Behind the Lens

Shooting Thalia on

Shooting Thalia on “Dead Layer with Jeffrey Hagerman

When Jeffrey Hagerman was approached with the story for the short film “Dead Layer”, which features Cameron Douglas as a graffiti artist in New York City, he immediately envisioned capturing it in a larger format. Fresh off of the CBS show “Instinct” that shot on Panavision’s DXL in 8K full frame, Hagerman knew the larger format would allow him to both capture the wider world of the street art scene, but also allow him to move in close and isolate the difficult decisions the character would face.

Photo by Julia Biasi, shot on Leica M

Hagerman chose the RED DSMC2 Monstro camera and wanted to make maximum use of the VistaVision-sized sensor while framing in more

cinematic 2:1 aspect ratio. After testing a number of larger format lenses at New York rental house TCS, Hagerman and 1st AC Ben Spaner found the Leitz Thalia lenses had the look they were after.

“I was drawn to the Thalias for their color rendition and fall-off characteristics,” said Hagerman. “I work with Panavision lenses a lot and to me these feel like a cinematic progression of the Primos but in a larger format. The bokeh is very pleasing, especially on the larger format, and the fall off and micro-contrast create a three-dimensionality that reminds me of my classic Leica Noctilux 50mm f/1.0 still lens. That dimensionality was crucial to getting inside the world of the street artists.”

Photo by Julia Biasi, shot on Leica M

Hagerman’s extensive experience working with both the Panavision DXL and ARRI Alexa 65 cameras brought a familiarity to larger format that informed how he worked with the lenses. “Larger format has an inherently shallower feeling, so I was very comfortable with the T-stop on the Thalias. It’s important to have a larger T-stop, otherwise it can become difficult to tell the story from a depth of field perspective and from a 1st AC’s workability perspective.

“When thinking about composition I don’t look at the T-stop as much as the measurement of the actual depth of field that is available. In testing we determined that the Thalia 70mm T2.6 when used in 8K FF had a comparable horizontal angle of view to a 45/50mm in Super 35. Because the longer focal length has an inherently shallower depth of field, the usable depth of field the 70mm at T2.8 is comparable to a 45/50 at T2.0 on Super 35.

Photo by Julia Biasi, shot on Leica M

“We shot most of the film at either T2.8 or T4 with IRND filters. You don’t expect to see into the shadows at T2.8, but these lenses did. With the combination of the large format, the large photosites on the Monstro sensor, and a surprising clean 2000 ISO setting, we could shoot all night. I don’t feel that it limited my approach to lighting at all. In fact, there were times when I found myself stopping down to T4 because we could isolate the subject from the background so much and I needed to see more of the background, more of the world of street art that this film takes place in.”

Check out the trailer below:

Leitz Cine