DOUBLE XPOSURE: in China with ALEXA

DOUBLE XPOSURE is a psychological thriller that tells the story of Song Qi, a young woman whose life begins to unravel after she discovers that her boyfriend is having an affair with her best friend. Drawn into a spiral of revenge and murder, Song Qi embarks on a twisted journey into her past and the very depths of her own mind. Chinese director Li Yu, whose films have often courted controversy in the past, worked with cinematographer Florian Zinke on DOUBLE XPOSURE. Zinke recently spoke with ARRI about shooting the film on ARRI ALEXA and also 16 mm cameras.

DOUBLE XPOSURE trailer

DOUBLE XPOSURE is a psychological thriller that tells the story of Song Qi, a young woman whose life begins to unravel after she discovers that her boyfriend is having an affair with her best friend. Chinese director Li Yu, whose films have often courted controversy in the past, worked with cinematographer Florian Zinke on the film, and Zinke chose to shoot with the ARRI ALEXA, using a ProRes workflow.

ARRI: How did you get involved in the production; had you worked with Li Yu before?

 

Florian Zinke: Yes, I worked on her last film, BUDDHA MOUNTAIN, although on that film I was the second cinematographer because there were two, and I was the gaffer as well. We've known each other for quite a while and worked together on smaller projects like commercials, and for this film she chose me as the DP. I went to film school in China and have been working here for ten years now.

 

ARRI: Did you source the ALEXA from within China, and had you worked with the camera before?

 

FZ: I had worked with ALEXA a couple of times, but this was the first feature film I'd been on with the camera. The equipment was supplied by KO Media, a small but really nice rental operation with a very dedicated team and excellent maintenance. Their focus is almost entirely on ALEXA and ARRI equipment. The transition to digital production has been incredibly fast in China and at the moment a very large proportion of feature films seem to be shooting with the ALEXA.

ARRI: Why was shooting digitally with ALEXA the right choice for this film?

FZ: These days in China you almost don't have the option to shoot on film anymore because the labs are closing so fast, but ALEXA was right for this project because it is quite a modern story, so we wanted a crisp, clean look. In terms of digital equipment ALEXA is simply the best out there; we did extensive testing with other cameras but nothing else was as good in terms of latitude and general image quality. The other important thing was the handling, because I'm used to film cameras and ALEXA comes closest to a real production-style film camera; it feels like a proper piece of equipment, not a toy.

ARRI: Didn't you also shoot some 16 mm material?

FZ: That's right. We used 16 mm for flashback scenes, which make up an important part of the story. In the latter half of the film these flashbacks explore the main character's history and the origins of her psychological condition. Sadly it was quite hard just getting hold of the 16 mm film stock and the processing was also quite challenging, but it turned out really well. We used an ARRI 16SR II High Speed camera with an old Zeiss zoom lens and we got a look that contrasted with the ALEXA footage very nicely. We deliberately left scratches and dust on the 16 mm scan and barely graded the material, using it almost exactly as it had come out of the camera.

ALEXA comes closest to a real production-style film camera; it feels like a proper piece of equipment, not a toy.

ARRI: Were you often working at real locations?

 

FZ:  Yes, and that was another reason to go with ALEXA. The whole film was shot on location, apart from some underwater shots that we had to do at a studio. Also, the film is more than 90% handheld and the approach was very free; Li Yu always wants to create a situation where the actors can really inhabit the space and go anywhere. That poses challenges in terms of lighting; you can't have light stands and cables on the floor because you just don't know where people are going and what will happen. Our solution was to treat real locations like studios and try to put all the lights and cabling up on the ceiling, leaving the floor free. The actors don't even really have cues, so sometimes we would end up in places where the lighting wasn't optimal, but if the performance was right then the shot would make it into the film, so I needed a camera that provided a good, clean image even when the lighting wasn't ideal.

ARRI: You used ARRI Master Prime lenses; what do you like about them?

FZ: We shot most of the film on the Mater Primes, which are great lenses. For the indoor and night-time stuff we were almost always wide open, or T2 at the most. Stylistically we wanted that dramatic look of a shallow depth of field, because the film concerns a character's imaginary world. The good thing about the Master Primes is that you can do that without degrading your image at all - the contrast and color stay the same wide open, but it was a challenging job for my focus puller, Stephanie Leitl. We've worked together for a long time and she can handle it, but I suspect a lot of people could not. In a way I'm not crazy about being totally sharp all of the time because I like the focus to feel alive, but it requires a very creative approach from the focus puller to know when you have to be sharp and when you can let it go a bit -- it's a delicate thing and it requires judgment.

We had a short schedule, a lot of location changes and a limited budget, so the simplicity of ProRes recording really helped us.

ARRI: You also had the 18-80 and 45-250 Alura Zooms; what did you think of them?

 

FZ: We used the Aluras in certain scenes where we wanted an altered perspective, where we would push in a little bit at specific moments and let the audience look at something in a bit more detail. So we were using the zoom for its zoom capabilities, rather than shifting focal length between shots. We also used them for car sequences where we needed flexibility with the framing, and we found that the Alura Zooms intercut perfectly with the Master Primes. At the time, the Alura Lightweight Zooms hadn't arrived in China, but I have now tested them and they're great; I'd like to use them on my next film, especially because you can use them handheld or on a Steadicam.

 

ARRI: Were you recording ARRIRAW, or ProRes?

 

FZ: It was entirely a ProRes workflow and we were recording ProRes 4444 Log C. We did a lot of testing in preproduction with our DI facility and although I can see the advantages of ARRIRAW for certain projects, I shied away from it for this film because there was so much handheld work and shooting on the run, so I wanted to keep the camera as lightweight as possible. Another factor was that at the moment in China there is basically no 4K projection in theaters, so some of the advantages of ARRIRAW wouldn't make it all the way to exhibition. I'd love to use it in the future, and obviously it makes a difference to long-term archiving, but the ProRes workflow was so streamlined that it really benefitted this particular production. We had a short schedule, a lot of location changes and a limited budget, so the simplicity of ProRes recording really helped us.