ALEXA on ICE

Reflecting the rapid spread of the ALEXA digital camera system across film industries worldwide, the first Serbian feature film to be shot with ALEXA will be released later this year. ICE depicts societal changes in the Serbian countryside during the 1970s, drawing on the fundamental Serbian values of heritage, tradition and harmony with the land. Produced by Contrast Studios, the film was directed by Jelena Bajić Jočić and shot by her husband, cinematographer Predrag Jočić. ALEXA cameras were supplied out of Belgrade by Media Plus, a full service facility where the final color grade also took place after ICE had been edited by the filmmakers on a Mac.

This was the first time we had used ALEXA and we immediately became fans of this magnificent camera, because it gives you so many creative options.

ARRI: What changes were taking place in rural Serbia during the 1970s, when your story is set?

 

Jelena Bajić Jočić: ICE is a tale of lost happiness - of dreams; fears; transience; the laws of nature; and the inability of a man to influence the course of his own life. Set in a village called Radomlje in the Šumadija region of what was then Yugoslavia, the plot centers around a young man named Milivoje, who lives with his mother and grandparents. The story examines the lives of these archetypal characters and metaphorically represents the inexorable uprooting of Serbian families during the 1970s, when entire villages began to disappear due to lack of people. Although ICE is a Serbian story, the film's message asserts the universal values of life, love, honesty, justice, dignity, honor and respect, and as such overcomes the boundaries of one nation.

 

ARRI: What kind of a 'look' were you going for on this production?

 

JBJ: The story is presented through three periods: the present day, the mid-1970s, and the mid-1960s, for which we wanted to create three different looks. The most significant section of the story is set in the 1970s, so we chose to give that a soft, nostalgic look, with mild contrasts and warm, saturated colors. The 1960s, during which our main character suffers a very tragic event, were presented in slightly over-exposed images of low saturation and high contrast.

ARRI: What made ALEXA the right choice of camera?

Predrag Jočić: Bearing in mind that 80% of our film was exteriors, we were looking for a camera that could provide us with a wide range of contrast and aperture, and best capture the beautiful colors of the landscapes in central Serbia, where we were shooting the film; after several tests, we chose ALEXA. I was operating the camera myself, so I needed one that was easy and quick to deal with. During the shoot I often had to change the shutter angle and constantly made adjustments to the exposure. Once again, I was happy to find that ALEXA gave me everything I needed for this style of shooting. Later, when we got to postproduction, many other outstanding features gave me further proof that I had made the right choice of camera.

ARRI: How well did ALEXA stand up to all the exterior shooting?

JBJ: Last summer was very hot and we worked outside almost every day; the ALEXA was very easy to work with, even in the heat. But the most important scene of the film is actually the harvesting of the wheat, where Milivoje and his mother pick the crop by hand and reaping hook. At the beginning of the scene, the weather is nice and sunny, but then storm clouds overtake the sky, the wind and rain start, and then hail destroys all the wheat. The family is on the field and Milivoje doesn't want to give up, he stands up against the storm and against nature, fighting for every grain of wheat. This scene was shot over seven days, using different techniques of special effects to make the wind, rain and hail. We used a helicopter to provide the strong winds and the whole crew was soaked, but even in these conditions ALEXA was absolutely fantastic and extremely reliable - we never waited a second due to the needs of ALEXA.  

ARRI: Did your crew find the camera easy to work with?

PJ: Several rental companies in Serbia have ALEXAs and it has quickly become the first choice for every DP. My colleagues and assistants were already familiar with the camera because it has been used on a lot of commercials and adverts, although ICE is the first motion picture to be shot with ALEXA in Serbia. I must say that I had a great camera department who assisted me in every way and I quickly mastered ALEXA's features and possibilities. What made the biggest impression on me was the ability to easily change frame rate and shutter angle - which we did to effectively capture rain and hail in the harvest scene - and promptly see the effect we had achieved.  And of course the extremely large dynamic range gives additional creative freedom to the cinematographer.

Several rental companies in Serbia have ALEXAs and it has quickly become the first choice for every DP.

ARRI: Were there any night shoots or low light situations that tested ALEXA's sensitivity?

 

JBJ: I agreed with my DP's instinct to use natural light wherever we could. The whole film was shot with very limited lighting equipment and the crucial harvest scene was done without a single spotlight or reflector. Moreover, night scene interiors were mainly lit with the old petroleum lamps that we used to decorate the set, because they provided the warm, intimate, authentic atmosphere I wanted - only ALEXA could have recorded it that way. This was the first time we had used ALEXA and we immediately became fans of this magnificent camera, because it gives you so many creative options.

ARRI: Did you find that recording ProRes allowed for an efficient, easy workflow?

PJ: Working on large and demanding projects in Serbia over the last seven years, our production company has gathered together a strong team of creative, enthusiastic colleagues. Our technical crewmembers are excellent, although ICE represented our first contact with a ProRes workflow.

Stevan Maric, one of the best editors in Serbia, was the main editor on the film. Footage was recorded in ProRes 4444 Log C to ALEXA's onboard SxS PRO cards and then directly transferred to a Mac, where we worked in Final Cut Studio 6. During the editing process ProRes proved to be a highly stable and reliable format, although we only realized its full power later on, during the postproduction phase. In order to visually differentiate the three time periods, we worked on a DaVinci color correction system to create three different looks; that was the moment when we really appreciated the quality and possibilities of ProRes. At the moment we are performing tests shooting back out to 35 mm film and are very pleased with the work so far, although the final results will only be seen at the premiere of ICE in Belgrade on 10th October 2012.