ARRIRAW scores a hit with Indian feature
NAUTANKI SAALA! is a successful Hindi-language romantic comedy currently on release in India. Directed by Rohan Sippy, it was captured with ALEXA by the celebrated Indian cinematographer Manoj Lobo, who recorded in the ARRIRAW format and shot with ARRI/ZEISS Ultra Prime lenses. He recently spoke with ARRI about his work on the film.
ARRI: What kind of a look were you going for on this production?
Manoj Lobo: The film's central protagonist is a theater actor/director named Ramprasad, who saves the life of a suicidal and luckless character called Mandar. In the process, Ram's life goes haywire. I essentially wanted to differentiate the look of the everyday scenes and the scenes that play out on the stage, which are from RAAVAN LEELA, Raavan's version of the ancient Indian epic, Ramaya. For the stage scenes I used LED lights to make the colors pop and look operatic, and then I contrasted that with a very realistic lighting design for the off-stage portions. We also had a few scenes out on the streets of Mumbai. The street lights have halogen fixtures and I mixed Medium Bastard Amber, Straw and Plus Green gels to get that orange-red look.
ARRI: What made ALEXA the right choice of camera?
ML: We had a 35-day shooting schedule, with approximately five pages of script to get through every day, and a lot of night scenes. Given the budget, film was never an option. I did extensive tests with the ALEXA and another digital camera, and concluded that the detail in shadows and highlights, the true measured speed of the camera, the roundness of out-of-focus edges, and the transition from one light level to the next was closest to film with the ALEXA.
NAUTANKI being a buddy rom-com, I also wanted the out-of-focus areas to have a softer look. We were working with an Ultra Prime lens set, which was also a budgetary decision, and I noticed in our test that the out-of-focus areas had softer edges with the ALEXA than with the other digital camera. On the shoot, the ALEXA never gave up -- it turned out to be a real workhorse, just like the mechanical ARRI cameras.
ARRI: How many ALEXAs did you have and what was your approach to camerawork?
ML: We used a single ARRI ALEXA camera and Codex recorder for the entire film. Although certain scenes really needed two cameras, the unavailability of specific cables to run two cameras meant we stuck to a single camera. Most of the scenes were shot off the Panther dolly, and a few scenes on the Steadicam. Song is a huge part of Hindi cinema and we had a couple of them in our film; they were shot off a Jimmy Jib -- the preferred choice in India for remote camera moves.
ARRI: Were there any particular features of the camera system that proved helpful?
ML: There is a functionality, simplicity and toughness about the ALEXA that is very endearing. It has an ergonomic design and is completely reliable -- it stands by you when everything and everyone else gives up. For the night scenes on the streets of Mumbai, the camera was rated at 800 ASA. The amount of detail in the shadows and the accurate reproduction of colors helped us to move really fast with minimal lights, and yet capture spectacular-looking shots.
ARRI: Were there any night shoots or low light situations that tested ALEXA's sensitivity?
ML: We did all the car shots in the studio against a chroma background. The background plates were to be shot at night with available light and on the Mumbai Pune highway, without permission. The camera was rated at 1000 ASA and my 1st AC shot the plates, testing the ALEXA to its limits. All of the footage fell smoothly into place in postproduction.
ARRI: How did the camera handle situations with extreme shadows or highlights?
ML: The film was shot at T2 most of the time, on wide-angle lenses; the 16 mm and 20 mm Ultra Primes were our favorites on the set. Given our light package, we let the ALEXA do the hard work, reading into the shadows and still getting us crisp, noise-free images. We also lucked out big-time with the camera's ability to capture saturated LED colors and reproduce them in post.
The 16 mm and 20 mm Ultra Primes were our favorites on the set.
ARRI: Why did you choose to record ARRIRAW?
ML: In our tests between ProRes and ARRIRAW, there was a marked difference in image sharpness and color saturation. I preferred ARRIRAW. In spite of the additional cost, the director, Rohan Sippy, and the producer, Roopa de Chowdhury, went out of their way to make shooting on ARRIRAW possible.
ARRI: Did the ALEXA allow you to work quickly and efficiently on set?
ML: As we were shooting between five and eleven pages a day, we had to work fast; the ALEXA definitely made that possible. Having a large, clear image output on an HD screen is a big advantage in the Indian system, as we do not storyboard our films and the setups for the day are decided after blocking with the actors. We left a lot of areas unlit, knowing full well that the ALEXA would read into the shadows.
ARRI: What route through postproduction did you take?
ML: We worked on a Quantel system on the ACES platform, in 16 bit color space. This was done at a hands-on post house, FutureWorks, which is owned and managed by Gaurav Gupta. The colorist Rahul Purav has done a fine job in reproducing what has been shot and in certain sequences taken the look even further.
ARRI: Is ALEXA well suited to the Indian film industry?
ML: Yes, firstly because the Indian industry is highly price conscious. Half your battle with the producers is resolved if you can get a good camera on a minimal budget. The speed of the ALEXA allows smaller lighting budgets. It is a tough camera and can handle the extreme weather conditions we face, with temperatures of 45°C as well as heavy rain and dust. Postproduction is also smooth and simple -- all in all, super value for money.
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