As the curtain closes on 2023, we welcome you to our final issue of the year, serving up a bumper crop of amazing production stories that includes the latest instalment of The Hunger Games , UFO docuseries Encounters, Indian thriller Kohrra, heist caper Culprits, and the critically acclaimed 26.2 To Life. There’s also a round table on AI, a guide to renting gear, and a conversation with of the world’s most renowned colourists.
26.2 TO LIFE HOPE & HEARTACHE IN SAN QUENTIN PRISON MARATHON DOC
LIFE IN COLOUR JEAN-CLÉMENT SORET ON THE CRAFT OF THE COLOURIST
OUT OF THIS WORLD DOP TIM CRAGG TALKS UFO DOCUSERIES ENCOUNTERS
DECEMBER 2023 DEFINITIONMAGAZINE.COM
C inematographer Jo Willems reveals the production secrets behind the blockbusting Hunger Games franchise
Kohrra’s Innovative VFX Industry Trailblazers Must-Have New Kit News & Events Your Guide to Gear Rental AI Round Table
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EDITORIAL Editor in chief Nicola Foley firstname.lastname@example.org Staff writer Katie Kasperson Chief sub editor Matthew Winney Sub editor Martin Puddifer Editorial director Roger Payne email@example.com Contributors Irvin de Vette, Trevor Hogg, Robert Shepherd ADVERTISING Sales director Sam Scott-Smith firstname.lastname@example.org 01223 499457
A s the curtain closes on 2023, we welcome you to our final issue of the year – and what a year it’s been in the film industry. The SAG-AFTRA strikes ground productions to a halt, the rise of AI stirred both excitement and apprehension, the Barbenheimer phenomenon breathed new life into cinema- going, and monumental leaps forward in tech changed the game forever. Rounding off the year, we’ve got a bumper crop of amazing production stories to share. First up, we dive into the dystopian universe of The Hunger Games – one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time. Hearing from cinematographer Jo Willems, we learn about the story so far and making the latest instalment, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes , on page 12. We also enjoy some close encounters of a cinematic kind, sitting down with the DOP on a new docuseries about extraterrestrial visitations. Paying homage to science-fiction classics, the gorgeous Netflix show Encounters is pushing the frontier of a brand-new genre: read all about it on page 52. We also go behind the scenes on Indian thriller Kohrra (page 60), heist caper Culprits (page 22), plus I had the pleasure of chatting to the makers of 26.2 to Life , a critically acclaimed documentary about the San Quentin Prison Marathon. Elsewhere in the issue, there’s a round table on AI, the Def Guide to renting gear and a conversation with Jean-Clément Soret – one of the world’s most renowned colourists. He shares his career story so far on page 20. Have a great Christmas – and see you on the other side!
Sales manager Emma Stevens email@example.com 01223 499462 | +447376665779 DESIGN Design director Andy Jennings Magazine manager Lucy Woolcomb Senior designer Carl Golsby Junior designer Hedzlynn Kamaruzzaman Ad production Holly May PUBLISHING Managing directors Andy Brogden & Matt Pluck Definition is published monthly by Bright Publishing Ltd, Bright House, 82 High Street, Sawston, Cambridge, CB22 3HJ. No part of this magazine can be used without prior written permission of Bright Publishing Ltd. Definition is a registered trademark of Bright Publishing Ltd. The advertisements published in Definition that have been written, designed or produced by employees of Bright Publishing Ltd remain the copyright of Bright Publishing Ltd and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. Prices quoted in sterling, euros and US dollars are street prices, without tax, where available or converted using the exchange rate on the day the magazine went to press. Bright Publishing LTD Bright House, 82 High Street, Sawston, Cambridgeshire, CB22 3HJ, UK
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How environmental champion VMI embodies a circular economy 59 CASE STUDY: VMI This Indian thriller got its mysterious look from FutureWorks’ VFX team 60 KOHRRA 64 TRAILBLAZERS 66 EXPEDITIE ROBINSON We profile Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe, British Urban Film Festival founder We outline albert’s Screen New Deal and how to apply it to your production 56 SCREEN NEW DEAL 52 ENCOUNTERS This otherworldly series coins a new documentary filmmaking genre Dutch Survivor series gives remote production a whole new meaning 71 TOOLKIT The top new gear releases you need to get on your radar
44 ROUND TABLE A new doc peers over the walls of the notorious San Quentin State Prison 34 26.2 TO LIFE Our latest guide outlines the key considerations when renting 27 THE DEF GUIDE TO... This eight-part crime series had its fair share of production hurdles 22 CULPRITS Colourist Jean-Clément Soret gives us a glimpse into his successful career 20 CV STORIES We dig into highly anticipated prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes 12 THE HUNGER GAMES SAG-AFTRA strikes, FilmLight Colour Awards, ISE turns 20 and lots more 07 INDUSTRY BRIEFINGS The past, present and future of AI’s influence on the industry
ON THE COVER
ISE CELEBRATES 20 YEARS
F rom 30 January through 2 February, Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) returns to Barcelona. Celebrating its 20th year, the conference combines summits, stalls and speakers, with a programme centred around the latest challenges and opportunities in the AV sectors. This year’s ISE will cover smart building and home technology, control rooms, content production and distribution, digital signage, education and sustainability, among other topics. From virtual production and augmented reality to live events across global stages, each summit encourages upskilling, keeping
professionals immersed in conversations and informed on industry advancements. Located in Fira Barcelona, ISE takes place across over 50,000 sq m of floor space, housing hundreds of exhibitors separated by technology zone – from audio to lighting to ed tech. Trade show sponsors include KNX, Shure, Zoom, Dell Technologies, Jabra and ChromeOS. In 2023, ISE welcomed 58,107 unique visitors from over 170 countries, with 39.5% in senior leadership positions. The event hopes to see even higher numbers and more engagement from the audiovisual and systems integration industries.
FUTUREWORKS LAUNCHES ‘LOOK STUDIO’
P ost-production studio FutureWorks recently launched ‘Look Studio’ in its Mumbai location. The new space, housed within FutureWorks’ colour facility, dedicates itself primarily to colour grading and VFX services. The 35x20x14ft studio serves as a creative hub, equipped with live grading carts and suites, so DOPs can test cameras and lenses, build looks and LUTs and review tests on in- house monitors.
A WIZARDING WORLD IN FLUX
SHORT TAKES 1. Fiery fantasy House of the Dragon , the prequel to HBO’s smash-hit series Game of Thrones , will officially return in ‘early summer’ 2024, according to network executive Casey Bloys. The spin-off was renewed for a second season just one week after its premiere in August 2022, with the first episode alone reaching ten million viewers. 2. Christmas classics Christmas films don’t always fare well, but Elf and Love Actually – both turning 20 – have managed to become household staples when it comes to holiday movies. Taking place in New York City and London, respectively, the two films are arguably the most quoted Christmas tales in popular culture. 3. Young blood The Hertfordshire Film Festival – directed at filmmakers aged 11-25 – will return in April 2025. The event seeks to develop skills in young, underrepresented creatives who live, work or study in the southern county. Supported by Warner Bros Studios Leavesden, University of Hertfordshire and Arts Council England, the festival will welcome submissions from early 2024.
F antastic Beasts – a Wizarding World franchise and Harry Potter prequel – has been ‘parked’ by Warner Bros, according to director David Yates. The series’ latest film, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , struggled to perform at the box office upon its 2022 release. The Fantastic Beasts film series has faced a number of reputational setbacks, with creator JK Rowling as well as stars Ezra Miller and Johnny
Depp all coming under public scrutiny in recent times. Meanwhile, Daniel Radcliffe, who played the titular Harry Potter, has produced the HBO documentary David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived – a riff on the character’s oft-used nickname. Holmes acted as Radcliffe’s stunt double on the franchise’s seventh film until suffering a spinal injury. David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived is available for streaming on Max (US) and Now (UK).
SAG-AFTRA STRIKES END
A fter months of striking for better work conditions, the SAG-AFTRA union announced a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The contract includes clauses for minimum pay increases, streaming bonuses as well as protection from AI-related threats. The 118-day strike – the longest in SAG-AFTRA history – officially ended at 00.01am on Thursday 9 November. Until then, productions had been paused and actors banned from all forms of promotion, making for quieter- than-usual film festivals and
awards seasons. For the first time since May 2023, Hollywood has the full support of both writers – who resolved the WGA strike in September – and actors.
T he FilmLight Colour Awards, now in its third year, announced the latest winners across five categories: theatrical feature, TV series/episodic, commercial, music video and spotlight. The awards FILMLIGHT COLOUR AWARDS REVEAL VICTORS recognise excellent work in colour grading and are announced every year at EnergaCAMERIMAGE. This year’s winners include Yvan Lucas for Barbie (theatrical feature), Dirk Meier for The Pimp: No F***ing Fairytale (TV series/episodic), Tim Masick for Zara Man , SS23 (commercial), Marina Starke for Horra by Mayyas (music video) and Cem Ozkilicci for Possession (spotlight).
RISE ANNOUNCES AWARD WINNERS
R ise, a group that supports women in broadcast and media technology, has announced the winners of its annual awards, celebrating women and companies which inspire and innovate. Over 400 nominations competed for 16 accolades, including the ally of the year, business leader award and woman of the year.
This year’s Rise Awards recipients include The Bike Bureau’s Kate Vandy and Anna Holligan (product innovation award), Pixotope’s Carina Schoo (influencer award), BT Media & Broadcast’s Hollie Keen (rising star award) and Limitless Broadcast’s Claire Wilkie (Rise special recognition award). Barbara Slater, BBC’s director of sport, was named woman of the
year, and Pixotope received the company award for investment in women. As an organisation, Rise works towards diversity and gender equality in the broadcast media and entertainment technology sectors. Members can enjoy mentoring programmes, networking events, seminars and workshops.
LONDON FILM FESTIVAL RELEASES 2023 NUMBERS T his year’s London Film Festival (LFF), hosted by the British Film
3 December, BIFA The British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) has announced this year’s nominees across 25 categories, including best British independent film and best British short. Rye Lane leads with 16 nominations, and winners will be announced at the ceremony. 4-7 December, CineAsia The 28th CineAsia expo brings the motion picture business to the APAC region once again. Held in Bangkok, Thailand, the trade show combines networking opportunities along with exclusive film screenings and product releases. Warner Bros, Universal and Sony are among the studios scheduled to appear. 5-6 December, FOCUS Show Live from London’s Business Design Centre, the FOCUS Show promises two days of networking with film, TV, advertising and gaming professionals from more than 100 countries. Over 150 speakers are scheduled to appear. 5-8 December, Asia TV Forum & Market Asia TV Forum & Market mixes talks from industry leaders – including executives from Paramount, StudioCanal and NBCUniversal – with opportunities for creators to pitch to streamers, studios and distributors. 18-28 January 2024, Sundance Film Festival Sundance will be celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2024. Director Christopher Nolan will be honoured with the inaugural trailblazer award at the festival’s Opening Night Gala. DIARY DATES
documentary competition and short film competition, respectively. In the Audience Awards, Gassed Up took home the prize for best feature, The Taste of Mango for best documentary, Festival of Slaps for best British and Murals for best immersive/XR. LFF 2023 featured screenings of 252 titles as well as Screen Talks by Martin Scorsese and Greta Gerwig, LFF for Free and LFF Expanded events and other exhibitions. The festival wrapped on 15 October with Daniel Kaluuya’s directorial debut, The Kitchen .
Institute, saw over 195,000 in-person attendees and welcomed 3649 press and industry delegates from across the world. Eight films were selected for the LFF Awards, voted for by a jury, and LFF Audience Awards, chosen by the public. Evil Does Not Exist won the official competition, with Paradise is Burning , Bye Bye Tiberias and The Archive: Queer Nigerians winning the first feature competition,
PRODUCTION THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES
THE SAGA Continues As the latest instalment in The Hunger Games series hits screens, Trevor Hogg speaks to cinematographer Jo Willems to learn more about the making of the dystopian franchise IMAGES Lionsgate
THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES PRODUCTION
MORE TO THE STORY Tom Blyth (left) and Rachel Zegler (right) star in this prequel to the original series, which tells the tale of a young Coriolanus Snow
A fter the cinematic adaptation of The Hunger Games trilogy, in which Tributes from the occupied districts of Panem fight to the death in a televised battle, author Suzanne Collins wrote a prequel dealing with the backstory of future tyrannical president Coriolanus Snow (played by Tom Blyth). Eight years on from the last film, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes reunites filmmaker Francis Lawrence and cinematographer Jo Willems ASC, SBC – who previously collaborated on Catching Fire and Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2 . “Francis and I have evolved as filmmakers and people, so it was exciting to tackle something set before the other four movies took place,” begins Willems. “The war has just passed so there are still a lot of buildings destroyed and it’s an older architecture. I’ve always preferred shooting in the districts from Catching
Fire onwards, as there’s something more painterly and nostalgic about them that I connected to more strongly.”
THE REAL DEAL Unlike in previous instalments, the event known as The Hunger Games takes place in an arena with interiors captured at Centennial Hall in Wroclaw, Poland and exteriors at Berlin Olympic Stadium. “You’re inside this arena going, ‘How do we make this exciting?’” reflects Willems. “I have to make it look dramatic in terms of lighting and it constantly wants to feel dangerous to the Tributes in there. This is not a happy place! We went for a grittier, realistic feel.” There was not complete freedom as Centennial Hall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “We couldn’t nail anything into the walls, but we had some riggers in there who would climb up to
PRODUCTION THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES
A CINEMATIC LOOK The vast majority of the film was shot with an ARRI ALEXA Mini LF and Signature Prime lenses
THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES PRODUCTION
THE ALEXA MINI LF IS A LIGHTER WEIGHT. IT’S easy for handheld AND YOU CAN get into small spaces – IT’S VERY FLEXIBLE as a camera ”
these big concrete beams and hang up lights. I did east, west, north and south, and for where the big hole in the ceiling [caused by an explosion] is I put another few banks there so I could constantly have some contrast. You need to be able to create a dramatic image to drag in the audience.” About 95% of the footage was shot with ARRI ALEXA Mini LF cameras and ARRI Signature Prime lenses. “There is a little story to this,” reveals Willems. “Francis and I have been shooting everything since 2018 on the ARRI ALEXA 65. When we came to this project, I felt that shooting with a large camera would impede us because there was so much action and Steadicam work. I did a couple of tests for him with the ALEXA Mini LF and Signature Primes during a scouting trip to the arena and he went, ‘Okay, lets do it.’ “The Mini LF is a lighter weight. I can use it on a Steadicam and rigs, it’s easy for handheld and you can get into small spaces – it’s very flexible as a camera.” Normally, two cameras were favoured, but not always. “We tended to shoot on wide lenses so sometimes it’s difficult to get another camera in there somewhere. When we were doing some of the fight sequences in the arena, and the reapings [the event where Tributes are selected], we ended up adding cameras. The most was four, so we could do extra shots from different angles.” GLASS HALF FULL Over the past six years, more lenses have been manufactured capable of covering the big sensors of large format cameras. “I’d shot a few commercials on Signature Primes and felt it was the perfect glass for what we wanted to do,” explains
Willems. “They’re wide, with not too much bend in the glass and not overly sharp. It definitely has a human aspect to it and doesn’t feel too cold. It has an incredible close focus, which was a big deal. Some scenes we’re inches from the actors. “It’s a VFX-friendly lens. You can use it in all conditions. In a few scenes in the games, we shot on a 15mm to be super wide in that space because you can see the scope and scale of it. But the 29mm and 21mm were used the most. We also had a 35mm just in case we couldn’t be close enough. You could really get into a close-up with the 29mm and be intimate with an actor.” Big action sequences were shot listed, however, and coverage for moments of dialogue were determined by rehearsals with the cast on location. “Francis loves wide lenses, shooting long takes, bringing people into a space, turning around and revealing the rest of it,” explains Willems. “When it comes to lighting, you have to be prepared for that. Tungsten was not part of the lighting equipment. It was a lot of Creamsource Vortexes, quite a few ARRI 360 SkyPanels – which are easy to move around and a nice soft light. And ARRIMAXs allowed us to create a hard sunlight coming into that arena. I usually use natural light outside because things can quickly start looking artificial.”
TIME WELL SPENT Ten weeks was allotted for pre-
production and principal photography lasted 17 weeks, with the spring weather in Poland and Germany varying a great deal. “We had one LUT, which is something [visual effects supervisor] Adrian de Wet prefers and is easier for colour correcting,” states Willems. “I
PRODUCTION THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES
graded the single LUT with colourist Dave Hussey at Company 3, but as we were going, he grabbed a LUT from something else and sometimes added 10-15% of that into our original one to mix things up.” The capture system was ARRIRAW, with 4.5K resolution and 2.39:1 aspect ratio. “This was never a discussion,” remarks Willems. “We did that with our other movies and felt it was still the right call. We shot open gate so Adrian de Wet could have enough information if needed, and obviously it’s a tall sensor.” A device that resembles an electric wheelchair helped Steadicam operator David J Thompson. “As the actors are running through the arena, we could follow them at full speed. That was a fun tool. Other than that, we used cranes a fair amount and had a good drone team in Poland for the inside of the arena.” One of the most complex shots, which took a long time to get just right, was the opening of the 10th Hunger Games. “We wanted it to be a long take that was handheld and from the perspective of Lucy Gray Baird [Rachel Zegler]. All of
I NORMALLY USE NATURAL LIGHT OUTSIDE OR ELSE THINGS CAN quickly start looking artificial ”
those spears and machetes had to fit within quite a long scene. “We had to rehearse a lot for that one. Over the weekend, we brought the cast in before shooting it to make sure we would get the choreography correct between the actors, stunt people, cameras and lighting.” Willems concludes: “The biggest challenge, in truth, was making the movie feel authentic and real.”
A SAFE PAIR DOP Jo Willems (right) was collaborating with director Francis Lawrence on a Hunger Games film for the fourth time
For a massive chroma key shoot, DOP Adrian Weinbrecht found the Samsung Portable SSD T9 the perfect partner Professor green
W hether he’s shooting a worldwide commercial for a brand-new car or superyacht, a red-hot bit of new tech or a campaign for an international chain of hotels, Adrian Weinbrecht has a showreel packed with cinematic work to rival many a Hollywood blockbuster. “The way modern drama is shot has bled into the commercial world. We’ve moved away from commercials as a short sizzle of a product like a car advert, much more into narrative and storytelling. People want to know the story of other people,” he begins. But where some filmmakers focus on the art of creating stunning visuals
with little interest in the technicalities, the London-based Aussie Weinbrecht has always stayed at the cutting edge of what’s possible. “When I started out, I worked for brilliant people who had a great eye and vision, but no organisational or technical skills. I don’t buy that artists don’t have to understand the equipment and processes. That’s absurd. You can be an artist and have some mathematical awareness. One doesn’t preclude the other,” he maintains. From the ins and outs of cameras and codecs to the latest lighting launches – right through to batteries and memory storage – Weinbrecht is always on the
lookout for the next tech innovation. So it’s no surprise he jumped at the chance to be one of the first to try the speedy new Samsung Portable SSD T9 – the perfect partner for backing up huge Raw files on location from his 8K camera. Ultimate quality was essential because the job was for an architecture client, working a massive green-screen shoot with a BAFTA-winning production company. “This was to promote the redevelopment of a site, so we were creating a space which was yet to be made. There were up to 20 actors and a similar crew size,” claims Weinbrecht. With that kind of investment, there is no room for data-wrangling errors.
RAW POWER On a green-screen shoot for a key client, the Samsung Portable SSD T9 transferred high-quality footage from an 8K camera with complete reliability
maximum performance for a longer time when transferring large files and encoding or decoding video. The portable drive sports a USB-C connection, but comes with a choice of two cables, one to connect to a USB-C or Thunderbolt drive and a second for legacy USB-A devices. Using Thunderbolt ports, read and write speeds of 2000MB/s are double that of the T7 range, which Weinbrecht has used, and he certainly noticed the increase in performance. Since hardware and firmware are developed exclusively for the Samsung Portable SSD T9, power use is optimised to be as low as possible. It consumes just 0.67W at idle and up to 7.3W at peak power when connected by the USB-C, which makes compatibility safe. In tests, when using the Samsung drive on the same host device and left to idle, battery life is extended by more than 30 minutes compared to competitor’s products.* This low power use is crucial as portable SSDs usually complete commands quickly then drop back to idle status. This assists with heat management – an important factor when transferring large files. High temperatures can lead to performance drops or device failure, but Samsung’s Dynamic Thermal Guard helps prevent overheating. As well as low power consumption, the Samsung Portable SSD T9 is built with silicon and aluminium to keep things cool even in intense sessions.
To keep the portable drive at its optimum level, it comes pre-installed with Samsung Magician software. This has performance benchmarking, security functions, firmware updates and a health status check in real time. The newest version 8.0 offers data migration, PSSD software and a card authentication tool. To make certain that the Samsung Portable SSD T9 is compatible with the most popular products, this rapid and lightweight portable drive has been verified in 64 devices including PCs, mobile phones, TVs, games consoles and cameras without having any issues. This is largely because it is developed as a dedicated PCB design rather than a more common M.2 SSD. All these factors mean that a filmmaker can trust their work is safe in the portable drive, allowing them to get on with shooting and being creative. “I like directing and shooting – and I just love lighting and composition. Any time light is involved, I still get excited by what it does to a scene,” concludes Weinbrecht. “And with the Samsung Portable SSD T9, I never have to worry about the safety of the files I’m shooting.” *The power consumption results are based on Samsung internal testing, conducted under controlled conditions. Idle status is defined as eight minutes without I/O operations.
FAST AND TOUGH The Samsung Portable SSD T9 proved ideal. It is incredibly fast and comes in a 4TB capacity to handle a lot of footage. “I love the portable drive! It’s big in terms of capacity and very fast. I also really like the finish, which means you’re unlikely to drop it. The perfect combo,” says Weinbrecht. Even if it is dropped, the Samsung Portable SSD T9 is protected thanks to its aluminium body covered with a rubber outer. This not only gives a luxurious feel, but it’s tested to withstand drops up to 3m/9.8ft – as well as being evaluated to simulate shocks. Its new USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 interface and TurboWrite buffer size up to 180GB ensure
More information: samsung.com/uk/ memory-storage/portable-ssd/
INTERVIEW Nicola Foley JEAN-CLÉMENT SORET
One of the world’s most renowned colourists, Jean-Clément Soret has brought his mastery to major motion pictures like The Two Popes as well as acclaimed shows such as Black Mirror. A long-time collaborator of Danny Boyle and David Slade, he’s also a recipient of the coveted British Arrows craft fellowship award. We find out about his career so far
Definition: How did you become a colourist? Jean-Clément Soret: I studied audio- visual technology at university in France. I was more interested in sound than image, but my first job was telecine operator. I loved it and stuck with it even when a sound engineer opportunity came along. Def: What’s your relationship with colour, and how has this changed throughout your career? J-CS: I was lucky as a telecine operator to handle all sorts of rare prints, mastering
we talk the same language and help each other. Def: What’s been your proudest career moment so far, and why? J-CS: Receiving a fellowship award from Danny Boyle at the British Arrows. It was a total surprise. The feedback I got from Chernobyl was overwhelming as well. Some of my work in advertising many years ago still gets referenced today, too. J-CS: Grading Slumdog Millionaire : the technology was not ready for a film so complicated, so grading and delivering it was painful and nerve-racking. Plus, the film was going to get parked… It’s a miracle we finished it alive! Def: And what about your biggest career challenge – and how did you overcome it? Def: What excites you about your career now? J-CS: Technology is now helping us with mundane tasks, so we can concentrate purely on grading and creativity. I finally work on the big stuff after all these years, but still take pleasure working on smaller projects with friends and faithful clients. Most important is to have a good time with people you like. Def: What drives you professionally? J-CS: I love variety, projects ranging from ten seconds to ten hours. I like the effort needed to keep pace with new software, challenges from client requests and the problem solving. I also like the trust and respect earned over the years, and the brainstorming sessions with my team.
BE PATIENT. IT TAKES TIME TO GET THE experience REQUIRED TO solve any problems ”
Def: What would your number one piece of advice be to people wanting to break into the industry or follow a similar trajectory to yours? J-CS: Stay with committed people. And be patient, it takes time to get the experience required to solve any problem you might come across. Also remember, you need to earn trust from clients, and understand what they want you to translate on the screen. Def: And finally, what do you perceive to be the biggest challenges the industry is currently facing as a whole? J-CS: Artificial intelligence being just good enough for many; the whole legacy of analogue film being forgotten – and budgets not allowing time for research and experimentation.
DESK WORK Soret’s expert colour work has appeared on acclaimed shows such as Black Mirror (this image) and The Two Popes (pictured below)
movies for TV and transfer dailies for several years. I have great memories of that time, and still recall that catalogue from the back of my mind to work today – it has proved invaluable to me. I learnt a lot from DOPs, photographers and artists. The nineties in France was a buzzing, groundbreaking period with a lot of experimentation on film stocks. It shaped my vision. Def: How would you describe the relationship between colourist and cinematographer? J-CS: Cinematographers have always relied on the colourist to do things he or she has not been able to do on-set. With the technology moving on, the requests are becoming more complex and refined than ever. Colour grading is an extension of the work of filmmakers, and ultimately
AGA I NST ALL ODDS WORDS Katie Kasperson
Rain, reshoots and Rothko – the team behind heist drama Culprits faced a number of hurdles
T hings don’t always go according to plan, as anyone who has worked in production will attest to. From bad weather to scheduling conflicts, each moving part poses a unique problem – even for seasoned pros. Philipp Blaubach, DOP on Disney+ original series Culprits , can testify. Created by J Blakeson, Culprits follows a group of ex-criminals as they try to lead normal lives – that is, until some of their own are mysteriously murdered. “The series is told not only all over the world, but also in different lives,” explains Blaubach, who’s worked with Blakeson on Gunpowder and The Disappearance of Alice Creed . “You have the life that they live now – a tranquil family life – flash back to the heist, which is ‘then’, and also have this ‘before then’ timeline.” SWEATER WEATHER The series starts with ‘now’, introducing protagonist Joe Petrus (Nathan Stewart- Jarrett), a soon-to-be stepdad living in Washington state, a spot known for its cool, gloomy climate. “It was pouring down,” recounts Blaubach, who shot the early scenes on location. “Some of those school drop-offs were a nightmare – we had to reshoot because of the weather.” Other filming locations, such as Toronto and London, weren’t much nicer. “Sometimes, we had to abandon the schedule and go back and look at second units,” says Blaubach. “We were up against some bad luck there.”
Other times, the weather proved to be a blessing in disguise. “You can have these happy accidents,” explains Blaubach. The team shot a three-way car crash on their first day of filming – a scene which spurs a series of events that put Joe at risk of exposing his past. “It wasn’t raining, but there was a humid mist, and the streetlamps gave off that natural cone of light and mood. Then we looked at the monitor. We were like, ‘That's what we were talking about, right?’ Gregory Crewdson right there – that sort of cinematic street photography.” Blaubach and Blakeson also drew inspiration from nineties US cinema, citing Quentin Tarantino and David Fincher’s filmographies as visual influences. MONEY MOVES From the opening scene, Culprits is full steam ahead. The first two episodes alone feature several challenging stunts, from fence hopping and tree climbing to riding atop a rubbish truck, all taking place in one night. “A classic example of the magic of filmmaking and editing was the sequence of the so-called ‘money tree’,” explains Blaubach. Joe drives out to the woods, hops a fence, climbs a tree and retrieves a duffel bag full of British banknotes. “Once he goes into the forest, the wide shots are in a forest in Sussex, I believe. Two months later, we had built a set of a treetop against blue screens – and this is where he’s with a climbing
TUNNEL VISION Culprits is a glossy thriller, despite a less-than-glamorous shoot that fought conditions at every turn
IT WASN’T RAINING, BUT there was a humid mist . THE STREETLAMPS GAVE OFF a natural cone of mood ”
FRONT AND BACK Gemma Arterton (right) stars, while DOP Philipp Blaubach (below right) headed up the crew
rope, pulling.” Combined with the car on location, “you get these three elements, and they just go from A to B to C and back again,” describes Blaubach. FROM STAGE TO SCREEN Once Joe retrieves the cash, he gets into the three-way car crash – another stunt that luckily took only one take. After stashing the bag in a nearby bin, Joe goes on a wild goose chase when he realises the compactor truck has gone by – and the money with it. “Reading that sequence was so much fun,” admits Blaubach. “Of course, logistically, we had a lot of planning to do. I looked at this truck and what we could do, practically, with it.” He continues, “Very early on, it was clear we would need the studio to build a compactor to get the actor in there. We never had the actor in the actual truck.” As with the money tree, the crew combined on-location with in-studio filming, using Wembley Park Studios for the virtual FX. “There was a bit where he crawls onto the roof of the truck. We shot that in a car pack against a blue screen,” explains Blaubach. “Then we had a stunt double jump down, and for the interiors, an animated street lighting effect gave that sense of motion.” Besides rubbish trucks, Culprits features a number of other vehicles, requiring virtual production elements like LED volumes and green screens to convey movement. “The scenes which often look the least complex can be really difficult for unexpected reasons,” states Blaubach. In episode 2 Angler Fish, Joe realises he’s being followed, luring his stalker to a shopping mall before confronting them in a parking garage. “Because we couldn't take the American and Canadian cars to London, we built our own LED studio in Toronto,” reveals Blaubach. But this only presented more problems. “An issue with the car rig stabilisation meant they didn’t vibrate, but sometimes the stabilised cameras do an automatic pan correction. It messed up that footage completely.
CULPRITS 2023 © CHARACTER 7/DISNEY+/PHOTOGRAPHER: DES WILLIE
It didn't work because the car wasn't properly in the frame, so we had to go to green screen,” he discloses, which the crew was originally trying to avoid. “It was incredibly complex to shoot – the number of meetings we had and the number of angles we needed from the backseat,” he continues. “In the end, it was edited very effectively.” SEEING RED According to Blaubach, Blakeson is incredibly attentive to detail, playing an active role in each department. One recurring image is a red Rothko painting, which transcends the timelines, appearing in both ‘before then’ and ‘now’. The Culprits crew was granted special permission to shoot in the Rothko Room at the Tate Modern – but they had to follow strict instructions. “Rothko stipulated in his will that [his paintings] should only ever be viewed
in subdued, very low-intensity lighting,” Blaubach claims. The crew had a dedicated conservator – ‘she had her own light meter’ – to ensure the lighting didn’t exceed a certain level and ‘to be respectful to the Rothko work’. “I was super excited; I love Rothko,” beams Blaubach. “It felt like having an A-lister joining. I felt this pressure to not mess this one up,” he admits. Plus, with five hours for a dialogue-heavy scene, the team had to bring their A-game. Despite its impressive action sequences, Culprits is a character-driven story at its core. Blaubach – who acts as both DOP and operator – enjoys being right there in the moment alongside the actors. “It’s such a privilege,” he enthuses. “Getting to see such long, uninterrupted performances. That's why I love operating – to be part of that filmmaking process.” Culprits is now streaming on Disney+ (UK and Ireland), before hitting Hulu (US) on 8 December
THE DEF GUIDE
INTERVIEWS Katie Kasperson IMAGES Universal Production Services
RENT I NG Renting is the obvious choice for many shoots, as demands differ from one project to the next. We hear from a range of rental companies on the Definition: What do you think are the most important considerations when it comes to renting? Panavision: First and foremost, it’s about relationships. As you work with a rental house, you naturally build a rapport with the customer reps, prep techs, service
Another key consideration is where you’ll be shooting — ideally, your rental house won’t be too far away. Panavision has locations around the world, so we can support you wherever your project takes you. Universal Production Services: Cost, convenience and the environment. We are mindful that productions have a finite budget for lighting and rigging. We work with clients to help by offering alternate equipment solutions and suggestions when budgets are tight. Our stock includes the latest energy-efficient LED fixtures that reduce the production’s overall energy consumption. Also, our newer equipment inventory saves valuable time and effort on-set. Video Europe: When renting equipment, the most important considerations are quality of gear and price. It also helps
practical and creative considerations involved
department and others around the facility. Throughout Panavision, we see ourselves as part of your crew, and it’s always gratifying when we can reteam from one project to the next. The service and support you’ll have throughout production is also so important. You want the confidence that the equipment is in excellent working order when it leaves the rental house, but it’s equally important that you’ll have support while shooting, whether on stage or on location. If a piece of equipment goes down mid-shoot, we’re ready to send out a service technician or get you a replacement.
THE DEF GUIDE
WELL STOCKED Many rental companies have been in the business for decades, meaning they have products for all scenarios – including ones that can be used in cases of emergency
to have a solid relationship with the person you are renting the equipment from, so they can help you out. Being close to the rental company is also a bonus! Video Europe serves the whole of the UK with offices in London and Cardiff, and we will be launching another office in early 2024. Our sister company, Camera One, has offices in the US and Germany. Def: What is your rental process? Video Europe: The customer will initially contact us via email or phone regarding equipment they are trying to rent, and we will them give them a quote. If the job confirms, we will process the order – if they don’t have an account with us already, they would need to set one up at this stage. The equipment will then be prepped, and the customer will either collect or we will deliver. When the customer’s job finishes, the equipment will be returned and then checked in by our prep and tech team. Finally, an invoice will be raised for the rental along with any missing or damage charges. Panavision: Depending on whether it’s a long-form or short-form project, the conversation might start earlier WE SEE OURSELVES AS part of your crew , AND ARE HERE TO SUPPORT YOU throughout the shoot ”
or closer to the beginning of principal photography, with a call or email to a customer rep. The sooner the conversation starts, the better, just to give more time to explore your options. Before you come into the building, we’ll talk about the type of project you’re shooting, whether there are multiple units or aerials or underwater work, the camera format you have in mind and whether you’re envisioning anamorphic or spherical optics. How many cameras and how many lenses will you need? Is there anything special you’ll need for certain days, like a macro lens or periscope? If you already have an idea of the look you want to create, it can be very helpful to share lookbooks or film references. That can be a great way to help narrow the list of lenses and cameras you’ll want to test. The choice of equipment is always guided by a combination of these practical and creative considerations. As these creative conversations are happening, we will be in regular communication with the line producer to ensure everyone’s aligned on the budget. Once the equipment package is determined, the camera crew will then come in to prep everything. This is an opportunity for you and your crew to
confirm you have everything you need, get everything labelled and organised, set up your camera builds, ensure everything’s functioning and make sure you’re ready to hit the ground running when principal photography begins. UPS: On receipt of the call or email with the equipment order from the crew member or production staff, our account
THE DEF GUIDE
Easy as one, two, three Hireacamera has an extensive supply of equipment – including cameras, lenses, accessories, lighting, audio and monitoring – for both photo and video projects. The priority is convenience for its customers: items are available for 24/7 booking, with no quotes or checks required – just place your online order and expect next-day delivery. The company also offers click-and-collect services from its 38 brick-and-mortar locations around the UK. Hireacamera believes in transparency, which is why all of its prices are listed upfront – enabling customers to make quick decisions based on their budgets. If an item is cheaper elsewhere, the company will do its best to price-match. Want to be first in line for the latest kit? Hireacamera offers waiting lists for new products, rewarding the most enthusiastic customers with early access. For businesses and professionals, Hireacamera ONE – an exclusive, streamlined service – offers perks like priority handling, a dedicated account manager and flexible payment plans.
managers will raise a quote for approval and subsequent purchase order from the production company. Once confirmed and approved, the equipment list goes to our warehouse team for the lighting and/or rigging equipment to be picked, checked and scanned out using a barcode, before being loaded onto an appropriately sized truck for delivery at the crew’s specified time. Def: Customer service is a large part of renting. What services do you offer? VMI: The norm is 24-hour, seven-day support, though we work hard to test our equipment thoroughly and provide spare cables to avoid any need for a call-out in the first place. Equipment is expensive, and while we used to provide third-party insurance, this is no longer offered, as we prefer our clients to have their own comprehensive insurance cover – for peace of mind for all. UPS: The team here at Universal Production Services have been in the equipment rental industry for a long time and are great at offering advice and suggestions while maintaining relationships with industry veterans,
as well as helping and supporting the less experienced, up-and-coming crews. Panavision: Customer service is the heart of what we provide, and our support doesn’t end when you take the gear out of our building. We see ourselves as part of your crew, and we’re here to support you throughout the shoot, all the way through wrap and the return of your rental package. If you’re going to be facing a particularly unique situation, we can help create custom solutions. If your production is shooting far afield from one of our offices, we can send someone to support the project on location to quickly address any service or maintenance needs. If you realise mid-shoot that you need to add something to your package, we’re here for you. Video Europe: We offer our customers a high standard of customer service – we will always go that extra mile to make sure our customer is happy. We offer free delivery in London. If we don’t have a certain piece of equipment, we will source it for the customer, saving them time. Above all else, we are extremely passionate about what we do; we strive
to make sure the customer receives a first-class experience each and every time they rent from us. Def: What sorts of projects have used your rental services? VMI: We have delivered on so many productions, from music promotions to commercials, features and natural history for all kinds channels – from BBC, SKY and Amazon to Disney, Apple and Netflix – that it is very difficult to isolate any of note.
THE DEF GUIDE
While productions may come and go, VMI has been supplying camera equipment for Bentley Productions’ Midsomer Murders for more than ten seasons, so we have to be doing something right! Def: What sets you apart from other rental services in the sector? VMI: Probably the most important reason that people hire from VMI is exemplary customer service. In our annual client survey, 96% of our clients rated our service as ‘excellent’. Sustainability is a very important driver at VMI and doesn’t cost the customer any more. We are probably the only albert-certified carbon-neutral rental company, and our quotes calculate how much CO 2 customers have saved by hiring from us. Our sustainability efforts allowed us to halve our 2019 emissions (our base year for measurement), and all our power comes from sustainable sources or is generated by our own solar panels. UPS: By regularly visiting the crew and being a familiar face on-set, we offer a personal service from our experienced and friendly team. We invest in the newest state-of-the-art products to service the set lighting and rigging needs of all film and television productions throughout the UK. Panavision: Panavision has been supporting filmmakers since 1954, and we have more than 45 locations around
popular systems, from the latest digital offerings to tried-and-true cameras for 16mm, 35mm and 65mm film capture. With our in-house engineering and manufacturing teams, we’re able to ‘Panavise’ third-party cameras, outfitting them with purpose-built Panavision Modular accessories, which provide camera crews with greater flexibility and enable more streamlined camera builds. We also offer solutions you can’t find anywhere else, like the Panavision WiFiber system, which extends wireless communications between set and video village, and our LCND electronic filters. With our optical expertise, we’re able to push a look even further or come up with something new to meet the storytelling needs of a particular project or shot. Delivering custom optical solutions to realise filmmakers’ creative intent has long been part of Panavision’s DNA, and what starts as a custom optical solution for an individual cinematographer often informs the development of future lens series. That customer input and feedback is hugely important, and the results are seen in every lens series we produce. Video Europe: We’ve been in business for over 50 years. We stock large quantities of the most in-demand equipment, along with some of the harder-to-find gear that not everyone holds. We look after all our customers no matter how large or small with the highest levels of customer service one can offer, and that is what will keep us at the forefront of cine, broadcast and professional equipment rental for another 50 years.
BRIGHT IDEAS The rental sector has a variety of innovative lighting solutions to suit every need and budget
the world. Our camera and optics rental division is complemented by the overall Panavision group of companies, which includes our Grip and Remote Systems division, our lighting division Panalux, our post-production services provider Light Iron – and more. Across the Panavision group, this gives us a comprehensive understanding of the complete imaging chain from prep through post. Our inventory also sets us apart. On the optics side, we offer about 30 proprietary lens series – anamorphic and spherical – which you can’t find anywhere else. Complementing that, our camera inventory includes all the most
Creative community CVP has been in the rental game for over three decades, servicing the UK and continental Europe with dedicated headquarters in both. Spanning photo, video, audio and virtual production, the company offers the latest and greatest equipment, as well as professional product repairs. CVP maintains close relationships with its major retailers, including ARRI, Sony, Canon and RED, and even cvp.com
offers the CVP | ARRI Creative Space in central London. Its other location – a dynamic showroom just a few blocks over – abides by an open-door policy, encouraging creatives to look, touch and try before they buy (or rent). CVP provides first-class customer service, with a team of over 150 friendly and knowledgeable staff.
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