Whilst Paramount’s Terminator Genisys is the fifth installment in the Terminator series, the new movie is more of a sequel to the initial pair of Cameron-helmed blockbusters – The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). In fact, Terminator Genisys is the first picture in a new stand-alone trilogy, with two sequels scheduled for 2017 and 2018.
Directed by Alan Taylor, with Kramer Morgenthau ASC the cinematographer, and little other involvement from Cameron apart from his enthusiastic endorsement, Terminator Genisys stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as the eponymous robotic lead, alongside Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke. In the movie, John Connor, leader of the human resistance against Skynet, sends Kyle Reese from 2029 to 1984 to protect his mother, Sarah, from a Terminator assassin. However, an unexpected twist of events has altered the historical timeline. Instead of a scared waitress, Reese discovers that Sarah is a skilled fighter with a Terminator guardian. Contending with improbable allies and menacing new enemies, Reese sets out on an unexpected new mission – to reset the future.
Morgenthau had previously worked with director Alan Taylor on several productions – most notably Thor: The Dark World in London, and HBO’s Game Of Thrones in Northern Ireland, as well as numerous commercials.
“I was attracted to the production partly because it gave me the chance to continue my creative moviemaking relationship with Alan, and partly because the opportunity to work on a Terminator film was a dream come true,” enthuses Morgenthau. “As a kid you see an iconic piece of pop culture at the cinema, and never imagine you might be involved in it. But then 30 years later you get the opportunity to work on it in a major way. Science-fiction-fantasy, mixed with apocalyptic film noir, is very enticing to me.”
The production made an effort to have the cinematography honour the visuals of the first two Terminator films – both photographed by Adam Greenberg ASC. Sequences set in the year 1984 favoured colours and tones of blues, greens and blacks in order to match the look of The Terminator, whilst scenes set during the future war against the machines were modelled after such scenes from Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
“Those movies were creative and technological trailblazers in their day, that stand the test of time,” Morgenthau says. “We included some of the visual vocabulary from both of these movies, including an almost scene-by-scene flashback from The Terminator. But we did not want to be slaves to the original movies. As the story of Terminator Genisys takes a fresh twist, accordingly we introduced our own, more contemporary look.”
Morgenthau says that whilst there were some early discussions about shooting on celluloid for the flashback to 1984 sequence, Terminator Genisys is a heavily VFX-driven picture, with several different units – so digital felt like the right medium to establish a simple, convenient workflow into post production. It was also the safest bet to ensure the look, created in-camera, transferred unadulterated from the set into post production.
As he explains, “You can get good images from most digital cameras today but, for me, the ARRI ALEXA is the best. The ALEXA XT was my first choice on Terminator Genisys. It’s easy to work with, delivers incredibly good-looking images with great dynamic range, and comes with the widely-accepted Codex ARRIRAW workflow in-built.
“I have used Codex on many different productions – from Game Of Thrones, through Thor: The Dark World to Terminator Genisys – and have seen the technology evolve, become ever more efficient, and grow physically smaller by turns. I’m a big fan. Codex makes things super-easy and fast with ARRIRAW, particularly the integrated workflow technology in the ALEXA XT. From the cinematographer’s point-of-view, you never have to worry about what’s happening to your data, and there’s no better system than Codex to help you stamp your identity on the picture from the start.
Ryan Kunkleman, Morgenthau’s DIT, set up an on-set/dailies workflow with Codex and Technicolor. “We delivered data twice a day, along with a side-car CDL from the on-set Pomfort Live Grade, and got back JPEGs from the colourist, Brent Greer. This gave me the comfort that the ARRIRAW image was looking good and that my colour intentions would make it into editorial, VFX and the final DI.”
In terms of lenses, Morgenthau opted for Panavision C-series Anamorphics, supplemented with some E-series lenses, “to bring some soul, imperfections and painterly qualities to the clinical harshness of the digital image,” he says. “The C-series flare nicely, and have an attractive, rounded softness and painterliness with slightly lifted contrast. It’s almost like having a diffusion filter built into the lens. I did not use diffusion at all on this movie, and rarely use it anyway these days. I prefer to use softer glass and add diffusion during the DI – where you have selective control over diffusing image areas such as highlights, blacks and skin tones.”
Morgenthau is keen to praise the work of Panavision’s lens guru, Dan Sasaki, in preparing the inventory of glass for the movie. “The C-series are all hand-made, and one lens can look quite different to the next. So, long before production began, I spent time with Dan to test, modify and finesse each lens, and to optimise them for shooting at the fastest-possible stop, to get decent resolution and close focus.”
Regarding the choice of aspect ratio, Morgenthau says that he and the director felt that shooting 2.40:1 Anamorphic would bring a certain cinematic majesty to the production, and help to move the franchise along visually – The Terminator shot 1.85:1 Super 35, while Terminator 2 shot 2.40:1 Super 35.
Principal photography on Terminator Genisys began on April 21, 2014 in New Orleans. The production built multiple sets in a pair of cavernous air-conditioned buildings, formerly used by NASA to construct rocket boosters for the Space Shuttle, shot at a large, empty Lowes hardware store, and an abandoned power plant for the 1984 sequence. The Port Of Orleans was used as the backdrop for the future prison/war camp scenes, whilst downtown New Orleans played for 1980’s Los Angeles.
“We had a combination of large, traditional Tungsten sources and modern LED lamps – and used a huge amount of both. Plus we used a wide variety of moving/interactive lights, with everything wired back to dimmer boards,” he says. “I worked closely with production designer Neil Spisak and Jay Hart, the set decorator, to integrate the LEDs and their associated circuitry into various sets, like the Time Displacement Device chamber. Some scenes – such as the chase sequence in the giant server maze at the data centre – was lit by just by shimmering blue and daylight-balanced LEDs in the set. Echoing the original movie, the department store sequence was lit very sparsely with fluorescent practicals, out-of-focus LEDs, and 18K HMIs through the window. Visually, these are all pretty interesting sequences and I am very happy with the on-screen results.”
"CODEX MAKES THINGS SUPER-EASY AND FAST WITH ARRIRAW"
The production transferred to San Francisco, shooting exteriors around Golden Gate Bridge and the highlands overlooking the bridge, where the spectacular school bus chase and crash stunt takes place, with principal photography concluding in early August.
“As it’s next to impossible to shoot on Golden Gate Bridge, let alone do any stunts, we constructed a 500ft section of the bridge’s tarmac and railings against greenscreen in a giant parking lot in New Orleans, and flipped over a couple of school busses for that sequence, which the VFX team composited together later.”
Morgenthau says that a particularly intriguing aspect of working on Terminator Genisys was a long stint on “the vampire shift.”
“Terminator is a night-time genre. We had six weeks of nights, starting on day one of the shoot. Typically, we were going to bed at 7am, would wake up at 5pm, get coffee, have breakfast and look at the dailies. As a cinematographer, night exteriors are the ultimate visual playground. You start pretty much from scratch, from black. You can be expressive with your lighting choices, compared to day exteriors where you have very little control. As I had to light around a quarter-square mile, I had several moon boxes, plus Vari-lights, suspended from a construction crane, along with BB lights. It was great fun.”
As for getting the opportunity to work with one of the biggest names in the movies, Morgenthau declares, “Arnie is a great guy – fun and charismatic. You can easily see why he was the Governor of California, and why he has enjoyed such a long and successful career in the movies. The Terminator franchise is very dear to him. Thanks to him and Alan, working on Terminator Genisys proved a happy and rewarding experience.”
Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures