What camera and lenses did you use on The Prom?
The camera was an ARRI ALEXA Mini LF. I think this was the first feature where I used the Mini LF. The lenses were Full Frame Leitz Primes, Camtec Falcons and Tribe7 Blackwing7 Primes. Also Angenieux EZ Zooms.
How did you get the Leitz Prime set? The Prom was last year and Leitz Primes must have just come out, still with wet paint?
The way I got them is an oddly full-circle story. I did the short film Wake Up with Olivia Wilde in the fall of 2019. Rainer Hercher at Leitz was able to provide a test set. The combination of Leitz Primes and Sony VENICE was fantastic, especially in low light. I liked the way they opened up; they were fast. I was dealing with disparate levels of light from windows that I couldn’t control and I was moving very quickly. I liked how the Leitz Primes handled highlights. In that short, I also mixed Blackwing7s. I wanted to see whether I could mix them together.
Typically, I haven’t used just one set of lenses on a film in six years; I’ve mixed them. To me, every situation requires different tools. I learned that from Ed Lachman. I have to say that I never understood why you would painstakingly pick a lens set and then find yourself in a situation where that set wasn’t actually performing the way you wanted it to.
Working for Ed Lachman as an assistant involved lots of running. He’d call for a lens set that was still in the truck. “We should get the K35 Primes,” he’d say. So I’d run. And soon after: “Are my Panchros on the truck?” I’d reply, “Yes, your Panchros are on the truck.” And then I had to run to get them. There would be one hero lens set that everybody thought we were shooting the movie with, but then Ed kept switching lenses. I learned that from him. There’s no way I have to adhere to the so-called tradition of having to stick with one set of lenses for the whole movie.
On The Prom, and in general, do you have a lens plan when you’re prepping? As in: this scene is with this lens, that next scene is with that one, depending on mood, scene or script?
Sometimes it’s predetermined. I go in with a plan of knowing how I want to shoot. For example, on The Prom I wanted the world of these narcissistic Broadway actors to be associated with the Leitz Prime look: glitzy, glamorous, expensive. But I wanted aberrations when it came to the Indiana scenes; I wanted it to be a little raw, to feel more realistic. It’s hard to do. Sometimes, depending on the situation in the Indiana scenes, I would use the Falcons, but in some of the more theatrical scenes, I would use the Blackwing7s because I wanted to take advantage of what they did. That was the planned combination.
And then, when it actually came to shooting, I would improvise based on things that worked and didn’t work. So, it’s a combination of putting a plan together and then as time goes on, augmenting that plan based on what works or doesn’t work.
The opening number in front of the Broadway theater was with Leitz Primes?
Yes, the Broadway scene was with Leitz Primes. Their color rendition is great. Then towards the end of the movie, as things come together, it transitions back to those lenses. If you look at the last scene of The Prom, there are very few lens aberrations. It becomes clean again; it’s getting back to a stylized look. It’s like a celebration. I wanted the film to start somewhere. I wanted to transition to another place and then I wanted to have it all combined in the end.
The camera moves were excellent.
There was a lot of Steadicam; Ryan loves Steadicam. We had two great operators: Scott Sakamoto and Andrew Mitchell (who did most of the Steadicam.) Matt Stenerson was our First AC.
Was the opening night Broadway exterior shot on location?
The exterior was shot on a makeshift backlot in Downtown LA where our production designer Jamie Walker McCall built an amazing exterior one-block replica of 44th street.