GREAT EXPECTATIONS among ALEXA Emmy wins

ARRI congratulates the many TV shows and movies filmed with ALEXA that won awards at the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on 23 September. They include Outstanding Miniseries or Movie for GAME CHANGE; Outstanding Drama Series for HOMELAND; Outstanding Comedy Series for MODERN FAMILY; and Outstanding Special Visual Effects for GAME OF THRONES; while Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series went to Tim Van Patten for BOARDWALK EMPIRE. Jonathan Freeman, ASC, who worked with Van Patten on BOARDWALK EMPIRE, won Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series, and DP Florian Hoffmeister picked up Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie, recognizing his extraordinary photography on the BBC's adaptation of Charles Dickens' GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Hoffmeister recently spoke with ARRI about his work on the show, which he shot with ALEXA cameras using a ProRes Log C workflow.

I'm an absolute advocate of in-camera effects. I've always used color filters and when digital came along I treated it exactly like a film camera.

ARRI: What did you and director Brian Kirk talk about in terms of the kind of look you wanted for GREAT EXPECTATIONS?

 

Florian Hoffmeister: One of the films we discussed at length was CITIZEN KANE, for its depiction of figures in space and the way that Orson Welles told this epic story, with the main character going through different stages of his life, always in connection to different spaces and rooms. We also studied all kinds of pictures and paintings, and the look grew organically. There was the winter element of course, and Brian was adamant about depicting the marshes in a way that would make you emotionally understand the desire to leave that place. So there was no romanticism of the landscape - that was crucial.

Then we tried to use textures and colors to portray scarcity and poverty. For example in the marshes it was important that not even the firelight emitted warmth. The idea was that these characters have so little that the one or two candles they light in the forge cannot provide any feeling of warmth. Satis House, where Miss Havisham lives, was another location where we maintained a cool look, even if there were a lot of candles. At the forge that coolness was motivated by social reasons, but at Satis House it reflected the complete lack of emotional warmth.

I have to give the production designer (David Roger) a lot of credit for the look as well, because making films is about being in a team. And when you're working digitally, texture is the key. If you dress things in a very simple manner then you won't get the texture; you have to work with dust, sheen, liquids - things like that - because the capturing process is so clean.

ARRI: Did any other tools help you achieve that texture?

FH: I also used an ARRI VariCon quite a lot. The ALEXA can almost look into shadow areas better than the human eye; if you took the ASA right up you could photograph an apartment lit by two or three candles, but it wouldn't convey an emotional sense of how these rooms would actually have felt, because you can see too far into the blacks. So I would stay at EI 800 and ever-so-slightly flash the image with the VariCon, as if to carry the light from the candle more through the frame, which was very beautiful because it also softens it off slightly and gives you a bit of a Rembrandt feel. When you look at the Dutch Masters, there's something terribly romantic about the candlelight, and if you recreate that digitally it can feel harder somehow, so the VariCon helped with that a lot.

I really wanted to get the look as close as I could in-camera, and then just finesse it in the grade.

ARRI: What lenses did you use?

 

FH: I shot the whole thing with old Cooke S2 lenses. If you have someone in a room and you photograph it with certain modern lenses, you get a room with a person in it, but if you photograph it with a Cooke S2 you get a person in a room. The eye just naturally drifts to the center of the frame because the lenses slightly vignette to the sides. Of course reflections with all the candles and the VariCon were a nightmare. My focus puller, Rupert Hornstein, did an amazing job of angling filters to get rid of reflections. We had balls of gaffer tape as big as your fist to hold the filters at all kinds of different angles. There were moments when I thought it was the worst idea ever because Gillian Anderson (playing Miss Havisham) was ready to go and we were still mucking about with filters!

ARRI: What was your approach to skin tones?

FH: I'm an absolute advocate of in-camera effects. I've always used color filters and when digital came along I treated it exactly like a film camera, using filters basically all of the time. One of the difficulties on this project was that the BBC decided to shoot it in August - the one time of year you don't want to shoot the marshes, because they're lush, beautiful and green. If you only manipulate the image in postproduction then I think you can tell, so I really wanted to get the look as close as I could in-camera, and then just finesse it in the grade.

To do this we used filter combinations so thick that I couldn't see through them with my bare eye. We used day-for-night filters in combination with Storm Blues and NDs. I was trying to reduce the color palette without desaturating skin tones. People should look normal and the world they live in should look different, and the day-for-nights took away almost all the greenery in a very monochromatic way, while maintaining the skin tones. The way skies and highlights photographed with this filter combination also changed somehow; I couldn't argue that scientifically but it just made it look like a painting, immediately. It's a deep blue-grey and it was beautiful - the ALEXA just loved it.