Ain’t she pretty? This the the Arri ALEXA, and I’m very excited that we’ll get to use it as our primary camera on gone Elvis. I had a chance to play with the ALEXA recently at Tamberelli Digital, and I’ll be honest and say that I half hoped not to like it so much because it’s a pretty heavy body for our purposes, despite it’s relatively compact size. I don’t want to shoot hand held, which means we have some poor-man’s rigging to do if we’re going to film inside a real car on our budget.
We set up the camera in the Tamberelli engineering room with no lights other than the fluorescent practicals, and I was amazed at what I saw in the monitor — a tremendous amount of detail and really nice, gentle fall-off, even in hideous light. I tried out 85mm and a 35mm prime lenses, focusing on dark objects very close to the plane; and I could tell that we’d be able to get the kind of textures I’m hoping to see in this film, particularly in the close quarters of our heroine’s vehicle. We’ll be forced by time, budget, and physics to do a fair number of setups relying on one light and some carefully placed fill to do a lot of work, and the ALEXA’s 14 stops of latitude will go a long way toward making this possible without sacrificing the look.
The other thing I got all geeked up about was the absence of a white balance button. No such thing. You pick an approximate base temperature and then manually dial in the precise balance you want from there. This will be another blessing working on a tight schedule with a lean crew as we’ll be able to record actual settings and know from scene to scene how much we’re shifting in overall temperature.
Unexpected ALEXA Insight
I had lunch the other day with an old friend, screenwriter John Orloff, whose new film Anonymous, directed by Roland Emmerich, is coming out this September. John and I went to high school in L.A. together, and we find it damned amusing that we now live in the same tiny county in Upstate New York. I figured we’d catch up, talk shop, etc. but I didn’t expect to get an earful of ebullient praise for the Arri ALEXA, which was used to film Anonymous. “We shot with nothing but candles in one scene, and it was gorgeous!” John told me, excited in a way that is atypical for a writer; but as a graduate of UCLA’s film program, he knows quite a bit of tech.
I was very encouraged to hear that the ALEXA performed the way it did in low-light conditions for this major feature, giving me even more confidence about what we hope to achieve on gone Elvis. One of our challenges will be to shoot over about four days and make it look like all the action occurs in a single day. That means some careful scheduling as well as a prayer or two to the weather gods for relatively consistent conditions. We also have night scenes and some other challenging available-light locations that have had me doing mental math on luminance = bodies + trucking x time. “You’re not going to need it,” John assured me. “You’ll be amazed at what you get out of that camera.” Good to hear. Looking forward to it.