Sep. 28, 2017

ARRI ALEXA Mini used to shoot "American Made"

Veteran cinematographer César Charlone ABC turns to the flexibility and capability of the ALEXA Mini  for this autumn’s action blockbuster, "American Made."

Sep. 28, 2017

Starring Tom Cruise and based on the true story of Barry Seal, a commercial pilot turned drug smuggler turned informant, "American Made" contains all the elements of a high-action thriller. Having to film in varied and often constrained environments, DP César Charlone ABC shares his experience working with an ALEXA Mini package supplied by ARRI Rental Atlanta.

How did ALEXA Mini stand up to the various tasks at hand?

The ALEXA Mini was very nice in regard to size and weight, very comfortable. The feeling that we wanted to get for the film was documentary style, kind of run-and-gun, and for that we needed a very light camera. The size of the ALEXA Mini gave us the freedom to move around easier. With handheld you can move around with the actor and let him be free. It changes the entire attitude of filmmaking, and it gives the actors more of a natural feeling of being in the scene.

Did this flexibility help with any scene in particular?

Some of my favorite scenes that we shot with the ALEXA Mini were the interiors in the planes and cars, where we were doing handheld. I could put the camera on the dashboard of the car and I could get a close-up of Tom Cruise with the actor in the back seat. We can just do that in a rhythm and not have to reset for each camera angle because I can simply switch seats in the car to get the perspective I want with little effort.

Did the ALEXA Mini facilitate your way of working?

Since I left school in the mid-1970s, I’ve had this urge to have the camera act like a free microphone, where you could monitor in one place and capture in another. I have been doing this for quite some time now. I use little goggle eyeglasses where I receive the image, then I hold the camera away from my body and shoot. So, when the ALEXA Mini arrived, I did the same. I just took the eyepiece away and used my goggle glasses; the camera body was just attached with a cable. This allowed me to operate freely. For example, when I operate inside a plane, I can put the camera in front and shoot backwards, with me sitting in the back. There’s no way I can do that through a viewfinder, so the cable and those goggles help me a lot. 

How has digital capture changed the filmmaking process?

I come from a still photography background, so I have been postproduction- dependent from the beginning. It’s a completely different approach to cinematography. Before digital there was so much pressure on set to have the right filter and equipment needed for your look, and that compromised the relationship between the DP, director, and actor. I did a film in the mid-1980s where I committed everything to a visual proposal on the film, and then after it was edited, there were so many things that I wanted to change. The film flows in a certain pace and a certain rhythm, and maybe you want to change the contrast or the color saturation for some scenes; now you can do it all in post. I believe so strongly in the power of editing and being free to choose afterwards, away from the stress of set. I have a joke on set, I say: “Quantity is better than quality,” because I can get the quality in editing. Let’s give the editing teams as many shots and camera positions as we can, because the real truth comes out in the editing.

How have ARRI and its products affected your industry?

When ARRI came out with the RAW sensor that’s like negative film, it gave us cinematographers so much liberty. The sensor that ARRI has is beautiful, it’s perfect. I’m very happy that ARRI is at the forefront of the film industry because there is constant research being done, and these discussions with cinematographers help in bringing out new cameras. It’s nice to know that ARRI works so closely with cinematographers, and now we have a camera that I have no complaints about.

Photos: © 2017 Universal Pictures (2), Robin Le Chanu (1)