From intimate character studies, to fake moon landings, to running from the law across the Chinese countryside, it was clear that the "perfect camera" completely depends on the production.
No Film School had a chance to talk to a plethora of different directors and cinematographers at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and the following is a compilation of cameras that they used, and why!
Cinematographer Elliot Davis said this about about camera choice when he sat down for a No Film School podcast with Ryan Koo:
We carried two ARRI ALEXA XTs. The RED Dragon was used for our Steadicam and possibly third camera because of speed. I try to make it as easy as possible, since it's a lighter camera, because if you're doing a lot of it it's a strain on the operator, so we left it on the rig all the time. Shooting as fast as we could was one of the primary tasks of this movie.
Director Penny Lane:
I used the Black Magic Cinema Camera with a Lens Baby and some Canon lenses for my studio shoots. Shooting RAW allowed me to do some pretty cool stuff in post.
Director Nick Pesce:
We shot on the RED DRAGON with anamorphic lenses...we were doing this intensely period piece but with contemporary technology. There was this awesome nostalgia that remained, but there was a new sort of slicker edge to it. My cinematographer and I talked a lot about not trying to make the movie look like we shot it in the 1970s, and utilizing the benefits of shooting digitally while making the same artistic choices that those older [1970s era] filmmakers made.
Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer, ASC, AIC explained to NFS how he came up with multiple shooting formats for the film:
We decided to shoot just one period— the 1950s and 1960s time period — on Super16. The primary format was Alexa Arri raw — about two thirds of the film was shot on that. About a third was shot on Super16. I believe I had Arriflex 416s. There was a special section shot at night, a car chase, that was shot on the Canon C500...The concept of the film was that is was not a biopic. To me what came to mind was more of a Miles Davis fever dream. I didn’t know jazz before so I learned the modal term of jazz, different tempos and beats going on in Miles Davis' head. That's what is was about to Don Cheadle.
Director Matt Johnson tells NFS how he created an outrageous fake documentary set in 1967 that involved converting digital to 16mm:
There was a range of them, but the big two that were used were the Black Magic Pocket Cam, whenever we shot things that were super super secretive, and we didn't want people to know we were shooting. Then we shot on REDS with really cool 1950s zoom lenses, when we were shooting normal story stuff that we didn't have to hide...then we had a film artist convert it to Super16 and then back. We spent a year, basically, experimenting with chemicals and lenses and light to get that exact 1960s "bad documentary" look.
Kirsten Johnson compiled around 30 years of documentary footage from such films as Citizenfour, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, and Fahrenheit 9/11. The movie is a testament to how much cameras may change, but the nuanced eye of the cinematographer remains. Her first camera? An old school U-matic.
The director Nanfu Wang used the small and inconspicuous Canon 60D to follow renegade activist Ye Hainan (aka 'Sparrow') across China on the run from government authorities.
From Director Meera Menon:
Eric Lin [DP] and I agreed very early on that the ALEXA was the best camera because we were going to be spending so much time in these scenes with the characters. We were able to rely on the richness and depth that that camera provides on their faces for extended, prolonged periods of time. It’s a character driven and actor drive piece at the end of the day. Also, a prevailing schematic in the film was surveillance….We would approach a scene from an angle of surveillance to use as a punctuating mark in a scene, or to induce or emphasize that feeling of paranoia that built the overall thriller aspect of the film.
Director So Yong Kim employed a handful of cameras, the Canon 7D, Canon C300, and Arri AMIRA, to construct the film's impromptu road trip story.
Director Felix Van Groeningen used the RED Scarlet and Epic to create the booze and drug filled nightlife atmosphere of the film.
Director Antonio Campos employed both the Arri ALEXA and 16mm to create the psychologically gripping world of 1970s TV reporter Christine Chubbuck.
A CG virtual reality film, SONAR didn’t use a 360 camera rig to capture real stuff, but used ZBrush from Pixologic to sculpt aspects of the production from original source material. From co-director Philipp Maas:
We did use a normal camera though for some photogrammetry experiments. The face of one of the dead people is roughly based on own of our friends. We took a series of photos of him to reconstruct a 3D model and then used it as a starting point to sculpt on it. Also we used real surface features/elevation data from Mars, so that we could sculpt with real craters and dunes on the asteroid’s surface. For our upcoming GearVR app we also used real photos from the ESA Rosetta mission to create the landscape for our app menu.
While much of this film was delightfully animated, this is what director Mickey Duzyj said about the live action components:
We shot the film on 2 Canon cameras- the C100 and the 5D. Our DP felt comfortable using them and they were small enough to tote around Japan on our shoot.
From cinematographer Bérénice aka "Bear" Eveno, on how she picked the cameras for all three films she had at Sundance, Verbatim, The Free World, and Soulmates:
All three films were completely different in terms of the tools. Soulmates was shot on the 5D, Verbatim was shot on the RED, The Free World was shot on the ALEXA. Also you’re looking at completely different budgets. You can make anything, any camera look beautiful. Tangerine proved it -- an iPhone can look gorgeous and really cool. Its all about how you use it, and if it serves the story. I would say don’t get hung up on tools, just see if it fits the story.
For more, see our complete coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
No Film School's video and editorial coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.