DEFINITION February 2022 – Web



After a year-long festival circuit, Florian Zeller’s The Father kicked 2021 off in style. It received critical and audience acclaim, and secured Anthony Hopkins another Oscar, just shy of 30 years since his first – for The Silence of the Lambs . Ben Smithard’s nuanced camera work was integral to the film’s high drama and cagey atmosphere. As production began, he selected a set of Zeiss Supreme Primes. “I used Supremes on Downton Abbey right before The Father , and have always admired Zeiss optics. They are neutral and I like to have a full set. I always end up using a wide range of focal lengths – it’s not easy to go into a production with just four lenses, especially when the focus is on people. “Inevitably, I always end up supplementing my primes with zooms, too,” Smithard continues. “Usually Angénieux. As a result, some optical balancing is needed during the grade, so my preference is a sharper set of primes. It’s personal taste, and we can always alter the look later if desired. With zooms especially, it’s better to use as modern an option as possible. Many old ones tend to fall apart.” Practicality was a key concern, given the cramped flat that paves way for the film’s narrative. “Generally, I don’t like to float walls on-set,” Smithard explains. “If we had to change focal length from one shot to the next, because we couldn’t get the camera where we wanted, I felt secure in the knowledge that nobody would really notice. With a larger set and reduced distances between focal

“I have always admired Zeiss optics. They are neutral and I like to have a full set”

lengths, like the Supremes, I could capture one shot on 29mm and the matching shot on 35mm, without a mass of difference between them. “Consistently fast apertures across the range were beneficial. I had complete control over the lighting within the flat, so it wasn’t a total game changer, and I didn’t go in with the intention of shooting everything wide open at T1.5. It means you can work faster, though, and often comes in handy.” While a lens ripe with character is often enchanting, it’s not right for every story. Perhaps in another world, a distorted view would have aligned with The Father ’s themes of confusion and paranoia. But, the clean character and reliability of Zeiss lenses led Smithard to

capture the performance of the year in heart-wrenching clarity. “I don’t want surprises from lenses while shooting,” he says. “If the director and I are looking to compose characters to the edges of frame, you need the lens to render that just as well as the centre. I don’t want restrictions. “It wasn’t a tense set, but I put a degree of pressure on myself, because missing something could have been detrimental to the finished film. The performances were incredible, and who’s to say the actors could have done the exact same thing a second time, skilled as they are? Occasionally, something magic happens, and I need to ensure we have that take. “The story we were telling was there on a minute-to-minute basis, but there’s always a risk of presenting a performance wrong in a single second. “Time is important – giving the actors and director as much of it as possible. Sometimes, you need to change a lens quickly and

know you can rely on it. We were dealing with Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams and Rufus Sewell all at the top of their game. Whatever they did, I wanted to make sure I captured it. It was right for the film,”

NO ALARMS With exquisite performances at the forefront of The Father, Ben Smithard opted for the precise Zeiss Supreme Primes, which offered no unwanted surprises

Smithard concludes.

33. FEBRUARY 2022

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