Exploring the Cameras and Lenses Used on Scorsese’s ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’
A look into the cameras and lenses used by Martin Scorsese and DP Rodrigo Prieto to shoot their epic revisionist western.
While not a horror movie by any means, there’s still something haunting about Killers of the Flower Moon that lingers with you for several hours and days later after watching it. It might simply be Martin Scorsese’s directing and storytelling gently nudging your mind as you go back into the world.
Or it might be the powerful performances from lead actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Lily Gladstone hanging with you. Or, for many in the film and video world, it might be the beautiful and poignant cinematography at the heart of the film bringing this story so vividly to life. (Or it might simply be the ending and that powerful final scene.)
Regardless of what about the film “gets” you, if you do feel its effects linger and desire to know more about how it was shot, what cameras and lenses were used, and generally how Scorsese and DP Rodrigo Prieto pulled off this powerful revisionist Western classic, here’s everything we know about its cinematography.
What Camera Did They Use for 'Killers of the Flower Moon'?
Let’s start with the most burning question for all of those camera heads out there. No, Killers of the Flower Moon was not shot on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K. We know, it's a great and affordable camera, but for this feature, Scorsese and Prieto were a bit more ambitious than you and your buddies shooting a horror short over the weekend.
According to an interview with Prieto with the Motion Picture Association, Killers of the Flower Moon was shot on several different cameras which blended together celluloid and digital.
For their film cameras, Scorsese and Prieto used Arricam LT and Arricam ST cameras with Kodak 5207 film for their daytime exterior shots, and then Kodak 5219 for their night sequences.From a digital side, the team used a Sony Venice for additional night sequences which needed extra low-light sensitivity. There are also reports that the iconic gushing oil shot at the beginning of the film was shot with a Phantom camera which was set to 700 frames per second to really capture that slow feeling of euphoria and excitement that sets the story in motion.
Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto on the set of 'Killers of the Flower Moon'
What Camera Was Used for the Newsreel Footage?
Before we move on to explore what lenses were used in the film, we should also talk about one more camera. In Killers of the Flower Moon, there’s a sequence that is staged as old newsreel footage in the style of the time. From an Indiewire interview, for this sequence in particular Prieto has shared that it was shot on a 1917 Bell & Howell camera, which would have been an authentic camera to the time.
This Bell & Howell camera came from Scorsese’s personal collection and, with the help of image technology specialist Tommy Rose, it was used with some old anamorphic Petzval lenses to help recreate an accurate rendition of what still and film imagery would look like from the era.
While not a major part of the film’s production or cinematography overall, it’s a really cool and authentic sequence that does so much to help transport audiences into the early post-World War I era. Plus, for collectors and history buffs, it’s a neat piece of history brought back to life.
The Bell & Howell camera used in 'Killers of the Flower Moon'
Credit: Tommy Rose
The Lenses Used on 'Killers of the Flower Moon'
As for the lenses used on Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese and Prieto coupled their Arricam LT and Arricam ST cameras with anamorphic Panavision T-series lenses, which were detuned to help reduce sharpness and to add warmer flares and look overall.
In the same interview with the Motion Picture Association, Prieto gives some interesting insights into how he used these different camera and lens combos with some unique lighting setups to help accurately recreate the lighting you would actually experience in this locale and time period.
“For some night scenes, instead of creating moonlight, I used industrial cranes with an array of light bulbs in 30 x 20 frames for the dance scene in the main street in Fairfax. These light bulbs emulated how the Osage lit their own streets because they were scared of what people were doing. They put these ‘fraid lights’ strung between two poles with wire and light bulbs. I used that inspiration for the night lighting.” — Prieto tells the Motion Picture Association.
Prieto and his team also made heavy use of natural sunlight in the film to help create a naturalistic and authentic look and feel to the film even in the interior scenes. By adding spotlights into the houses, Prieto, as would Osage in the period, would let sunlight bounce around the room for a subdued, but natural environment.
One of the modified T Series lens used for 'Killers of the Flower Moon'
Credit: Tommy Rose
The Filmmaking of 'Killers of the Flower Moon'
Overall, while the technical aspects of the cameras and lenses used on Killers of the Flower Moon are indeed interesting, they’re only a small part of what makes the film so great and powerful. A tragedy at its heart, Killers explores some of the most horrific elements of the murderers and crimes committed against the Osage Nation in the 1920s.
The story, with the help of its brilliant performances, direction, and cinematography, is really what will linger the longest—which is the true hallmark of a great film.
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