The Cinematography of Drive

Drive is probably the best film I have seen in the cinema all year. This isn’t a very original statement and even people saying “I know you’ve probably heard this a thousand times before, but go see Drive.” is somewhat cliched. Recommendations for the film are ubiquitous, which I’m actually a little surprised by – films that I rate highly often go unnoticed, produce a love-it-or-hate-it response, or have a slew of negative reviews.

The cinematography and the soundtrack are so important to Drive, they are almost characters. They are intertwined and tonally aligned and it makes for a really absorbing experience.

The street lights hitting Gosling’s face as he drives and the dimming of the light in the now-famous elevator kiss scene are particularly exciting – all mixed with a great, dark electro-synth soundtrack.

The film was DP’d by Newton Thomas Sigel and shot on ARRI Alexa – one of 2 or 3 cameras that I would love to kick the tyres on.

Find out more about the cinematography of the film in the following interviews with Sigel:

http://www.hdvideopro.com/display/features/a-boy-and-his-car.html

http://www.moviescopemag.com/insiderspov/cinematography/cinematographer-newton-thomas-sigel/

http://www.arri.com/camera/digital_cameras/news.html?article=719&cHash=097d245472

Nostalgic Shooting and Martin Scorsese

Now that we have digital cameras producing amazing quality, people are often digitally converting them into polaroid style, old-film-look, toy camera, cross processed*.

Now that we have rich, deep blacks on television sets, people are shortening the dynamic range and effectively lightening the shadows.

These may be “fad” styles and techniques, but they are ubiquitous at the moment. It might be down to nostalgia and romantacising styles from different eras but it isn’t confined to teens on their iPhones.

In The Aviator, Martin Scorsese decided to shoot the film digitally then grade half of it to look like two-strip technicolor and the other half in three-strip. Despite my reservations of the saturation of the media with this stylistic choice, Scorsese gets away with it because a) it is a narrative-led choice and b) he has a vast knowledge of cinema and the colour processes used, when and by who. Most people can cover the how, but Scorsese can cover the why.

There were different processes around back then,” Scorsese says. “Each process was different, and therefore, each film was different. That period of filmmaking and film viewing was formative for me, in a very primal way, and those images remain imprinted in my mind.

Read more about Scorsese’s homage to early colour processes.

Also: read about colour and digital production during The Departed.

These might be a bit technical and another league from what some of us are shooting, but it serves as good inspiration in areas that may affect us and we can also apply some of the theory to our own decisions. These are Scorsese’s first two features he shot digitally and he speaks openly and honestly about the switch.

*I’d like to point out that I have been known to use these “fad” styles, from time to time..

The Special Effects of ‘The Black Swan’

To complete my trifecta of The Black Swan posts (see: Cinematography and Sound Design), I bring you a demo of the SFX used in The Black Swan. These small but significant effects on a film with rich realism have more of an effect on me than all the explosions and CGI trickery of a glossy Hollywood film.

I have also been working with After Effects recently, mainly for titles, which is not an area I am skilled in. The possibilities are remarkable and, through my research, I have decided that I want to try editing a project using Adobe Premiere Pro CS5. I have the production suite, so why not try it out? The things that I have been hearing about it are enough to let me leave my Final Cut Pro safety net for a spell. I’ll cover this in the future.

The Sound of ‘The Black Swan’

I thought I’d follow up on the earlier post, The Cinematography of ‘The Black Swan’, with a nice video about the sound in the same film. Sound is often overlooked in Video Production, in favour of the aims and look. And ‘sound design’ is often not even considered; a good recording on someone talking + music is sometimes all that is required.

But I am fascinated by sound designers and the art of telling a narrative audibly. It’s one of the areas that I have never got into deeply myself but I hope to change that in the future. I’m not saying that intricate, original and experimental sound design should be on everyone’s mind when making a corporate video or filming an event – but it shouldn’t be dismissed either.

I hope to post more in the future, hopefully with a real-life example.

The Cinematography of ‘The Black Swan’

This has been a good couple of weeks for cinema-going, after seeing 127 Hours and The King’s Speech, I managed to get tickets to an advanced preview of The Black Swan. The film has been out for quite a while in the US and was in film festivals last summer but is only being released to the UK audiences proper today.

I really enjoyed the dark tale and found the handheld style to really work with the film. There are some debates on the internet about the merits of this kinetic style, but I felt closer to the action and felt like I was getting in Natalie Portman’s character’s head and was struggling along with her. It had touches of Cronenberg about it and was totally different again from the two films I mention above and some visual similarities to Kieslowski and Repulsion/Rosemary’s Baby. This different world that they created was one of the main things that I took away from the film; so familiar yet so alien.

The Cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, used a 5DMKii to shoot the rehearsals and have reference footage for how he would later shoot (on 16mm) – which I think is a great use of a camera that I have and want to maximise its potential. They ended up using 7Ds and 1DMKIVs for some shots where smaller set-ups and crews were necessary. He shot with a “Canon 24mm lens at 1,600 ASA to get as much depth of field as possible at a stop of T81⁄2” and pulled focus by hand. It’s nice to see the big guys doing stuff that is comparable to independent and tiny operations. I couldn’t tell the difference between the film and digital, but I didn’t know then – maybe if I went back to it and focused less on the story. Usually, my first watch is to take in the story as much as possible.

Find out more, including what a Texas switch is and its origin, in this interview with Libatique.

The Cinematography of ‘The King’s Speech’

Colin Firth in The King's Speech

I went to see The King’s Speech last night, after ubiquitous rave reviews. I enjoyed it as much as anyone else but found that the cinematography excited me most.

It was all fog and wide angle distortion and natural lighting. There’s always some debate when a film comes out looking different from the typical, often causing a Marmite love-it-or-hate-it situation, but I found it really refeshing. The colouring and close-ups were superb.

In one scene, where Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter walk down a flight of stairs, they almost walk into darkness and it’s this avoidance of studio- or over-lighting that makes it feel more real.

Cinematographer Danny Cohen talks about it a little here and there are some caps from the trailer here.

The Cinematography of ‘127 Hours’

Crew Shooting 127 Hours

Click above to see the video.

This blog won’t be all technical and the proof is in the pudding. Some inspiration and theory for you today.

I was interested in what equipment was used on the production of 127 Hours and how they created the unique, visceral style.

My intention was to embed the video in this post, but WordPress seemed to struggle with that so click the image above or here to go to the source.