Cinematographer George Lechaptois discusses shooting PLANETARIUM with the ARRI Rental ALEXA 65 camera system

How did you come to choose the ALEXA 65 for this film?

I tested many different cameras and formats. For a while I was keen on using anamorphic 35 mm, but Rebecca didn’t want to go in this direction for a period film – she wanted something new. I suggested digital, but this also wasn’t new enough for Rebecca. When the ALEXA 65 came out she sent me a text saying maybe we should try it. We did a very short camera test – just one day – and compared it with our previous camera tests. Everybody loved the ALEXA 65 and it was immediately obvious that this was the best camera for our film. Of course the system isn’t cheap, but it was so important for us to have a very special look on this film and the ALEXA 65 had such a completely unique quality.

How would you describe the look you were after?

Rebecca and I wanted a very modern look for the film. One of our references was Michael Powell’s RED SHOES – an early Technicolor movie that was very modern for its time. Rebecca didn’t want to use flares or diffusion; she wanted the color of the film to be warm. It is a different feeling when working with the ALEXA 65. On our previous films together we had more close-ups, but for this film the producer said, “Go wide”, so we did lovely wide shots. But you have to be careful and every department has to pay attention to the details, as you can see everything!

How did you find the ALEXA 65 to work with on set?

I had already worked with an ALEXA and the ALEXA 65 has the same menu, so it felt very similar. The main difference is the size of the camera. Our prep time was very short but everything worked out fine. With a large format like this you can have issues with strobing when you pan, so we learned not to have many pans with the close-ups. In general the big sensor gives a more cinematic look to digital, which is the best thing about this camera. I have always preferred 35 mm film, but the ALEXA 65 gave us numerous possibilities to explore and I was very happy to work with it. The only lenses available when we shot the film didn’t all have the same T-stop, which means you have to light to the slower stop, although with the ALEXA 65 it is better to work with a bigger depth of field because it can be challenging for the focus. But our 1st AC was great and didn’t have any problems. Working at a slower stop was occasionally challenging for exterior scenes at sunset, but in postproduction I was able to push a little more.

Was postproduction a positive experience for you?

I found that a lot can be done in postproduction and that was very important. For the workflow we had two Vaults – one on set and one at the digital lab. None of us had any previous experience with the Vault, but it was very simple to work with. The picture we had in postproduction contained an amazing amount of information, so we could make adjustments to achieve exactly what we wanted. The great latitude allowed us to go brighter or darker, while the good colors meant we could increase or decrease the saturation. We only had ten days for grading, which is not very long, but the ALEXA 65 image made it easy to do what we wanted within that short time. Another advantage was that the resolution of the ALEXA 65 let us crop into the image when we needed. We did a lot of zooming in postproduction, as we hadn’t had any zooms on set. We also forgot to shoot one particular close-up, so we were able to create this by cropping in, and the quality was still great.

Do you have any favorite shots or sequences in the film?

There’s a scene where an actress, played by Natalie Portman, shoots a screen test. We follow her through the studio until she is standing in front of the director, the crew and a camera. A clapperboard claps and we follow the loader before turning to see a reflection of Natalie in the matte box. As she starts to speak we track into the camera operator and turn to finish on a view of Natalie through the viewfinder. We did this in one shot without any visual effects. It didn’t take long to get the shot; we did maybe 10 takes and it was great fun. I used a lot of old technology on the film, from mirrors and cranes to lights and even an old projector. I really enjoyed it.




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