ARRIFLEX 416 on CAROL
Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel THE PRICE OF SALT and set in New York City in the early 1950s, CAROL centers on a high-stakes romance between Therese, an aspiring young photographer, and Carol, an elegant older woman stuck in a failed marriage. Director Todd Haynes and cinematographer Ed Lachman ASC, whose previous collaborations include FAR FROM HEAVEN, I’M NOT THERE and MILDRED PIERCE, opted to shoot in the Super 16 format. Lachman speaks here about his use of ARRIFLEX 416 cameras and an ARRI/ZEISS Master Zoom, provided by ARRI Rental New York.
What were your visual references for CAROL?
Todd didn’t want to emulate the look of noir or melodrama films from the period in which the story is set, with their heightened sense of reality, so we looked instead at the mid-century photo-journalists and art photographers who documented the stark reality of life just after the end of the war: a period of austere entrenchment and the beginning of the cold war. Many of these photographers were actually women, like Esther Bubley, Ruth Orkin, Helen Levitt and Vivian Maier, whose work was only recently discovered.
We also referenced an approach taken by the street and art photographer Saul Leiter, who used abstractions to form a sense of lyrical realism, shooting through windows, doorways, precipitation and reflections in mirrors. Inspired by that, we shot through car windows, diners, doors and glass, reflecting scattered streetlight and the winter weather – a view obstructed and inhibited for us as viewers looking in at the characters as they look outward, trying to emphasize their entrapment and emotional isolation.
How did these references lead you to the Super 16 format?
I was looking at how I could recreate the look of Ektachrome, a color film that was introduced in the mid-1940s and used by several of these street photographers. Super 16 lent itself to that because if you shoot on 35 mm or even 2-perf today, Kodak have made such wonderful advancements to film stocks that they’re basically grainless. In the past with Super 16 you would have had to go through a blow-up, but being able to scan it and go straight into a digital file, you can really maintain the full quality of 16 mm, while keeping the grain that I felt helped bring out the emotion in the performances and also situated us in the time period. The other thing was that we were in real locations, often quite cramped locations, so using a smaller Super 16 camera gave us more flexibility.
People often choose Super 16 for the mobility of the equipment and do a lot of handheld operating, but this film is fairly classically shot, with one rare exception being the very powerful handheld shot of Therese during the final scene.
That’s right; in terms of camera movement and placement we approached this as a formal, classically-shot film, but for that one scene at the end Todd wanted a certain emotionality to the camera movement, to reflect the characters’ unsettled feelings. It was done by having the operator handholding the camera while sitting on a dolly. That was our compromise, so it’s partially handheld but the tracking move across the room was on a dolly.
You used the ARRIFLEX 416 Plus, which for ARRI was the pinnacle of 16 mm development. How did you find it to work with?
Well that camera was really the culmination of designs that ARRI had been working through with previous cameras. It’s ergonomic, it’s quiet and it has an incredible viewfinder – one of the best viewfinders of any camera I’ve ever looked through. I felt as though all the things I could want in a camera had come to fruition; in fact, I even bought one at the end of the shoot. I’ve always been an Aaton owner, but I was so taken with the quality of the work behind the 416 – the image steadiness is exceptional. And of course it’s PL mount so you can use any 35 mm or Super 16 lenses you want.
What lenses did you choose?
I used the Cooke Varo Panchro 10-30 T1.6 quite extensively, alongside Cooke S4s for interiors, older Speed Panchros for day exteriors and ARRI Ultra 16s for wider shots, but the lens that was our real workhorse was the ARRI/ZEISS Master Zoom 16.5-110 T2.6. I first used it on MILDRED PIERCE and it’s a big, heavy lens, so it looks a bit unusual on a small Super 16 camera, but the quality is superlative. There’s no breathing in the image; I could use it as a variable prime lens and being T2.6 it was useful in a lot of different situations. It’s a very under-used lens and I actually bought one of those at the end of the shoot as well!
How many cameras were you typically using on set?
We only used two cameras when it helped capture the performances in controlled situations, such as the early scene where our two characters meet at the restaurant for lunch. For that scene we had two cameras, one closer and one wider, but primarily this was a one-camera shoot. That was really dictated by Todd’s desire to keep the camera moving – to tell the story with the orchestration of each shot, using a fluid style of camerawork. So it was only the occasional static dialogue scene that gave us the opportunity to use a second camera.
Did you use different film stocks, and if so, did you do anything in post to make the grain consistent?
I used the full range of available film stocks, from 50 ASA to 500 ASA, and we didn’t do any grain reduction in the grade. Todd had no interest in doing that because we wanted to stay true to what we were referencing, and also if you do grain reduction it actually softens the image, so I didn’t want to do that.
For ARRI, it’s important to offer cinematographers as much choice as possible, and the wide range of acquisition formats used by the top nominated films this awards season, from Super 16 to digital 65 mm, shows how worthwhile it is to offer that choice.
I think it’s great that ARRI Rental has the 416 and can support productions using older technologies as well as the latest ones. I can’t begin to tell you how many enquiries I’ve had about Super 16 since CAROL was released. I was at the BSC Expo recently and it was really invigorating to hear other cinematographers saying that the film had inspired them to look again at this format, and consider it as a viable option for upcoming projects. Everyone has been very supportive of our choice and I think it has reminded a lot of people about how expressive Super 16 can be.