AMIRA takes the heat in Rio de Janeiro

AMIRA takes the heat in Rio de Janeiro

In anticipation of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Jens Hoffmann has spent the last three years making MATA MATA (which translates as ALL OR NOTHING), a documentary about up-and-coming Brazilian soccer players. For most of the project he has been working with his own ALEXA, which he has optimized for a handheld, single-operator shooting style, but he jumped at the chance to try out AMIRA, ARRI's new documentary-style camera, during the final major stretch of filming.

MATA MATA trailer

In anticipation of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Jens Hoffmann spent three years making MATA MATA, a documentary about Brazilian soccer players. For most of the project he worked with his own ALEXA, but he jumped at the chance to try out AMIRA, ARRI's documentary-style camera, during the final major stretch of filming.

How do you configure your ALEXA for documentary work?

 

I've modified it by adding a sound receiver, which means I can use it as a documentary camera by myself, without a sound assistant. I don't stage things on my documentaries, so I needed a camera that would let me work fast and cover a wide dynamic range, allowing me to film in dark situations without lights, or to walk from darkness out into bright sunlight. I love that I have the whole menu in the viewfinder so it's easy to adjust things by myself, and another big advantage is the easy workflow; I've never had a single corrupt file, which is extraordinary.

 

How has ALEXA helped over the course this project?

 

The ALEXA allowed me to shoot in situations that no other camera could have handled. In Brazil we had a car scene; outside it was super bright but inside the car it was quite dark, and yet the exposure held. Even in situations with terrible light conditions where you wouldn't believe you could get an image, the ALEXA somehow still made it look good. The false color tool has been very useful, because I can be sure about my exposure without taking my eye away from the viewfinder. 

What did you think of AMIRA when you heard about it?

My first reaction was to think that this was a camera with everything on it that I had wanted to have on the ALEXA: it's a bit lighter, it has good audio connections and it's easy to adjust the ergonomics on your shoulder. I wish I'd had it two years ago! I love the ALEXA and have a very personal relationship with that camera, but I would change it for an AMIRA for the work I do. I think the AMIRA could be my perfect workhorse. 

I think the AMIRA could be my perfect workhorse.

What scenes did you shoot with AMIRA?

 

We were filming children playing street football in Cidade de Deus, or City of God -- the infamous favela in Rio de Janeiro. The idea was to get quite stylized insert shots at 200 fps that we could use for the opening of the film; there's a section where Dante -- the Bayern Munich footballer and one of our six protagonists -- talks about playing on the streets as a child, so we've used the AMIRA shots for that.

 

It was almost like a combat situation for the camera -- more than 40 degrees, no wind, super dusty and dirty, sweat dripping, kids and dogs sniffing around the camera -- everything you don't want. We started out working off a Steadybag and also just hand-holding the camera at the hip, which allowed me to walk among the kids as they were playing. From there we went to the shoulder and then to the tripod, so we used AMIRA in a number of positions.

Was it easy to go from one position to another?

Going to the tripod was fast and easy because you can leave the quick-release adapter plate on the camera while shooting handheld and then just mount it straight to the tripod. Being able to move the shoulder pad forwards and backwards is a big help as well; it's really quick and simple to find a comfortable position. With the weight of the AMIRA being less than the ALEXA, it was totally possible for me to shoot handheld with a zoom for long periods.

With the weight of the AMIRA being less than the ALEXA, it was totally possible for me to shoot handheld with a zoom for long periods.

How did you like recording to the in-camera CFast 2.0 cards?

 

They seem very rugged and the great thing is that they store so much, maybe twice as much as SxS PRO cards with ALEXA, so you don't have to worry about changing cards all the time. For the whole afternoon with AMIRA I only used one-and-a-half cards, even though I was shooting 200 fps. At regular frame rates I can imagine only needing one card for an entire day's shooting.

 

Did you use the AMIRA's multi-channel audio connections?

 

Because we were shooting at 200 fps, there was no audio recording, but we did grab some other stuff at 25 fps and it was nice that I could plug a microphone straight into the AMIRA's XLR connector without any device in between. It allowed us to record some atmosphere sounds of the kids playing football without any hassle at all.  

How does the AMIRA footage compare with your ALEXA material? 

The image quality and dynamic range are exactly the same as ALEXA; the only way to tell the AMIRA footage apart is because it's 200 fps. It was crazy bright in Rio, with very strong sunlight and very dark shadows, so we needed the dynamic range for those extreme contrast levels in the middle of the day, and then we needed the sensitivity once the light started to drop, because it drops fast. Even when it seemed too dark to shoot, we were still getting incredibly nice shots with the AMIRA.

What do you still have left to shoot?

The final scene of our film will be at the Brazilian national team announcement, where Dante will find out if he can fulfill his dream of participating in the 2014 World Cup. We shoot that on May 7th and our premiere at the ARRI cinema in Munich is only four days later. We'll have the editing finalized, but we'll leave a gap of about 90 seconds and as soon as we finish shooting we'll go to ARRI and add in the last bit, ready for the screening.