As a director of photography, Stern’s work with Eastwood includes a dozen films, most recently American Sniper. Between higher profile films like The Hunger Games and Gran Torino, Stern likes to change things up with smaller-budget films, often in Europe, where his dual American-French citizenship is a plus.
“I enjoy working on that kind of project, in addition to what I do with Clint,” he says. “It’s very refreshing. I love doing a Hollywood film, and then going to Russia or France to make a film. There are different ways to make films. We in America are not the only people who make movies. In other countries, given the size of the market, films are made for a different price. As a result, filmmaking is done differently. It’s interesting to see what you can do without.”
Most recently, Stern lent his talent and experience to a film titled Cessez-le-feu (Cease-fire). One of the producers, Gilles Waterkeyn, had worked with Stern a few years back on Nuits Blanches (a.k.a. Sleepless Nights) and the connection helped bring Stern to the new project. Some additional scenes were also photographed by Yann Maritaud.
The director, Emmanuel Courcol, was a successful screenwriter making his feature film debut. The cast was led by Romain Duris, who was nominated for a 2011 César for his role in the visually innovative The Beat My Heart Skipped. (Stephane Fontaine took home a César for cinematography on that film). Ambitious in scope, Cessez-le-feu is set mostly in 1923, when Georges Laffont, a World War I hero who lost his brother in the conflict, attempts to escape his traumatic past and heal, by travelling across France to Africa, where he bonds with an African warrior and his family. He eventually forms a difficult relationship with a sign-language teacher. Locations included the French city of Nantes as well as desolate yet picturesque locations in Senegal and Burkina Faso in northwestern Africa, south of the Sahara.
Stern says that conditions were challenging. The camera was an ARRI ALEXA XT with Codex recording, media and workflow, and the format was spherical.
“We started out in the Sahel Desert,” he says. “The roads were bad – it’s a developing part of the world. We did it in a very guerrilla way, and I was a bit nervous, but it worked. We had no DIT and no data management. We had drives bouncing around in the back of these trucks, and every night one of the PAs would back them up into standard towers. We would wipe the drives the next morning, which meant we didn’t need as many drives as we use when we’re working in Los Angeles. We never had any problems.”
Stern led a crew that included a camera operator, first and second assistants, and a French gaffer. The grip crew was mostly local. The lenses included a set of ARRI Ultra Primes and a long Optimo zoom for B camera and scenic landscape shots. Stern describes the cinematography as respectful and objective, in keeping with the period story.
“What intrigued me was making a film without Technocranes and all that heavy lifting,” he says. “One, the budget would not have supported it, and two, it was interesting to be as essential as possible in our work. I had everything I needed.” The images were captured in the ARRIRAW format on Codex Capture Drives, which was important to Stern. “I like to have the depth when I get into post production,” he says. “I’m always shooting for theatres, and I think you get better quality. We were a long way from anywhere, with basically an ALEXA and a few Codex Capture Drives, and we had no problems. It was actually quite wonderful.”
“WE WERE A LONG WAY FROM ANYWHERE, WITH BASICALLY AN ALEXA AND A FEW CODEX CAPTURE DRIVES, AND WE HAD NO PROBLEMS. IT WAS ACTUALLY QUITE WONDERFUL”
Cessez-le-feu is currently in post production. Stern is busy prepping his next film with Eastwood. Titled Sully, the movie tells the story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberg, who successfully piloted an Airbus 320 to a safe emergency landing on the Hudson River in 2009. Sullenberg, who is credited with saving 155 lives, is rumoured to be played by Tom Hanks.
Stern plans to shoot the film with ARRI ALEXA XT and ARRI ALEXA 65 cameras. Both utilise Codex recording, media and workflow.