Wednesday, August 20, 2008
70% of Bourne Ultimatum was shot with 2 Nikon SLR Zoom Lenses.
Taken from: American Cinematography Magazine Sept 2007 Edition.
Cinematographer Oliver Wood circles the globe for The Bourne Ultimatum, the third installment of the action franchise.
Based on a character created by Robert Ludlum, the Bourne trilogy — The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum — focuses on a somewhat more cerebral agent than those found in most action movies, one who is always several steps ahead of those pursuing him. All three pictures were shot by Oliver Wood, who notes that “the franchise has an unscripted, spontaneous quality, like we were lucky the cameras happened to be rolling at the right moment. That applies not only to the cinematography, but also to the acting and the way the scenes are blocked.” This was especially true on the recently released Bourne Ultimatum, which reunited Wood with Bourne Supremacy director Paul Greengrass. Filmed on location around the world and featuring elaborate chases and other set pieces, the project commenced shooting last winter with a script that was still being hammered out and an early August release date looming on the horizon. “The way you make movies today is so fast,” says Wood. “An all-digital post compresses time.
Everyone knows you can change things right up till the last moment. That can make it hard for a cinematographer to build in a look, but on this film that was okay. The style of these movies is a little offbeat, anyway.” In Bourne Ultimatum, amnesiac CIA agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) continues his quest to discover his identity and remember details from his past. This time the search takes him to Moscow, Paris, Madrid, London, Tangier and New York, and his efforts are hampered by the fact that he is wanted by law-enforcement agents around the world, and by a group of deep-cover CIA agents supervised by Noah Vosen (David Strathairn). Greengrass’ preference for imagery that has a spontaneous feel gave Wood some leeway, in the sense that a fluorescent interior could go a little green, a composition didn’t have to be perfect, and focus could be a bit off for part of a shot, and it would all work within the overall visual style.
“Paul trusts his designers and cameramen,” says Wood. “He’s more interested in what the actors are doing and the story of the scene than the camera angles.” Wood and his crew captured the action in an almost documentary fashion, giving Greengrass and the editors plenty of coverage options in the cutting room. The cinematographer emphasizes that it requires an extremely skilled camera crew to create the illusion that something just “happened,” and he credits his operators and assistants for their talent and professionalism. “I worked with a mostly English and American crew on Bourne Ultimatum, and they were very attuned to the situation — they’d done a movie before, if you know what I mean. We were also lucky to have very good people on our second unit, especially [director/stunt coordinator] Dan Bradley and [cinematographers] Mark Moriarty and Igor Meglic, and we kept close contact with them.
“The position of the director of photography nowadays is more that of an organizer and administrator,” he continues. “I’m brought into discussions very early on, and I go on prep whenever possible. But during shooting I might have to leave the set to prepare other stages, and I need to know I can rely on excellent A-camera operators who can run the camera department while I’m gone.” On Bourne Ultimatum, as on Bourne Supremacy, Wood’s right-hand men were A-camera operator Klemens Becker and B-camera operator Florian Emmerich. With Greengrass, the action is always covered with two or more cameras, usually handheld. “Sometimes we’d have a second camera, or a third and fourth, on a dolly with a 12:1 zoom, but we’d set it up to have that kind of loose feeling,” says Wood. Working handheld “is physically very demanding work. Being on a dolly or crane is a lot easier than picking up the camera and running around, zooming. Klemens and Florian are great. I would have been burned out in a few days trying to do what they did!” The cinematographer pulled focus early in his career and expresses a particular appreciation of that job, especially on films as kinetic as this one. “Pulling focus can be the most nightmarish position on the set.
There are so many sleepless nights. Very few people know how hard it is to be a focus puller.” “On most shows everything has to be sharp, but Paul and Oliver gave everybody freedom,” says A-camera 1st AC Birgit “Bebe” Dierken, who also worked with Greengrass on United 93 (shot by Barry Ackroyd, BSC; see AC June ’06). “At first it’s hard to let things go out of focus, but after a couple of weeks you get used to it and realize it gives you creative input. Suddenly you’re throwing into focus what you think is important, following your own instincts and those of the operator; if I felt a hand in the foreground should be more dominant, I’d focus on that. Oliver is very supportive, and he has so much enthusiasm for the job that it’s contagious. It makes everyone more excited and willing to experiment.” The production’s camera package was supplied by Arri Media in London. The main cameras — Arricam Lites and Arri 235s — were focused remotely with Arri’s LCS-3 wireless remote-focus system. Operators could control the zooms while shooting handheld, and the focus pullers would use their monitors and judgment to control focus.
The picture was shot in Super 35mm full frame, without hard mattes. “I like to have everything on the negative,” says Wood. “I reframe things in the digital intermediate [DI] quite often.” The production carried Cooke S4 primes lenses and an Arri LWZ 15.5-45mm zoom, but the crew “mostly used lightweight zooms that I had specially made from two Nikon digital still-photography lenses, a 28-70mm and an 80-200mm,” says Wood. “Arri in Munich converted them to lightweight cinema-style zooms, and they work quite well. The Nikon glass is brilliant.” Dierken notes, “We called them the Oliver Lenses, and they helped the operators shoot everything handheld with the documentary approach Oliver and Paul wanted. Unlike other zooms, which are either too heavy or too slow, these zooms opened up to T2.8 and were quite light. Arri made the housings in six weeks, and the lenses turned out to be very sharp and the contrast was quite good. [Still-photography] lenses turn the opposite of the way cine-style lenses do, which could have been unpleasant if we’d used a normal follow focus, but with the LCS-3 we were able to just reverse the gears.
The lenses worked so well that we ended up shooting 70 percent of the movie with them, and now Arri is making more!” Wood shot Bourne Ultimatum on two Kodak Vision2 emulsions, 250D 5205 and 500T 5218. “I used to rate Kodak’s 500-speed stocks at [EI] 320 or 400,” he says, “but with the Vision2 stocks I don’t need to get quite such a thick negative to get the same result, so I actually rated them at what was written on the can.” One of the major set pieces in the film concerns a chase over rooftops and through a series of apartment buildings in Tangier, Morocco, overlooking the large marketplace called the Medina. Moriarty, the 2nd-unit cinematographer in England and Morocco, explains, “Bourne is following two people from afar, so we were on the rooftops about 70 feet up.
The special-effects department positioned a massive cable rig for the camera that spanned six buildings; it was held up on one end by a crane and on the other by the roof of a building. Dan Bradley likes to do setups many different ways and run at least three cameras for every take, so we got a great deal of coverage.” Moriarty notes that such work in a place like Morocco can present problems he wouldn’t expect to encounter in some other countries. “We wanted to get a Chapman Lenny 2 crane on the roof for some shots, and we all agreed we could do it, but then all of a sudden someone got cold feet.
The crane weighs a lot, and you can’t just check the building specs in Morocco like you can in Britain or America. The buildings are at least 100 years old, and they don’t have all that information.” The house-to-house chase also has Bourne jump from a rooftop into a window 12' below. He smashes through wooden shutters into a kitchen, and the chase continues through the apartment. This, too, was covered numerous ways, and Moriarty was particularly pleased with the subjective angle captured by Damon’s stunt double, who really made the jump with an Arri 235 strapped to his body. “I don’t know how it’s going to be cut together, but that shot really gives you the reality of someone taking that leap,” he says. For the action inside the building, Moriarty had to make the best of certain limitations. “We couldn’t bring in big units — you can’t even get cars near that area,” he says. “The largest lights we could use were 4Ks. Since all the buildings are in close proximity, we could put some of these units in windows of other buildings and make it look like the kind of direct, intense sunlight they have there. It was restrictive, but it worked well.” Inside the apartment, the crew built a rig into the ceiling (upside-down track, essentially) that could guide an operator following an actor from room to room, around corners, into another room and across to the next building.
One of the shots Moriarty is most pleased with made use of a very low-tech rig. When Bourne runs across a roof and into a doorway leading to a walkway to the roof of the next building, it was important to be able to let Damon run at full speed with a camera staying ahead of him. “Obviously, you can’t have an operator running backwards as fast as a man running forward,” says Moriarty. “There was really no room for tracks in the doorway, plus you would’ve seen them in the shot. So instead, we rigged a two-wheel upright trolley, modified it with scaffolding poles and strapped an operator into it; we had three grips pulling it backward while Matt was running forward for about 50 meters. I’m quite proud of that shot and hope it’s in the film. Sometimes the simplest rigs work the best.” Gaffer John “Biggles” Higgins recalls that things got a little heated during the Morocco shoot. “There are good lighting people in Morocco who are very efficient, friendly and extremely helpful, but we were shooting during Ramadan, which wasn’t the best time to be in the area. During Ramadan Muslims don’t eat or drink during sunlight hours, and smokers aren’t supposed to smoke, either. Some fights broke out in the crowds around us when it was 3 in the afternoon and people hadn’t had a drink of water since 5 in the morning.
There was no threat to the crew, but we kept police with us when we worked.” Of course, any country offers its own challenges to a production intent on shooting big action sequences in crowded locations. Higgins cites a scene set in London’s Waterloo Station, where Bourne has arranged to meet a reporter who might have valuable information. Their meeting is cut short when a mob of agents swarms the pair. “Waterloo is one of the busiest stations in England, maybe all of Europe,” says Higgins. “So many people pass through there each day that we just couldn’t have any cables running through.” Wood adds, “We could only shoot between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and it was midwinter, so the sun was down by 3:30. At first I thought we could float lots of lighting balloons, but they forbade me to do it. So a few weeks before we were scheduled to shoot there, I went in at 4 p.m. and took some stills and light readings, and I discovered that even when the sun was down, the [practicals] in the station gave me a T2.8, and I knew we could work with that if we had to.” This was mainly achieved by adding small bulbs to the station’s existing lights. “Everything had to be run on batteries, so all I had were two Image 80 Kino Flo packs on shopping carts and two smaller HMIs with Chimeras. I used those four lights to pick up various things in the shot. Sometimes I didn’t use them at all, and sometimes I’d string all four of them behind the camera just to provide a little ambience.”
Sometimes Wood found himself shooting in one country while one of the gaffers was prepping a location in another. He was in London while German gaffer Ronnie Schwarz was preparing a large space in Berlin (standing in for Moscow) for the opening scene of the movie. “It’s a huge scene,” says Wood. “It picks up where Bourne Supremacy left off, with Bourne wounded in Moscow, looking for a drugstore, and getting into an altercation with the police. We made snow and lit enormous areas of Berlin; people from other productions were calling up asking when we’d be finished, because we had every 18K in Germany! We also had HMIs, Maxi-Brutes and Dinos.
I like to mix cold and warm color temperatures and often gel lights to make them blend with sodium or mercury-vapor streetlights.” Schwarz suggested to Wood that they use Google Earth to work out their lighting plan for the sequence. “We could both sit at our computers and zoom in to satellite pictures of the streets and discuss exactly where we could put lights,” says Wood. “I’d say, ‘See where that red car is parked? Put a Condor two meters up from that.’ And Ronny would say, ‘We can’t get a permit that close to the other street, but we can do it three meters the other way.’ We could zoom in on areas and see every alley and every building in perfect detail.” Higgins was the gaffer on most of the stage work, which was filmed at Pinewood and Shepperton studios, and he used the Light by Numbers system to control all the instruments on set. “We had all the lights on dimmers, and with Light by Numbers we could go from day to night onstage in less than five minutes,” he says. “You can control everything with a PDA. It’s a fantastic tool.” Wood notes that he has encountered resistance to Light by Numbers from some gaffers in the U.K. and the U.S., and he thinks this is unfortunate. “I would love to bring Light by Numbers to the States, but some people in the business are reactionary and old-fashioned,” he says. “In some ways the film industry is like a dinosaur — way behind other industries in terms of technology.”
Light by Numbers was effective for all the stage work, he continues, particularly for the office, where the rogue agents led by Strathairn are headquartered. Full of desks, computers and people, portions of the space were surrounded by a TransLite of the Manhattan skyline. Depending on the time of day, the set was lit with rigs above, units outside and practicals inside. “With Light by Numbers, we could control all those lights from one spot,” says Higgins. “If Oliver wanted a little more light through one of the windows or a little less from a desk lamp, he could have it almost instantly.” Bourne Ultimatum climaxes with an elaborate car chase in the streets of New York, and many shots in this sequence were captured using a Go-Mobile, a picture-vehicle rig that was used on Bourne Supremacy, Dukes of Hazzard (see AC Web exclusive, Oct. ’05: www.theasc.com/magazine/oct05.htm) and other features. “The Go-Mobile is an ingenious thing, and we used it in three configurations,” says Meglic, who shot the second-unit work in New York. “For some shots we used the pod from the Go-Mobile on the RDV [remote drive vehicle], which diverts the basic car controls from the driver’s seat to the top of the vehicle, where the stunt driver sits. For other shots we attached the picture car to the Go-Mobile structure, and in the third configuration the front part of the car was removed, including the windshield, and the cameras got close to Matt in different positions — shooting through the steering wheel, for example. We didn’t drive it faster than 50 mph because it was the streets of New York, but it’s got a 500-horsepower engine and can go faster.
With it we could position a Technocrane that could get any kind of angle on Matt driving and go out toward another car in the chase. It enabled us to get a near-miss with another car coming just a couple of inches from the camera.”
Meglic used Arri 235s and 435s for most of his work, occasionally supplementing them with Eyemos. “We would slightly undercrank to about 22 fps — any slower would have been obvious,” he says. “But the Go-Mobile really helps make the audience feel like they’re right there. The objective was to make it look like we were catching the action by mistake, and that’s actually really hard to do. You’ve got to have the camera in the right position at the right time yet make it look like you weren’t expecting anything to happen!” Deluxe Laboratories in London processed most of the production’s footage, and although hi-def dailies were generated, Wood seldom viewed them. “When I watch dailies, I start to correct things that don’t need to be corrected,” he says. “In my younger days, I’d see dailies and lose my nerve and think, ‘That’s too dark,’ and then when I saw the print I’d kick myself for going brighter. I was lighting out of fear, and the only way to avoid that is by going with your gut feelings.” He did study negative reports to ensure the lenses were working fine and to check up on focus, and he also had Deluxe put his negative up on an analyzer to generate a set of timing lights. “I’ll usually watch dailies at the start just to see how the skin tones look, but once I know how an actor’s face works, I don’t want to see dailies again for the rest of the shoot.”
The cinematographer says he enjoys the new freedom created by the digital-intermediate (DI) process. “I hated the old lab days. When I came into the business in the early ’70s, I wanted to shoot video because of the control you have with it in post. I was banging the video drum, but it wasn’t good enough. I still think film is the best recording medium, and with a DI I can pull out more information and better information than I could with any of the digital formats I’ve tested. But I shoot film differently than I used to. I don’t use filters at all. The less glass you can put in front of the lens, the better, and I can do that kind of image correction in the DI.” He also makes a lot of lighting adjustments in post. “There’s a scene in this movie where Matt is sitting in an interrogation room with his head down, and you can’t see his eyes,” he says. “When we shot it, I tried to put an eyelight in, but I hated the way it made him look ‘lit.’ So I took it away, and in the DI we drew two windows around his eyes and created an eyelight. It worked very effectively and looked far less artificial than the real eyelight did.” On Bourne Ultimatum, there were occasionally frustrating moments in the DI because a lot of that work had to be done before material from reshoots and visual-effects houses became available. Working with colorist Stephen Nakamura at Technicolor Digital Intermediates in Burbank, Wood had to contend with the fact that “every other scene had a big black card that said, ‘Missing.’ So much of timing a movie is about blending.
I’ve shot sequences that were done half in a blizzard and half in full sunshine, and then I’d work with the timer to make it look consistent. That’s what timing is about. So when you’re missing a lot of shots, you’re limited in how much you can accomplish.” Nakamura adds, “If there are a lot of shots missing we can’t finalize a scene. Effects artists sometimes think their shots can just be cut in, but they still need to be color-corrected. It’s not enough for the shots to look good by themselves; the contrast and color have to work in the context of the surrounding shots.” Having said that, Nakamura adds, “I’ve used fewer windows and less video color correction for this film than for any movie I’ve graded in the past three years. It’s the look of the franchise — if there’s a flare or if something is a little soft, that’s okay.” “I think that in the end, as long as it’s cool the audience will go for it,” says Wood.
2.40:1 Super 35mm
Arricam Lite; Arri 235, 435; Eyemo
Nikon, Cooke and Arri lenses
Kodak Vision2 250D 5205, 500T 5218
Printed on Kodak Vision 2383