Capturing IMPERIAL DREAMS on ALEXA

Capturing IMPERIAL DREAMS on ALEXA

Inspired by true events, IMPERIAL DREAMS follows a reformed gang member named Bambi (John Boyega) who returns home to Watts, Los Angeles after a two-year stint in jail. Bambi is determined to build a future for himself and his son despite limited options and a system working against him. Malik Vitthal wrote/directed IMPERIAL DREAMS, which received the Film Independent ARRI Feature Film Grant. Monika Lenczewska served as director of photography, shooting the raw, touching drama on ALEXA. Panavision Primo lenses, an additional ALEXA along with service and support were provided by Panavision Hollywood.

As Vitthal's feature directorial debut, IMPERIAL DREAMS premiered at Sundance 2014 to rave reviews and was awarded the Best of NEXT category for Dramatic Feature. 

Production took place in Watts, mostly in the Imperial Courts Housing Projects where the film takes place. The realistic backdrop imbued the film with authenticity and motivated actors' performances. Says Vitthal, "Shooting on the ALEXA enhanced our ability to capture the environment in Watts in an honest, realistic way. The ALEXA records with such precise detail in low light situations, this helped us to communicate our hero's struggles, which in turn assisted in transporting the audience into his journey."

Filming on location posed many challenges and working with a small budget, the crew of IMPERIAL DREAMS was required to move quickly with minimal gear. Notes producer Katherine Fairfax Wright, "The ARRI ALEXA made every department happy. And even though we had a lot of night shoots, because the ALEXA picks up light so well, we were able to capture beautiful images without a huge amount of lights or elaborate rigging. The film was shot on location in Watts, so when necessary due to the demands of a location, we were able to shoot handheld without problems. It is a highly sophisticated camera, yet nimble, and was therefore a perfect fit for a film such as IMPERIAL DREAMS." 

The director and DP were intent on creating a visual palette that was rich and had depth -- a departure from the stark grittiness often used to show inner city stories. In his Variety review, Geoff Berkshire writes, "The actual Imperial Courts Housing Community becomes another character in the film, alternating between a close-knit feeling of community and a frightening place where danger lurks around every corner. Monika Lenczewska's lensing is especially effective in the dreamlike night sequences, when the entire neighborhood takes on an eerie, ethereal glow."

On shooting ALEXA, the Polish-born cinematographer notes, "The ALEXA produces an image with a close feel to film. So I was able to have the look of film, but still the advantage of being able to immediately see what I was capturing. Also, we were shooting in all different kinds of lighting situations, with a wide range of skin tones, so certain specs of the ARRI ALEXA, such as the vast latitude and color interpretation, were crucial to this project." Lenczewska also shot DIFRET, which won the Sundance 2014 Audience Award for World Cinema -- Dramatic.

IMPERIAL DREAMS was the first recipient of the inaugural Film Independent ARRI Feature Film Grant, created to support new voices in cinema. Says Vitthal, "Receiving the ARRI grant was wonderful for our team. The ALEXA was crucial in assisting us with the execution of our vision for the film. The support of the ARRI family has been a blessing for this project -- they helped us realize our story by taking our visual language to the next level."

-- An Tran