Shooting a commercial with ALEXA 65 and
exclusive ARRI Rental lenses
Cinematographer Matthew Woolf reaches out to ARRI Rental for support in combining ALEXA 65 with Prime 65 S and Prime DNA lenses on a Heinz mayonnaise commercial shoot in Vancouver.
Directed by Micah Perta of Greenpoint Pictures, Brooklyn, the commercial was captured entirely in the 65 mm format by Woolf, who speaks here about his creative choices on the shoot.
Did you and the director get much of a chance to work out a visual approach during prep?
I’d spoken with Micah before—he had tried to work with me a couple of times in the past, but our schedules never lined up. When this one came along, it reminded me of the old adage that if you want to deflect interest in what you’re working on, say it's a mayonnaise commercial. And here was an opportunity to actually shoot one! When I asked Micah how he wanted to approach it visually, his response was to say that he loved my reel and was open to whatever I wanted to do.
I had been reading about the ALEXA 65 and wondering when I might get the chance to work with it. Since I had carte blanche with the look, I thought it would be interesting to try the 65 mm format. When I approached the producer, Willa Goldfeder, she felt it was beyond our budget but wanted to make it work, so I spoke with Lynn ‘Gus’ Gustafson at ARRI Rental in New York and he did everything he could to make it happen.
What testing did you do, and what lenses did you choose?
I knew I was going to be in LA, and Gus arranged a test at ARRI Rental there, with the help of Dana Ross. I didn’t have a great deal of time, but I was very pleased to be able to go over the ALEXA 65 and various lens options with Rafael Adame and Matt Kolze. We looked at the DNA, Vintage 765 and Prime 65 S lenses, all of which are designed for the 65 mm format.
In the commercial there were going to be some wide shots with lots of people in weird costumes. Keeping everyone sharp in these wide shots was about the only stipulation the director gave me. It was the Prime 65 S series that was the most modern and consistent in terms of optical performance, and I needed to cover myself in that respect, so I could deliver images that were clean and sharp across the frame. But I also took some of the DNAs, so that I could do something a bit different when the opportunity arose.
Which DNAs proved interesting, and how did you use them?
I think it was the 65 mm T1.6 DNA that was the most exciting lens for me on this shoot; it seemed to give the most flavor. Racking focus, especially wide open, the shape and angle of the bokeh in the background changed in an interesting way, and the background was completely different in different parts of the frame.
I was able to utilize this for the product shot, which would typically not be the shot to play with that sort of thing, but actually the attributes of the lens meant it gave me the best option. Due to a combination of the large sensor and the 65 mm DNA’s characteristics, I wound up framing the product into the bottom corner of the frame. When the client and agency asked me why, I told them the interesting out-of-focus bokeh in the background would focus the audience’s attention more on the product in the foreground. I had the DIT run off a 16:9 frame of how it would look with this framing, and they all agreed. I don’t think I would have been able to get the shot looking that way with any other lens.
Do you think you’ll work with the DNA lenses again?
I’d love to take more time with the DNAs and work with a complete set. For commercial shoots I think I would always have the Prime 65 S lenses with me as a safety net, because I’ve been down the road before where people on set want to get creative, but someone higher up the food chain doesn’t like it. But that’s the great thing about ARRI Rental having a lot of different lens series that cover the 65 mm format; you can put together whatever lens package you want.
For me it’s all about the combination of the lenses and the 65 mm format itself. Being able to shoot a wide frame and still have really shallow depth of field is something I haven’t seen before. I feel like it gives you back some creative control. When we used to shoot film, as the DP you had control; your vision stayed true throughout the post pipeline and you succeeded or failed on the rushes you delivered. Shooting digital, people can take it wherever they like; you don’t know for sure how it’s going to end up looking. But with the 65 mm sensor and especially with the DNA lenses, you’ve got a chance to really put your stamp on the work, artistically. That’s very exciting, looking forward.
How was your experience of shooting in Vancouver?
I’ve shot in Vancouver before and love working there. The crews are very talented and their energy is great. Sarah Mather at ARRI Rental Vancouver was extremely helpful with production and myself in coordinating the ALEXA 65 package.
During prep, before arriving in Vancouver, it became clear that working with the ALEXA 65 was going to be a new experience for the post house and some of my key crew. There was talk of delivering lower resolution by cropping the sensor, but I knew that by doing that we wouldn’t be getting everything the 65 mm sensor and lenses have to offer. Fortunately, Rafael was able to come up from ARRI Rental LA and educate everyone about how to shoot full frame with the ALEXA 65, put the footage through the Vault, and get it to the resolution they wanted for the post workflow, while still keeping the image attributes of the format and lenses. So, in terms of the equipment, the people, and the company as a whole, ARRI Rental was key to making the job happen the way I wanted.