AMIRA on Wimbledon's Centre Court

DP Steve Lidgerwood recently spent two weeks with the ARRI AMIRA, shooting behind-the-scenes and on-court footage of some of the world's top tennis stars for an official Wimbledon documentary produced by IMG and commissioned by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. The AMIRA was supplied by Procam, courtesy of CVP, and was used by Lidgerwood to capture action throughout the tournament. Once the dust had settled after the final, he spoke with ARRI about his experience with the camera.

After working with the AMIRA for two solid weeks I found the ergonomics to be fantastic.

How did you get involved in this film and what market is it made for?

 

I am pretty sure this is my 16th Wimbledon film for the AELTC; they produce it themselves because they like having something of high quality and with an edge to it. The other Majors also make official films, but the Wimbledon film is well-known for being a bit special because it's a real documentary with human stories and we interview all the top seeds throughout the tournament. The finished film is given to the international rights holders for broadcast on networks around the world; you can also buy it on DVD and it's shown quite a bit on planes and things like that.

 

Were you working with a director?

 

Cathy Jones is our producer, although you could call her the producer/director. Before the Championships Cathy outlines the main theme of the film and we decide on a shooting style. She and I would have a discussion every morning regarding our plans for that day, but when we're filming she tends to be back in the office trying to build up stories and monitoring what's happening on other courts, so the camera positions and shot-making decisions are generally down to me. We try not to use any OB (outside broadcast) footage, which means we have to be responsive and go where the action is happening. 

So you had to respond to fluid situations very quickly?

Yes. I might be filming on Centre Court and get a text saying that Rafael Nadal is being beaten by an unseeded player on Court One. Then I've got to get off court pretty quickly during a break in play and dash over to the other court. It means you need a camera that one person can handle and that suits a run-and-gun scenario, and the AMIRA did that perfectly. It was going back and forth between a tripod and my shoulder all the time, and with the sliding shoulder and handle brackets you can find the right balance for whatever lens you're using very quickly; it's such a simple, clever idea. After working with the AMIRA for two solid weeks I found the ergonomics to be fantastic. 

What kind of off-court scenes did you shoot?

We pick up little stories as we go. This year we shot a scene with Roger Federer's racket stringer, so we went off site during the first week and did a little piece with him. He also strings Novak Djokovic's rackets, and it so happened that the final was Federer/Djokovic, so that turned out to be a great piece for us. These sorts of things wouldn't happen if the All England Club just used library or OB footage, and the fact that we're not editing together a lot of different formats or cameras means we have control of the look throughout. 

Did you value having AMIRA's high speed capabilities?

Having higher frame rates is something we've lacked in the past, making this film. It was such a bonus to have 200 fps with the AMIRA and we got some beautiful slow motion shots. Being able to switch between three frame rates with the user buttons is so much quicker and easier than with other cameras.  And the quickness of accessing the menu system from the flip-out monitor was impressive as well. 

What light conditions did you face and were you using the internal ND filters?

Wimbledon can be quite wet but we were lucky this year and had a lot of sun, so I tried to shoot everything as wide open on the lenses as possible. I tend to be quite low on the court, looking up at the players, who from that angle have the crowd directly behind them. But with shallow depth of field the bokeh effect is incredible. The internal NDs came in very handy, and I think the increments they offer are spot-on.

It was such a bonus to have 200 fps with the AMIRA and we got some beautiful slow motion shots.

What lenses were you using?

 

The main two lenses I had for the whole shoot were a Zeiss 15.5-45 and a True Lens Services Morpheus Zoom, which is a re-housed 80-200 mm stills lens. For the semi-finals and finals Procam helped me out with an Optimo 24-290 and the images from that looked great, because we could get that bit closer. In a perfect scenario it would have been nice to have primes, but this shoot was about going back to a documentary style of working.

 

Did the images go down well with the producer and client?

 

We were checking the images as we went along and everyone was over the moon, especially with the excitement of the 200 fps. Taking the ALEXA sensor, with its 14-stop dynamic range and organic look, and putting it in a run-and-gun documentary camera is phenomenal. I remember when we started looking at the footage on a big screen in our office; it was one of those open-mouth 'wow' moments.

 

It's so hard to come up with something different for this film every year, so to be able to bring the AMIRA into the equation, with its clean and natural look, was fantastic -- as was having 200 fps without needing to hire in a separate recorder or high speed camera, which would have been too expensive. Having all of that in one box is a real game-changer.