Spotlight on UPM/producer Rebecca Rivo

New cinematography technology doesn't just affect cinematographers. People in all departments need to be aware of the rapidly-changing tool sets in other areas of filmmaking in order to work at maximum efficiency in their own area. ARRI News spoke with New York-based production manager/producer Rebecca Rivo about this. 

Rivo was the unit production manager on the entire first season of the CBS series PERSON OF INTEREST, which was shot by Teodoro Maniaci on ALEXAs from ARRI CSC. She's also worked on a large number of features and series, including FACTORY GIRL and LETTERS TO JULIET (New York units) and line produced several independent films, most recently EXTRA MAN. Rivo recently co-produced the feature titled THE WAY, WAY BACK shot by John Bailey, ASC also on the ALEXA and premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013.

ARRI NEWS: How did you find the ALEXA worked out on PERSON OF INTEREST?

That was a great example of the flexibility the camera could give a show. We would shoot with two cameras and often brought in more. The show involved quite a lot of setups and some Steadicam. It was nice that the same bodies could work with the Steadicam and also locked down or handheld. We shot at night, often in low light. Of course, Teodoro is incredibly talented and there's no substitute for that but the ALEXA really helped us. 

ARRI NEWS: Talk a bit about the challenges on PERSON OF INTEREST.

RR: It was a very challenging schedule. We shot 8 ½ days an episode. I would say 85% on location. Most TV shows shoot four or five days onstage and go out for something special but it was special for us to be working on a stage. There was always an A- and B- camera and often a C-camera. For stunts --and every episode had at least one big stunt-- we'd bring in D- and E-cameras too. The look and feel of the episodes was driven by the feel of the city, often at night. It definitely helped that Teodoro could shoot in such low light conditions. We tried to pack a lot in for not a tremendous budget. 

ARRI NEWS: Can you recall an example of how the low light capabilities of the ALEXA helped you achieve that? 

We needed to pick up an establishing shot of a motel. We sent a B-camera out to go get the shot. It was a classic motel with pools of light in front of each door and a lit sign and we were able to send a director with a camera crew and that was it. Had we been shooting on film, I think we would have had to bring in a lighting crew and pre-rig the area. It gave us tremendous flexibility. We did that kind of thing a lot. 

ARRI NEWS: So did Teodoro always work with less light?

I wouldn't say that. It really depended on what he needed to achieve. But it opened the question up more. There was still one night where I saw that we needed four Condors and a huge number of units and I thought, "Did he just recreate Times Square?" [she laughs]. But it was a shootout at night and we needed the light. There was a section of the sequence underneath some scaffolding and Teodoro was able to make use of some pools of available light for that but he needed to light the streets to bring some depth to the shots. People say, "We're shooting on the ALEXA so we don't need to light anything." The ALEXA opens up some exciting new possibilities, but it still depends on the structure of the shots and the way the story's being told and that's what cinematographers and gaffers do. But the ALEXA definitely offers more flexibility in terms of how you use light than I've seen on all the film shows I've done. And I find that cinematographers and gaffers are also excited about seeing how the camera responds when they push it further and further. 

ARRI NEWS: What was an average day on PERSON OF INTEREST like? 

It was a challenging schedule. Often we were in two or three locations a day. Whenever possible, we would group places together so maybe you'd be inside a midtown office building, then on the rooftop and then the street in front. But it was a lot of locations and a lot of moving around. 

ARRI NEWS: Have you worked on a lot of digitally shot projects before or was this one of your first? 

Most of what I've done in recent years has been features shot on film but I did work on one of the first dramas shot in HD – 100 CENTER STREET -- the series that Sidney Lumet did in 2000 and 2001. It was very different, of course. We were hardwired to the back of those cameras and they did a line cut [as we went along]. It was sort of the way Sidney got his start in the days of live TV. We were working with some of the first generation of DITs. I don't even think they were called that then. We didn't have the vernacular that we do now. We talked about the media in traditional 'video' terms or we used film terminology. The camera crews know so much more about this than they did 10 years ago. They are so versed in the technology, even though it's changing all the time. I think the number of people on camera crews that are sophisticated about digital technology has changed a lot even in the last five years. 

ARRI NEWS: How important would you say it is for someone on your end of production to know about this kind of technology? 

I tell people that I speak “equipment as a second language.” It's not inherent in me to know every detail of every new camera or sensor, but it is important for me to have the vocabulary and the level of understanding it takes to work with the technicians. You can make better decisions about how you're spending money.