Magazine article American Cinematographer

Short Takes

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Short Takes

Article excerpt

Milia Showcases Arri's D-20

Cinematographer Philipp Friesenbichler didn't need much convincing when director and friend Jorge Valdes-Iga invited him to New York to shoot the short film Milia. The pair had been close collaborators while studying film at the University of Miami. "Philipp is very methodical and I tend to be more spontaneous, which creates a good balance," notes Valdes-lga. In addition to that, says Friesenbichler, "Jorge and I share an interest in the same kinds of stories."

Milia tells the story of Nathaniel (Rufus Collins), a gruff and charismatic fashion photographer living in New York City who encounters a model with a link to his past, Milia (Cecile Raubenheimer). Limited to a tiny budget, Valdes-lga originally intended to use Panasonic's DVX100, but about a week before the shoot was scheduled to begin, he learned Arri CSC was willing to loan the production an Arri D-20 at no cost. He immediately called Friesenbichler and asked him to shoot the picture. "I arrived in New York less than 30 hours before we set up the first shot," recalls the cinematographer.

Friesenbichler's experience with hi-def video up to that point was limited to ENG-style cameras. He researched the D-20 as much as he could, but "we started the shoot in May 2006, and at that time, people hadn't had much field experience with it," he says. "In fact, I believe Milia was the first narrative project shot with it in the United States. We didn't have time to test the camera or really get to know it before the shoot, but fortunately, it handles like a film camera - that's what I came to love about it."

Throughout the shoot, Andreas Weeber, head of Arri CSCs digital-imaging department worked as a camera operator and go-to guy for all things related to the D-20. The fact that he and Friesenbichler both spoke German - Weeber is German and Friesenbichler is Austrian - "enabled a more efficient stream of communication between us from a creative standpoint," says the cinematographer.

Valdes-Iga wanted to take an improvisational approach, allowing actors to adjust their performances from take to take. "What I liked about Milia was it required me to constantly adapt," says Friesenbichler. "There's a different energy level on set when you take an approach like that. Everyone's got to be really alert and ready to capture those few moments that end up on screen." He singles out the D-20's optical viewfinder system as a key element in facilitating Valdes-lga's directorial style, as it allowed him to see clearly around the edges of the 1.78:1 frame in anticipation of the actors' movements.

There were two phases of principal photography, a few days in May 2006 and a few days the following October. Friesenbichler decided early on to let the main character guide his lighting and lens choices. "As a photographer, Nathaniel is a voyeur. Sitting behind the camera gives you a kind of distance from what's happening." He worked with Cooke S4 primes "because my goal was to achieve a rather natural look that would serve the intimate story in a subtle way. The characteristics of the S4s in combination with an occasional [Tiffen] Classic Soft filter were my recipe for that." Most of the time, he shot wide open. "In certain locations, I didn't have a choice because of the sensitivity of the camera's chip, but in general, I wanted to maintain a shallow depth of field to isolate the characters from the background and allow the audience to focus on the performances."

With most of Milia set indoors or at night on practical locations, Friesenbichler was concerned to discover that the 0 gain setting on the D-20 is roughly equivalent to ISO 50; Weeber recommended a maximum gain setting equivalent to ISO 200. …

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