ALEXA and Armani: technology meets fashion

ALEXA and Armani: technology meets fashion

Amid the pulsating light and music of a fashionable Parisian nightclub, a good-looking young couple embrace so passionately that the woman’s necklace is torn away, scattering diamonds to the floor.

This is the scenario for Emporio Armani’s latest ad promoting its Diamonds perfume. Directed by Paul Mignot, it was shot by DoP David Nissen with an ALEXA camera recording in Log C to an HDCAM SR deck. In common with many of the Armani Diamonds spots, the look of the commercial recreates the sleek, high contrast feel of glamorous black-and-white movies. David Nissen talks to ARRI about his lighting approach and his first experience with ALEXA.

ARRI News: How was it decided to shoot on ALEXA?

David Nissen: I was very happy to hear that there was a new ARRI camera; I’m very fond of the ARRIFLEX D-21 and I knew a few weeks before the shoot that the ALEXA was going to be available. Of course I love shooting 35 mm, but it’s more difficult in terms of the budget.

AN: It was your first ALEXA shoot – did you do any testing beforehand?

DN: I actually couldn’t, because I was filming abroad and arrived just two days before the shoot. My main concerns at that point were things like the locations and the art department. However, I’ve got a good friend who I’ve worked with for many years as my 1st AC, so I trust everything to do with the testing to him.

AN: Once you were on set with ALEXA did you find the controls and menus intuitive to use?

DN: In fact I never touched the menu on the camera – it was always the 1st AC or the DIT; but I did feel that the camera was very simple and easy to use. My main focus was on the monitors and the waveform – to see where the blacks and highlights were. I had a big HD monitor and the waveform next to it, as I prefer to see them side by side, rather than flicking back and forth between them. Then I had a little monitor on the camera, because it’s a good way to work with the director, in terms of discussing framing. I do the same even when I’m working on 35 mm because it saves time and it means the director is very close to me.

AN: The director - Paul Mignot – was also doing some operating with ALEXA, is that right?

 DN: Yes – Paul used to be a Steadicam operator, so he likes to operate when he directs. On this job he probably did more operating than me, because I was very focused on the light; I would be right by his side, looking at the lighting on the onboard monitor. It meant I could also keep an eye on the framing, because sometimes when directors operate the camera they are looking at the actors more than the edges of the frame.

AN: I understand that you created some rather unusual lighting effects?

DN: I wanted to create some flares in-camera, so I used strobe lights, very strong backlight and also a streak filter, which enhances the flare. Then I had a Maglite in my pocket to shine into the lens and create even more flare for a few of the shots. It’s not easy to be in the right position to get good flares when the camera is handheld, but we achieved some very nice results. Also, the coating on lenses is so good these days and that makes it harder as well.

AN: Did ALEXA deliver the strong contrast you wanted for your black-and-white look?

DN: I was a bit scared about that before the shoot, but I was pleasantly surprised because the ALEXA is very sensitive and I found that I had a few stops in both the blacks and the whites – I had detail at both ends; and there was no noise. For high contrast situations I have to say that I love the optical viewfinder of the D-21 because I can see so much more. Above all I like to be able to see the actors’ emotions and it just isn’t the same through an electronic viewfinder.

AN: What other kinds of shoots do you think you might use ALEXA for?

DN: I’d love to test the camera on a night shoot, and also in bright daylight, because of course it’s very easy to control the light in a studio but on location it’s different. I think the ALEXA will do very well with this and I’d like to try it myself.