30+ Sundance filmmakers reveal the cameras and lenses they used to shoot their festival hits.
With the 2018 Sundance Film Festival now past the halfway mark, we present part two of the three-question survey No Film School conducted with filmmakers hosting a project in the festival. Below, select filmmakers give us the inside scoop on the cameras and lenses used to make their Sundance 2018 films look crisp and dynamic. If you're looking for something both top-of-the-line and yet cost-effective (and crucial) for your project, we hope this survey provides some eye-opening options.
Myrsini Aristidou (Director/Writer/Producer of Aria): ARRI ALEXA Plus, Arri Zoom and Prime Lenses.
Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck (Directors of The Cleaners): We shot the whole movie on two cameras. Our main camera was the Sony XDCAM PXW-FS7 Camcorder and the second camera was the Sony a7s II (Alpha 7S II). Both cameras can be combined very well. It was the perfect mix for our shooting as we were flexible and spontaneous with the small camera (Sony a7s II), able to react quickly to unexpected moments, and shoot in places without attracting much attention. With the Sony FS7, however, it was possible to work much more precisely and in a cinematic fashion. Furthermore, we knew in advance that we wanted to shoot many scenes at night and with a lot of darkness, and both cameras have a good low-light performance.
"I knew after making my last film that the big cameras get stopped in security in all types of government and UN buildings, but a 5D can get through faster."
Alexandria Bombach (Director/Cinematographer/Editor of On Her Shoulders): For the run-and-gun filming, I used a Canon 5D Mark III. For much of the film, we were running after Nadia Murad and her team in an endless array of situations. From meetings and interviews in government buildings to wading through the crowds surrounding her at refugee camps in Greece to rallies on the streets of Berlin, we needed to be lightweight and fast at all times. Having a small kit and a small crew was also essential because of the sensitive nature of her work. I knew after making my last film that the big cameras get stopped in security in all types of government and UN buildings, but a 5D can get through faster. My primary lenses were the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II. For the sit-down interview with Nadia, I filmed on an ALEXA Mini in 4K. That gave me the ability to push in or reframe shots in the edit, and at times even add a subtle zoom or camera movement.
Andrew Carlberg (Producer of The Blazing World): ALEXA Mini with Canon 17-120 zoom.
Ashley Connor (DP on The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Madeline’s Madeline): ALEXA with Cooke Panchro lenses (CP) and Amira with K35s (MM).
Christina Choe (Director/Writer of NANCY): ALEXA with Kowa sphericals and the addition of a few Flare Primes from Panavision. I felt the ALEXA with the older lenses gave the film a more cinematic look, without being overly stylized. The camera was just a tool to tell the story and our main focus was capturing the subjectivity of the main character. We made a decision early on to shoot the first third of the film in 4:3 aspect ratio to represent the claustrophobic, trapped environment Nancy lives in. As she goes on an epic journey to find out if Leo and Ellen are her real parents, the aspect ratio changes into 16:9, expanding her world.
Julie Cohen and Betsy West (Directors/Producers of RBG): Our awesome DP, Claudia Raschke, used the Canon C300 Mark II and a variety of lenses: Cinema Prime 35mm, 50mm and 85mm for interviews; Canon EF Zoom 16-35mm and 24-70mm for vérité. For shooting the interviews, the goal was to make our subjects look beautiful but very real (nothing glossy or soft). For vérité, Claudia chose lenses to allow for maximum flexibility. Justice Ginsburg’s schedule is extremely tight, so there often wasn’t time to scope out a location before the event unfolded. If Claudia missed a moment, poof...it was gone. Fortunately for us, Claudia is not a moment-misser!
Laura Coxson (Producer of Chef Flynn): We used a variety of cameras. About 30% of the footage is of Flynn's mother, Meg, and we shot that on prosumer HDV cameras. We primarily shot on the Canon C300, Sony FS5 and Sony FS7. One of our main goals was to have ease moving amongst our subjects in crowded kitchens and dining rooms—Flynn is a fast mover—and so we needed to try to keep up.
Dime Davis (Director of Wild Wild West: A Beautiful Rant by Mark Bradford): For our film, we used the RED DRAGON with Zeiss Standard Speed lenses. We wanted a camera with a large format and high resolution to capture the intricate details and materials in Mark's work. The vintage glass in the Standard Speeds provided a little softness to break up the extremely sharp images this camera produces.
Liz Destro (Producer of Lizzie): ALEXA.
Robert Greene (Director/Editor/Writer of Bisbee '17): Our DP Jarred Alterman and our team (the Ross Brothers and Rob Kolodny) shot the film mostly on the Sony FS7 and Jarred used these lovely Zeiss Super Speed primes after we tested a bunch of lenses, including some older Russian anamorphic lenses. The goal was to create a cohesive look across all the modes and genres we were playing with: nonfiction, Western, Musical, ghost story, Telenovela, etc. Jarred discovered a style that could contain the layered chaos, which helped collapse the present and the past, the staged and the documentary.
Anna Margaret Hollyman (Director of Maude): We used the Sony Fs7 and shot in 2.35:1 with anamorphic lenses. It allowed us to pull in as much visual language from the surroundings as possible. Yuta Yamaguchi, the DP, has a really artful way of framing the characters within these idyllic environments so that the actual locations become characters themselves.
Isabella Eklöf (Director of Holiday): ALEXA MINI with wide-angle Cooke anamorphics to get a sense of majesty and, at the same time, a sense of "being in the room" that a wide angle can bring.
Marc Johnson (Director of Ultraviolet): RED EPIC 8K, Super Zeiss, i.e. the best quality for the value/money.
"In the end, the tools are only as good as the artist using them."
Nathaniel Kahn (Director of The Price of Everything): Our primary camera was the ARRI AMIRA with the Canon 17-120 lens. This is an art film and we felt it really needed to look great—the AMIRA is fantastic with color and it's also the favorite of my primary cinematographer on this film, Bob Richman. In the end, the tools are only as good as the artist using them, and Bob is a true artist. A note on lensing: Although primes are all the rage, and I like them for static things, I really love what Bob does with the zoom. It allows him to respond to the moment. It keeps the material fresh, loose, real, and spontaneous. I'll take that every time over perfect, predictable and "beautiful."
Gus Krieger (Director/Producer/Co-Screenwriter of My Name Is Myeisha): I used a RED EPIC with Zeiss Camera Lenses because I've had nothing but positive experiences with them.
Bart Layton (Director/Writer of American Animals): ARRI ALEXA Mini, both Zeiss Super Speeds and Cooke Anamorphic Lenses.
Bing Liu (Director of Minding the Gap): Canon 5D for skateboarding and Canon C300 for vérité footage with the Canon EF glass. I love the Canon look and love how interchangeable the lenses are.
Sev Ohanian (Co-Writer/Producer of Search): Complicated question, as our movie Search takes place entirely on computer screens! We shot on a combination of iPhones, GoPros, aerial drones, and everything else that was never actually made with the sole purpose of making a feature film.
Jack Henry Robbins (Director of Painting with Joan): Panasonic AG 180 (VHS).
Maxim Pozdorovkin (Director, Producer/Editor of Our New President): The film consists mostly of archival material. However, there is some cellphone footage that was filmed specifically for the film, and there are several shots that were surreptitiously filmed with a Panasonic LX100.
Amy Scott (Director of Hal): It was shot on many different formats with many different lenses partially because the project had such a long timeline and partially because we were trying to capture and recreate such different times in Hal's life and career. We shot with the RED DRAGON 6K sensor, Angenieux lenses, the Sony FS7, Blackmagic Pocket Cam, the Canon Scoopic 16mm with custom bored gate for 16x9 transfer, and the timelapse on Canon 5D with dynamic perception dolly.
"It was important that we be very aware of how the camera and the presence of a film crew could affect the subjects."
Alexandra Shiva (Director/Producer of This is Home): We shot with the Canon EOS C300 EF with Canon 24-105mm f4 zoom, Canon 17-120 Cine-Servo T.2.95 zoom, Canon 70-200mm f2.8 Version II zoom, Canon 24-70mm f2.8 Version II zoom. It was important that we be very aware of how the camera and the presence of a film crew could affect the subjects. These families had just arrived in the US from traumatic circumstances and were now faced with the daunting task of starting over in a foreign country from scratch, all while still grieving the loss of their home, family, friends, and way of life. Therefore, we chose a low-profile camera package that was as unobtrusive as possible. It allowed us to create an intimate environment that was more comfortable for our subjects, while still capturing beautiful, dynamic and vibrant images.
Reema Sengupta (Director/Writer of Counterfeit Kunkoo): We shot on the Canon C300 Mark II with Compact Prime lenses. We shot on that camera because it is small and portable, and we were shooting in very small spaces.
Sandi Tan (Director, Producer, Writer, Co-Editor of Shirkers): We used a Sony FS7 (for the contemporary stuff) because Iris Ng, our tiny DP, was strong enough to carry this camera on her shoulder, and a Canon Super8 because Iris Ng also shot the re-enacted home movies in Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell with that same Super8 camera of hers.
Lorna Tucker (Director of Westwood): ARRI AMIRA with an assortment of Angenieux lenses when we had a budget, and then whatever we could get our hands on the rest of the time!
Charlotte Wells (Director of Blue Christmas): We shot on the ARRI 416. Our DP owned the camera and we had a grant from Kodak for the film. The project was conceived with that in mind.
For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by RODE Microphones and Blackmagic Design.