Reiner Holzemer: AMIRA owner-operator
In this conversation with ARRI, documentary filmmaker Reiner Holzemer discusses early experiences shooting with his AMIRA on a video portrait of the Dutch photographer and film director Anton Corbijn, and a 90-minute documentary about the former international footballer Franz Beckenbauer. When discussing the use of up to five AMIRAs on shoots with the Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten, Holzemer is joined by Els Voorspoels, a freelance producer for Van Noten who has overall responsibility for his catwalk videos, promotional films and video installations.
Why did you decide to invest in an AMIRA?
Reiner Holzemer: Of course, I looked at other cameras, but when I saw the AMIRA I immediately fell in love with it. After just 20 minutes with the camera, I could shoot with it; there weren't pages and pages of menus, and the controls were simple. I try to get very close to people in my work and it's very important that the technology does not cause any distraction or delay. The action in front of the camera happens once only and it cannot be repeated, so you have to be able to trust your tool.
Your first experience with AMIRA was on the Anton Corbijn portrait -- how did you use it on that shoot?
RH: The Corbijn shoot was very simple and the budget was so low that I started out by shooting on my own with him while he was on location, using smaller cameras. It was only later on that I got hold of the AMIRA and used it to shoot the interviews, with the camera on a tripod, and it added a lot of production value because the images are so beautiful, even if you're just looking at a face for 20 or 30 seconds. The difference to the image quality, the composition and the depth of field is huge; it looks immediately like cinema, I would say. Of course, I wish I could have shot the observational parts with the AMIRA, but it was not available at that time.
At most the crew consisted of me, as director and DP, and a soundman. The AMIRA has a little monitor so you don't have to look through the viewfinder, which is good in an interview when you have to ask questions and check your framing at the same time. If you shoot with available light, you are at the mercy of changing sunlight and clouds, but I was relaxed about it because I knew that AMIRA has 14 stops of dynamic range and that with Log C, I would have plenty of room in the grade. I felt that I could rely on the AMIRA and I wasn't afraid of under or over-exposure.
What about Beckenbauer -- were you mainly handheld or were you back and forth between your shoulder and the tripod?
RH: On the Beckenbauer movie it was a mix of the two. There was some staged footage in stadiums such as Wembley, Rome and Berlin, where we shot interviews from a tripod, but we also did lots of observational shooting, which was more of a cinéma vérité approach. That meant following him with the AMIRA on my shoulder, sometimes with a sound guy next to the camera and sometimes just on my own, using a wireless microphone attached to the AMIRA. This, for me, is the best use of the camera; you're very flexible and yet you're getting extremely high-quality images.
What was your mode of working on the first Van Noten shoot?
RH: Dries dislikes having many cameras and media people around, as he is reluctant to be observed. He accepted me as a person, but I had to work alone. I put a very good stereo microphone on the camera, which takes sound from the direction of the lens and also has a separate channel pointing to sides, so I could be focused on Dries when he was talking to someone and I always had two channels for the dialogue. He also wore a wireless microphone that was attached to the camera. I find that the audio features of the AMIRA, both automatic and manual, allow me to work perfectly on my own. I had control of the sound but I could concentrate on the image, following Dries and being very discreet.
Dries immediately noticed that the AMIRA did remarkably more justice to the colors and details of the fabrics.
Was the approach different on the second AMIRA shoot with Dries?
Els Voorspoels: We tried out two AMIRA cameras at Dries' summer 2016 men's fashion show, combined with three of the XDCAM cameras we generally use. Lighting at a fashion show is approached differently than a film shoot and can result in unsuitable light, with a brightly-lit subject and a dark background. Thanks to the AMIRA's dynamic range, this effect is reduced considerably and all tonalities are captured naturally. When viewing the dailies, Dries immediately noticed that the AMIRA did remarkably more justice to the colors and details of the fabrics. The higher image sharpness and color accuracy highlighted the full potential of his collection and the difference to the XDCAM was undeniable.
You subsequently used AMIRAs again and recorded in 4K UHD -- why was this?
EV: After this trial, I discussed using five AMIRAs with my camera crew to capture every camera angle at the next fashion show. The most challenging angle by far is the frontal medium shot, where the models walk straight towards the camera. This requires a combination of focus and zoom, which means hiring a focus puller. The higher costs and rental fees of the cameras sent up the total budget. However, the color grading was considerably less time-consuming. Apart from a final edit in 1080p, I also have to deliver a portrait version (aspect ratio 9:16), where a blow-up (x2) is needed to reframe the image, resulting in a loss of quality. This added to the decision to shoot in AMIRA 4K UHD.
Reiner, do you have the UHD license as a permanent feature on your AMIRA? Are more of your clients keen on shooting 4K UHD?
RH: I have a permanent UHD license because I often do long-term documentaries. I just started a shoot about the Deutsches Museum in Munich that will last for the next 10 years. From the beginning, I wanted to shoot in the best available and yet affordable image quality to deliver a brilliant result that will still fascinate my clients in 2025. I am optimistic that ARRI will deliver new software solutions to keep the quality of my camera updated and I cannot imagine any other company being able to do that.
So you are still confident in your AMIRA standing up well as a long-term investment?
RH: I decided to buy the AMIRA just weeks after it came on the market and it was only 2K then. Many of my colleagues warned me that the camera would soon be outdated, as 4K was on the rise. I did not need that option then, but I do now. The switch to UHD with ARRI was so easy and affordable, and it proved AMIRA to be a good long-term investment. From the start, I believed in ARRI's philosophy; they said that if you buy this camera, you can work with it for five or 10 years, which is a long time in this industry. Other manufacturers change their equipment very often and leave customers behind, but I trust ARRI's long-life philosophy.