Yesterday, the 94th Academy Awards nominations were released after what can be considered another turbulent year for cinema, with the effects of the pandemic still raging on. With theaters closing and productions stalling, we’ve yet to return to a complete sense of normality.
However, I said turbulent because, with the lows, there were also highs. Who would have guessed that just a year after 2020, we’d have a film becoming the sixth highest-grossing film of all time, especially when restrictions are still ultra-tight in some parts of the world?
Nonetheless, with what could be made over the last year, we were treated with some beautiful-looking films. Let’s dive into the behind-the-scenes of this year’s nominees and see how the biggest films were shot on film and digital.
The Power of the Dog
12 Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (2), Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Sound, Best Original Score
Director: Jane Campion
Cinematographer: Ari Wegner
Shot On: ARRI ALEXA Mini LF, Panavision APO Panatar Lenses
In an interview with IndieWire, Ari Wegner talks about the locations,
The environment out there is wild. It’s so devastatingly beautiful, but the wind is insane and the sun is intense. New Zealand is like the brightest place. Your brain glitches with the environment. If you only just start thinking about how to capture [it] the first time you get there, you’re definitely going to leave behind beautiful things.
– Ari Wegner
10 Nominations: Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best VFX, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hair-styling, Best Costume Design, Best Adapted Screenplay
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cinematographer: Greig Fraser
Shot On: ARRI ALEXA LF IMAX, ARRI ALEXA Mini LF IMAX, Panavision H-Series, and Ultra Vista Lenses
On the films unique take of shooting on digital but transferring to film, Greig Fraser tells ASC,
We weren’t sure in the early days if we would shoot film or digital, and our extensive testing included 35mm, 65mm 5-perf, 65mm 15-perf, digital 35, digital full frame, and digital 65. We found digital was much closer to the look we wanted, but we also wanted some of the organic feel of film.
I’d been talking to [FotoKem senior colorist and ASC associate member] Dave Cole for many years about taking a digital master, shooting it out to film, and then scanning it to do the final grade. (Fraser worked with Cole on Vice). We finally tested that on Dune, and it gave us the perfect balance.
West Side Story
7 Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Sound
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cinematographer: Janusz Kamiński
Shot On: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 with Panavision C-Series Lenses. Panavision Panaflex Millennium with Panavision T-Series Lenses
The idea was to have a mix of headlights and brake lights shining through at intervals. Audiences never actually see vehicles, they only see the lights.
The idea was, ‘What if the location was just below the overpass, and the cars illuminated the windows as the fight happens?’ And as the fight intensifies, we speed up the lights coming from outside to the point where it becomes this wild visual element of moving lights. There are flares and shadows and it’s this violent fight.
Steven [Spielberg] wanted to create that sense of emotional disturbance, not just through the actors and music. The shadows were interesting because shadows are usually dangerous. They create drama. Flares create drama, colors create drama, and all those elements were used to supplement the drama of the scene.
– Janusz Kamiński
7 Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Song, Best Sound
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cinematographer: Haris Zambarloukos
Shot On: ARRI ALEXA Mini LF, Panavision System 65 Lenses
Haris Zambarloukos tells Entertainment Weekly about the project,
We have worked in black and white in the past—sections of our films have had black and white. Death on the Nile starts in black and white, the first ten minutes. So, it was a language we knew well, and our mutual love of black and white is for similar reasons.
So, when I read it, I did suggest to Ken that straight away, one of the first things we talked about was, ‘Should we do the contemporary part in color, and [the past in] black and white?’ He was like, ‘I’ve been thinking the same things too.’
– Haris Zambarloukos
6 Nominations: Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Original Song
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Cinematographer: Robert Elswit
Shot On: ARRI ALEXA Mini, ARRI ALEXA XT Plus, Panavision Millennium DXL2, Panavision PVintage Lenses, Panavision Ultra Speed MKII SLZ11 Lenses
In a chat with The Wrap, Robert Elswit says about the tennis matches,
We wanted to do it a little differently. We certainly didn’t want it to look like the two-dimensional tennis that you see on TV. Because that was actually going to be on a monitor that Richard is watching from inside the stadium.
So, we would stay behind the baseline and we didn’t want to do Steadicam shots in which we were on the court. So, we did it with four cameras, longer lenses, but staying behind the baseline so you could see the speed and power of the hitting. It was pretty bread-and-butter. Not too fancy.
– Robert Elswit
Don’t Look Up
4 Nominations: Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Original Screenplay
Director: Adam McKay
Cinematographer: Linus Sandgren
Shot On: Aaton Penelope with Kowa Cine Prominar Lenses, ARRICAM LT and ARRICAM ST with Atlas Orion and Fujinon Premier Cabrio Lenses
Drive My Car
4 Nominations: Best Picture, Best International Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay
Director: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
Cinematographer: Hidetoshi Shinomiya
Shot On: ARRI ALEXA Mini, Zeiss Ultra Prime, and Angenieux Optimo Lenses
4 Nominations: Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cinematographer: Dan Laustsen
Shot On: ARRI ALEXA 65, ARRI ALEXA LF, ARRI ALEXA Mini LF, ARRI Signature Prime Lenses
Dan Laustsen tells the Academy,
We like single-source lighting, not too much fill light, just deep black shadows and trying to paint with light as much as we can—and using the camera as a painting tool, as well.”
– Dan Laustsen
3 Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Shot On: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2, Panavision C-Series, and Pathé Freres Lenses
It wasn’t like I was doing X amount new job. We definitely lean into each other a lot more, because we do a lot more scouting together. There’s a lot more technical stuff I’ve gotta be on top of. So there was, I would say, some slightly enhanced responsibilities, but creatively it was the same way we worked on Phantom Thread.
I did Munich with Steven Spielberg, I was the gaffer on that. And, you know, Steven tends to call out all of his lenses. Like, ‘You know what? I want to be on a 50mm here.’
Paul is very much the same way. And it’s not like my way or the highway. I mean, Colin and myself have a lot of influence on that decision, choosing lenses or camera positions. But, he starts with putting a stake in the ground and saying, ‘Hey look, I’m thinking this,’ and then we build off of that idea.
In Phantom Thread or in this movie, he’d be like, ‘What do you think?’ Well, we’d do a lot of scouting and I’d be like, ‘I think we should light through the windows.’ Okay, cool. And that will be the extent of the technical conversation . . . the rest would end up in my lap, as far as fill levels and contrast ratios.
I mean, he would have opinions. The thing about working with Paul is that his fingerprint is on every aspect of the movie. If you go back to Phantom Thread, he’s talking about wardrobe, set decoration, the way particular items are laid out on the table. It’s that level of it.
He’s involved head to toe in the whole thing. I mean, he timed this movie. Ultimately, the final timing and how the picture looks is all in his wheelhouse. And, I think it’s great. It’s really great to see someone who has a very concise vision that strings through the entire picture.
– Michael Bauman
3 Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay
Director: Sian Heder
Cinematographer: Paula Huidobro
Shot On: Sony CineAlta Venice, ARRI Signature Prime Lenses
On choosing the Sony Venice as the camera package, Paula Huidobro says to ASC,
We were attracted to the resolution of the large format and the sharpness of the image without it appearing harsh. The Signature lenses are quite beautiful for portraits, with their depth of field and creamy look.
– Paula Huidobro
The Tragedy of Macbeth
3 Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Actor, Best Production Design
Director: Joel Coen
Cinematographer: Bruno Delbonnel
Shot On: ARRI ALEXA LF, ARRI ALEXA Mini LF, Cooke S7/i, and Fujinon Premista Lenses
On the look of the film, in an interview with ASC, Bruno Delbonnel said,
The initial question with Joel was how to put the theatrical form inside a film. We arrived at the idea of a “haiku”—to strip everything down to essentials, taking out all ornaments. Then, we started to think about applying that idea to the form, the narrative, the set.
We tried to reduce spaces to their purest simplicity, just like a haiku. We would ask, ‘What is a room?’ It’s four walls, a door, a window, and nothing else. We sought the simplest forms of a staircase, a corridor, a wall. There is almost no furniture in Macbeth’s castle.
But I didn’t want to be ‘nostalgic’ about old black-and-white movies. Quite the opposite. I was looking for the intensity that a very sharp image gives to close-ups. We used large format because I wanted to get a very sharp 4K image.
When you do a close-up in 1.37, you fill the screen. The set disappears, and you bring the face and the text to the forefront. Of course, close-ups don’t exist in theater—they are pure cinema.
– Bruno Delbonnel
A few more creative gems for you aspiring filmmakers:
Cover image via Warner Bros.