The January issue of Definition is out now! Inside, find captivating conversations with filmmakers, discussions on the tech that will shape the industry in the year to come, plus news on all the latest events and gear releases to keep you ahead of the curve in 2024.
A KILLER GRADE DEFINING COLOUR IN DAVID FINCHER’S THE KILLER
IN STORE FOR 2024 EXPERTS PREDICT THE TECH & TRENDS SET TO SHAPE THE YEAR
SOCIETY OF THE SNOW BEHIND THE SCENES ON THE NEW ANDES DISASTER FILM
JANUARY 2024 DEFINITIONMAGAZINE.COM
Step into a world of pure imagination as we unwrap Wonka’s treasure chest of visual effects
AI Animation in the Spotlight Industry Trailblazers Must-Have New Kit 2024 Shows Not to Miss Career Stories
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EDITORIAL Editor in chief Nicola Foley email@example.com Staff writer Katie Kasperson Chief sub editor Matthew Winney Sub editors Martin Puddifer, Minhaj Zia Editorial director Roger Payne firstname.lastname@example.org Contributors Adam Duckworth, Will Lawrence, Christopher Nichols, Phil Rhodes, Robert Shepherd ADVERTISING Sales director Sam Scott-Smith email@example.com 01223 499457 Sales manager Emma Stevens firstname.lastname@example.org 01223 499462 | +447376665779 DESIGN Design director Andy Jennings Magazine manager Lucy Woolcomb Senior designer Carl Golsby Junior designer Hedzlynn Kamaruzzaman Junior designer and 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
T here’s an air of cautious optimism in the industry as we step into 2024. With the strikes resolved, productions are firing up once again, while awards season promises its usual flurry of excitement. For an in-depth look at what’s heading our way this year, check out this month’s round table on page 34, which brings together a panel of leading industry thinkers to debate the tech and trends that will shape the next 12 months. Spanning AI, immersive technologies, new narrative forms and sustainability initiatives, it’s a must-read for anyone looking to stay ahead of the curve. We also sit down with lighting legend John ‘Biggles’ Higgins to find out what it’s like being one of Hollywood’s most in-demand gaffers. With films like 1917 , Children of Men and Skyfall under his belt, he’s been around the block and knows all the tricks of the trade. We pick his brain on page 16. On the gear front, we get up close and personal with Blackmagic’s impressive Cinema Camera 6K, discover what’s new in the world of PTZs, and hear why experts believe we’re living in a golden age of batteries – plus what the future holds – on page 65. I had the pleasure of a chat with DOP Pedro Luque, whose new film Society of the Snow recounts the 1972 Andes flight disaster with gut-punch intensity. Hear about the team’s battles with altitude, Saharan dust storms and data management on page 26. Elsewhere, James Rhodes shares his lens logic for immersing viewers in the different worlds of his two Femme protagonists (page 20), and colourist Eric Weidt talks us through collaborating with David Fincher on The Killer (page 46). Enjoy the issue and see you next month!
Editor in chief
MEDIA PARTNERS & SUPPORTERS OF
Deep dive into the dynamic world of pan-tilt-zoom cameras 54 PTZ SPOTLIGHT Find out how AI technology is saving animators time and money 58 GET ANIMATED 62 LUPIN 65 THE DEF GUIDE TO... Cooke Optics reveals the BTS action on Series 3 of Lupin We hear from Resource Productions: a force for social change in filmmaking 52 TRAILBLAZERS 46 THE KILLER Eric Weidt, long-term collaborator of David Fincher, talks grading The Killer A spotlight on the unsung heroes of every set or location shoot: batteries! 69 TOOLKIT New gear, including an in-depth look at Blackmagic’s Cinema Camera 6K
45 HIDDEN ARTISTRY A panel of experts survey the industry landscape for the year ahead 34 ROUND TABLE DOP Pedro Luque discusses his work on Society of the Snow 26 SURVIVAL SAGA James Rhodes – DOP on stylish thriller Femme – talks lens theory 20 FEMME We sit down with industry legend John Higgins, a leading lighting technician 16 CAREER STORIES Discover how Framestore brought director Paul King’s vision to life 12 WONKA Awards, a record-breaking music tour film, news on CrewHQ and more 06 INDUSTRY BRIEFINGS Christopher Nichols reports on the rise of invisible VFX – and why it matters
© Warner Bros ON THE COVER
Warner Bros Discovery creates CrewHQ W arner Bros Discovery (WBD) has officially opened CrewHQ, a dedicated on-site training centre at its Leavesden studio. This initiative will not only support existing crew members but also create careers for the next generation of talent, paying special attention to those ‘below the line’. CrewHQ will serve UK- based productions, including film and high-end television projects from Warner Bros Pictures, WBTV and HBO, allowing Warner Bros to introduce new jobs and thaw the ‘frozen middle’. “This new approach to training will have a significant impact in addressing industry skills shortages,” says Samar Pollitt, VP of physical production, film. CrewHQ’s initiatives include career days, leadership training, funded placements and work shadowing. The launch coincides with Warner Bros Studios Leavesden’s expansion announcement, which will introduce ten sound stages, 400,000 sq ft of studio space and around 4000 jobs.
Gothams ignite awards circuit I t’s that time of year – the 33rd annual Gotham Awards, held on 27 November 2023, have officially kicked off the awards season. The winners come from ten categories, including best documentary feature; best feature; best screenplay; breakthrough director; breakthrough series (over 40 minutes); breakthrough series (under 40 minutes); outstanding lead performance; and outstanding performance in a new series. The Gotham Awards also gave icon and creator tributes to Bradley Cooper, Ben Affleck, George C Wolfe, Michael Mann and Greta Gerwig. In 2022, Everything Everywhere All At Once and Ke Huy Quan received Gotham Awards for best feature and outstanding supporting performance respectively, before going on to claim Academy Awards in similar categories. This year, Celine Song’s Past Lives and Charles Melton ( May December ) are in the same position, leaving critics and audiences to wonder if history will repeat itself.
Taylor Swift breaks box office records T aylor Swift’s The Eras Tour broke box office records during its opening weekend, becoming the highest-grossing concert film in the US – and in the process knocking Justin Bieber: Never Say Never off its pedestal. Michael Jackson: This Is It stills stands as the global record holder at $261 million, though The Eras Tour doesn’t fall far behind, having surpassed $250 million at the time of writing.
Sony strikes deal with The Guardian S ony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) and Guardian Media Group – publisher of The Guardian newspaper – have entered into a strategic partnership which grants SPE the rights to The Guardian ’s developing and existing stories. The aim is to adapt articles into audio- visual content for any and all of SPE’s production divisions, including Left Bank Pictures, Eleven Film, Columbia Pictures and TriStar Pictures. Guardian Media Group has a number of Oscars and BAFTAs already under its belt, with the agreement signalling a deeper commercial interest in its AV efforts. Documentary shorts like Colette and Black Sheep are two recent projects which garnered critical acclaim. The SPE deal comes at a sensitive time, with the WGA strike – which sought to protect writers’ rights – having ended earlier this autumn.
Italy’s Experimental Cinematography Centre gets upgrade L ocated in Rome, the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia (Experimental Cinematography Centre), one of Europe’s oldest film schools, recently acquired Alfalite’s Modularpix Pro LED panels from Broadcast Digital Service. The centre’s new virtual production studio will house the LED screens, giving students a leg up in their VP training, which includes motion capture and tracking, virtual and augmented reality and 3D and LED solutions. The Alfalite Modularpix Pro 1.9 ORIM LEDWall, Pro 3.9 HB LEDCeiling and Pro 1.9 ORIM LEDTotem will help prepare students for careers in film and TV, gaming, advertising and live events.
Canon and CVP present Stories in Motion C anon UK & Ireland is once again partnering with CVP to present the Stories in Motion Young Filmmakers Awards, which is aimed at creatives aged 18 to 25. The 2024 Stories in Motion contest will accept submissions through to 31 March, with a range of prizes on offer, including a Canon EOS C70, CVP vouchers and the opportunity to shadow an award-winning cinematographer. Entries will be considered across three categories – namely music video, documentary and scripted short film – with each Head to canon.co.uk/get-involved/ competition/stories-in-motion to learn more participants will be invited to an awards ceremony on 25 April. applicant allowed one submission in each class. The judges – Elisa Iannacone, Tania Freimuth, Ollie Kenchington and Jake Ratcliffe – will shortlist five entries per category, with one winner from each, as well as an overall grand prize recipient. Films will be considered on the basis of originality, creativity, cinematography and post-production. Plus, all shortlisted PRIZES WILL INCLUDE A Canon C70 ”
The Bikeriders finds a new place to park P remiering at the 50th Telluride Film Festival, The Bikeriders – Jeff Nichols’ adaptation of Danny Lyon’s 1968 photo book of the same name – has found a new distributor after being dropped by The Walt Disney Company. Just two days after the drop, Focus Features acquired the rights, scheduling the film’s theatrical release – and international release via parent company Universal Pictures – for early 2024. Starring Jodie Comer, Austin Butler and Tom Hardy, The Bikeriders follows a Chicago-based motorcycle club called the Outlaws during the sixties. Narrated by Comer’s character Kathy, the film sees the Outlaws evolve from a small-scale club to a more formidable gang.
New appointments at Atlantic Productions A tlantic Productions has appointed Ailsa Orr as the newly created director of television and Alastair Cotterill as director of immersive. Orr and Cotterill join Atlantic from MGM and Meta respectively, suggesting a revolution in the organisation’s approach to cross-platform storytelling.
Motion Impossible selects sales head M otion Impossible has appointed Mark Bird as its new head of sales. Coming from RT Motion, Bird has vast experience with acquisitions, development and strategy execution. At Motion Impossible, he will continue his efforts, opening up opportunities for the company, particularly in the filmmaking and broadcast sectors.
BIFA IS A CHAMPION OF independent cinema AND IS WORKING TOWARDS A more inclusive industry ”
HPA Awards announce winners O ppenheimer topped this year’s HPA Awards, which recognise excellence in colour grading, editing, sound, visual effects and restoration. FotoKem colourists Kostas Theodosiou and Kristen Zimmerman took the award for outstanding colour grading for a live-action theatrical feature, while Jennifer Lame, ACE, triumphed in outstanding editing for a theatrical feature. Other winners include Natasha Leonnet for Spider- Man: Across the Spider-Verse (colour grading), Walter Volpatto for Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (colour grading), Ali Greer for Barry (editing) and John M Valerio, ACE for The White Lotus (editing).
BIFA celebrates British indies T he British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) announced its 2023 winners on
performance categories. Mia McKenna- Bruce ( How to Have Sex ) took best lead performance, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and George MacKay ( Femme ) best joint lead, Shaun Thomas ( How to Have Sex ) best supporting role and Vivian Oparah ( Rye Lane ) breakthrough performance. Femme swept costume, make-up and hair design, while The Kitchen topped production design and effects. BIFA champions independent cinema, identifying talent and working towards a more inclusive film industry.
Sunday 3 December. All of Us Strangers led with seven titles, including best British independent film, best screenplay, best director and best cinematography. The film – starring Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Claire Foy and Jamie Bell – will hit UK cinemas on 26 January. How to Have Sex, Femme , Rye Lane and The Kitchen – all first-time efforts from their respective directors – also claimed several awards, primarily in the
DIARY DATES INDUSTRY
Lights, cameras and action-packed expos – here are the industry events not to miss in the year ahead
the latest trends and catch talks with prestigious speakers.
6-9 June CINE GEAR LA EXPO
Head to Hollywood for Cine Gear LA Expo and you will be rewarded with exhibits, new products to play with, free seminars with industry leaders, hands-on masterclasses, a film competition and a glittering awards ceremony.
30 January - 2 February ISE Celebrating two decades with its biggest show yet, Integrated Systems Europe will return to Fira de Barcelona towards the end of January. Find a showcase of the latest innovations, from inspiring conferences to events and other experiences.
16-17 February BSC EXPO BSC explores the best in cinematography, lighting and grip equipment. Taking place at Battersea Evolution in London, expect a busy programme of free seminars and discussion panels. 14-17 April NAB SHOW Held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, NAB brings the broadcast, media and entertainment industries together each year to ‘shape the future of digital storytelling’. Themes for 2024 include AI, streaming services, virtual production, the creator economy and advertising. 15-16 May MEDIA PRODUCTION & TECHNOLOGY SHOW Back at Olympia London for another year, MPTS covers all aspects of content creation, including pre-production, production, post, technology, audio and virtual production. Get hands-on with tech from over 300 exhibitors, discover
27-29 June EURO CINE EXPO
Euro Cine Expo in Munich features around 100 exhibitors, as well as a two-day symposium packed with panel discussions, workshops and presentations on the equipment, art and craft of cinematography. There are a fair few après-show events to check out for unwinding and networking, too.
13-16 September IBC
The behemoth broadcast convention will return to Amsterdam’s RAI in September with a packed schedule of content and a first look at the latest gadgets and innovations. The show floor houses more than 1000 exhibitors from around the world, while the conference offers a chance to hear from industry leaders.
VIVA LAS VEGAS Bringing the broadcast, media and entertainment industries together, NAB Show (above) is a highlight
S t Paul’s Cathedral has held many august events across the last 300 years, from the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson to the wedding of Charles and Diana. Sir Christopher Wren’s baroque masterpiece has welcomed heads of state, spiritual leaders – and now a galloping giraffe, a flock of flustered friars and a bumbling, stumbling Rowan Atkinson. The cathedral’s latest selection of rather eclectic guests comes courtesy of a set piece in Wonka , which alongside Barbie and The Color Purple is one of Warner Bros’ hopefuls for the coming awards season. Of course, no animals or architectural marvels were harmed in the making of this movie – since the onus for crafting much of the on-screen mayhem at St Paul’s fell upon the visual effects supervisor Graham Page and his team at Framestore. “To shoot that scene, we had puppeteers and a full-scale puppet of a giraffe,” recalls Page, of the moment the titular chocolatier enters the cathedral atop a giraffe, “and we had to block out the scene we ran through with the monks — so you’ve got all these monks running around and falling over. Then, there is a full-scale giraffe and Rowan Atkinson dressed as a priest. And it’s all happening in St Paul’s – a rather serious place. It was just fantastic.” Fantastic is an appropriate word for Wonka . Directed by Paul King (known for Paddington and Paddington 2 ), the film acts as a prequel to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory , introducing a
THE SWEET SPOT The set is transformed into a whimsical world with a vibrant colour palette, aided by VFX flourishes from the Framestore team
young Willy Wonka (Timothée Chalamet) who’s bidding to change the world one chocolate at a time. “It was such a brilliant project because it’s got such a wide breadth,” continues Page. “It’s got the giraffe, flamingos, dogs and Oompa Loompa. There are huge environments and so many fun, quirky details, yet the world has still got to be tangible and real. It’s not swinging so far into fantasy or science fiction that you have free rein. You have to think about how to ground things and make them feel real.” The script is written by King and his Paddington 2 co-scribe Simon Farnaby
(who also stars as the zookeeper), and comes with the blessing of Dahl’s estate. King is clearly a fan, not only of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory , but also the writer’s whole oeuvre – building his world with elements inspired by Dahl’s broader whimsical canon, like The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me or The Twits . He also paid close attention to Mel Stuart and Gene Wilder’s iconic 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory , and to Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory . “The Gene Wilder film gave us a particular reference for the castle scene at the end of our film,” explains Page.
IMAGES Warner Bros
An Oompa Loompa, giraffes and a chocolate waterfall. Will Lawrence talks creating Wonka ’s madcap visual effects with Framestore’s Graham Page
IT’S NOT SWINGING SO FAR INTO fantasy AND sci-fi THAT YOU HAVE FREE REIN. IT STILL HAS TO feel real ”
“When we were designing that world, we wanted it to have the feeling of the Pure Imagination scene in the Gene Wilder film. We analysed what they had done, and what came across was the fun and vibrant colour palette.” One of the most vibrant elements from Dahl’s novel and the two cinematic adaptations are the Oompa Loompas, the small humanoids who help Wonka run his factory. In the Wilder movie, they were memorably presented as orange- skinned, green-haired men in striped shirts played by actors with dwarfism. In Wonka , audiences meet just a single Oompa Loompa who is introduced
as the hero’s bête noire before their relationship thaws. Hugh Grant brings the character to life – with more than a little help from the VFX team. Grant says: “Paul King explained how much he loved the Oompa Loompas in those early films, particularly for being so unpleasant. He said, ‘whenever I think of someone really curmudgeonly and unpleasant, I immediately think of you’. And so that was his pitch.” Creating the character was a difficult process for all involved – including Grant, who referred to the head-mount camera he wore for certain takes as his own ‘crown of thorns’.
For Framestore, the starting point was the design of the Oompa Loompa: “Looking at the silhouette – the costume, the physique, the hair and even little things like the width of his trousers,” Page reveals. “Part of the process was working out what age we felt was right for the character. Paul wanted the Oompa Loompa to be younger than Hugh is in real life; I think we settled on the Bridget Jones 2 era for his age.” The actor’s face was then scanned, “which involves lots of photographs being taken at the same time from a scanning rig, and then photogrammetry is used to build geometry,” adds Page. “Within that process, Hugh would pull different expressions – and that rough data is rebuilt. Then, it needs a 3D sculptor to tighten it up and add the right details.” Alongside the digital work, the filmmakers also had to shoot Grant on-set interacting with Chalamet. “The problem there was Hugh is six foot tall, and the scene’s written as a tiny room. We could barely fit the cameraman in
WE WANTED TO HAVE THE FEELING OF THE Pure Imagination scene ”
the scene and kept on having to pull the ceiling off or pull out the walls.” Framestore then stitched Grant’s performances together. “It’s incredibly complicated,” according to Page. “You’ve got these different performances and are trying to gel them into one so it feels like a singular one.” The film features 1163 visual effects shots spread across a host of set pieces and set builds, and Page was particularly pleased with the creation of the factory used at the end of the movie. “We were very involved in that from coming up with lots of ideas going to the castle location,” he says. “We spent a lot of time trying to work out the different parts of the factory. “There’s the waterfall – and that’s powering these machines, which are pumping the chocolate. Then there’s the area where the ingredients are added and flow through the rainbow bridge, moving on through other contraptions. These then travel into the machine that makes the final chocolate. It was such a fun process.”
TEMPLE RUN Eclectic characters and a galloping giraffe grace the halls of St Paul’s Cathedral
INTERVIEW Nicola Foley
JOHN H I GG I NS Gaffer on Gravity, Children of Men, Skyfall, Sleepy Hollow, 1917, The Bourne Ultimatum and many more major motion pictures, John ‘Biggles’ Higgins is a lighting legend. We find out what makes him tick and how he got to where he is now CAREER STORIES
Definition: What was your route into becoming a gaffer, and how did it all start? John Higgins: I was an engineer on an oil rig in the North Sea for Shell, and I used to get a lot of downtime. There was a period where we were ahead of things so they told us to stay home, while getting paid. But after a week or two, I got bored. I saw an ad for technicians wanted for a film
studio – the Samuelson Group – decided to apply, and I got the job. Six months on I was called back to work, but decided to stay with the film business, which I’m so glad I did. The gig that gave me the bug was a music video with a Japanese director at little studio in Cricklewood, and it was amazing. From there, I got work on a TV series with some very nice people
who helped and taught me a lot, then was asked to be gaffer on some dramas for Channel 4. Things built from there and I got offered bigger jobs – it was a case of right place, right time. Def: What, for you, makes a good gaffer? JH: As much technical knowledge as you can acquire. You must have people
THE LIGHT FANTASTIC On Dumbo (below), Higgins worked his magic for Tim Burton; while Empire of Light (left) saw him reunited with cinematographer Sir Roger Deakins
problems with the product, and we’ll debug them on-set. Def: What are your favourite bits of kit? JH: I like the Fiilex range of LED fresnels: the Q range. They’re very nice pieces of equipment, well designed and thought- out – but there are plenty of others on the market. The role of LED lighting has been the big thing over the last few years; ARRI’s SkyPanel range was the first efficient LED soft light, which has proven so successful, and there are now lots of alternatives. With each new release, things get a little better. Def: Do you have any industry heroes? JH: I have huge admiration for the DOPs I’ve collaborated with, like Roger Deakins ( 1917 , No Country For Old Men ) and Sven Nykvist, both of whom were great to work with. There are so many others out there that I have the utmost respect for though – and it’s great to see a lot of women DOPs coming through now. I did some work with Charlotte Bruus Christensen who is extremely talented and so much fun to collaborate with. It’s an ever-changing industry; the only thing that doesn’t change is the long hours, but I can’t see that ever being any different because of the pressures and schedules. If you want a typical nine-to-five job, the film industry is definitely not the place to be, especially on the technical production side. You’ve got to embrace it though, or search for another job – but you likely won’t find one that you enjoy as much as this!
skills and be able to communicate clearly too. You also need an understanding of photography – which I didn’t when I started. I didn’t understand the photochemical processes and lenses and all that, but if you put yourself out there, you learn. It’s so much easier these days: if you’re unsure about something you can find a YouTube video explaining it. There’s a mountain of knowledge out there that you can acquire very easily. It wasn’t so easy when I was starting out – all the books on filmmaking were very niche and expensive, so it’s much more accessible now and there’s no excuse for not researching something. You should ask questions too, most people will take the time to explain a process; but you have to keep up with it, because it’s constantly changing. Def: How do you stay ahead of the curve and keep learning? JH: I go to any shows that I can – especially BSC each February, which I find great. You can explore new products, some of which are groundbreaking. You have to stay abreast and know what’s out there, and most technical companies will let you try out their latest releases to get the hands-on experience with the product. It’s a good test base for them as well, to see if there are any inherent
YOU’VE GOT TO EMBRACE IT OR search for another job – BUT YOU LIKELY WON’T FIND ONE YOU enjoy as much as this! ”
Def: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve encountered in your career? JH: Night work and challenging weather are always difficult – with night work, you’re totally reliant on power. If the power goes, unless you have weather cover on a stage, there’s nothing you can do. It can be very satisfying when you see the result, but it’s also stressful; if something goes wrong, you’re trying to fix it in the dark, which isn’t always possible. I’ve had a few disasters on night shoots! Generators have stopped working which can’t be repaired, and then you have to get another one in. Meanwhile, 600 extras and some highly paid Hollywood actors are standing around – nobody can do anything until it’s sorted. Def: What do you regard as your biggest achievements in your career? JH: The first 35mm film I did as a gaffer was the adaptation of 1984 directed by Michael Radford. It was technically incredibly challenging; we used a bleach bypass process which was interesting – I hadn’t seen it before. It was a long time ago, but it’s still a great film. I had studied
© WARNER BROS
1984 in school and it was amazing to see it coming to life with John Hurt and Richard Burton – I’ll never forget it. I’ve done over 70 films now and still get a feeling of satisfaction when I see it on a big screen, or the big ads going up in Leicester Square. Def: What would your advice be to people hoping to follow in your footsteps? JH: Acquire as much knowledge as possible, you never know what you might need in the future. Talk to people and be curious and inquisitive. There’s no substitute for experience and learning the craft well. A time will come when there are no hiding places, and you have to figure things out yourself. Get as much engineering experience as you can; learn about machines and how they work. There are some wonderful resources out there to help you do this. Also, know your colour mixing for LEDs, and make sure you have a good desk operator. Def: What are the biggest challenges on the horizon for the industry?
LIGHTING THE WAY (Clockwise from top) Higgins’ extensive portfolio includes working on Gravity, Mamma Mia!, 1917 and The Bourne Ultimatum
JH: Getting high-quality films and good filmmakers. An obstacle to this is budget – and streaming services are product-hungry. But nobody can deny the overall quality is improving greatly for TV – look at the shows from the sixties and seventies, then compare them to what’s being done today and it’s a world apart. Of course, there was great stuff being done back then, but the consistent standard overall wasn’t there. It is more so now, which is great to see – but we just need to maintain that standard. Def: What are the biggest opportunities? JH: It is becoming more accessible, which is great, and you’re seeing far more women in key roles like director, DOP, production design as a result. That’s a wonderful thing to see and a good sign for the future.
Neo-noir thriller Femme follows two gay men as they wrestle with identity. We hear from DOP James Rhodes on how both storylines were visually established D espite its title, Femme is largely an exploration of masculinity. Adapted from their original short of the same name, writer-directors Sam H Freeman and Ng Choon Ping place two men at Femme ’s centre – Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), who’s a part- time drag queen, and Preston (George MacKay), who’s closeted. After Preston incites a homophobic attack, Jules finds an opportunity to exact revenge – and what could’ve been a predictable story becomes a compelling look at power and fragility. SEEING DOUBLE To differentiate between Jules and Preston’s distinct storylines, James Rhodes – Femme ’s BIFA-nominated DOP – created his very own ‘lens logic’. “I had a theory: let’s go anamorphic for Jules’ world and spherical for Preston’s world,” recounts Rhodes. “The aesthetic
WORLDS APART Rhodes (below) opted for two different lenses for each main character, as a way of highlighting their unique perspectives
© JAMES RHODES
WORDS Katie Kasperson
© SIGNATURE ENTERTAINMENT
of [anamorphic] lenses is often quite considered, planted, controlled. And then spherical – you can kind of do anything. “I wanted to lean into that as a theory which reinforces, subconsciously, the sense of threat the characters are experiencing, in the same way a score often does. Preston’s world is spherical, which tells the audience that anything could happen at any time. The language of the camera was much more visceral and reactionary.” When the film begins, the audience primarily sees the story from Jules’ perspective, opening with a drag show that establishes him as being strong and self-assured. “That Steadicam shot out from backstage – it’s an exciting shot, and sets up prestige around the Jules character,” explains Rhodes. Minutes later, after an encounter at a corner shop, Preston attacks Jules, leaving him crumpled on the pavement. The drag show then assumes new meaning: “it establishes what’s been lost and why there’s so much at stake when it comes to trying to regather [Jules’] confidence.” Rhodes shot Femme on a Sony Venice cinema camera, despite initially leaning towards 35mm film. “With the budget, it didn’t quite work out,” he describes. “Retrospectively, I’m incredibly happy it didn’t because we would never have
THE LANGUAGE OF THE CAMERA WAS much more visceral ”
been so bold as to shoot anamorphic and spherical. We wouldn’t have carried two cameras just to be able to flip-flop between formats.” Rhodes alternated between a Super 35 50mm high-speed anamorphic, large format 40mm Ultra Speed spherical and the Super 35 PVintage spherical lens line – all supplied by Panavision London. “Jules was anamorphic if he was safe or feeling confident,” begins Rhodes. “But when he went out and was exposed, we were into the 40mm spherical land. Then, if he was with Preston and even more vulnerable, it was all PVintage.” A few months after the attack, Jules notices Preston in a gay sauna. Realising that Preston doesn’t recognise him out of drag, Jules takes revenge by seducing – and ultimately outing – Preston via a secret sex tape. From then on, Preston becomes a central character, inviting the audience
into his psyche, which is juxtaposed through handheld camerawork. Initially, he’s aggressive, guarded and viewed from a distance. Although, as the story progresses, we see him afraid of being exposed, especially to his friends. Rhodes demonstrates this arc through lens changes. “As Preston becomes the co- protagonist, he takes on the same lens logic as Jules.” FOR GOOD REASON For Rhodes, it was more than just glass; from lighting to colour palette, everything needed a purpose. For instance, the vast majority of the film takes place at night, besides two key moments of early- morning daylight – one towards the middle and one at the very end. “[The directors] always wanted the story to happen at night, until the moment that everything changes,” explains Rhodes.
“That’s the first glimpse of daylight we get – and it’s only brief. Basically, when Preston becomes a protagonist himself, we wanted to breathe for the first time.” “Being so nocturnal was part and parcel of it being stressful and never coming up for air in a way,” continues Rhodes. Films like the Safdie brothers’ Good Time , Fight Club , Hustlers and A24’s Waves all served as visual influences, informing the use of colour, particularly neons, to saturate nighttime scenes. Rather than giving over to pure aesthetic appeal, every choice was considered. “I find it challenging, always trying to put what feels like unmotivated colour in scenes,” admits Rhodes. “I constantly had to be giving myself a logic for the light sources, just so I could really lean into them. Once we had that, it was great because it was like, ‘Hey, this is the purpose’.” WE DIDN’T WANT IT TO FEEL perfect . IT HAD TO FEEL tangible and realistic LIKE EAST LONDON”
© JAMES RHODES
didn’t want it to feel perfect. It had to feel tangible and realistic like east London,” he shares. The production team achieved this through practical, in-frame lighting and an absence of computerised effects. Femme is full of interesting lighting from lamps, candles, refrigerators and televisions. Rhodes explains that ‘the use of practicals was always to give freedom to the camera’. By mostly avoiding floor lights, “the camera could always react to the scene and become more organic. It makes everything feel realistic when you pan around and see where that light was coming from. We retained that aesthetic of feeling like a real environment.” Because Stewart-Jarrett and MacKay have vastly different skin tones, the crew occasionally needed to introduce low- intensity light sources near or behind the camera. “Those subtle reflections in Nathan’s skin gave us texture without over-lighting him or other characters in-frame,” states Rhodes, though he otherwise lit them identically. “Often, there can be a misconception that if [the actor has] dark skin, they need more light so that you can see them. It’s actually nonsense. To put it briefly, I didn't treat them very differently.” Several of Jules and Preston’s interactions occur inside Preston’s car. Rather than using a green screen or an LED volume, “everything was old-school, put it on a trailer and go,” says Rhodes. “Again, leaning into trying to make stuff feel as real as possible, I wanted to expose the characters as much as I
MOONLIT MOSAIC Immersed in a captivating play of light, the camera reveals an organic, grounded ambience
could with the environmental lighting from outside. So [I was] working at really low light levels – basically cranking the ISO as much as possible.” GIVE AND TAKE Enjoying a varied career which includes live music, Rhodes compares filmmaking to ‘playing in the band’. “I feel like I am participating,” he enthuses. “My camera operating is always feeding off what the cast is giving me. We were all properly in lock-step with each other.” With Femme being their first feature, Freeman and Ng were ‘inexperienced but also confident’, according to Rhodes. “It was rewarding because they gave so much creative control to me and trusted me. It meant I could create something I felt really excited about.” Femme is out in cinemas now
REAL DEAL Above anything else, Rhodes and his crew wanted Femme to feel real. “We
Off the beaten track When trekking across the Arizona wilderness for an epic five-day shoot, Blackmagic’s Pocket Cinema Cameras proved rugged yet light companions
T here are big challenges when you trek the Grand Canyon for five days, both physically and mentally. But this arduous journey is one of five feats of endurance that athlete Leo Gripari undertook to fundraise for sustainable water projects in Uganda, documented in the feature film Maji . The strikingly visual film tells a story of these gruelling efforts in five continents, as well as broader issues around water sustainability and how it affects local communities – and on a global level. Charged with filming the epic journey, DOP Richard Jephcote talks us through everything in his kitbag on the Grand Canyon section of the trip. Grand tour Slogging through the Grand Canyon wilderness, key kit concerns are weight, battery life and media as there’s nowhere to charge a battery or power a laptop. The whole trip is built around how much a team can carry. You are expected to take your tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food and water for the full five days. As we were trekking in November, starting and ending most days in the dark, we needed a full
range of warm winter clothing, along with shorts and T-shirt for the daytime. Everything we needed for filming was in addition to what we had to carry to survive. So while trekking equipment is purpose-built to be light, DZOFILM lenses and V-Lock batteries really aren’t. And we needed the camera built and ready to go, working within a strict timeline to hit all our milestones. On top of this, creative decisions made for the rest of the film had to continue throughout, so that this challenge didn’t feel removed from the style established elsewhere. Lens choice, for example, had to be consistent. In my bag was a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro, kitted up as a shoulder rig with a DZOFILM 20-55mm T2.8 Pictor Zoom lens, a monitor, filters and V-Lock batteries. Producer Tom Neish, from production company Biscuit Bunker, was carrying a DZOFILM 50-125mm T.2.8 Pictor Zoom, drives and a lightweight Benro tripod. That left the director, Charli, carrying a Pocket Cinema Camera 4K with a Meike prime lens on a DJI Ronin RS 2 motorised gimbal. The recommended weight for trekking is up to 18kg but we were each carrying closer to 25kg.
Most of our filming was a case of me throwing the Cinesaddle down and unzipping the 6K Blackmagic, shooting quickly then moving on. There were no retakes or covering a particular scene from different angles. There simply wasn’t time to do that and complete the day’s trek before nightfall. Our guide was pretty strict, and of course we needed to hit all the targets – from the South Rim to the North Rim and back again in five days. The camera team was also racing back and forth to leapfrog Gripari and get shots ahead and behind him. All the creative decisions are being made in the moment. There’s no recce, no pausing and no doubling back to get the shot. We downloaded all our cards to two LaCie BOSS SSDs, which have their own batteries – and back up directly from the card reader. These also connect to an app on my phone, so I didn’t have to blindly trust that the data had been backed up. As it got cold, our limited battery supply ran the risk of draining away in the night, so all batteries slept soundly alongside us in our sleeping bags to keep them warm. The 6K Pro was chosen because it’s compact, light and produces a lovely
THE DZOFILM LENSES have proved an ideal match FOR THE BLACKMAGIC POCKET CINEMA CAMERA 6K PRO”
Find out more about Maji at biscuitbunker.com Tom Neish, producer, Biscuit Bunker Charli Doherty, director charlidoherty.com Richard Jephcote, DOP richardjephcote.co.uk The rig was a mix of brands. I used SHAPE push-button handles for rapid adjustment and a light Tilta cage with top handle for the camera. The iFootage Magic Arms are rock solid for holding the monitor, quick to swap out and pack up. The DZOFILM 20-55mm T2.8 Pictor Zoom has a nice focal range to respond to unfolding action, so was an obvious choice to leave on the A cam. It’s heavy, but has a lot of character compared to the more clinical stills camera lens that would have been in the same budget range. There’s been great footage of the Grand Canyon in crisp detail, but ours is a human journey through this landscape. The DZOFILM lenses have proved an ideal match for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro, for a softer and less digital feel. The whole film simply looks stunning, which makes all those arduous days trekking truly worthwhile. Raw image. Codec compression ratios also become an important consideration when working on documentary films like Maji . We dropped down to 12:1 high compression on the Blackmagic Raw files for lengthy interviews, or to squeeze the last juice from a card at the end of a day. We’d then switch back to low compression for some beautiful B roll all in the same format, which is great for reacting in run-and-gun situations. Features like internal ND filters and quick power-up may sound very basic, but they are a must for responding to unfolding events in the moment.
AT THE CLIFF EDGE Endurance athlete Leo Gripari treks the Grand Canyon, captured by Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras
PRODUCTION SOCIETY OF THE SNOW
DOP Pedro Luque takes Nicola Foley through lensing Society of the Snow , Netflix’s breathtaking Andes flight disaster film
SOCIETY OF THE SNOW PRODUCTION
I n October 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed in the Andes mountains, leaving those aboard fighting for their lives in the brutal elements for 72 days. The plane had been privately chartered by a rugby team bound for a reunion match in Santiago, but it never made it to its destination. Instead, the young men and the friends they’d invited along were left starving and stranded, battling horrific injuries, freezing temperatures and scarce food supplies. When rescuers eventually located the wreckage, they discovered that only 16 out of the 45 passengers and crew had survived the ordeal. They did so by resorting to the unthinkable: eating the remains of their fallen companions. MIRACLE IN THE ANDES Over half a century on, the details of what unfolded during those ten harrowing weeks in the Andes still grip us. It’s a narrative that’s proved irresistible to filmmakers – inspiring countless documentaries and cinematic
IMAGES Quim Vives/Netflix
PRODUCTION SOCIETY OF THE SNOW
adaptations – but that didn’t diminish Spanish director JA Bayona’s yen to make his own movie about the ‘miracle in the Andes’. Bayona’s fascination with the story began more than a decade ago, when he chanced across Pablo Vierci’s book Society of The Snow during research for his film The Impossible . Delving into the tragedy and its aftermath through intimate interviews with the survivors, the book served as starting point for his new Spanish language film, released on Netflix this month. Bayona – known for horror- tinged disaster flicks – has a talent for grisly scenes and nail-biting suspense, but his goal in Society of the Snow was to explore the life-affirming themes of friendship and faith at the heart of the infamous Andes saga. To that end, he dug beyond the sensationalist headlines, spending more than 100 hours with the crash survivors to lean on their first-hand experiences and portray the events in the most authentic way possible. This sensitive approach to the subject matter was part of what drew in Uruguayan DOP Pedro Luque (responsible for the photography on Don’t Breathe , 2016, The Girl in the Spider’s Web , 2018, and Antebellum , 2020), who says he could barely believe his luck when he got the call from Bayona. “He’s a great director who I already admired – and here he is talking about tackling this Uruguayan story, which is so important to my country. This is the stuff that forms the mythology around my nation”, he states. “It’s an important story for me, but it’s also one of the greatest survival tales in the history of the world. Yes, it’s been told a
FROSTY ATMOSPHERE Creating the look and feel of the Andes – and the harsh environment these survivors found themselves in – required multiple visits to the original crash site
SOCIETY OF THE SNOW PRODUCTION
once all this was in place, they put the actors in frame and let things happen spontaneously – an approach the DOP describes as ‘freedom to flow’. “The main guideline was to be ready for the actors and their emotions,” he shares. “Even though it was incredibly technically complex to shoot, we needed to have a team that was completely ready to respond to the actors, and the director’s desire for what we wanted to show in a particular moment.” That demanded an excellent key grip and gaffer, skilled camera operators keyed into the action – and an almost documentary style of camera work in places, capturing the rawness of the actors’ feelings and creating, according to Luque, a blend of ‘realism and the poetry of cinema’. “Even when we were on day 123 of shooting, we had to be sharp and alert. We had a good environment, good people and emotional comfort. I was crying in front of the monitor on some days and it was important for me not to be ashamed of that,” he recalls. “The actors had spent around two months rehearsing, they were wet, cold and hungry, so we needed to be prepared and have the utmost respect for their craft – that meant being ready with the camera and making those shots count.” A TALE OF THREE LOCATIONS The shoot was broken into three key phases; each a different destination posing its own unique challenges. First was the site of the actual plane crash – the Valley of Tears – which THE STORY IS universal . YOU WONDER: what would I do in that situation? ”
lot of times, but in my opinion it has never been told properly in a narrative piece.” Unlike in other portrayals of the story, cannibalism isn’t the central focus. “It’s not what it’s about; it’s a story about friendship and how to give yourself to the group,” contemplates Luque. “This way, the story is more touching and more universal. It’s about how sometimes you’ve got to cross boundaries to survive; you have to adapt and change. It makes you wonder: what would I do in that situation?” FREEDOM TO FLOW The film was exhaustively shot listed and storyboarded, but in the end Luque and Bayona erred away from a rigid approach, giving the actors room to improvise. The plane wreckage was meticulously recreated (numerous times) and the cast rigorously rehearsed, but
PRODUCTION SOCIETY OF THE SNOW
the team visited three times ahead of principal photography, collecting as much information as possible about the geography and light conditions so that they could recreate it accurately when they moved on to their main shoot location in Granada. There was plenty of work to be done – specialist mountaineers captured expedition footage, the team gathered background plates and establishing imagery from drones and helicopters, and a detailed photogrammetric map of the landscape was created. But what Luque recalls most vividly from this stage of production is how he felt when he saw the valley for the first time. “I had goosebumps, it felt like such a sacred place,” he reveals. “I remember kneeling down and asking permission for us to do it all, to do it in a respectful way and give us strength to do something that won’t hurt anyone. It was so silent, and there was this feeling of immense and overwhelming space." Thanks to intense previs work, the team knew how the valley looked and felt at any given hour of the day or night; but
the next challenge was finding a stand-in location without the practical difficulties of shooting in the deepest Andes. They searched all over the world, from the Alps to South America, eventually zeroing in on a Sierra Nevada ski resort as a good match thanks to its snowy scenery and harsh sunlight. The material from the third stage – shot around Chile and Uruguay – introduces the actors and shows them returning home. Production continued at Netflix’s studio in Madrid with the recreation of the crash, a visceral action sequence that shows off Bayona’s well- honed horror skills to full effect, before picture finishing was delivered by Deluxe Spain, with the grade, online and finish completed in DaVinci Resolve Studio. SNOW BUSINESS Shooting in a ski resort in Spain wasn’t nearly as challenging as working in the Andes themselves, but it came with problems – starting with getting the cast and crew to the 3000m-high location of the main set, says Luque. “We picked an area that looked wild and real, like the crash site, but it was difficult to access. It was about an hour’s gondola ride to the end of the ski station, and then we adapted snow tractors into
people carriers to take people on from there. We’d drive for 45 minutes in the wilderness – dodging avalanches on these dangerous mountain roads.” Sometimes it would be covered in snow on arrival, or inaccessible due to a storm. On one occasion, they arrived to see the whole site blanketed in Saharan dust: “We woke up and the mountains were latte brown!” he laughs. To mitigate further disruptions, the Sierra Nevada site was divided into three sets, including a huge stage on top of the ski station which featured a replica plane fuselage, real snow on the ground and 140 ARRI SkyPanels as a ceiling. They also installed a large LED volume displaying the second unit’s footage of the Andes, allowing for maximum authenticity and enabling the team to adjust the colour temperature, exposure and camera placement as desired. To help ensure that the digital and physical elements blended together seamlessly, the team worked with Cinelab Film & Digital in London to transfer their captured footage to 35mm Kodak VISION3 250D film stock, which was then processed and scanned back to digital. This photochemical process gave the whole thing a patina of grain that broke down the digital quality and lent a retro feel, befitting the film’s seventies setting.
HEART AND SOUL The cast and crew gave their all to the project and the reaction of the survivors was a humbling experience
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