'Running Wilde' with ALEXA
When cinematographer Michael Slovis got ready to start shooting Running Wilde, the new sitcom on the Fox Network, he didn't intend to rock the boat.
But that's what happened when he walked into ARRI CSC in New York and got a demonstration of the new ARRI ALEXA camera. "I felt the camera was going to be an absolute asset to us and a money saver," says Slovis. "But no one was familiar with the ALEXA at all; in fact, I had to convince everybody that this was the way to go."
Slovis 'sold' the executives on how the camera would save them time and money. "It looked an excellent option on paper," he notes. "Everybody kept talking about the dynamic range of the camera, with 13 or 14 stops. For a quick-shooting show with a limited budget, I knew it would save time in terms of things like ND-ing the windows. We would save the time and expense of putting gels up, or lighting interiors so the exteriors wouldn't blow out.
"What was important to the producers was that we would be able to move fast," he continues. "My argument was that the show is about a rich guy who lives in a castle, so it has to have an elegant look. With the ALEXA, the blacks are really solid. The camera has a very pleasing high end and it has an organic feel; it doesn't in any way feel electronic. Those are the reasons why I went to bat for the camera."
Slovis found the learning curve to be almost non-existent. "The ALEXA is built to be very familiar to film people," he explains. "It's all simple English and everything is laid out very clearly."
Another reason the ALEXA system was a perfect match for the series is its ability to easily apply LUTs. "I decide what the show will look like at the time we shoot, and the LUTs are burned in by post overnight," says the cinematographer. "Then we keep that look throughout post; that way everything from the promotions department has a consistent look and feel with the show. And that was important to Fox."
"I really like the fact that we decide on set," he continues. "Roger Duran at PostWorks is my long-time colorist. He knows where I'm heading and I leave him space at the high end and low end, and don't saturate the colors too much, so he has leeway. When it's distributed to studio executives by DVD or online, they have a good idea of where I'm going."
The only unexpected aspects of shooting with ALEXA have been pleasant ones. "I was really surprised at how it holds highlights so beautifully," says Slovis, who uses Optimo Zooms and Master Primes. "It makes my job that much easier. The camera lived up to everything I was told about it and more. It's very easy to use on a Steadicam or a crane and extremely easy to use handheld. I shoot everything from 200 to 1,000 ASA and all the shutter speeds, and there's absolutely no degradation of the image - no grain build-up."
"There's a rich, natural feel to the images," he says. "The camera is just a delight and everyone has commented - from Lionsgate, to the network, directors, everyone on our set - that it looks beautiful."
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