ALEXA puts in a knock-out performance
MARY KOM is an Indian biopic about the internationally famous female boxer of that name, who rose from a humble background in rural India to become World Champion. Directed by Omung Kumar and produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the film was captured with ALEXA by Japanese DP Keiko Nakahara, who also worked with Master Prime lenses. Made on a budget of around US$ 2.4 million, it was shot in ARRIRAW for maximum image quality and has proved a critical and commercial hit. Nakahara speaks here about her equipment choices for the production and her experiences shooting it on location.
MARY KOM is an Indian biopic about the internationally famous female boxer of that name. Directed by Omung Kumar and produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, it was captured with ALEXA in ARRIRAW by Japanese DP Keiko Nakahara, who also worked with Master Prime lenses.
Tell us about MARY KOM and why you chose ALEXA for the movie.
The ALEXA became my favorite digital camera as soon as it launched in 2010 and I have used it on all of my feature films since then. I like its cinematic image quality, high-sensitivity sensor, film-camera-like body design, and the ease of camera settings.
This particular movie is a biopic about the famous Indian female boxer, Mary Kom. She is a living legend in India -- a five-time World Boxing Champion, Olympic bronze medalist and mother of three children. The movie follows her story from her childhood in India to her victory at the 2008 World Boxing Championships in China.
My director, Omung Kumar, and I wanted to tell her life story in a realistic and truthful visual style, highlighting her dedication and passion towards boxing and her family. So, we both agreed to shoot the entire film with a handheld camera. In my experience, ALEXA is ideal for handheld shots because the camera body balances perfectly on the shoulder. I can move freely, running forwards and backwards with the actors.
Do you tend to operate the camera yourself?
Yes, I always like to operate the camera myself, so the quality of the viewfinder is important to me and I'm impressed with the ALEXA's EVF viewfinder. It has a high-quality image and is very comfortable even when I operate with my left eye doing handheld, as the eyepiece is adjustable. It's also a plus for me that I can quickly change the basic camera and viewfinder settings directly on the EVF.
Operating handheld myself, I find the ALEXA's false color tool very helpful for viewing any over or underexposed areas within the frame, so I always ask my assistant to set up false color viewing on one of the camera's quick user buttons. The ability to upload look files is another of my favorite tools while shooting with the ALEXA. My DIT and I make several different look files with the ARRI Look Creator software and I always use them on set because I like to create the look in-camera as much as I can.
Did your realistic approach extend to the lighting style as well?
Yes it did; I wanted to create a tone of naturalistic lighting to enhance the realism. We were shooting at real locations in a small village in the north east of India and I wanted to capture the beauty of nature where Mary Kom grew up. ALEXA's dynamic range gave me the confidence to shoot in natural light, as I knew that it would be able to capture all the highlights and shadows.
Most of night interior and exterior scenes were also shot at real locations, usually in such low lighting conditions that we pushed the ALEXA to 1,200 ASA. The regional houses where we shot night interiors have small rooms and low ceilings, so I couldn't place any film lights. In the end I lit those spaces mainly with practical lamps and small, handmade soft boxes containing two 200-watt soft bulbs behind thick diffusion paper, controlled with hand dimmers.
Our approach for night exteriors was similar. For example, there is a flashback scene of a pregnant Mary and her husband rushing to hospital during a curfew. I wanted to shoot this sequence in a gritty, raw and chaotic style. My gaffer placed a few 2 kW open-face fixtures with full CTS gel as sodium vapor streetlights in the background, but my main source for the key lighting was fire flame. I asked the fire effect team to give me bigger fire flame elements near the actors and in the foreground. I shot this scene at 1,200 ASA with a 270-degree shutter angle and I'm pleased with how it looks; it really has the effect of real flames from a fire burning on the street.
My DIT and I make several different look files with the ARRI Look Creator software and I always use them on set.
What lenses did you use?
I chose to use two different spherical lenses because I wanted to create two different looks. For the boxing matches I used ARRI/ZEISS Master Primes and for Mary's daily personal life I used Zeiss Super Speeds. The Master Primes gave me more contrast, saturation and sharpness, which was perfect for the boxing, while the Super Speeds have a nice soft tone and a film-like feel. The way they flare is very organic and magical, so for outdoor scenes I often positioned the actors against the sun to get backlight on them. Even shooting with natural light, I was able to create some beautiful moments in the frame.
What recording format were you using, and why?
I chose to record ARRIRAW, as we had heavy visual effects to extend sets and multiply audiences for several of the boxing matches. It was important for me to provide the VFX team with uncompressed images in the highest resolution possible. I also wanted the flexibility of having more color space information for the DI grade in postproduction, and I'm very glad with the final output image.
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