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ARRI ALEXA LF and Signature Primes on Christmas musical “Jingle Jangle”

Now streaming on Netflix, Jangle’s colorful, magical world was brought to life by DP Remi Adefarasin on ARRI ALEXA LF cameras and Signature Prime lenses.

British cinematographer Remi Adefarasin OBE, BSC teamed up with director David E. Talbert for the festive fantasy film “Jingle Jangle,” streaming now on Netflix. Featuring musical numbers by John Legend, Philip Lawrence, and Davy Nathan, among others, the movie centers on inventor and toymaker Jeronicus Jangle, played by Forest Whitaker. To capture Jangle’s colorful, magical world, Adefarasin opted for ARRI ALEXA LF cameras and Signature Prime lenses, supplied by ARRI Rental. He took time out to answer some questions about his creative and equipment choices, shooting for HDR, and grading in lockdown.

How did you get involved in this project and the imaginative world it presents?

Initially, I was invited to Shepperton Studios to meet David and discuss filming “Jingle Jangle.” After a discussion about the whole concept we met production designer Gavin Bocquet, who showed me round the drawings and illustrations that may become the world. They were astounding, full of imagination, color and magic. 3D printers were printing models and my head was full of how to make these dreams look real, and keep their magic. Gavin had created many different worlds and the challenge was also which one to go with.  

What led you to choose ALEXA LF for the film?

I had previously shot “The Last Vermeer” with the ALEXA LF and loved the roundness of the image. Gentle fall-off of focus, without looking mannered; amazing detail in the image, without making faces harsh; a feeling you are looking through a hole in a wall and there is the film – no technology, just life. The quality is superb.

Were you able to work with the production designer to plan your lighting and camerawork on the large sets?

Gavin is a great collaborator and all the departments were based at Arborfield Studios, so we could quickly confer about this and that. Apart from drawings and models, Gavin and his team had created a virtual reality set that we could explore with goggles. We could walk around the town square and go inside Jangle’s shop, viewing it from any angle. This setup allowed David to make many changes without any construction costs. It afforded me the opportunity to ask for windows in different places and change support pole positions. We could find out when we would be off set, so we could get the correct Translight size.

Do LED lights make it easier to light spaces like these, and work in them?

This was a Christmas film with heavy costumes, being shot in summer. It was vital to keep the actors and dancers cool, so lighting with LEDs needed no discussion. We had a few tungsten heads for beams splashing around and shape, but the main thrust was ARRI SkyPanels; on Stage One we had 210 SkyPanel S60s with space light skirts, 110 S60s with snap bags, and 16 of the larger SkyPanel S360s. We could quickly change the look from morning to midday or night, as all the panels were identified on a grid. Indeed, one shot tracking past the Christmas tree started night and transitioned to morning during the take. It was set up and shot in just half an hour. Ian Barwick was my gaffer and he found ways of doing the impossible with panache. He is unflappable.

Why did you choose Signature Prime lenses and what focal lengths did you gravitate towards?

I first saw the Signatures at a BSC show and thought they were plastic mock-ups because they were so light! Then I had to wait a year until they were available. The lens uniformity makes them very desirable to work with, but the quality of the image together with the LF sensor is incredible. On this shoot the 35 mm and 40 mm were the main lenses; they always seemed to be the right field of view.

What was your approach to camerawork and composition?

Because of the shape of the sets and locations, it was decided to shoot an aspect ratio of 1:1.85, and this worked well. We always had three cameras: Simon Finney on A camera and Technocrane, Tim Battersby on B camera and Steadicam, and me on C camera for the magical, daring moments. I’m always begging directors not to go too tight, as somehow with today’s cameras the quality is all there in a mid-shot. If it’s well shot, it looks grand even on an iPhone – look at “Oliver!” or “Lawrence of Arabia.” There is a quality about ALEXA LF that I have not heard anyone describe perfectly. You almost feel the image, as well as see it, especially with HDR.

Did shooting for HDR change your approach in any way?

This was my first experience with HDR. When I light, I still use a meter so I can see the range of brightness and have an idea of what will be resolved. I also check with the DIT to further confirm. HDR is sensational and further immerses you in the experience; the detail in the shadows and highlights is really amazing.

How was your experience of grading during lockdown, and did the VFX team find it easy to work with the LF images?

Because of the lockdown our grade was in Los Angeles at Fotokem with colorist Kostas Theodosiou. We managed to use DaVinci Resolve both there in LA and at Goldcrest in London, with files sent over and synced. It was a constant Zoom call, almost as if we were in same room, so I could see all the windows and timing instantly. Fotokem and Goldcrest were faultless. 

All the VFX people did extraordinary work and said they were delighted to be starting with such good base material. We had applied a LUT and all the dailies showed my intent in terms of color, saturation, and density. This helped them create seamless work. In fact, everyone in post loves the LF image to work with, and they love the no-nonsense beauty of the Signature Primes. Though they won’t know why, audiences will enjoy the pictures too.