogate”
Dir: Jeremy Hersh, DoP: Mia Cioffi Henry
Format: 2k Pro Res
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke S4i
Henry: 99.99 percent of the film was shot handheld, including multiple 10-plus page of dialogue scenes shot in single takes, so we knew we needed something that was lightweight. We also had a diversity of skin tones in front of the camera, so it was important to have lenses that worked naturally and beautifully, the Cooke S4s were a great choice for that. Most of our locations were lit 360, so that we could be improvisational with our blocking and camera choreography, following movement and action.
On the set of “Topside”
Dir: Celine Held and Logan George, DoP: Lowell Meyer
Format: 3.2K Prores 4444 with 256GB CFast cards so that we could get optimal filming time per card (approximately 40 minutes).
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: ARRI/Zeiss Super Speed 50mm, 85mm prime lens
Meyer: We wanted to be able to roll for very long periods of time, often not cutting the camera until we absolutely had to reload a new CFast card, in order to make the performances resonate. We were working primarily with a child who did not have an acting background, so time was our most precious commodity to shape her performance, and to utilize every second of filming we’d have with a minor before swapping to her double. We never knew what she would do in any given take, and we wanted to capture moments between the scripted beats. Celine, Logan, and I knew that her performance would ultimately be shaped in the edit, and that would require us to be extra diligent on set to amass a wealth of footage to work with later. In addition, most of the cast are not classically trained actors, so it was an approach we applied ubiquitously across all scenes.
We needed a camera package that could be very run-and-gun to keep up with the real locations we were filming in, as well as to keep us filming for as long as possible. Super Speeds are some of the smallest lenses you can get that still have character and beauty to them, and the same goes for the Alexa Mini. I believe the final cut accurately reflects the energy, dynamism, intensity, and naturalism for which the directors and I were aiming, as this is a filming approach that we have been building on for years via the shorts we’d made preceding “Topside” (“Caroline,” “Mouse,” “Babs”).
On the set of “Yummy”
Dir: Lars Damoiseaux, DoP: Daan Nieuwenhuijs
Format: Arri 3.2K Prores 4444 XQ
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini and Amira
Lens: Leica Summicrons
Nieuwenhuijs: Arri Alexa has been the way to go for me for many years. Also for “Yummy” the Alexa Mini and Amira (B-cam) were perfect. The Mini gave as all options we needed for this film: Dolly, handheld and Gimbal. As the story continues and everything starts falling apart, the camera does too and slowly evolves from dolly/gimbal to handheld. We decided to use a B-camera since we had quite a lot of scenes with six to eight actors, stunts and lots of blood splatting around. That’s when the Amira came in.
Light wise we decided to use six different colors, to determine where the characters were in the building; the story is mostly told in one location. The Leica Summicrons together with Arri Alexa/Amira captured these colors perfectly. The Summicrons also helped us in lowlight situations, which we had a lot. We shot the whole film in ISO 1280, to make the image grainy, gritty and yummy.
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