ALEXA shoots Lou Ye's MYSTERY in China

Emerging from a five-year hiatus from filming in China that followed his controversial 2006 film SUMMER PALACE, director Lou Ye has returned to his home country to make MYSTERY. The tense, edgy film concerns a husband whose wife discovers his secret double life, with mysterious and possibly murderous consequences.

MYSTERY was filmed in China's industrial fourth city of Wuhan, with ARRI ALEXA cameras recording ProRes 4444 images to on-board SxS PRO cards. The film was selected for the Un Certain Regard category at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and has been well reviewed by international critics. Lou Ye, as well as his producer Nai An and cinematographer Zeng Jian, recently spoke with ARRI about their experiences on the film.

ProRes offered a simple workflow through postproduction.

ARRI: Why was ALEXA the right choice for this production?


Producer Nai An: After discussions with our director and cinematographer on the various aesthetic and technical aspects of this film, and after camera tests with many different cameras, we finally decided to use ALEXA.


Cinematographer Zeng Jian: Those tests involved checking the latitude, color balance and sensitivity of several cameras. We carefully compared them all on a big screen and then we made our choice.


Director Lou Ye: I particularly liked that the ALEXA is lightweight and very well suited to shooting in natural light, or even at night-time.

ARRI: Was the ALEXA consistently rated at EI 800 or were other ASA ratings used?

ZJ: We found that shooting at EI 800 for scenes in strong sunlight required a lot of ND, and that using so much ND could start to have an effect on the blacks. So normally in the sun, we rated the camera at EI 400. That said, the ALEXA did handle extremes of highlights and shadows very well, especially the highlights.

ARRI: Why did you choose to record ProRes 4444 to the ALEXA's on-board SxS PRO cards?

ZJ: ProRes offered a simple workflow through postproduction and the 4444 version of this codec gave us more than enough image quality for a cinematic release.

ARRI: Did you appreciate the immediate access to high quality images on set?

LY: I do like having immediate access to high quality images on set, but I prefer to use a small portable monitor while directing. Later, when I am reviewing dailies after shooting, I tend to view and work with the material on an HD projector.

ALEXA is being used on more and more film productions in China.

ARRI: What other advantages did the ALEXA provide?


LY: The ALEXA provided safety by being reliable and durable. It captured images with an exceptional amount of detail and allowed for long, uninterrupted recordings.


ZJ: Yes, safety and reliability are key features of the ALEXA, both in terms of the camera equipment itself and the security of the data being generated. My crew also found the ALEXA very convenient to work with in terms of the functionality and menu structure.


ARRI: Did the ALEXA system provide specific cost benefits?


NA: ALEXA is much more economic than film cameras, in addition to its ability to satisfy production requirements and provide an efficient workflow. Besides its advantage in price, the popularization of ALEXA brings us more convenience in rental and technical services.


ARRI: So is ALEXA being widely adopted in China - does it fit in well with the workings of the industry there?


NA: Absolutely, ALEXA is being used on more and more film productions in China, which is improving the affordability of rental equipment and the quality of technical backup.


LY: I think the camera is very well suited to the Chinese industry and I certainly intend to use it again.