Gaffer Helmut Prein works with ARRI lights on Wes Anderson’s latest film, which opened the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.

Directed in typically idiosyncratic style by Wes Anderson and shot by his long-time cinematographer Robert Yeoman, ASC, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is set at a famous hotel in the Republic of Zubrowka, a fictional sovereign state in 1920s Europe, and centers on the misadventures of concierge Gustav H. (Ralph Fiennes) and lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). The British-German co-production, which was filmed in 2013 around Görlitz, Saxony, and at Studio Babelsberg, was selected to open the 64th Berlin International Film Festival. Set lighting gaffer Helmut Prein, whose previous credits include THE INTERNATIONAL, CLOUD ATLAS and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, relied on lighting equipment from ARRI Rental Berlin, which also provided an ARRICAM camera package and grip equipment. ARRI spoke with Helmut about working with Wes Anderson and the challenges of the film’s lighting design.


What were the parameters of the lighting design for THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL?

We were going for a realistic look and quite often used a  "Special". The idea was toadd a highlight into the scene to guide the audience’s eye to certain details. In most setups we tried to light the rooms, meaning we tried to avoid floor lights  as much as we could so that Wes Anderson and the actors could work unencumbered by technical considerations.

How would you describe working with Wes Anderson and Bob Yeoman?

I would call it intense, because Wes is a director who has very concrete ideas about the lighting design of the shots and is determined to execute them as precisely as possible. This requires the kind of rapport that Wes and Bob have developed over the years, working on seven films together. We shot about 75% of the film in the 4:3 aspect ratio, which is challenging because you often have parts of the ceiling and floor in the frame, so we had to find lighting solutions that worked in this format. Sometimes  we chose helium clouds for interiors, because it was the only way to generate top light. In other locations we were lucky to find skylights which we could use for basic illumination. Another Wes Anderson trademark is starting in the central perspective, followed by a 90° whip pan combined with a dolly shot. That’s a challenge for any camera operator, but Bob Yeoman, who operated himself, did an amazing job.

What were the challenges for you on this project?

During preproduction, the decision was made to use exclusively incandescent light, in other words, 3200°K  lights on all the interiors. The resulting technical requirements were a challenge and our goal was to keep them as contained as possible, but as extensive as necessary. At times it was difficult to hide the massive technical effort that went into this film and to work as inconspicuously as possible. Görlitz is a fairly small city and finding unobtrusive places to park the equipment trucks soon became an issue. Therefore, the smooth teamwork with the rigging team under the direction of Oliver Hass was indispensable. We shot the day exteriors with natural light, using only reflectors and overhead panels. Other setups we had to light meticulously.

The film was shot on 200 ASA film stock and, in some instances, we used anamorphic lenses, which meant we needed an adequate aperture, especially when we had several actors in the shot and all of them needed to be in focus. It was great to see that Bob Yeoman isn’t afraid of  deeper f-stop settings.


Were any of the sets particularly difficult to light?

One of the main motifs of the film is, of course, the Grand Budapest Hotel, which was created inside a former department store in Görlitz. The 1913 Art Nouveau building has an impressive interior, consisting of two central cantilever staircases and a gorgeous stained glass ceiling, and our challenge was to light this large interior space in a way that allowed the camera to move as freely as possible. Initially, we thought about helium balloons, but since we were shooting in the winter and blue daylight was coming through the glass ceiling, we quickly realized that we had to cover the ceiling to control the incoming light.

Above the stained glass ceiling is another glass ceiling, which we covered from the inside with multiple 20x20 ft. Ultrabounce panels. The space between the ceilings was tight and we couldn’t get too close to the reflectors, which meant we couldn’t use anything bigger than 4K lamps. We tested an arrangement of four lamps, which we set up in one corner of the roof. The result was great; we were able to light the entire surface of one 20x20 Ultrabounce reflector evenly. Now all we had to do was extrapolate the total number of lamps we would need to light all the 20x20s and add a few extra for backup. We ended up using 40 lamps, a combination of ARRISUNs and ARRI Compacts covered with 1/2 CTO. The result was impressive: it looked completely realistic and the aperture drop-off from T4.5 on the top floor to T2.8 on the bottom floor, along with the quality of light, felt very natural.


What else was in your lighting package?

We had the basic package and rented additional packages for certain setups; everything came from ARRI Rental Berlin. The basic package included daylight units from 18 kW down to 400 W – a mix of ARRI Fresnels (18K; 12K), ARRI M-Series (M40; M18), ARRISUNs (6K; 4K; Joker 800 and 400W) and Kino Flos – as well as a large tungsten package of ARRI T12 Fresnels, Dinos and Maxi/Mini Brutes, along with a variety of soft lights. We regularly used the 2K and 5K China Balls, which we mounted on MAX and Menace booms, and since we often worked shadow-free we also had a Butterfly package. Then there was a dimmer system, operated by Mike Wächter.

The reason we went with ARRI Rental is that they are capable of handling the extensive logistics of large-scale projects. Plus, their gear is always in perfect condition, which means everything runs smoothly on set. ARRI Rental also custom-made a number of things for us, including a few soft boxes that allowed us to quickly set up the basic lighting, and they got hold of some special Chimeras that I had seen at a convention, which have a large surface but aren’t very deep. We used them on Barger-Lite and they became our standard key light. For daylight shots we used these chimeras on an ARRI 4K X light with variable Chimera speed ring.

Do you have any favorite lights at the moment?

On the HMI side I like ARRI’s M-Series. On most projects I need soft but focused lighting and the light of the M-Series is remarkable in terms of its quality and efficiency. That’s why the M-Series units meet direct as well as indirect light requirements. At the moment my favorite is the M90, which almost has the power of a 12K but is easier to handle. My favorite tungsten unit is the ARRI T12, and then there’s the Barger-Lite, which ARRI Rental first sourced for me for a film I worked on called PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER. It’s designed to be used with Chimeras and comprises six 800 W lamps on three electric circuits, so it’s great for flicker effects.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working with director Tom Tykwer and DP Frank Griebe on a project called A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING, based on a Dave Eggers' novel. Tom Hanks will play the lead.


THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL opens worldwide in early March, 2014.




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