Ali Abbas Zafar
Arthur Zurawski PSC
Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma, Randeep Hooda.
“The main advantage was the size and weight. I could easily use it even with steadicam when the very quick changing of focal length was necessary. And another advantage is amazingly short the close focus distance - 0.63m. With this feature I was treating this lens also almost like macro lens. All very close/ macro shots I done with this glass.”
– What were the artistic choices imposed by Ali Abbas Zafar to shot your last feature film, Sultan? What kind of look did you particularly look for?
The main goal was to portray the main character in more natural way. The indian audience is familiar with Salman Khan specific look but this time director wanted to portray him as a real guy walking on this earth.
So we decided to avoid typical bollywood grammar whenever it was possible. For me the average bollywood film is very bright, colors are usually very saturated and ultra slow motion and super wide angle is the part of this language. In Sultan basically I desaturated some colours and the contrast did much more tuned down. The composition of the frame was mostly not central and by doing it our lead character was better associated with the environment. Also camera was doing only the most necessary movements without being the another running hero.
– Could you please explain us why you have decided to shot Sultan in anamorphic?
After first reading of the script I was very determined to shoot on anamorphic. I wanted a rich image filled with the maximum amount of data and covering the full sensor. Also there is something that by default gives you a more cinematic look. The audience is very experienced now and they feel that something bigger is happening when watching anamorphic images. And this film was designed as a big, epic movie.
Before each movie I am testing all the lenses I have in mind. Even if I was testing them before I am doing it again to compare them and check how they work for a new film.
So this time I was testing few different anamorphic sets: the newest and the older ones. During the screening I explained to Ali what and why is my choice and he liked it.
There was only one concern about wide angle view. In my set the widest lens was 35mm and it was a little not enough. I started to convince the producer about the necessity of buying a new lens and finally he agreed to buy Ultra Wide Anamorphic Zoom 19-36. After two month just few days before the shoot happily I got the brand new lens from Zeiss.
Its very important for me to get full understanding from the director about all technical issues. If he or she will know all limits we have to work within all creative process is more conscious.
– Can you let us know more about your approach between prime lenses and zoom lenses?
It depends for what you using the lens. The difference between prime and zoom sometimes is quite significant. Always I am just thinking about the look on the big screen and then I am trying to find the best glass to achieve this desired feel. So, mostly the prime lens is just better because his focal lenght is fixed and the light power (f-stop) is big. I may work with the depth of field very precisely and control it according to the shot. All decisions about placing the camera should be very conscious because all factors like distance from the actor, background, foreground makes your image unique and special. And of course the primes are much smaller in general.
And there is something not clearly explainable with primes. When You have zoom it looks so easy to change your frame and suddenly you trying to play with it. With prime you have to decide and be fully confident. After that I am just working with light and designing all elements in frame not having the desire to change the focal length … just a little or maybe wider or maybe not really….
. I like quick decision and not rethinking because I feel its stopping the filming process.
But there are shots or entire scenes where I have to use zoom. Sometimes because I need to keep changing focal length during the shot to achieve some required feeling of movement together with moving camera on any possible device. Or I need very long lens and mostly the long zoom is the best choice for technical (and economical reason).
Another reason is just flexibility during production and this also push me to adapt myself with the final look which gonna be just different because of zoom. When for example during some remote shoot my assistants can’t carry many prime lenses because of size and weight of the luggage – the only option is to be equipped with 2 or 3 zooms covering all needed focal lengths.
– You have been one of the firsts to shot with this new anamorphic lens in India. Could you please give us your impression regarding this lens?
My first impression was that this lens is so small. Extremely tiny and very light weight. 2.2 kg only ! Additionally there is no breathing during focusing.
– What are the main advantages brought by the Optimo 56-152 on the set? What are its limits? Is there any particular scene that you feel you could not have done without this zoom?
The main advantage was the size and weight. I could easily use it even with steadicam when the very quick changing of focal length was necessary.
The only limit is the light power. 2 f-stops darker than my prime lenses.
And another advantage is amazingly short the close focus distance – 0.63m. With this feature I was treating this lens also almost like macro lens.
All very close/ macro shots I done with this glass.
– Which equipment have you used with the Optimo 56-152? Camera? Primes? Other zoom lenses? Adapters?
My basic gear was two bodies of Alexa XT. Additionally all aerial shots I did with Red Dragon. Some ultra high speed shots with Phantom Flex 4K.
My prime set was Zeiss Master Anamorphic lenses: 35, 50, 75, 100. Additionally I was filming with Optimo 24-290 with anamorphic adaptor.
For one scene exclusively I change the format for spherical and used Leica Summilux-C.
– What were the most extreme condition you had to face on the set and how did the Optimo 56-152 respond to that? What particular moments will you remember most from the shooting of Sultan?
There were many quite extreme conditions while this shoot. Physically there was dust coming from mud during working on kusti-wrestling scenes . I was really worried how it effect our gear. But after every day cleaning this lens still was working without any issue and I could’t hear any voice of crushed dust between the rotating pieces.
From other hand there were risky moments when shooting in studio on high speed mode. I had to keep this lens full open. I was very afraid about the focus. My focus puller Srini Vas is very precise but when I was giving him so extreme task in action shots it was also matter of luck to have sharp images.
But really I may say that this lens is very good in full open f-stop also. One interesting feature is that it gives you the green tint when you bumping it with Master Anamorphic. But this is easily adjustable during the grading.
– You’ve already shot few years back Jackpot then Mardaani, two Indian productions.
All these 3 film were different in terms of story and look. And always my approach was unique and dedicated only for specific requirements. When I am starting new film I am trying to forgot about all my experiences from the past. I am treating it as my first film ever. Asking myself the basic questions again and again.
– What are your links with this country? You must have learnt many things from these Indian experiences, mustn’t you?
In India I have many friends from industry but also many not involved in film making at all as well. It gives me perspective of the local audience and brings closer to the everyday indian life.
I am also quite close to Prithvi Theatre and all those people makes my indian experience deeper and wider.
– How would you qualify the Indian cinematic touch?
Always this question looks easy to answer but then I am trying to find another reply because maybe this is not so obvious for me like before.
I must’t generalise about indian cinema because it is a just huge phenomenon and the countless number of films are being released every year.
From one side after watching the main stream pictures with big heroes one may say it is fully saturated, filled with colours, movement, sound and music stuff. Full of incredibly good and always innovative action, great and not reachable out of india dance sequences filmed on fairy tale gorgeous monster back drops.
And from another side there are great independent films having no space for screenings because all of them are occupied by block busters.
During the shoot of Sultan I was invited for special screening Ram Singh Charlie dir. Nittin Kakkar. Great intimate story about circus artists with Kumud Mishra as the lead character. Small budget. Filmed very simply. I liked this story a lot but probably because of low budget and lack of huge promotions this movie will be not known for bigger audience. I believe that it will jump out on some festivals.
– What are your next projects? Still in India or back to Poland?
I am based in Poland and I do want to make films in my native language. Now everything depends how the next projects will be progressing. I am reading some scripts from different places and from India as well and lets see which one will be the most interesting and closer to be finalised.
– Will you attend Camerimage this year?
I am going to attend Camerimage this year. My Polish Society of Cinematographers is preparing some special events as usually. The festival is a very good and only and easy going place to meet colleagues from all the world and the best directors as well. Chatting personally and exchanging experience with other cinematographers is the best way to improve your craft and relations with people. Also you may meet many other guys from industry: camera and light vendors and check the newest equipment they are showing.