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Sundance DPs turn to ARRI cameras and lighting


At the beginning of every year, all industry eyes turn to Park City, Utah, to catch a glimpse of what the world of independent film has to offer. ARRI cameras and lighting played a leading role behind the scenes of many films at the festival. According to IndieWire, two-thirds of the 37 scripted narrative features premiering at Sundance 2022 were shot on ARRI cameras. Sixteen were accomplished on the ALEXA Mini, and four on the ALEXA Mini LF. Four were shot on ARRI film cameras, and one on ARRI Rental's large-format camera, the ALEXA 65.

What's the story behind this dominance? Below, ten cinematographers with films at the festival discuss the thought process behind their creative goals and the equipment they chose to achieve them.

Watcher by DP Benjamin Kirk

To me, the ARRI digital cameras have the most pleasing color reproduction of any digital camera, says Benjamin Kirk. Film still from Watcher. Photo courtesy of Sundance.

The main character of Watcher is tormented by the feeling she is being stalked in a new city. Kirk's approach was to give the audience a subjective sense of her isolation and uneasiness. We wanted a balance between the beauty of discovering a new foreign city and her dread, says Kirk. The goal was heightened realism that would elevate the horror elements in the story and still keep them rooted in something real and authentic.

Kirk combined extremely fast Hawk One4 spherical lenses with the ALEXA Mini LF. To me, the ARRI digital cameras have the most pleasing color reproduction of any digital camera, he says. The large format sensor gave me a more shallow depth of field, which helped in isolating Julia from the background. It was also important to us that the way the camera portrays her was closely linked to her state of mind. Without the distortion of a wider lens, the large format sensor and the very close-focus abilities of the lenses helped me create a much more intimate connection between Julia and the camera.

For lighting, we used a lot of ARRI SkyPanels, both in studio and on location, says Kirk. In the studio, we used S120 SkyPanels with soft boxes through the windows to give a soft, even daylight in the apartments. I also used ARRI HMIs bounced onto the ceiling for the translight, and for night scenes both in studio and on location, I used SkyPanels to create the right sodium color that were authentic to the available streetlights in Romania. I love the ARRI SkyPanels-they have a beautiful quality of light, coupled with the versatility to dial in just the right color and output very quickly.

After Yang by DP Benjamin Loeb

Film still from After Yang. Photo courtesy of Sundance.

Searching for the right tools to make After Yang, DP Loeb and director Koganada talked about layering different technical approaches for the different layers in the film. It was a lot of testing and trying different formats and different lenses and lighting to get to a point where we felt like we hit number one-a texture that was familiar and comfortable for Kogonada, but also something that pushed ourselves a little bit outside, says Loeb.

After Yang, which takes place in a high-tech near future, was shot using the ALEXA Mini, in part due to its versatility. We ended up shooting 2.35:1 for the main part of the film, and 4:3 for certain scenes, and still others in 1.85 or with a Super 16 crop. I found that the hunt for shallower depth of field almost felt wrong in my brain for this project, says Loeb. It's not that it's right or wrong in general. But I feel like, with the Mini in these formats, you retain so much more depth than you can see, which can feel more plastic to me. It's an interesting look.

When I shoot digital, I'll always shoot with a Mini, Loeb continues. I've never been a fan of the large format. That's not to say that I won't shoot it. But on previous projects, I've pushed the Mini so far and underlit to a point where the image really started falling apart, which I thought was really beautiful. For me, it's really knowing where that sensor can be pushed or pulled in each direction, and essentially knowing what comes out of that and how you can work with that in post.

The Worst Person in the World by DP Kasper Tuxen

Film still from The Worst Person in the World. Photo courtesy of Sundance.

For his twelfth feature film, director of photography Kasper Tuxen relished the opportunity to shoot 35 mm film. Director Joachim Trier has 35 mm film written into his contract. We both see ARRICAM LT is the perfect film camera, says Tuxen. Framing for 1.85:1 is great for portraits, and that's what this film is about. The movie takes place over a few years and contains all four seasons. I got to know the city of Oslo really well and saw it in all its coats. The beauty of natural light dictated the look, so whenever we needed to hold a certain moment of the day, I studied the natural light at the location. We used faster film stocks to maintain some grain, Cooke lenses, ARRIMAX fixtures to recreate hard sunlight and bounced SkyPanels for softer light. For me, it was a blessing to have a director who knows what it takes to shoot in magic hour, dusk and dawn, and what it means to the mood of the film.

When You Finish Saving the World by DP Benjamin Loeb

Director Jesse Eisenberg and DP Benjamin Loeb on the set of When You Finish Saving the World. Photo credit: Karen Kuehn.

In the case of When You Finish Saving the World, Loeb and director Jesse Eisenberg wanted an American indie that didn't emphasize the style. It's really about the two characters and you don't really want the cinematography to pop in the same way, says Loeb. When the visuals are too much on the forefront, you've failed in some way, because it takes away from the performance.
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