ARRI lights at THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Directed in typically idiosyncratic style by Wes Anderson and shot by his long-time cinematographer Robert Yeoman, ASC, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is set at a famous hotel in the Republic of Zubrowka, a fictional sovereign state in 1920s Europe, and centers on the misadventures of concierge Gustav H. (Ralph Fiennes) and lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). The British-German co-production, which was filmed in 2013 around Görlitz, Saxony, and at Studio Babelsberg, was selected to open the 64th Berlin International Film Festival. Set lighting gaffer Helmut Prein relied on lighting equipment from ARRI Rental Berlin, which also provided an ARRICAM camera package and grip equipment. ARRI spoke with Helmut about working with Wes Anderson and the challenges of the film's lighting design.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. Directed by Wes Anderson, it was shot with ARRICAM cameras and ARRI M-Series lights by cinematographer Robert Yeoman, ASC.
How would you describe working with Wes Anderson and Robert Yeoman?
I would call it intense, because Wes is a director who has very concrete ideas about the lighting design and is determined to execute them as precisely as possible. This requires the kind of rapport that Wes and Bob have developed over the years, working on seven films together. We shot about 75% of the film in the 4:3 aspect ratio, which is challenging because you often have parts of the ceiling and floor in the frame, so we had to find lighting solutions that worked in this format. That's why we chose helium clouds for interiors, because it was the only way to generate top light. Another Wes Anderson trademark is starting in the one-point perspective, followed by a 90° whip pan combined with a dolly shot. That's a challenge for any camera operator, but Bob Yeoman, who operated himself, did an amazing job.
What were the challenges for you on this project?
During preproduction, the decision was made to use exclusively incandescent light, in other words, 3,200°K lights on all the interiors. The resulting technical requirements were a challenge and our goal was to keep them as contained as possible, but as extensive as necessary. At times it was difficult to hide the massive technical effort that went into this film and to work as inconspicuously as possible. Görlitz is a fairly small city and finding unobtrusive places to park the equipment trucks soon became an issue. We shot the day exteriors with natural light, using only reflectors and overhead panels. Other setups we had to light meticulously.
The film was shot on 200 ASA film stock and, in some instances, we used anamorphic lenses, which meant we needed an adequate aperture, especially when we had several actors in the shot and all of them needed to be in focus. It was great to see that Bob Yeoman isn't afraid of lower aperture settings; especially today, when everyone who uses digital cameras seems to shoot wide open, trying to use the depth of field to give HD footage a film look.
Were any of the sets particularly difficult to light?
One of the main motifs of the film is, of course, the Grand Budapest Hotel, which was created inside a former department store in Görlitz. The 1913 Art Nouveau building has an impressive interior, consisting of two central cantilever staircases and a gorgeous stained glass ceiling, and our challenge was to light this large interior space in a way that allowed the camera to move as freely as possible. Initially, we thought about helium balloons, but since we were shooting in the winter and blue daylight was coming through the glass ceiling, we quickly realized that we had to cover the ceiling to control the incoming light.
Above the stained glass ceiling is another glass ceiling, which we covered from the inside with 20 x 20 ft. Ultrabounce panels. The space between the ceilings was tight and we couldn't get too close to the reflectors, which meant we couldn't use anything bigger than 4 kW lights. We tested an arrangement of four lampheads, which we set up in one corner of the roof. The result was great; we were able to light the entire surface of one 20 x 20 Ultrabounce reflector evenly. Now all we had to do was extrapolate the total number of units we would need to light all the 20 x 20s and add a few extra for backup. We ended up using 40 lights, a combination of ARRISUNs and ARRI Compacts covered with 1/2 CTO. The result was impressive: it looked completely realistic and the aperture drop-off from T4.5 on the top floor to T2.8 on the bottom floor, along with the quality of light, felt very natural.
What else was in your lighting package?
We had the basic package and rented additional packages for certain setups; everything came from ARRI Rental Berlin. The basic package included daylight units from 18 kW down to 400 W -- a mix of ARRI Fresnels (18 kW; 12 kW), ARRI M-Series (M40; M18), ARRISUNs (6 kW; 4 kW) and Kino Flos -- as well as a large tungsten package of ARRI T12 Fresnels, Dinos and Maxi/Mini Brutes, along with a variety of soft lights. We regularly used the 2 kW and 5 kW China Balls, which we mounted on Max and Menace booms, and since we often worked shadow-free we also had a Butterfly package. Then there was a dimmer system, operated by Mike Wächter.
At the moment my favorite is the M90, which almost has the power of a 12 kW but is easier to handle.
The reason we went with ARRI Rental is that they are capable of handling the extensive logistics of large-scale projects. Plus, their gear is always in perfect condition, which means everything runs smoothly on set. ARRI Rental also custom-made a number of things for us, including a few soft boxes that allowed us to quickly set up the basic lighting, and they got hold of some special Chimeras that I had seen at a convention, which have a large surface but aren't very deep. For daylight shots we used an ARRI 4K X light with variable Chimera speed rings.
Do you have any favorite lights at the moment?
On the HMI side I like ARRI's M-Series. On most projects I need soft but focused lighting and the light of the M-Series is remarkable in terms of its quality and efficiency. That's why the M-Series units meet direct as well as indirect light requirements; at the moment my favorite is the M90, which almost has the power of a 12 kW but is easier to handle. Then I like the Barger-Lite, which ARRI Rental first sourced for me for a film I worked on called PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER, but my favorite tungsten unit is the ARRI T12.