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Codex goes behind the scenes with Robert Yeoman, ASC on capturing Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.



Robert Yeoman, ASC earned an Oscar nomination a couple of years back for his distinctive camerawork on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Yeoman shot the movie on 35 mm film and used Super 16 film emulsion extensively on his next project, the Brian Wilson/Beach Boys tale Love & Mercy.

“It was totally appropriate for that movie,” says Yeoman. “It’s a different mood, a different feeling. I love film – if they told me I had to shoot Super 16 for the rest of my career, I’d be thrilled.”

But like most top pros, Yeoman has made his peace with newer imaging technologies.

“I’ve come to embrace the whole digital camera world,” he says. “There are so many very interesting looks you can get. There are advantages to both mediums. I love shooting film but it’s a different process. When I shoot the ALEXA on interiors and night scenes, I can work with a lot less light. You’re seeing exactly what you’re going to be getting later, which sometimes allows you to be a little more daring in low light situations. The ALEXA and other digital cameras have achieved a great contrast range. They’re pretty amazing cameras. It’s just a different feel and a different look.”

On Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Yeoman primarily used ARRI ALEXA SXT cameras equipped with Codex Capture Drives set up to record in the data-rich ARRIRAW format. The lenses were ARRI Master Anamorphics, chosen in part because their edge to edge consistency would help ensure a flattering image across the many group shots the story called for.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again takes up the story five years after the 2008 film, which was shot by Haris Zambarloukos, BSC. Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and much of the original cast return. Some scenes are set in the past, and a significant chunk of the movie was shot in Croatia. The music plays an important role. The director/writer was Ol Parker, who has roots in theatre and is known for writing The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its 2015 sequel.

“Ol and I wanted to maintain the joy of the first film, but we were out to create a world that was a little bit different,” says Yeoman. “We didn’t feel like we had to shoot things the way they did. We shot tests at Shepperton on 16 mm, and we took some ALEXA footage and tried to match that look. We agreed that the look was interesting but not reflective of the spirit of our film. Given the expectations of Universal, we ended up going in a different direction.”

Some scenes take place in the 1970s, but Yeoman kept the differences subtle, affecting the image mostly in post. “I think it was important for the whole film to feel seamless in a way,” he says.

At Shepperton, the main sets were a hotel exterior on the H Stage, surrounded by blue screens. The sea and landscape in the distance would be composited later – another reason that abundant data was important.

Regarding the musical numbers, Yeoman says, “We tried to give each song its own stage, and its own camera style. There are certain transitions that we created, with each song built up as part of the overall story and not standing out from it.”

For the song “One of Us,” the filmmakers built side-by-side sets in order to shoot a phone conversation where the character Dominick is in New York, singing a duet with Donna, who is in Greece. They moved smoothly back and forth between the two locales.



“I’m personally a big fan of the Francis Ford Coppola’s One From the Heart,” says Yeoman. That under-appreciated film was shot by Vittorio Storaro with a very stylised theatricality. “I took a lot of my cues from that film, the way they move from one set to another. What we did is a little unreal, but we felt like it was a fun way to depict the song, and we didn’t use that camera style in any of the other musical numbers.”

DIT Ben Appleton set up the workflow to suit Yeoman’s approach. His rig included a Sony BVM-x300 with LiveGrade and Qtake. The data manager would ingest the cards using the Codex Vault S, and convert the footage shot with ALEXA Mini to .ARI files. Metadata was then added and CDLs applied. The Transfer Drives were then sent to the dailies company, which made use of the first production edition of the Codex Transfer Drive Dock to ingest, taking the CDL directly from the .ARI into the system.

“The new Codex Transfer Drive Dock made the workflow more production-friendly, and kept costs down as we didn’t need a second Vault in the lab,” says Appleton. “The Codex Vault once again was invaluable, going from studio mode to on a boat in just a few minutes, with the ability to apply CDLs to metadata, instead of passing CDL files to dailies. This locked our colour pipeline.”

Yeoman says his main goal for the workflow is the ability to work uninhibited.

“I have never been overly technical, so I try not to let the technical aspects in the digital world affect me in any way,” says the cinematographer. “I use a DIT, and I let them handle all of the technical issues. I work with them on the set to come up with a look by manipulating contrast, colour saturation and the highlights. When you get to the DI and you have all that information, you can do a lot. We recently spent a couple of weeks reshaping the movie. A lot of what you can do now was not available to us 25 years ago. It’s a whole new world, and you have to be cognizant of all the post production techniques, because a lot of the movie is realised in post now. That’s very exciting to me as well.”

Yeoman adds, “ARRIRAW is the best quality, and that’s what we wanted, obviously. The more information you have, the better. The ALEXA has been my camera of choice since we went into the digital world. I find it’s an easy camera to use, and it has the most film-like quality for me. It’s not quite as sharp and HD-looking as some of the other cameras. It’s a friendlier camera on people’s faces. We were photographing women, and I felt like it was probably the best choice for that.”

The DI was handled at Company 3 with colourist Jill Bogdanowicz. “There was a certain amount of compositing that had to be done, and some mixing of that compositing,” says Yeoman. “Certain things require some finessing. For instance, the water was a big concern. On overcast days, it doesn’t have the light blue colour that would be around on a sunny day, so we were constantly going in and adding coluor and saturation to the water in the sea. Having that information allowed us more flexibility, and that was certainly part of our motivation in choosing to shoot in that format.”

In its opening weekend, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again took in more than $75 million at the box office around the world, against a production budget reputed to be $75 million.

Lenses: ARRI Master Anamorphics
DIT: Ben Appleton
Post Partners: Company 3

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Images courtesy of their respective owners.

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