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Cinematographer Dan Laustsen describes his work on action-packed John Wick: Chapter Two



Denmark native, Dan Laustsen DFF, is best known internationally for his work with director Guillermo Del Toro (Mimic, and one of the most visually disctinctive films of 2015, Crimson Peak). Laustsen's own credits stretch back to 1980 and include The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Silent Hill, and Darkness Falls.

John Wick: Chapter Two, is Laustsen's latest completed film. The story picks up a few days after the final events of the first movie, John Wick, and follows the retired, infamous assassin, played by Keanu Reeves. Directed again by former stuntman and second unit director, Chad Stahelski, John Wick: Chapter Two abounds in noir-flavoured action with various balletic contract murders, betrayals, gunfights, and beautiful vintage automobiles in hot pursuit.

Laustsen has made the shift to digital, and he loves the filmic imagery delivered by the ARRI ALEXA XT and ARRIRAW captured on Codex. He says that he still shoots with a film mindset.

“We tested a lot of lenses,” he says. “I’m a fan of Master Primes when I’m shooting spherical, but here we were thinking anamorphic. I’d never worked with Master Anamorphics, and testing led us to a precise and clean look with that glass. That look gives you nothing for free because the glass is so good. So working with Camera Service Center in New York, we added some nylon strings with an ND filter to give us a bit of flare whenever there’s a highlight. It’s like the old days when we would put a nylon stocking behind the lens. That was the basis of our approach.”

Like Crimson Peak, John Wick: Chapter Two enjoys a distinctive approach to colour. “Chad liked the colour space, the dark shadows and the single light sources we used on Crimson Peak,” says Laustsen. “He wanted to do something with a little bit more style, with a more classic look. We wanted a colourful movie, with rich colours, but not television colours. The reds are really red, and the steel blue is steel blue. There’s an overall desaturated feel, but with certain consistent and bold colours. At the same time, the skin tones could not be crazy. So we worked a lot on gelling the lights and on creating the right contrast levels.”

The ALEXAs were set in OpenGate mode. A few shots were done spherically – some wide shots as well as some over-cranked, high frame rate shots. “The ARRIRAW format is so great,” says Laustsen. “ For me, it’s very important, especially since we were shooting anamorphic. You get so much information on your ‘negative.’ We were shooting a lot of takes, and the production was worried at times about the amount of data. But ARRIRAW gives you options.”

Laustsen is also not merely gathering info in order to create the look he seeks in post. “I’m not playing around,” he says. “I’m an old-fashioned guy. I’m shooting as if we were shooting on film. My way is to shoot the movie very close to the way it’s going to look in the end. We’re very close to our dailies, and I’m not changing colours a lot in post. If I want to change something, I’m going to change it on the spot. If I want something warmer, I prefer to put a gel on the lamp. I’m using the RAW as an excellent tool for making exposures. I love the anamorphic format, and for this movie, it worked extremely well. And the additional information is a fantastic tool in post in case you have any problems.”


Despite Laustsen's preference of changing looks on the spot, he depends on a DIT. In this case, Patrick Cecilian, whom he calls “a fantastic help.” Cecilian used a single LUT for the run of the show, and a CDL approach for looks. “We would grade on top of certain gels to get the looks Dan wanted,” says the DIT. “He used lots of mixed colour temperatures and unique gels. I have a small DIT cart that I always try to keep as close to the camera as possible. There was a lot of moving around, so Dan didn't have to be far from the set and could still have the additional control of the image." 


“As far as gear choices, I am always searching for smaller, lighter, and faster,” says Cecilian. “Codex was wonderful because I could always get support quickly. We used 2TB Codex readers to ingest everything and that worked flawlessly. I think the role of the DIT has become more streamlined, and more of us are using similar workflows. John Wick: Chapter Two is a stylised film, which as a DIT, is more fun to work on.”

John Wick: Chapter Two hit the big screen in February 2017, and has amassed a box office revenue of $166.8 million. Following the completion of John Wick: Chapter Two, Laustsen has moved on to Proud Mary, an action-thriller for Screen Gems, directed by Babak Najafi.


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