AMIRA, ALEXA Mini and the MONKEY KING - Cinematographer Martin Schlecht discusses working with ARRI's AMIRA and ALEXA Mini cameras on the new comedy film from director Oliver Rihs, MONKEY KING

MONKEY KING (AFFENKÖNIG), the new film from Swiss director Oliver Rihs, premiered at this year's Munich Film Festival as part of the New German Cinema selection. A sardonic, bittersweet Comedy, it follows the antics of Wolfgang - the Monkey King - and three old friends as they attempt to relive their youth in southern France. Cinematographer Martin Schlecht speaks about working on the production with AMIRA, ALEXA Mini and ARRI/Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses - camera and lighting equipment supplied by ARRI Rental Berlin.


How did you and Oliver prepare for the shoot?

The big challenge was that the story is told in the style of a chamber play. There isn't one lead role - it's an ensemble piece where the cast needs a lot of room to improvise, so we couldn't prepare for this Project like you normally would. Things changed with every rehearsal and often I didn't know what would happen until the moment the cameras started rolling. I had to let the setting play a bigger role, which I haven't done in the past. The result was a unique aesthetic that also affected the editing. We had to think hard about continuity, which - due to this approach - wasn't built-in.




Why did you choose the AMIRA as your main camera?

In Germany, productions are tightly scheduled and you can't afford to lose time due to equipment malfunction. ARRI products meet that requirement. I have never encountered any technical problems with an ARRI camera, regardless of whether I was shooting on 35mm or digitally with the ALEXA or AMIRA.Having shot several times in the past with the AMIRA I have become a huge fan of the camera. It is easy to use and offers a frame rate of 200 fps, which I think is awesome. As a matter of fact, the image quality at that frame rate is the best I've seen so far. You don't lose anything in the highlights; it just looks beautiful. Making quick modifications is easy with the AMIRA; it has an onboard monitor, offers a great workflow, and is lightweight and well-built for handheld work. Often I would watch the actors rehearse before spontaneously deciding whether to shoot handheld or not. The AMIRA allows that kind of spontaneity.


Which lenses did you opt for?

Since our budget was limited and we needed freedom of movement, we decided to use a gimbal and forgo a dolly. The downside of a gimbal is the weight limitation. Usually, I work with different lenses, but on MONKEY KING I learned to appreciate the Ultra Primes and would now shoot with them anytime. They are the most lightweight lenses with that focal length range on the market and offer great sharpness and contrast. It was important to me to have a complete set of lenses so that the footage would all match; that's mainly why we chose the Ultra Primes.


How and why did you use the ALEXA Mini?

We decided to use the ALEXA Mini primarily because we were working with a gimbal. It was mostly my second unit cameraman, Rafael Beinder, who shot with the Mini and he was very pleased with it. The functions are the same as on all the other ALEXA cameras, which is very convenient. The Mini allows you to set up a wireless system so that you can operate the camera with your cellphone. Choosing settings is extremely fast and easy, which is exactly what you want when you don't have the luxury of multiple cameras on the set. You can use the Mini in almost any situation; it really opens up a wealth of possibilities.



Can you describe a specific scene where it was helpful to have the ALEXA Mini?

There was a bicycle scene in which one of the monkey king's friends follows two women as they ride along a windy road. Oliver and I wanted a low-angle POV shot; we were looking for a way to get as close as possible while still having part of the handlebar in the frame. We kept tinkering and finally, together with the key grip, decided to strap the ALEXA Mini to the bike itself. I road on the actor's bike with Oliver telling me over a walkie-talkie how much distance to keep, and the images looked great. So the small size of the ALEXA Mini was a major plus; the AMIRA would have been too heavy for this, but with the Mini it worked perfectly. All our underwater shots were also much easier with the ALEXA Mini. We had several swimming pool scenes, including one where the monkey king's friends throw him into the pool, which required slow-motion underwater shots. Obviously, there are underwater cases for a number of cameras available, but the upside of the Mini is its versatility ― the camera is so small and easy to handle, which really became a highlight of the shoot for me. We shot a lot above and below the surface of the water and not once did we encounter a problem with the Mini.

What was your recording format?

I'm a big fan of 'what you see is what you get'. Today, everyone is trying to achieve a 35 mm look using digital cameras, but I don't feel I need 4K, 6K or whatever comes next. For me, 4:4:4 ProRes is enough unless I'm shooting an animated film or VFX-heavy scenes. The color depth is beautiful and always impresses me. It's great fun to work with these ARRI cameras and I know I can rely on them completely. If it were up to me, I'd always choose equipment and services from ARRI Rental - they've often supported me and always want to help find solutions so that I can pull off what I want to do.

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