I'm a sucker for good black and white cinematography. For that reason, 2013 was a fantastic year. We were given a slew of unique independent films shot in black and white, from Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing to Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha. While these films have wonderful aesthetics, perhaps the most gorgeous black and white cinematography of the year came from Phedon Papamichael's efforts on Alexander Payne's most recent flick, Nebraska. Papamichael recently sat down for an interview on the ASC Podcast in which he talks extensively about the processes and intricacies of black and white cinematography in the digital age.
First and foremost, here's the trailer for Nebraska, which gives you brief taste of the unique aesthetic of the film:
And here's the full audio from this month's ASC Podcast with Phedon Papamichael. It's about 40 minutes long, so get comfortable and put those learning hats on, because Papamichael shares some fantastic and practical cinematography know-how.
Nebraska is a traditional character-driven road movie, and Payne had wanted it to be in black and white from the beginning. For Papamichael, the obvious choice for capture format was Kodak 5222 B&W 35mm film. However, as great as the aesthetic might be, shooting in black and white is seen as a risky proposition on the business side of filmmaking due to the fact that some audiences in various markets view it as antiquated. For that reason, Papamichael tested various color stocks and digital cameras, then had his colorist manipulate the footage to see which format could get him the closest to the 5222 aesthetic.
Papamichael ended up choosing the ALEXA and adding a 5248 film stock grain in order to emulate the 5222 stock. The ALEXA proved to be the best choice for the film not only because it gave the cinematographer the look he wanted, but the additional sensitivity allowed some much-needed versatility, which was essential due to the nature of the production (it was shot on location all across the American Midwest). The added sensitivity of the camera also allowed Papamichael the freedom to shoot this film with fairly slow vintage C-Series anamorphic lenses, which further helped define the unique aesthetic of the film.
If you'd like to spend some more time with Phedon Papamichael, here's another recent interview from DP/30. Here, he talks about his relationships with certain directors as well as some various other topics.
What do you guys think about black and white filmmaking in the digital world? Have you seen Nebraska yet, and if so, what did you think of its aesthetic? Let us hear those thoughts down in the comments.