Magazine article American Cinematographer

Retro Style

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Retro Style

Article excerpt

During a break in the 201 1 Los Angeles Film Critic Association's awards ceremony, cinematographer Matthew Libatique, ASC felt a tap on his shoulder. It was director David Fincher, who complimented him for his work on Black Swan (AC Dec. '10). A little over a year later, Fincher got in touch again, this time with a project in mind. "His reps were being very secretive, so they wouldn't tell me if it was a music video or a commercial," recalls Libatique. "It wasn't till I signed on and met David at his office a couple of weeks before the shoot that he played the song for me."

The song was Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z's "Suit & Tie," and Fincher's vision for the video was a classy Rat Pack atmosphere. "He wanted to emulate the lifestyle of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis Jr. in Vegas," says Libatique.

The camera follows Timberlake and Jay-Z as they get ready for a big show, perform and then wind down at the after party.

"At our meeting, David was very clear about what he wanted to do, and when we got to the set, he remembered every one of those details," says Libatique. Fincher offered opinions on which lights to use, the number of camera carts required and the specific configuration of the camera for a given shot. Meanwhile, Libatique hustled to keep 1st AC Matt Stenerson in the loop.

The camera package and workflow were of particular interest to the director. "David wants the most streamlined, mobile camera system possible - he wants it free of cables and free of the DIT, " says Libatique. Fincher wanted to shoot the video with the Red Epic-M Monochrome, a black-and-white version of the Epic's 5K Mysterium-X sensor. (The Monochrome's sensor lacks the RGBG Bayer color-filter array.)

Fincher and camera assistant Steve Meizler had developed the Meizler Module, a wireless module that was still in the prototype phase when "Suit & Tie" was shot. When attached to the back of the Epic, it provides a wireless 1080p feed for monitoring and wireless focus control. (The remote-focus motor is still cabled.) With the camera in studio mode, Libatique operated using Red's 9" LCD touchscreen monitor and judged exposure with 24" Sony OLED monitors. He used the OLED monitors and histograms at video village to compare exposures between multiple cameras.

"Another feature [of the module] allows the director to play back while the cinematographer uses the camera to frame up," says Libatique, who adds that this was not implemented on "Suit & Tie. " To achieve this, the unit records a proxy image that can be accessed via touchscreen monitor at video village, where the director or script supervisor can play back takes and make notes, "similar to Pix," says Libatique.

Libatique conducted latitude and exposure tests with the Epic-M Monochrome in an effort to familiarize himself with some of the camera's unique sensor properties. "I would have done the same thing if we'd shot with black-and-white film," he remarks. Fincher's editor, Tyler Nelson, and assistant editor, Nate Gross, logged and organized the footage in Pix, which Libatique used to screen and make notes on his shots. "I wanted to be able to have a sense of the camera's dynamic range," he says. "After that, I wanted to try different lenses to see how wide I could go before the sensor started to vignette. What's the best resolution I can get? What's the highest frame rate?"

He shot most of "Suit & Tie" at 4K, using 5:1 compression at 24 fps and 8:1 compression at 60 fps. Higher frame rates were achieved with a compromise between resolution and compression. "For the dancers on the performance stages, we shot 1 60 fps at 3K to maintain 8:1 compression," says Libatique. In post at Light Iron in Hollywood, the image was downconverted to 2185x1150 with a 1920x800 center extraction. Conform, visual effects and grading were done on a Quantel Pablo.

The filmmakers considered shooting with Cooke lenses, but ultimately chose Zeiss Ultra Primes for their wide variety of focal lengths. …

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