Shooting AMIRA with Buddy Squires, ASC
Director of photography Buddy Squires, ASC has seven Oscar-nominated films, two Academy Award winners, 28 Emmy-nominated productions and 10 Emmy Award winners in his impressive body of work of over 200 documentaries. Theatrical documentaries and TV specials include SALINGER, THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, THE CIVIL WAR, JAZZ, SCOTTSBORO: AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, THE NATIONAL PARKS and more. He recently took AMIRA out for an impromptu shoot to test first-hand the camera's operation and performance in a run-and-gun fashion. "There was nothing plotted out except I knew that my kid's skate class started at 3pm at a park," Squires says.
With little time to plan, the DP decided to frame a spontaneous documentary around skateboard instructor/musician Adam Crigler. Squires and his assistants Jared Ames & M'Wasi T. Berkley met at Abel Cine office in New York with ARRI's Technical Representative Guenter Noesner, who gave a brief overview on the AMIRA before heading out to capture the skateboarder. Their entire package consisted of an AMIRA, a tripod, an Optimo 45-120, the Cabrio 19-90 and a 14 mm Ultra Prime. The captured footage was then edited and color corrected by Harbor Post.
Buddy Squires, ASC is an Oscar-nominated & Emmy-winning Director of Photography. He took the ARRI AMIRA camera out on a spontaneous documentary shoot following skateboarder/musician Adam Crigler. Squires went handheld to capture much of the action: from bright daylight exteriors in the streets to low light photography in small quarters. Squires is best known for his work on theatrical documentaries and TV including SALINGER, THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, THE CIVIL WAR, JAZZ, ETHEL and more. Among his credits are seven Oscar-nominated films, two Academy Award winners, 28 Emmy-nominated productions and 10 Emmy Award winners.
His verdict? "It's a very elegant and simple camera, and that's what I really like about it," says Squires. Below is an edited transcript of Squires' commentary at Cinegear Los Angeles where he discussed this experience shooting with AMIRA.
I wanted to see what the camera could do and how quickly I could move between different styles of working. I specifically wanted to do a lot of handheld work. I also wanted to try out the slow motion features. I've been frustrated with a lot of cameras and how awkward it is to switch back and forth between different modes. I certainly wanted to see how well it focused. Out-of-focus footage is really the biggest problem with large sensor cameras in documentary work. It's one thing if you are making your own indie film, but if you're working for hire for someone else -- unless they tell you otherwise -- you better deliver the footage in focus. I don't want to undersell how critical that is.
The camera just works, I guess it's not a very exciting thing to say - but it just works. (Holding the camera up) That's the whole package: camera head, recorder section, audio section...No cables, no wires. No mess, no fuss.
The viewfinder is great. One of the nice things about the finder is that you can use it as a waist-level finder, or if it's flipped out, the assistant can see the image and you can do some fairly decent follow focus right off of that. That is really great if you're trying to move fast.
I was using a Cabrio [zoom], which has not been much fun to use in the past. Partly because that lens is just so front heavy and every time I've used it on a C500 or an F55 or another camera, I'm spending all my time trying to support the front of the camera. On the AMIRA, being able to adjust the shoulder pad and eyepiece position, it was no problem. You can get it as perfectly balanced as you like. Obviously one would have to shift the balance with different lenses, but when working handheld, you tend to have one, maybe two lenses. I was literally running with the camera and chasing things on skateboards, or putting the camera down on the ground and pulling out the side-finder.
If you need to change the ND, there's a switch right there. Literally in 10 seconds you can go from 24 frames to 200 frames, which I found amazing. I was able to shoot a verité 24-frame piece and then reach over, switch, get down on the ground, shoot something in slow motion, then come right back. I've never been able to do that with another camera.
What I really do appreciate about the AMIRA is how thoughtful all the design elements are. Right here on top of the viewfinder there is a peaking button, there's an exposure button, and there are two assignable buttons. If I'm distracted by the red color peaking that I've chosen to use, it's off. If want to check it, it's on. There's no menu fussing around at all. The ability of the flip screen to go from being an image of the camera, to a menu display is very useful. You or the assistant can get all the information you want right there without having to take the camera off your shoulder or go to the other side of the camera.
If one looks at the footage in the playground, it's a very strong, sunny day at that point. There's backlight coming through the green leaves, highlighting the backs of Adam's and the kids' faces. Then the camera pans around to very bright, yellow buildings on the other side of the apartment - full sunlight. With any ENG camera I would have been using, I would have been racking probably a stop and a half or so to hold a decent exposure. With the AMIRA, I didn't need to do that at all. As I came around to hold that, I didn't do that at all. I thought about it, but then realized I didn't need to and I started treating it like film. What I mean by that is for me, one of the great beauties of shooting film is that once you knew your film stock and your camera, you pretty much set an exposure for a situation and you let it go. You don't worry about, "Oh, this is a little darker, this is a little brighter..." You kind of know what the film can do. Knowing what the sensor can do has really made life easy and very fast once I got comfortable with it. At first I was checking exposure, checking false color. But, I'd say 20 minutes in, I stopped worrying about it and never went to false color again, because I just didn't need to.
AMIRA is very intuitive, which is what I really appreciate. I actually like buttons. I don't like menus. Menus are great to setup the basic parameters of what one is doing. But the whole notion with some cameras that you have to go deep in to do a white balance -- to me, is crazy.
I love the way AMIRA handles contrast. It just works. Going from handheld to doing a very quick lens change, putting on the longer lens, going into slow motion, pretty much instantaneously, I found very cool. The ability to be that fluid with the camera and just react to the situation, is ultimately what I want in my world. I want to react to the situation. I don't want to have to limit myself with what the camera thinks it wants to do, so in a way I find it very freeing.