THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU is a character-driven comedy drama movie starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda, among others. Directed by Shawn Levy (NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, REAL STEEL) and adapted by Jonathan Tropper from his own best-selling novel, the film centers on the aftermath of a father's death, when his four grown children are obliged to live together at their childhood home for a week, along with their pushy mother and an assortment of spouses and exes.


Cinematographer Terry Stacey, ASC, captured with ALEXA in ARRIRAW on director Shawn Levy's THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, a character-driven comedy drama movie starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda. 

"For Shawn, who had made so many big budget movies, this was sort of a dream piece," says cinematographer Terry Stacey, ASC. "It had an amazing cast but was a small movie, with a very small budget and a short schedule of about 30 days."


Much of the prep was focused on finding the right house, since two-thirds of the action takes place there. "Shawn liked the idea of doing it on location," says Stacey. "He wanted it to feel not like a set, but a real house, because it's a character in the film. We were on the same wavelength."

They found two houses, and although Stacey preferred the larger one, Levy persuaded him that the smaller one had more personality. "It would be about turning the weaknesses into strengths," says the cinematographer. "This house had great archways and doorways so we could frame people, and low ceilings to make things feel claustrophobic."

Levy had always shot on film for his previous movies, but Stacey convinced him that ALEXA would deliver the same feel and bring other benefits to the production. "Being a shorter shoot, we had to get multiple cameras and the ALEXA, for me, was the natural choice," he says. "And it made sense to go with the widescreen format because we could use composition to play a role in the story." 

Shooting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio allowed Levy to put the entire family in the frame and encourage the actors to play within it. "Other times we had more designed camera moves," says Stacey. "It was tough to make dolly moves because of the tight space, but we made it work. Other times, we used Steadicam or went handheld, depending on the mood of the scene."

Stacey, who recorded ARRIRAW for maximum image quality, relied on ALEXA's low light capability. "The ALEXA is so good in low light, it's uncanny," he says. "Even if the set looks dim, on the monitors it's super bright. At night, we could go with very low light, even at 800 ASA, and it was amazing. Although you can shoot at 1,200 ASA and it doesn't get grainy."

The ALEXA is so good in low light, it's uncanny. Even if the set looks dim, on the monitors it's super bright.

One potentially challenging space was the basement of the house. "It's a very tiny basement and we shot a number of scenes there," says Stacey. "I loved that the ALEXA gave me the freedom to do things simply, without having to use too much lighting. It meant the equipment didn't dictate the story."


With a cast of widely varying ages, ALEXA's natural color rendition and gentle skin tones were further reasons behind Stacey's choice of camera. "It's got a really beautiful quality when you're using soft sources and bounces," he says. "It picks up the highlights and is great for skins: everyone looked good."


Stacey notes that for THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, he worked "very much by eye," as he does for many of the films he shoots. "And out of all the digital cameras, the ALEXA lets me treat it with the same logic as a film camera. It's amazing how you can use it in any situation and it consistently gives you such a beautiful image."


Debra Kaufman