Banking on ALEXA
Mik Allen is a DP operating in the United Arab Emirates on movie and commercial projects. His early career saw him working as a clapper loader and focus puller on high-end films including THE MUMMY, GOSFORD PARK, GOLDENEYE, THE JACKAL and IN LOVE AND WAR, under such revered directors as Robert Altman, Sir Richard Attenborough and Michael Caton-Jones. In recent years Allen has been concentrating on prestigious commercial ventures for television, cinema and the web.
DP Mik Allen, who is based in the United Arab Emirates, shot this high profile commercial for Barwa Bank with ARRI ALEXA cameras and Ultra Prime lenses from rental facility FilmQuip Dubai.
Allen learnt his craft on ARRI film cameras. "As the industry moved to digital, I was really dissatisfied with what the market offered," he says. "Either the tonality of the pictures was wanting, the handling was awkward, or the operation was slow and counter-intuitive, with vital settings hidden in menus. Sadly, this is often still the case. The arrival of the ALEXA has been a breath of fresh air. For me, picking up the camera for the first time, everything was instantly familiar - it was as though ARRIFLEX 235 or 435 cameras had been reborn as digital models. For the first time I had no hesitation in using digital. Before the ALEXA came, I used to miss a lot about film. I don't any more."
The ability of the ALEXA to render faithful skin tones is of immense appeal to Allen and is what led him to select the camera for a commercial promoting UAE's Barwa Bank. Produced by Filmworks Dubai and shot with ALEXA cameras supplied by FilmQuip Dubai, the spot centers around the playful antics of a group of children.
"Shooting at ASA 800 is my preferred setting; it really is the camera's sweet spot," notes Allen. "At this level the camera is capable of capturing noise-free pictures with true blacks and it also delivers a wonderful latitude. In studio conditions, this ASA rating allows me to reduce the amount of artificial light required, which is a real bonus where children are concerned."
In the film, directed by David Andrew Ward, the camera had to capture the dark faces of the children against the backdrop of the white studio. To create a pleasing, subtle effect, Allen employed a 2K spring ball through a half diffusion frame to light the subjects. Additionally, the harder lighting on the background reflected onto the children, increasing the overall lighting.
"With the ALEXA, dynamic range is rarely an issue," continues the DP. "What we ended up with were sparkling eyes, clear and natural flesh tones, and a bright, vibrant picture."
Allen puts this performance down to the camera, twinned with a full set of ARRI/ZEISS Ultra Primes. He notes, "I mainly used the 85 mm and 135 mm lenses; their sharpness and control over depth of field are excellent. Shooting on Ultra Primes makes getting the camera into tight areas painless. And as a bonus, it's a superbly compact package - as good on the shoulder as on a dolly."
Digital acquisition turned out to be the ideal choice for the shoot. "Working with children is always a challenge," says Allen. "Allowing the camera to carry on rolling was the best way to get the shots we needed. With celluloid, this just wouldn't have worked. What's more, while the camera recorded ProRes 444 Log C files, the feed to the director's monitor was graded in real-time and faithful to the final program. Seeing images of that quality coming straight out of the camera gives the client huge confidence that the shoot is going to plan."
As the footage moved into post, Allen prepared for his next project, a commercial shot on ALEXA... inside a Boeing 737.