TV show THE RETURNED captured with ALEXA
THE RETURNED is a French TV series created by Fabrice Gobert, in which the dead start to reappear among the living in a small mountain town. It has been hugely successful all over Europe and also in the United States, where it won the International Emmy Award for Best Drama in 2013. Gobert shared directing duties on the first season with Frédéric Mermoud, while cinematographer Patrick Blossier, AFC, shot all eight episodes and chose to capture with ALEXA. With the second season due to air in early 2014, Blossier spoke to ARRI about his work on the show.
Were you involved in the decision to shoot with ALEXA?
ALEXA was my choice. Last year I used the camera on another series for Canal +, MAFIOSA season four, which was my first experience in digital. I come from a traditional film background and I was immediately comfortable with the ALEXA. The change in technology did not bother me and I was even surprised at not being nostalgic. The ALEXA helped me move from film to digital, although I also operate the camera and I'm used to checking my lighting through the camera viewfinder, so I lost my bearings a bit. For this reason I have had one additional person on my camera crew ever since I started working in digital: Julien Bullat. He's a DIT but it's more than that -- he stands next to the camera and checks the image on the Astro monitor; he's also responsible for the aperture and his presence was essential for all the shots filmed at dusk on LES REVENANTS.
Was budget a consideration? Is it a low or high budget show?
The budget is always an important consideration. The budgets for Canal + shows allow you to do things well, but they need to be done fast. We had 100 days of shooting for the eight episodes. We needed to be very responsive and to find simple and effective solutions, especially since we decided with the director to shoot with a single camera.
What kind of a look did you want to achieve?
LES REVENANTS is a fantasy series that takes place in a very realistic world. The ghosts are not zombies but human beings like you and me, so it was clear to the director Fabrice Gobert that the series should not look like zombie movies. During prep, several influences guided us: TWIN PEAKS by David Lynch and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN by Tomas Alfredson were references, but it was especially the photographic work of Gregory Crewdson that caught our attention. And from that the idea came quite naturally to shoot a lot at dusk and create a disturbing but realistic setting. Crewdson's photographs are staged and look like stills from movies that don't exist. LES REVENANTS is punctuated by very wide shots where the actors are frozen, like in a photograph.
How did the camera handle situations with extreme shadows or highlights?
With my assistants I chose the DCIP3 LUT, which offers wide dynamic range. Highlights are not clipped as easily and detail in the shadows is maintained. The DCIP3 LUT has been removed from the ALEXA now, but we asked ARRI to regenerate it as an XML file. Full sunlight remains the Achilles heel of digital and I'm not comfortable with all the filters that must be put in front of the lens to shoot wide open. I look forward to a sensor that will allow us to shoot at 50 or 2,000 ASA.
What recording solution did you use?
We recorded on an SxS PRO card in ProRes 4444. The Log C files were sent to postproduction, where they applied the DCIP3 LUT as a 3D LUT. The files were then converted into DNx36 and returned to us on a hard drive.
Since I've been working with ALEXA I've learned to shoot in very low light.
Did you do a lot of location shooting?
The action in LES REVENANTS takes place in a small mountain town located at the foot of a dam. This town does not exist; all the locations were found around Annecy in south-east France. We could have shot some interiors in a studio or at locations around Paris, but the director chose to shoot the whole series on location in Annecy.
Did the ALEXA help add production value?
Production value can be defined as a great shot done with very little. On LES REVENANTS, shooting at magic hour gave us real production value. Since I've been working with ALEXA I've learned to shoot in very low light. With its 800 ASA sensor (which I treat as 1,200 ASA), ALEXA allowed us to shoot all the twilight shots in the series very efficiently and effectively.
You've gone on to shoot with ALEXA combined with anamorphic lenses. Did you find that ALEXA suited the anamorphic format?
I recently shot an anamorphic feature film directed by Mona Achache and titled LES GAZELLES. I was amazed by the quality on a big screen, even though we had worked in ProRes 4444. I used the ALEXA Studio handheld, without the optical viewfinder. Now that I am shooting in digital I prefer to get used to the electronic viewfinder, which will probably continue to evolve. I feel that the anamorphic format will get a second life thanks to digital. Feature films always wanted to differentiate themselves from TV, and now that the same camera is used to shoot commercials, drama and feature films, format is all that cinema has left to distinguish itself.
And you have also tried the ALEXA M?
I saw the ALEXA M for the first time on ARRI's booth at the ARP (a French directors/producers association) event in Dijon. After that, I shot season five of MAFIOSA with the ALEXA M as my main camera, since the entire series was shot handheld. The M has been great for me, although I look forward to a lightweight camera like the M but that is all-in-one like the AMIRA, and with a 4/3 sensor.