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DP Tey Clamor on ALEXA LF and Mini LF: “The image quality is superb”

The Philippine feature film “Isa Pa, with Feelings” was captured by DP Tey Clamor with ARRI’s ALEXA LF, ALEXA Mini LF, and TRINITY. In this interview, she shares her experience of working with ARRI’s large-format camera system for the very first time.

Recently, “Isa Pa, with Feelings,” by director Prime Cruz, had its release in Philippine theaters. What is this film about and can you explain the visual idea behind the feature?

“Isa Pa, with Feelings” is a romantic film about a girl, Mara (Maine Mendoza), who meets and falls in love with her deaf neighbor, Gali (Carlo Aquino). Because of the nature of the premise, the film relies heavily on visuals. My director Prime Cruz wanted to use light and water as a visual motif for the film. So, our visual design together with our production designer, Nestor Abrogena, focused mainly on those two elements. We created an aquarium-like world for both the characters as a metaphor to depict how they live in their own worlds and how they try to come out of their state of isolation.

This picture was shot with ALEXA LF and ALEXA Mini LF cameras. Why did you decide to work with this camera set-up?

I always wanted to try the ALEXA LF ever since it came out. I got lucky to use it on a short feature film a year ago and was really happy with it. Then the “Isa Pa, with Feelings” project came in and when the team and I decided on to use a set instead of an actual location for Mara’s and Gali’s condominiums, I knew the large sensor size of the LF could help a lot in our VFX scenes. Originally, Prime wanted to test an anamorphic lens for the film, but when we tested the different available full frame lenses in the CMB rental house, he chose Cooke s7i to give us a really warm, soft look.

At the time we started filming, the ALEXA Mini LF hadn’t arrived yet in the Philippines, but I had already told the head of CMB, Mr. Jim Baltazar, about my plan to use it together with the ARRI TRINITY.

When did you work with ALEXA LF and when did you work with the ALEXA Mini LF?

The Mini LF came in when I needed a smaller body for the TRINITY on our final dance scene.

For you as a cinematographer, what was the biggest challenge in this project?

Because the film doesn’t rely heavily on dialogue, the biggest challenge for this project was how to visualize our characters feelings and emotions. We wanted to portray a realistic approach of how two people with different ways of communicating fall in love. We played on different perspectives with both audio and visual mediums. We added progression from reading texts messages in order to understand each other to knowing the actual sign language.

You also had to film in a very dark environment. How did the cameras perform?

Prime wanted the film to be moody. One of the scenes that I’m really proud of was the final dance scene. We had to mimic the light that hits the ocean so we rigged a 8,500-lumen projector and projected a looping video of the sea for the wide shots and used a few sharp lights for the close ups. At first, we had a hard time finding a supplier, who would allow us to rig their projectors but we were lucky to find one last minute. The dynamic range of the ALEXA LF and Mini LF was impeccable considering our scene’s lighting ratios. It is perfect and just as how I imagined it would be.

After working with other ARRI cameras in the past, how was it to shoot with ARRI’s large-format camera system?

At first, I had to adjust with the lensing, but it became easier after a few days of shooting. The image quality is superb and the wireless output makes everything faster. The large-format system captured the highlights and shadows so well, with very low noise. The larger sensor size gave colorist Nico Ebora and myself more depth in color grading especially with our VFX and high-contrast scenes. And I really like the portability of the Mini LF.

For some scenes an ARRI TRINITY, operated by JR Misa, was in use. When did you work with this camera stabilizer system?

For the dance sequence we wanted to stay true with the design and mimic the movement of water. I knew I needed a smooth camera stabilizer that could go really low and high at an instant. So, I personally talked to JR about my plan to use the ARRI TRINITY weeks before the Mini LF arrived in Manila. We were the first ones to test the TRINITY and use it with the Mini LF as a combo. This was my first time to use the stabilizer and I was really happy with our results.

It seems that you like to work with ARRI equipment. Why do you rely on ARRI products in general?

I have been shooting very often with the ALEXA since my second feature in 2015. For me it’s still the best in terms of capturing colors, depth, and highlights. I think 70% of my features were shot with an ARRI camera. For me it’s the most reliable camera. It never lets me down.

Do you remember when you heard about ARRI for the first time?

Yeah. I was in film school when I first heard about ARRI. It was and still is the dream camera for any film student. I actually used an ARRIFLEX III 35 mm for my thesis film using short ends from a kind production house where I interned. When I was starting out in the industry, I saw my cinematography heroes working with ARRI products, and when I finally got to use one for my own projects, it was a surreal moment for me.

I just want to thank ARRI for always supporting filmmakers like myself in bringing our vision to life.

What are your next projects?

I’m currently starting a feature film about the overseas Filipino performers in Singapore and I’m also building my underwater cinematography team now called Water Gun.

“Isa Pa, with Feelings” is a Black Sheep and APT Entertainment production. Camera, lights, and grip were provided by CMB Film Equipment.

Pictures: Black Sheep/APT Entertainment