Baden Baden is Rachel Lang’s first feature length movie. I previously collaborated with her on two shorts films: “For you I will fight” (Pour toi je ferai Bataille) et “White turnips make it hard to sleep” (Les Navets Blancs empêchent de dormir).
On Baden Baden, we have decided to tell the story using mainly two types of shots. On one hand, statics framedshots, wide and composed. From the beginning,the idea of embedding in the film the architecture and construction was key. And on the other hand, close‐ups shots on the character of Ana, moving, soft and perhaps, sensual. Those two kind of shots separate the objective point of view from the subjective one, from the intimacy to the social, from the idea to feelings.
To make the close-up shots, I used two Optimo zooms from Angenieux, the 28-76 and the 45-120. The alliance of the blur and the organic distortion helped to built a round image. The lenses used broke the digital sharpness and emphasized the nuances of the skin. This softness encompassed the feel good and warmth spirit of Ana, the main character who was, at the time, crossing the summer heatwave.
For the wide static shots, I used wide Zeiss Master Primes lenses, 16mm and 21mm in which the distortions are almost void but remain sharp. Its sharpness hold objectivity and give it a theatrical feel. This was particularly true with the wide 16mm, that we used to shoot in the bathroom, one of the recurring and central location in the film.
These two kind of lenses were used for very different scenes. They were complementary. I used diffusion filters on the Zeiss Master Prime to harmonize the texture.
Using this equipment was actually very pleasant, it wears on the shoulder well. They are compacts and have a tight fit, you can tune the shot easily and quickly. Using them with a Red Epic make a compact and well balanced camera. To summarize, these lenses insured efficiency on set and fluidity.
Rachel Lang won the best short film award “White turnips make it hard to sleep” at the 26th Romantic film festival in Cabourg in 2012, we had the chance to shoot with it which gave a real tonality to the picture.
You are famous for being a “climbing cinematographer”, regularly shooting in remote areas, at super high altitudes, in extreme conditions… Bringing your equipment at the edge of their limits, you must have very strict expectations. What are your main concerns when you select your equipment (weight, reliability, solidity etc.)?
In the early days it was a function of mostly weight. It wasn’t possible to climb the walls without pairing down to the absolute essentials. Now I go for a combination of the size and weight but also the cinematic quality the cameras and lenses will produce. It’s become a new athletic endeavor to carry a little extra weight in order to bring back higher end images from these remote high altitude places.
Your nominated or awarded features and documentaries (Meru and Sherpa in 2015, Into the mind in 2013 etc.) with Camp4collective, Sherpa films, National Geographic and your numerous commercials (for The North Face, Apple etc.) became popular for their rare images and their aesthetic and cinematic quality. What are you looking for when you prepare your film equipment wishlist? What kind of style do you particularly look for?
These days I love to try to use equipment that will let me capture the human stories and landscapes in a way that people have not seen before. Its rare to be able to get a high end cinema zoom lens into position on Himalayan rock face or a larger camera with more dynamic range and frame-rate options. My cinematography style blends great human moments shot in real time with key audio with more stylized exploration of natural light and landscape.
In general, what are the main criteria that define your choice of lenses on a project? Can you let us know more about your approach between prime lenses and zoom lenses?
For lenses, I love both prime and zoom lenses and whenever possible I use higher end PL mount cinema quality glass. Often the situations I’m in dictate zoom lenses such as the Angénieux lightweight zoom lenses so I don’t miss the action and still have the quality of a prime.
With Angénieux lenses specifically I’ve used the Optimo Style 16-40 on almost every project recently and also the Optimo Style 30-76 and 25-250. There really aren’t any other zoom lenses that have the same look and feel for me and are as lightweight for my applications. I’ve come to love the warm color tones, the way they flare when you want them to when pointed into the sun and how sharp the images are.
What were the most extreme conditions you had to face and how did the Angénieux lenses respond to that? What particular moments will you remember most during a shooting?
I’ve seen the Optimo Style 16-40 put up with sub-zero temps in the high mountains as well as wet and nasty jungle conditions. Recently we were shooting a National Geographic feature story in the jungles of Nepal about a culture of people who hunt honey on steep cliff sides The lens got wet and covered in smoke, honey and attacked by gaint bees while dangling 300ft in the air on the cliff face. It held up to a month of this kind of abuse. Also while in the arctic for a film for The North Face we often used the Optimo Style 25-250 directly on the ice and it survived. I’m known as a gear killer but have never been able to break a Angénieux lens.
What other equipment (camera, primes etc.) do you use for shooting?
I mostly shoot with RED digital cinema camera and Sony A7 when I have to super light (you can also PL mount to an A7). For prime lenses I used Zeiss master primes and Cooke S4 mini quite a bit.
Thank you very much Renan for your time ..