When and why did you decide to become a DoP? Tell us a bit about your background, studies, etc.
I have always been attracted to picture, especially to how colours and textures work. I started as a teenager with photography and drawing before turning to cinema. But I think I really understood the emotional power of picture the day I saw Home directed by Ursula Meier and with Agnès Godard as cinematographer. Things fell into place when I realized how compositions and colours work.
I studied at Louis Lumière Film School in Paris for three years and graduated two years ago. Since then, I have kept on making short films to practice as a cinematographer. School does not give us opportunities to make an entire short as DoP so I quickly found a way to do it outside of school. It is the best training we have and when I shot Etudes pour un paysage amoureux (a feature film directed by a friend from La Fémis but which was made outside school) I started to understand the challenges of this job and I realized I love it. To provide for myself, I try to work as a camera assistant on feature films as this is also a great opportunity to learn from other’s work.
Cruelle Annabelle: How and when did you get involved. What were your initial thoughts about the project. Which challenges did you have to overcome to get the final results?
What convinced me immediately in the script was the idea that the whole story takes place in a one day timeframe, from the end of an afternoon to the early morning of the next day. It's a mix of historical drama with fantasy and fairy-tale, and this blend acts as a catalyst for the narrative tension. It's the story of Annabelle, a young lady imprisoned in her room by a malefic spell, until she meets Gabriel, a young man, perfect to take her place...
Except for the last scene, the story takes place in one unique set, so it was decided to recreate this attic room in a studio. The most daunting challenge was that I was only given 4 days to come up with 6 different lighting set-ups in the studio. Without my crew who went out of their way to work on this, I'm sure I couldn’t have managed.
The story is situated at the end of the 19th century and I was glad to have an opportunity to work on what was for me new historical period (Etude pour un paysage amoureux took place in the 16th century) as artificial lighting is very interesting on this type of project. Such challenges to overcome!
Adrien Weil (director) contacted me long before the beginning of the actual shooting (first shooting schedule was reported for budgettary reasons). We were looking for a camera that could bring us the image and look the story we visualized conveyed for us, something that could play with cliché , but set itself high standards.
I dreamt of effects with rich and deep colours but with different palettes for the different scenes. Adrien had a very precise idea of the image he was looking for with a lot of eye for detail. So the challenge for me was to find a way to recreate a fairy-tale atmosphere and enhance some important elements Adrien needed to stand out, such as the roses. And I couldn’t stop thinking about the Ikonoskop...
Yes, why on the A-Cam dII?
I had already shot with this camera once before, for an other short film made with one take hand-held shot, on location in a deserted place. So this was a completely different challenge. Whereas the idea to shoot Cruelle Annabelle with the A-Cam obsessed me, I couldn’t stop thinking that it didn't make any sense for a project like this to use a camera without high sensitivity and latitude. I believe now it was a wrong way of thinking. In fact, working in a studio where we could control all the lighting enabled us to really handle the sensitivity and the dynamic of the Ikonoskop. And I got a pure palette of colours, much better than with a CMOS camera, while skin tones and rose petals were really natural.
Ergonomy wasn’t a big concern for me at first. Fortunately, the A-Cam enabled us to shoot some framings that required a very short focal length or a maximum of space which was quite complicated in this very small studio. It also enabled us to use a light jib that could be handled in that limited space.
What gear/set-up did you use? What technical difficulties did you encounter during shooting, what worked out very well?
We shot with the Zeiss S16 SuperSpeed series and I exposed most of the time at T1.4 to have a depth of field similar to 35mm. I had borrowed hand-made filters from different density of panty hose from a friend. I used them a lot in the short with one simple idea in mind : to be as diffused as possible on the actress at the beginning of the story and less and less soft as she reveals herself as a daemon.
There were a lot of special effects in the movie and the other main challenge was to manage to compose the shot with all those technical constraints. We had to keep in mind the lighting of green screens in each shot and save time to do some background materials for compositing. In the time-frame we had and under our budgettary constraints it was quite hard to succeed. For instance, we had very little room behind the set and there were many ugly green reflections that we had to deal with in post-production.
The budget didn’t allow us to see images in good conditions on set. As I found the histogram of the Ikonoskop hard to read, I decided to go back to the way we traditinonally worked with film and use a light meter. I exposed the whole movie in that way, with my spot and my cell trusting only what I saw with my eyes. It was a great pleasure to come back to this traditional method. To feel that buzz when I discovered the rushes on DaVinci, checking if my exposure was right...
It's a pity that these days, we've kind of lost this adrenaline rush that pushes us to our limits. I think it teaches us more than seeing your picture taking shape on a monitor.
What workflow did you use going from production to post-production?
Principal photography ended July 2013 but we had to wait until January 2014 to shoot the last part of the movie. Adrien needed a flash back scene where Annabelle tells the story of her sister. And we shot this little sequence entirely in stop motion animation. I was glad to come back on the project to light a ten shot sequence with puppets. We spent the whole month to do it and there were new challenges such as redesigning the lighting to be more appropriate to objects than to actors, on the contrary of what I did to this point in real life shooting.
Among other things, concerning post-production we had to deal with two different types of rushes, raw CinemaDNG from the A-Cam and raw from Canon for the animation. The workflow got much more complicated, especially because in animation we can’t keep the raw rushes until the grading. So for the animated sequence we graded the raw DNG with DPXs pre-grading. We worked on DaVinci Resolve to maintain consistency of what we did for the proxies on set. At the beginning we wanted to process footage via the ACES colour space because I found it the best way to grade the Ikonoskop footage in the previous project. But it turned out to be a bad idea because ACES is very complicated to work in with two different sources of images. So with the many effects we had to deal with, with my colorist Mathieu, we came back to the RGB colour space.
I do not hide my concerns about some points that have been quite difficult to process with the Ikonoskop in the YRGB Colour Science setting in Resolve. Some colours had drifted in the highlights when we worked on the footage and it was hard to tone them down. But Mathieu did a formidable work and we managed rather well. I noticed the sensor is less sensitive to artificial lighting than daylight which wasn’t convenient for a movie shot on studio with many incandescent projectors. But I really like the richness of colours we manage to obtain in this short film and I am convinced there is no other camera within this budget that can achieve this.
What project do you have lined up next?
I have just come back from a new short movie, produced with the support of region Poitou-Charente and with a larger budget than the movies I have made so far. It is an adaptation of several texts from Velibor Colic about the Bosnian War. We shot on RED Epic this time in an abandoned factory during one week with very few shots and blocks of texts delivered by Jacques Bonnafé, Alice Butaud and Emmanuel Renon. So going on new projects, I will get down to this post-production which will certainly be really easier than Cruelle Annabelle!
- Director: Adrien Weil
- Director of Photography: Anastasia Durand
- 1st AC: Sophie Patalano
- Gaffer: Florian Berthelot
- Colorist: Mathieu Cassan