ALEXA on WORLD WITHOUT END
Based on novelist Ken Follett's global bestseller, WORLD WITHOUT END is the follow-up to Golden Globe-nominated television miniseries THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH. Produced by Tandem Communications, Take 5 Productions and Galafilm, in association with Scott Free Films, the eight-part sequel is set 200 years after PILLARS, in the same fictional town of Kingsbridge. ARRI Rental Budapest supplied ARRI ALEXA cameras for the five-month shoot, which took place on location in Hungary, Slovakia and Austria. Directed by Michael Caton-Jones, WORLD WITHOUT END was shot by cinematographer Denis Crossan, BSC, who recently spoke with ARRI News about his work on the project.
ARRI News: Was WORLD WITHOUT END always going to be a digital production?
Denis Crossan: Yes. As it was essentially eight hours of television, it was always budgeted to be shot digital; film was never an option. I don't know of any television that's shot on 35 mm these days.
AN: Why did you choose the ARRI ALEXA?
DC: I had worked with the ALEXA a number of times on commercials and had used it early on when it still had a few teething issues, but I was impressed with its image quality, and as a DP, you want to get the best you possibly can. It had the same feel and purpose as a film camera, so I felt comfortable using it.
AN: What kind of visual approach did you and Michael discuss?
DC: We intended the production to have a film look, with scale and depth; if Michael could have shot it 2.40:1 he would have been really happy. When we first spoke he had an idea of applying a Victorian Pre-Raphaelite romanticism to the Middle Ages and combining that with a classic style of shooting similar to THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957), directed by Alexander Mackendrick, or Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY (1957), where the shot constantly develops as the camera moves, or the actors trade positions or move you to a new frame. In terms of lighting I wanted to apply a certain naturalism and try to stay true to the light sources. If I lit through windows I wanted the light to fall off dramatically in the backgrounds. Generally, I would use little or no fill light. For night exteriors I kept them predominately warm, using all tungsten light and balancing the color temperature to match firelight or torches.
There's a lot to get every day, but to do it in a way that doesn't sacrifice quality - that's the challenge.
AN: What are your thoughts on ALEXA's sensitivity and dynamic range?
DC: I was certainly impressed with its performance in low light. Being set in Medieval England, all the interiors on WORLD WITHOUT END were lit with candles. I found I could light the actors just enough to create contrast and depth, and let the backgrounds go, using candles to pick out specific areas; I didn't want to go completely dark. I also did quite a number of aperture pulls on this production, which is something I never did on film. Many of our sets on location had low roofs and small windows, so it gets to a point where it is impossible to balance the exterior with the interior lighting; doing a stop pull as someone comes from a window or door into the room saved time. The great thing is you can see immediately if it works or not.
AN: Were aperture pulls utilized creatively, as well as pragmatically?
DC: Absolutely. In one particular scene Godwyn (Rupert Evans) proposes that his mother Petranilla (Cynthia Nixon) should kill her brother to further Godwyn's ambitions. We shot in a doorway looking out onto a busy exterior square in full sunlight, and Michael wanted to keep Godwyn semi-silhouette. I blocked most of the light from him, but let the background overexpose so it looked fiery and harsh. When he finishes his dialogue he steps back into the daylight and I did an aperture pull, stopping down, which shows his face and makes the background the correct exposure and normal. Hopefully it enhances the emotion in the scene, without anyone realizing the mechanics of it.
AN: What were your recording and workflow solutions?
DC: We shot ProRes 4444 to the on-board SxS PRO cards. I'm not really keen on the word workflow; it sounds like processing paperwork in an accountant's office. Everyone in preproduction is very keen on discussing workflow and LUTs, and likes to throw in other similarly inane acronyms. I just knew I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. I did three basic color grades at Colorfront in Budapest: one for candlelight and another for torches, which covered day and night interiors and night exteriors. The third was a daylight grade for interiors and exteriors. With that in place I would change the lighting within scenes or occasionally change color temperature on the camera, as I always had a reference of where I wanted it to be. Colorfront would send daily reports and dailies were posted on the internet. I also got daily color-corrected frame grabs, which I found really useful as a reference.
AN: Have there been any particularly challenging setups or sequences?
DC: All of them! OK, not exactly true, but Michael is very particular about framing and because of our style of shooting, actors and camera had to be very precise about hitting marks. It was difficult in the first weeks but I was amazed at how quickly everyone got to grips with it. For me, the challenge has been trying to keep focused and push myself. I've never been involved on a production for this length of time, with over five months of shooting to get eight hours of material. There's a lot to get every day, but to do it in a way that doesn't sacrifice quality - that's the challenge.
AN: What motivated the decision to shoot in Budapest, and how has it been for you?
DC: From the production point of view it comes down to cost; from my point of view it doesn't make much difference, apart from being away from home. As long as equipment and crew are available you can make a film anywhere. Hungary has great studio space, locations, enough film and camera equipment to service several productions, and the crews are good. I've also been really pleased with the service from ARRI Rental. They have managed to put a large package together, which gets amended frequently depending on our filming schedule, but they've always been on top of it.
© 2011 Tandem Productions GmbH
All photos courtesy of Egon Endrenyi