ALEXA homecoming

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For a corporate video produced by Evisco about the German soccer club FC Bayern, the ARRI ALEXA camera returned to its roots, in a way. The shoot took place at the Allianz Arena in Munich, which was one of the first places where the prototype ALEXA was put through its paces. Back in 2009 the camera went head to head with its closest competition on a test shoot at the same soccer stadium and came out a clear winner. More than two years later, ARRI News went back to the Allianz Arena to visit the Evisco shoot and find out why executive producers/directors Nick Golüke and Uli Köhler from Alpenglühen Productions, and director of photography Florian Schilling, chose ALEXA for this latest project.

Lost time costs hard cash, so false economies with equipment can end up having fatal consequences.

ARRI News: After two days of filming with another camera system, you decided to continue your work with ALEXA. What were the reasons for switching over in the middle of the job?

 

Florian Schilling: We were initially using a system that we realized was not fully mature. When it became clear to us that we would have a very small window of time over the next few days for filming the FC Bayern star players and club president Uli Hoeness, it was obvious that we had to quickly switch to a camera system that would function in all circumstances -- where we could trip over a cable or hit the wrong button without causing everything to freeze up for hours.

 

Nick Golüke: A few years before, we probably would have used a DigiBeta or XDCAM camera, but we absolutely wanted the large image sensor for a cinema-style look. That left a pretty narrow choice of systems. We weren't sure at first if the ALEXA would work with our budget, but the producers soon realized that using it would be worth the investment - the camera's absolute reliability alone would be a selling point for our clients. Flawless execution and top quality were a must-have for this project with FC Bayern; we filmed for six days with the ALEXA and never had a single incident. It was a perfectly smooth workflow and the output the ALEXA delivers makes color corrections almost superfluous on a project like this, which of course keeps production costs down.

Uli Köhler: This FC Bayern image trailer is an important project for us. We're a relatively young company, even if both of us, Nick and myself, have been in the sports reporting business for a long time. We wanted to deliver a perfect product, and that means everything has to run smoothly, starting with the camera. The share of the camera equipment in total costs for smaller projects like this one is easily 25 percent. At the same time, ever-tighter budgets mean that production reliability is of absolutely fundamental importance. Lost time costs hard cash, so false economies with equipment can end up having fatal consequences.

AN: What was your recording solution and workflow?

FS: Because our promotional film has a strong documentary feel, we ran the ALEXA on a ProRes 422HQ codec, which almost demands too little of this high-end camera. That said, it's good that a range of output options is available, and with 422HQ in the Rec709 color space we could go straight from the camera to editing. We recorded to SxS PRO cards; it's a huge advantage that the ALEXA offers this feature internally and uses a card that you can just plug into a notebook to view the material directly. The ALEXA is also well suited to action photography; I've often used it on my shoulder like a classic sports reporter, only the images are of course much more impressive with the big chip. I usually worked with the standard EI 800 sensitivity, and only used ND filters where necessary.

One of the fabulous things about the ALEXA is that you can learn to operate this camera incredibly quickly.

AN: A provocative question: can camera operators still be competitive if they haven't worked with ALEXA?

 

FS: Let me put it this way: one of the fabulous things about the ALEXA is that you can learn to operate this camera incredibly quickly, even if you're using it for the first time. Yesterday I had an assistant who had never handled an ALEXA before; after five minutes he had figured it out. You can understand the system right away. The menu structure is extremely simple - anyone who knows their way around cameras today can figure out the ALEXA with no trouble.

 

AN: We've also heard that focus pulling has become harder with today's digital systems. What do you think?

 

FS: It's become harder for the focus puller because we all want these super flat depths of field - that's truer today than in the past. A few years ago, when the P&S adapter came into use, you had to shoot with an open aperture, and that was hard. With the ALEXA you can use any T-stop you want, it's more a question of image aesthetics that have become popular with the large-chip cameras making people shoot more often with open apertures, and that makes things very tiresome for the focus puller. Another point, of course, is that the focus puller has to be familiar with electronic camera technology. It's different to work with than 35 mm film, and requires a certain amount of practice.

 

NG: A lot more is asked of us these days - that needs to be clearly stated. There's a lot of hype about new technical possibilities, and a new awareness of the competition that wasn't there before. Developments in camera technology are so confusing these days that producers have to be able to rely on the camera operator's up-to-date expertise.

AN: How and where will your FC Bayern film be used?

UK: FC Bayern is currently creating a theme park, a sort of museum, in the Allianz Arena. When it opens next summer it will be Europe's largest sports museum, with plenty of media content. A movie screen is also planned, where the 15-minute film we're producing will be shown. It presents the FC Bayern phenomenon through various storylines and gives viewers an intimate view of things they could never otherwise experience, such as the team's locker rooms and players' homes. We use very recent footage of star players and management, bringing viewers up close to these people in a way that's not usually possible. So an advantage of the cinema format and high-quality aesthetic optics we've chosen is that the fans can get within touching distance of their idols, in environments that are normally closed to the public.