ALEXA 65 for commercials
US-based cinematographer Max Goldman was the first to combine ALEXA 65 with large-format Hawk 1.3x anamorphic lenses, pairing them for a visually ambitious commercial spot produced by Furlined for Princess Cruise Lines. He spoke with ARRI Rental about his experiences on the shoot.
What sort of a look were you after?
The concept of the spot was people feeling small compared to the hugeness of nature and our references were all images of extremely wide vistas with people the size of ants. The look was a very naturalistic one – we wanted to shoot in the most epic natural locations accessible to man, so we needed a camera that could get the most out of those locations by capturing all the natural beauty to its full potential.
Is that what led you to ALEXA 65?
Yes, bearing in mind the script was based around shooting massive landscapes with tiny people in each frame, the ALEXA 65 seemed like a perfect option. When I heard the new Hawk 1.3x large-format anamorphic primes were available, I was sold. I called ARRI Rental in New York and told Lynn “Gus" Gustafson about the project. Both Gus and Vantage were supportive and we all pushed hard to make this happen. I believe it was the first time these lenses and the ALEXA 65 had ever been put together.
What did you think of the ALEXA 65 image?
I loved the look of this camera, especially when combined with the anamorphic lenses. It rendered natural light in a way that I have never seen before; at times the images of nature were so realistic that they became surreal – almost fake looking, although I know that sounds counterintuitive. There was a three-dimensional quality, adding depth to wide shots and making the landscapes feel even more immersive.
My thoughts were that this phenomenon might be a result of the minimal depth of field. I went with that idea and tried to enhance the perception of depth by shooting everything wide open at T2.2, even the wide shots. Normally I would expect a wide landscape shot to have everything in sharp focus, however on this larger format I could sense the focus fall-off, even in landscape shots. We would set the focus to 60’ and I could see a slight fall-off back to infinity, which contributed to the heightened sense of three-dimensionality.
How was the camera to work with?
Using the ALEXA 65 was very simple. It operates exactly like a standard ALEXA; the feeling and interface were all the same. As a cinematographer who has exclusively shot ALEXA for the past six years, it was a very easy transition to the ALEXA 65.
The workflow seemed simple and the DIT kept up without any complaints. We were moving all over the country of Chile; within a four-day shoot we traveled from the forest to the sea and ended up at a glacier in Patagonia. As we were shooting, neither the DIT nor myself got a chance to properly monitor the images. Our nimble travel package did not allow us the time to set looks and correct color on the fly. I only had the small onboard monitor and a 17” monitor to expose in Rec 709. I had to use my knowledge of exposing the standard ALEXA and apply that same approach to the ALEXA 65. I found that, for the most part, both cameras exposed in a similar manner.
The one difference was the speed of the camera. The ALEXA 65 seemed more sensitive to light than the standard ALEXA. I normally use an ND2.1 and ND6 to get a stop of around T2 in full daylight on a standard ALEXA, rated at EI 800. With the ALEXA 65 I was adding one or two stops more of ND to get a similar stop in the same lighting conditions. My only regret was not being able to shoot more night exteriors. We had one moonlit exterior scene, but the background was being added in post. I really wanted to see how the ALEXA 65 reacted to a mixed light source street scene, but I’ll have to save that for next time.
What kind of setups did you do?
We mostly had end-of-day magic hour shots of landscapes, along with some close-ups and the limited night exterior work. We used a large moon box for a stargazing moonlit moment. Most of the time we were traveling from one epic location to the next; we needed to get the sense of a global experience. There was some handheld work with an Easyrig, which is a tool I know very well. It was challenging because of the bigger ALEXA 65 body and the massive Hawk primes, but we fought our way through it.
Our schedule was extremely tight. We were traveling all over the country, racing from one sunset to another sunrise. During a beach scene the camera got hit by a wave, without any water protection – I was not surprised that it kept functioning without any issues. It’s basically an ALEXA, so you can expect the same durability and reliability.