ALEXA M on Indian Tamil blockbuster

ARRAMBAM, directed by Vishnuvardhan, is a South Indian action thriller starring the superstar Tamil film actor, Ajith Kumar. Set against the backdrop of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, it centers on a former Anti-Terrorist Squad member (Ajith) seeking to expose a scam involving faulty bullet-proof vests provided to security forces. With a tight schedule and difficult real locations to deal with, DP Om Prakash opted to work with the ALEXA M, which features a separate camera head and body, and is well suited to a fast-paced working style, handheld operating and space-constrained situations. Here, he speaks with ARRI about his experiences on the film. 

ARRAMBAM trailer

ARRAMBAM, directed by Vishnuvardhan, is a South Indian action thriller starring the superstar Tamil film actor, Ajith Kumar. With a tight schedule and difficult real locations to deal with, DP Om Prakash opted to work with the ALEXA M, which features a separate camera head and body, and is well suited to a fast-paced working style, handheld operating and space-constrained situations.

What was your goal with the visuals on ARRAMBAM?

 

Well, we were trying to break away from the age-old practice followed for action genres and avoid a conventional style of filmmaking. We decided the movie's base tone should be a fairly green hue, following the prevailing color theory that green represents the beginning of knowledge. We also wanted to convey the idea of our main character having a split personality in order to create uncertainty in the audience's mind as to whether he is a hero or a villain; we often did this by shooting reflected images of him and pursuing a claustrophobic feel. In general my goal with the visuals was simply to carry the audience along with the story.

 

Why did you choose to work with the ALEXA M?

 

The film is a large-scale action thriller, so we wanted a camera that would suit our fast-paced working style, as well as the weird angles we planned and the candid approach we wanted to take. With such celebrated actors in the frame, we never had the luxury of time for elaborate camera setups or rigging. After considering all the technical and workflow aspects, we chose the ALEXA M. My crew found it very easy to adapt to the M; it is user-friendly and uncomplicated, giving me more control and more freedom, just like a film camera. In my opinion it stands tall and is an incomparable digital camera.

Was there a lot of handheld or Steadicam work?

The script demanded major CG work, so for maximum quality we recorded ARRIRAW using on-board Codex recorders, but I still shot handheld whenever I could, because I prefer to do so. The reason I tend to avoid a Steadicam is because it is operated by a different person and it therefore separates my eye from the viewfinder -- from the frame. Shooting handheld was very fast; as an example, our boat chase sequence was shot in just two days with a single camera, when it might otherwise have taken five days. The compactness of the ALEXA M was also a big boon.

The ALEXA M worked without fault; the way it blended different color temperatures was superb.

What kind of lighting challenges did you encounter?

 

Generally I love a claustrophobic lighting pattern. We did most of the night shoots using available light sources, because putting film lighting into public places and busy areas in Mumbai would have been pretty difficult. This is a quandary for any cinematographer, but the ALEXA M was our savior -- its low light sensitivity was impressive and helped us get the desired results on night shoots, while maintaining rich black levels. Mostly I shot in native 800 ASA, although we also shot in 160 ASA for scenes like the interrogation sequence, which required a raw and rusty look.

 

Another thing that deserves a special mention is the M's performance in extreme conditions. The shooting locations for this movie -- deserts in the Persian Gulf and snowy mountains in the Himalayas -- represented two extremes of weather: one was dry, humid and harsh, and the other was freezing cold. Nevertheless, the ALEXA M worked without fault; the way it blended different color temperatures was superb, and the shadow detail in dark areas and highlight performance were impeccable.

Did you shoot at higher frame rates with the ALEXA, for slow motion shots?

Yes! I shot up to 120 fps by recording ProRes. The ALEXA system has now been upgraded and it is possible to shoot 120 fps in ARRIRAW, but back when we were shooting I did not have that advantage. However, we overcame the potential difficulties of recording in two formats and made one work with the other. Our data management technician was on set with us throughout the shoot and transferred the files every day. This allowed us to maintain an instant check of the rushes on a daily basis.

What is your next project with ALEXA?

My next movie is director K. V. Anand's ANEGAN, starring the actor Dhanush. The success of ARRAMBAM meant that I was able to select the camera I wanted, and the extreme ease of working with the ALEXA meant that I did not hesitate in my decision to use it again. Towards the end of ARRAMBAM I had the chance to try out the ALEXA XT, which had just arrived in India, and I look forward to working with it again.