I had the profound honor in the Summer of 2021 of presenting the Angénieux Special Encouragement Award to director of photography Pamela Albarran at the 74th Cannes Film Festival. Among the Angénieux delegation at the festival that year, I also met the masterful director of photography and now dear friend, Sophie Winquist Loggins. Sophie told me of her Swedish origins as a 10th generation Stockholmer and that she was based in the country. I had been fascinated by Swedish film and music culture for many years and I was curious to explore for myself the energy and sensibilities that had produced films like Clara Sola (DoP: Sophie Winquist Loggins), The Square, Triangle of Sadness, Fantastic Machine, The Seventh Seal, Sami Blood, Border and many more - and volumes of some of the world’s best storytelling singer songwriters. Angénieux opened the door to realizing that curiosity for me, by being an organization investing not only in cinema tools, but in the culture of cinema itself.
When co-director Kirsten Bode and I got a call from visionary California musician Ismay (Avery Hellman) in late 2022 about the possibility of bringing their new song “Stranger In The Barn” to life in cinematic form, our minds were aglow with ideas. Ismay’s music is rooted in a deep passion for storytelling and translating what it feels like to process the moments of our lives that test our spirit. Stranger In The Barn in particular confronts the nature of fear, offering a path to connect to our humanity in times of uncertainty, and in navigating our world today, we knew we needed to make this film. Ismay’s voice for us, also tapped into a wavelength of singer songwriter energy we’d heard coming out of Sweden, and so we thought, “what might happen if we brought this project to Stockholm in the middle of winter, and juxtaposed Americana sweetgrass mud-kickin’ cowgirl boots vibes ++with++ Swedish northern lights virtuoso artistry.” We were overjoyed to collaborate with the Stockholm based production company Sundays, and producers Linnéa Andersson and Helena Widinghoff and the result I’m proud to say, was both an artistic discovery of voice and an expansion of community, built around a vastly flexible & industry redefining Angénieux Optimo 12x in Ultra 35 mode (26 – 320mm, T3.1) from Ljud & Bildmedia Stockholm on an Arri Alexa Mini.
The music video was a very ambitious haul of complex setups across three athletic production days for all departments at Stockholm’s gorgeous and marvelously equipped, Independent Studios. In light of this, the only lens we ever considered was the Angénieux Optimo 12x. Helmed by 1st AC Sonja Gudmundsdotter and 2nd AC Axel Mothander, this project would simply not have been possible in this form without Angénieux.
I’ve been using the Optimo 12x for several years and I’ve become increasingly experienced in guiding it into verité environments on non-fiction films. I believe that extraordinary films are always a result of extraordinary effort, and the Angénieux Optimo 12x system has provided me countless opportunities to push boundaries of emotive possibility exploring new territory of method. Certainly, the camera becomes an expanded form factor from what I’d fit in my backpack; however, embracing the size of the camera, and conceptually leaning into the relationship that the camera (no matter it’s size) always catalyzes what happens in front of it, I’ve been amazed with the emotional power radiating through the glass onto the film. As well, the adaptive nature of such a wide focal range at incredible optical quality truly sets the Optimo 12x apart. This lens, coupled with a JL Fisher class dolly (ideally one driven by our dolly grip Dan Svan) offers the combination of a speed of workflow and iconic aesthetic unrivaled, completely in its own class.
Using this lens, without exaggeration, is a tangible experience akin to driving a yellow Aston Martin, and I believe how you feel is always going to inform how you move through the world and what you create. I believe it’s important to feel beautiful when imagining new possibilities. My previous experiences with the Optimo 12x: filming from moving cars, or amongst sensitive conversations, or in elevating stage performances, or even filming organic ceremonies, made for an easy choice building our approach on Stranger In The Barn around a single, all encompassing lens.
When I create any film, be it in a spirit of narrative, non-fiction, portraiture, or something of its own new form, I love to have a plan – but what matters most of all, is to cultivate and respond to the energy in the room and what the universe calls into being. Powerful films, in my opinion, have heart running through their every frame, and bringing this to life requires being adaptive emotionally, existentially, and technically. The Angénieux Optimo 12x has been exactly that lens on many of my films, and it once again exceeded my expectations on Stranger In The Barn.
With this film, every shot, in a Hitchcockian way, was storyboarded and choreographed in pre-production. However, we still managed to find new inspirations on set working with the Angénieux Optimo 12x because it allows one to be playful and discover new ideas in the moment. Everyone on this project was incredibly talented, and in particular I want to honor our set designer Melinda Urbansdotter, who built and led our carpenters through creating and sourcing every single production design element in the film. The rich worlds they built, both lifesize and miniature, were a filmmaker’s dream as much of the design work extended beyond the frame, allowing us to essentially document an alternate reality built for the film. It was truly amazing to be working with a lens that was able to respond to these stunning environments and new ideas on set at no cost to our production rhythm, which all made our approach even stronger.
As we used the lens, in Ultra 35 mode (26 – 320mm, T3.1) one is able to work with such an incredible focal range (helpful to us on the wide end filming in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio) at an impressively fast, T3.1. In this way, our gaffer Michael Wahlberg and electrics Viktor Vikström and Gabriel Brandholm were able to work at a pace using a vast array of LED sources from DMX control, consistent with our ambitions for workflow that would have been prohibitively restrictive with a slower lens and thereby larger lights. With relatively few crew members, lower output efficient Arri LED lights, and the Angénieux Optimo 12x, we were able to do this successfully with what would have alternatively meant a much bigger footprint before the advent of the Optimo 12x. It so happened that Ultra 35 was the right configuration for our production, yet one of the features I love most about the lens system is its multiple configurations from FF/VV, S35, and U35 available to find the ideal needs for image circle coverage, focal length, and aperture, among other dimensional specs.
With so many ways to use this lens, I find myself incorporating it into more and more productions of a wide range of energies, many of them quite organic. When Kirsten and I decided to film in Sweden, one of the first things we did was check the availability of Angénieux Optimo 12x lenses. With that foundation of cinema tools available from Ljud & Bildmedia Stockholm, we now call Sweden home, and we’re beyond pleased to share Stranger In The Barn with audiences. I’m so excited to continue to explore the possibilities of this lens and contribute to film culture, discovering human nature with it in Scandinavia and beyond.
Official Video: Stranger In The Barn
Rose Bush Instagram: @rosefromthewoods
Kirsten Bode Instagram: @koko_bode_photo_
Rose Bush portrait Photo Credits:
Photographer: Kirsten Bode
BTS Photo Credits:
Photographer: Åsa Riton
Sundays: Official Website
Sundays Instagram: @sundays.sweden
Ljud & Bildmedia