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InCamera 2012 Issue 1

InCamera 2012 Issue 1

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Published by Philippe Brelot

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Published by: Philippe Brelot on Jun 14, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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True Blood
, the death-obsessed HBOtelevision series that portrays vampires as amisunderstood, oppressed minority, beginsits fifth season in June. In a world with dozensof vampire entertainment options, the showhas earned such a devoted following that ithas become HBO’s most-watched series since
The Sopranos.
Recognized by critics and fans,
True Blood
has also received more than a dozenEmmy® nominations.Based on “The Southern VampireMysteries” novels by Charlaine Harris, thestoryline centers on a telepathic waitress(Anna Paquin) and her blood-soakedadventures in a small Louisiana town.
according to the story, is a syntheticblood substitute that helps the undead keeptheir thirsts quenched. But for some reason,regular folks are still less than accepting ofthe pale, persecuted — yet sexy — Vampires.Cinematography duties on the series are shared by David Klein,ASC and Romeo Tirone, who shoot alternating episodes. Tironehas enjoyed a prolific career as a cinematographer, and in additionto shooting, he has directed episodes of
True Blood
and Showtime’s
. Klein broke into filmmaking in the 1990s with
Chasing Amy 
, and has added more than 30 narrative projects tohis resume, including
Good Time Max
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
 Red State
, as well as episodes of
Flight 29 Down
Pushing Daisies
.John B. Aronson, Joseph Gallagher,Matthew Jensen, Stephen St. John andChecco Varese, ASC, AMC all previouslycontributed to the series.Describing the look of
True Blood
,Tirone says, “One of the major things thatseparates
True Blood
from most shows isthat we shoot on film. That helps us keepour look consistent. There is nothing like the‘romance’ that film gives to a show. We shoota lot of night exteriors, and are very careful tokeep our night look constant. Darkness is abig part of the character of
True Blood
, we arealways on the edge trying not to be too safewith our look.”“Slick and sexy, with an edge,” adds Klein.“I try to take the sharpness off of the edgea bit, because I think when you’re dealingwith such supernatural material, if the lookstarts to stray too far from reality, everythingbegins to feel phony and lame. So at its core, the lighting of theshow, for me, needs to feel based in reality.”Generally, the approach features wider lenses with somewhatsaturated colors. The lenses are usually COOKE S4 primes, withthe occasional use of ANGENIEUX OPTIMO zooms. Klein says heprefers to move closer and do a close-up on a 50mm rather thanusing a longer lens and hanging back. “To me, it feels more like a
True Blood
HBO’s Vampire Tale Enters Fifth Season
Director Hyung-Suk Lee and director of cinematographySung-Kuk Lee shot the short film
Two Boys and a Sheep
with fundsfrom the Korean Film Council’s Production Support Program forIndependent Films. For several reasons, the filmmakers choseto use 2-perf KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219,making it the first Korean production in that format.“The film is about two diametrically-opposed lifestyles,homosexuality and heterosexuality,” explains Sung-Kuk. “Wewanted to portray these lifestyles with the dramatic space theydeserve, and this would be almost impossible in a digital format.Only 35mm film accurately conveys the emotions of the characters,and allows audiences not merely to see or hear the movie, but alsoto experience it.“The movie had to be filmed right before sunset with the unstableglow from the sun, and we knew that 5219 Film would providethe appropriate dynamic range,” adds the cinematographer. “Weattempted to use natural light as much as possible with the correctexposure, which is one of the advantages of the film format. Byenhancing shadow detail and by setting highlighting around faces,we accentuated the skin tones to describe the emotional state ofeach character. Using different lenses (a wide-angle lens for outdoorshooting and a telephoto for indoors), we were able to introducevariation into the shots, so that despite the fact that all the ‘action’takes place in one day, the audience is engaged by visual clues.”The two creatives agreed that shooting in the 2-perf format gavethem advantages in terms of both budget and time. Sung-Kuk says,“We went through test shooting during pre-production and concludedthat there is little difference in image quality between the 2-perf and4-perf format. You might think there’s an inevitable frame loss since2-perf is done with half the existing frame, but by setting frame lossto zero, enormous financial resources can be saved. In other words,choosing 2-perf gave us the flexibility to spend on other productionelements such as production design, lighting, crew and actors.“The 2-perf format also reduces the number of roll changes,thus reducing loading time,” he continues. “This meant we werefree from the ‘rolling out’ effect that can interfere with the actors’emotional flow.”The filmmakers point out that one of the last shots of the moviewas also one of the most important. They wanted to shoot ithandheld and it was a long take–longer than one minute–whichtracked five characters and an animal. Since the 2-perf format fitstwice as many widescreen images on a given length of 35mmfilm, slashing raw stock and processing costs in half compared toconventional 4-perf 35mm formats, the filmmakers report theyfelt free to set as many takes for this scene as needed because the2-perf format was so cost effective.A DI was completed using scanned 4K images that wererecorded out to film.
Two Boys and a Sheep
will be submitted tovarious international film festivals as a 35mm print.
2-perf Format
Advantageous to Budget and Schedule
“Only 35mm film accuratelyconveys the emotions of the characters, and allowsaudiences not merely to seeor hear the movie, but alsoto experience it.”
feature film that way,” he says. “The combination of the Cookesand the Angenieux zoom is one of the best I’ve found, but I stillprefer the look of the primes.”An episode is usually shot in 10-15 days. The main format is 3-perf35mm, usually shot with a single ARRICAM and KODAK VISION3500T Color Negative Film 5219 and KODAK VISION3 250D ColorNegative Film 5207. But Klein notes they use a wide variety ofcameras and formats when the story requires.“We’ve used a hand-cranked ARRIFLEX, CANON 5Ds, REDs, ARRI235s and 435s,” says Klein. “Our stories contain many flashbacks,and we use many different tools to depict them. We’ll sometimespush one or two stops to add some contrast and grain, justnoticeable enough to make it dance — and that grain is wonderful.It’s one of the best tools I have at my disposal. It’s something I reallymiss when I shoot digitally. Grain can be an actress’s best friend.”During season four, Klein usedthe technique for a sequence thatflashed back to a 1920s Louisianasharecropper’s house at nighttime.“I went all moonlight and oil-burninglamps inside the house,” he says. “Iknew that I wanted to desaturatethe image and add grain, so I dida two-stop push and asked mydailies colorist to drop the colorout by 60 percent. The initial ideawas to shoot 16mm, but we wantedto do something with our existingequipment, and this was the solution.The grain really sang. We werealready rating at 2,000 ASA, but attimes I underexposed the negativeeven further.“After lifting the image up, it was likelooking at a faded, old photograph fromthat era. In final color, we desaturatedeverything that was brown and bluea little further than anything else, sothe reds and skin tones held out the best. Suzuki Ingerslev, ourproduction designer, really helped me out with this by painting thehouse very neutral and keeping most of the color out of the frame. Itreally felt like a faded, color photograph from that era that had sat inthe sun for too long.”After a series of cost comparisons, the production determinedthat the choice of origination format was not a money issue.“(Executive producer) Gregg Fienberg and I decided to keep theshow on film,” says Klein. “The current crop of digital cameras isamazing, but to switch a show from film to digital will change thelook of the show. That was one of my main arguments: If you’rehappy with the way
True Blood
looks right now, then don’t change it.“More importantly, I lean on film so heavily every day,” hesays. “I know that I can blow out a highlight by five stops and it’sgoing to look gorgeous. I know that a certain actor’s face, whenlit one-and-a-half stops under, is going to glow perfectly. There’sno monitor I have to babysit. I can light by eye, through the lens,instead of going back and forth between the monitor and the set,which takes time.“Also, with film, I can lock in the look by exposing the negative acertain way, which you can’t currently do with digital. With digital,you expose to capture all the information, and then you push itaround in post. You’re basically creating the entire look in a colorsuite. I prefer to lock 90 percent of the look into the negative onthe set, and then fine tune it in the color suite.”The post facility is Technicolor, where Peter Ritter serves as dailiescolorist and Scott Klein handles final color. “They know what I meanwhen I say, ‘Make this scene almost dark enough to get me fired,’”says Klein with a laugh.Key grip Bud Scott introduced Klein to CHIMERA cloth, which heuses for large, diffuse sources. “I tend to go somewhat big on theshow,” says Klein. “Vampires come out at night, so we have a lot ofnight exteriors, and we often use Condors and big sources — lastweek we had two 20K Fresnels — to simulate moonlight. CHIMERAis one of the thickest diffusion materials I’ve used, so it takes a lotof firepower and manpower to make it soft, especially when we gothrough two rags.”
True Blood
provides the cinematographers and their crews withan ever-shifting array of challenges and opportunities. Whether it’sa modern-day scene shot on one of the show’s six stages on The Lotat Santa Monica Boulevard and Formosa in Hollywood, or a 1920sflashback on a remote location, they are ready.“What keeps me most engaged in this show, and what is alsoexhausting, is that we’re constantly given new storylines, newflashbacks, new stories to tell within our story,” Klein says. “Everyepisode has something that requires a different look. It definitelykeeps us on our toes.”“It’s one of the best aspects of shooting a show aboutvampires,” adds Tirone. “They have lived so long that it lets usshoot flashbacks from any era.”
“More importantly, I lean onfilm so heavily every day. I knowthat I can blow out a highlight byfive stops and it’s going to lookgorgeous. “
People Like Us
Familial Ties Uncoveredin Touching Drama
You shot this in 3-perf Super 35mm. Which cameras and lensesdid you employ?
I shot the film on ARRI ST and LT cameras and COOKE S4 lenses.I love those lenses. They are slightly on the warm side and are veryclean. I own a set — that’s how much I love them! I usually shoottwo cameras and operate one — the B camera. I had an incredibleoperator in Colin Anderson who brought a lot to the table. I gaveColin a lot of room to bring his storytelling abilities to the film.
How did camera movement factor into the visual approach?
We were always mindful of moving the camera. The cameras wereon dollies, sliders, and STEADICAMS. Every scene had a little bit ofcamera movement to it to help draw you in and help you focus onwhat was happening with the actors. Camera movement makes theaudience feel like they are there as opposed to being just an observer,and that is what really helps them relate to this film, as well.
Which scene sticks in your memory the most?
There are a couple emotional scenes with Michelle (Pfeiffer) andChris (Pine), and I found myself crying behind the camera. Whenyou’re behind the camera and you start crying … you go back to thatmoment when you were younger and deciding you want to makefilms — that you believe in them. The actor and actress have takenyou somewhere. It’s one of those extremely rare moments of ‘Thisis what I always wanted to do.’ You’re an artist, you’re a technician,you’re a manager, and you can become so preoccupied with what’sat hand to accomplish that day that when you get those moments,it’s so special.
When lighting interiors through windows, what are you usingto get enough light for your exposure choice?
Different locations called for different lighting elements. We shota scene in Cole’s, which is a restaurant and bar in downtownLos Angeles with very dark windows and a dark interior. I lit thatwith 240,000 watts of light through the windows. We used two100,000-watt SOFTSUNS, plus a bunch of 18Ks. When you see thescene, you don’t even feel like it’s lit. In Michelle’s house interiors,I used some 18K ARRIMAX HMIs outside.
Do you complement this lighting with anything inside theinterior locations?
Very little is used inside. I try to use a little bit of bounce. But that’swhat is so great about the film stocks — you have this latitude andcontrast there that allowed me to work in this environment. I wouldhave had to approach it differently if I did it digitally.
Did you encounter a shot or scene that turned out to be morecomplicated than anticipated?
There is a night scene with Chris and his mom on a bench in LaurelCanyon overlooking the city, and we had talked about approachingit a certain way. When we got there with the actors and blocked theTo hear cinematographer Salvatore Totino, ASC, AIC talk abouthis latest film,
People Like Us,
you can tell the project resonateddeeply with him. The DreamWorks SKG film, about a man whomust deliver part of his deceased father’s fortune to a sister he hasnever met, stars Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks and Michelle Pfeiffer inwriter-producer Alex Kurtzman’s feature directing debut. The story,written by Kurtzman, is quite a departure from his usual fantasy andscience-fiction fare (
Transformers, Star Trek, Alias
), and itreally gripped Totino.“I equate this film to a modern-day version of the psychology thatwas behind Italian neo-realism films,” says Totino. “This is a realstory that has been fictionalized to some degree but is accessible toeverybody. With that storyline, a lot of people will turn around andsay I know somebody like that or that has happened to me or willknow what it is like to be an illegitimate child. It’s so real, and that iswhat drew me to the film.”
What did you feel you could bring to the film as far as avisual approach?Totino:
My whole idea with the film was to help create a realenvironment so that the viewer can relate to the story. For example,we would be inside a house in the middle of the day, and it would belit from outside so it feels tangible.
Did shooting on film help in your approach as opposed to usinga digital format?
Absolutely. If I had my choice, I’d always shoot film as much aspossible.
Which film stocks did you use?
We shot KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219, KODAKVISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207 and a little bit of KODAKVISION2 100T Color Negative Film 5212, which I used on a fewdaytime exteriors. Most of the time I chose 5207, including for themajority of daytime interiors.
For nighttime shots, did you do any pushing of the film stock?
I didn’t need to do it. I worked in the toe of the film when I could, andthere is a lot of latitude there to work with. I didn’t want to changethe grain structure at all by pushing the film because I was trying tobe clean and not artificial. I was very conscious of making it feel verynaturally lit.
Considering the cast, was there any special lighting for them?
No, and that was a fine line to walk because it was all about keepingit genuine. I wasn’t trying to be extra conscious of beauty. I wantedthem to look good, but I wanted it to look real and not over thetop. The film is very emotional, and you forget you are watching amovie. I give credit to Alex (Kurtzman) for that. Although this is hisfirst feature as a director, I felt like I was working with a seasonedfilmmaker. I was very impressed with how prepared he was.
It sounds like there was restraint in having the cinematographyand look call attention to itself.
I try to do that with most of my films, unless it is something like ascience-fiction thriller where the look is part of the story. Alex wantedthe film to look good, and gave me a lot of room as to where I wantedto go with it. In this film, the look is there to help tell the story but notdistract from it.scene, it wasn’t working the way we had planned. We only had onenight to do it. It’s a low-budget film so we couldn’t come back, andwe were fighting against the rising sun. We simplified it and changedeverything — the coverage, the angles, the camera movement —and it turned out great. We shot listed the script beforehand, butsometimes you have to change it up when the players get there.We had that flexibility to do that, and it was great to work that way.That’s the way I work with Ron Howard, as well.Another good thing about this film is that we worked really hard tomake sure we had a lot of coverage, which gave Alex more choiceseditorially. That is unusual in a lower budget film because you don’thave the time. We shot for 42 days with two days of additionalshooting. We had a great crew and the actors were dialed in. Thecoverage enhanced the film.
Who handled your dailies and digital intermediate?
Deluxe Laboratories developed the film, and we did dailies at EFILM.Ben Estrada did my dailies as well as the DI color timing. I vieweddailies in digital form on DVD, but I got to look at some prints when Ineeded to. The film colorist was Yvan Lucas.
Did you use the DI to create a look or was that done primarily incamera beforehand?
We captured most of the look in camera. The DI was more likeconventional color timing except for a few spots where we did somePower Windows, and that was only necessary because while wewere filming, it would have taken extra time to flag off and bringdown the lighting on a particular wall. Instead, we used that time toget more coverage through an extra setup or two.
Looking back, what do you take away from this movie’sundertaking?
It was an incredible experience, and working with those professionalsin a low-budget world helped make a difference. Producer ClaytonTownsend — with whom I did my first feature
Any Given Sunday
worked really hard to give us what we needed to tell the story. IdaRandom, the production designer, worked with one hand tied behindher back because she didn’t have the funds but gave us sets thatwere fantastic. She did a great job and helped me tell the story. Theother asset was the collaborative relationship with the director. Alexfelt comfortable and trusted me, and that collaboration always makesa difference.

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