THE WONDER OF TECH

DP Matthew Jensen ASC talks to Codex about capturing Wonder Woman on film and combining digital formats with the ALEXA range, all of which incorporate Codex technology.

 



WONDER WOMAN


In late July 2017, Variety announced that Wonder Woman became the highest-grossing film of the summer, with box office totals rocketing past $800 million. Captured by DP Matthew Jensen ASC, his technical skill is evident in every frame – the vast majority of which he shot on film emulsion using the 4-perf Super 35 format and Panavision lenses. A wide range of other digital formats was used for specific purposes, including the ALEXA Mini, ALEXA SXT and ALEXA 65 models, all of which incorporate Codex Digital Recorders and technology.


Asked how he prevents the dizzying array of high technology used on today’s big-budget films from inundating the creative aspects of his job, Jensen says, “That’s on my mind from the minute I take a project. The great thing about Wonder Woman was that I knew that Patty [director Patty Jenkins] wanted a reality-based feel. So much of our work was grounded – there were actual objects and people in front of the lens. We knew we had effects work and green screen, but that never overwhelmed the project.

Jensen goes on, “The technology today has reached a point where you start with a question: What is it that I’m trying to achieve with this shot? What information am I trying to get across? How is the story trying to be told? And then you have endless resources at your disposal to go about breaking that down and figuring out exactly how you are going to achieve it. I no longer fear that we don’t have the technology to do something.”

Jensen refers to a George Lucas interview with which the Star Wars director said the technology at that time was so cumbersome that he couldn’t bring to fruition everything he imagined.



“I’ve heard that throughout the age of effects movies, but I certainly don’t feel that way now,” says Jensen. “I’m glad that film is still around so that if you want to use it to tell your story, you can. If film cannot provide you with the shot that you need to accomplish, you can go with a digital camera. You have tremendous capabilities in the effects world and they can extend your shot and give it more scope with relative ease.”

As an example, Jensen cites the opening moments of Wonder Woman, a Technocrane shot of Diana walking toward her office in the Louvre.

“Patty and I went to the location and plotted that out,” he says. “We figured out the angle that we wanted with our viewfinders, and we went back with still frames. We gave those to the effects department and they plotted out for us the exact camera move – where the tracks should be laid and where the crane would start and end, including lens height, et cetera. That eliminated so much guesswork, and it allowed us to swoop in and shoot that in a half a day, executing it very precisely. I think 15 years ago that would have been easily a day’s work because we would have had to do a lot more guesswork and adjustment to get the shot.”

Still, he says, the ability to react in the moment of photography is crucial. “At the end of the day, you’re still looking through the eyepiece, and you still want to feel the performance of the actors and make the move in conjunction with what they’re doing and how they are emoting,” he says. “You’re translating that to an audience.”



Orson Welles famously said that “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” Jensen agrees that it can be a major problem.

 “The films that I enjoy, and are the best-directed, in my opinion, and the most pleasing from a purely filmmaking standpoint, are the ones that have limits,” he says. “Films where the directors have given themselves a set of rules that the camera abides by, and in so doing creating a very definite personality – not only in the way the shots are designed, but in the way information is revealed to the audience. When you set limits for yourself, it causes you to think about how your story is being told. There’s a strict discipline imposed, which creates more of a relationship with the audience.



“ARRI AND CODEX AND THE COMPANIES MAKING THESE ADVANCEMENTS HAVEN’T LOST THE LESSONS LEARNED THROUGH THE HISTORY OF FILM CAMERAS”


“Even with all the tools at our disposal, the purest form of cinema is still looking through that eyepiece,” he says. “It still comes down to that. We haven’t lost that. ARRI and Codex and the companies making these advancements haven’t lost the lessons learned through the history of film cameras. They’ve engineered the newer cameras in ways that replicate how film has been shot for more than hundred years. So, I think we’re at a good nexus point, if you will, and I just hope that we will continue to make movies that are about people – even if they have super-human abilities.”

The danger, he cautions, is that VR and animation will get so good, and the display technology will continue to shrink. “Then it won’t really matter what we do,” Jensen says. “Then the craft won’t matter. But we’re not there yet. Honestly, I feel like if we could freeze where we are right now and just concentrate on telling better stories, we’d be in great shape.”

A Wonder Woman sequel will be directed by Jenkins with a target release date of June 2019.











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