The bleeding edge of digital cinematography

The bleeding edge of digital cinematography

On the film festival circuit, there are countless boy-meets-girl stories and explorations of grief and alienation. The short film DELICACY is quite different; it is a story about an extreme culinary connoisseur and an expert chef obsessed with rare meats, who together go on a hunt for a unicorn... to eat it. Produced by Tina Shand and Jessica Caldwell, DELICACY was directed by Jason Mann (who is also a DP) and shot on the ARRI ALEXA by Michel Dierickx.

ALEXA seemed like the best option because of its wide latitude and the way it renders color.

In the vein of Paddy Chayefsky black comedies like THE HOSPITAL and NETWORK, DELICACY presents an absurd vision of the world of the culinary elite. The 'butchery' theme recalls such films as Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's DELICATESSEN, and Tim Burton's SWEENEY TODD. Like DELICACY, these films combine the surreal with the macabre, conveying bleak worldviews with whimsical, often uncomfortable humor.


"Stylistically our intention was to create a look that would allow the audience to become sutured into the story, despite the surreal and fantastical elements that were going to be thrown at them," explains director Jason Mann. "There is also a degree of formalism and austerity in the imagery that is representative of the highly refined and opulent world the two main characters inhabit. Then, apart from these concerns of the overall look, the visual language was devised in such a way as to supply a subjective experience with the protagonist in order to further involve the audience in the story and to make them complicit in the character's arguably immoral actions."

The camera of choice for the production was the ARRI ALEXA, rented from London's VMI Camera Hire. The production's intention had been to shoot with anamorphic lenses, though they were not fully supported by ALEXA at that time so the camera was twinned with ARRI Ultra Primes. (ARRI's Software Update Packet (SUP) 4.0 has subsequently been released, enabling images shot with 2x or 1.3x anamorphic lenses to be displayed in their proper aspect ratio on set, either in the viewfinder or on a monitor.)

More accustomed to shooting on film, the team initially opted for digital acquisition because of the cost savings it would entail. Mann notes, "The ALEXA seemed like the best option because of its wide latitude and the way it renders color. During our preparation, while Michel and I were speaking about the general look of the imagery, he mentioned the Log C look the ALEXA has - it suited what we were discussing quite well."

Mann still had reservations about the move away from celluloid. His concern was that digital cameras could not rival the photochemical processes that can be achieved with celluloid. "Even though Michel is as much a film purist as I am, he assured me that I would be impressed with Log C," says the director. "It wasn't able to achieve what I was referring to with the photochemical processes, but I did like the look - particularly in dark, evenly exposed lighting conditions, in which we were typically underexposing by about a stop and a half."

In terms of how he found the camera from an operator's perspective, Mann comments, "ALEXA seems to be designed with more consideration of the actual set workflow. The fact that the controls are on the side of the camera rather than the rear makes it much easier for the camera assistants to access them. I also like ALEXA's weight; the fact that it's slightly heavier than an ARRICAM Lite 35 mm camera is optimal for its operation."

A lot of practical lighting was used on the film, and although an assortment of professional lights were on standby, many of them weren't used due to ALEXA's sensitivity. For forest exteriors, shooting took place under trees and out of direct sunlight, so lights including the ARRI 200 W HMI Pocket Par were used to bring up the actors' faces. Mann notes, "For what we were trying to achieve, the ALEXA performed best in situations when it was a little darker, so we often ended up not using lights; the latitude was able to hold the details in the shadows well enough that it wasn't necessary."

The director was immediately pleased with the results: "The footage actually looks surprisingly good straight out of the camera," he says. "There are a few images, the ones that are exposed absolutely perfectly, that I would hardly want to touch at all in the grade; I intend to actually use them as color references for the rest of the piece."

Footage was transferred on set to a 2 TB Glyph drive for editing on a MacBook Pro. Now in the final stages of postproduction, DELICACY will be finished on a Da Vinci 2K system and released for screening at film festivals.

Kieron Seth