From majestic cliffs to serene lakes, “La Vie Nous Appartient” is a cinematographer’s dream. Even so the beautiful settings present their own series of obstacles that make shooting this film a particular challenge. The most obvious difficulty is that the whole film is shot outdoors. That means being at the mercy of the weather, an element beyond our control, and coping with noisy planes overhead (director Alex Lee’s least favorite set intruder).
Today we had a new challenge, which was to film in the extremely low light of a cave. A major obstacle to photography for the last 150 years, low-light has pushed directors and cinematographers to some serious extremes. Stanley Kubrick went so far as to acquire special lenses from NASA to shoot by candlelight. Fortunately we don’t need to go to quite such an extreme as the Sony F65 incorporates new digital technology that is far more light-sensitive than the movie cameras of the past. Still, even the most advanced camera doesn’t remove the need for human skill. For example, the dim light of the cave still limits the camera’s focal range, or as photographers call it – the depth-of-field.
How serious this problem is only becomes clear when one learns that professional movie cameras, unlike your average home video camera, are focused manually. This allows a precise degree of control over shots, but also creates a real challenge for the cameraman. So much so that the task of focusing is actually handed over to the first camera assistant, commonly known as the focus puller. Along with providing general assistance to the cameraman, the focus puller has to track the exact distance to whomever or whatever the main subject is so that the camera remains perfectly focused.
This is particularly challenging in low-light situation where a miscalculation of even a few centimeters can throw the subject out of focus and ruin a shot. Fortunately, our own first camera assistant, Christian Fletzek, has an uncanny ability to calculate the distance between the camera and subject. If you’ve ever struggled with manually focusing your camera just try to imagine doing it without even seeing the screen and you’ll have an idea of just how impressive this is. Perhaps this unusual talent is the reason Christian was promoted from second camera assistant almost as soon as he started and even without formal training. Now he’s in high demand and after five years in the industry is looking to take on more roles as director of photography.
Ok, that’s enough technical talk for one day. Be sure to stop by again and learn some more about what goes into making a film and “La Vie Nous Appartient” in particular. Also, be sure to check out the photo gallery if you haven’t already for some early screenshots. See you soon!