Magazine article American Cinematographer

Monstrous Deeds

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Monstrous Deeds

Article excerpt

In Greek mythology, the Chimera was a fire-breathing, manyheaded creature that roamed the countryside of Lycia. In the short film Chimeras, the monster metaphorically takes human form as a trio of desperate men converges in the desert to make a transgressive deal. "I wanted to have the faces of the actors be partially in light and partially in the darkness," says cinematographer Carlo Rinaldi, AIC. "I wanted to make them [resemble] this beast, the Chimera."

Shot in the Mojave Desert over eight days in June 2014, Chimeras tells the based-in-fact tale of a father (Kevin J. O'Connor) who travels to a remote motel to sell his infant son to two men (Chris Coy and Michael Ironside). Director and co-writer Gianluca Minucci never reveals the motivations for the transaction. "I fell in love with the script and its atmosphere, " says Rinaldi, who splits his time working in Los Angeles and Rome. "It's a noir story crossed with a Western. It made me think of the Coen Brothers' Fargo or the tension of Paul Thomas Anderson's storytelling."

Rinaldi found inspiration in the cinematography of Gordon Willis, ASC; Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC; and Joaquin Baca-Asay. "Gordon Willis was my reference in terms of contrast ratio and the use of deep shadows," says Rinaldi. "I looked to Joaquin Baca-Asay for this idea of lighting interior days to almost look like interior nights. And Roger Deakins for me is a benchmark of elegance and creativity."

Minucci initially envisioned shooting Chimeras in 35mm with anamorphic lenses. However, the budget couldn't accommodate anamorphic glass, and shooting 35mm would have required performing post in Los Angeles rather than at Rinaldi's preferred destination, inHouse Post in Rome. With anamorphic lenses off the table, Rinaldi tested a vintage set of spherical Kowas, but was unsatisfied with the distortion of the wide-angle lenses and the color differences within the set. Rufus Burnham, president and CEO of LA's The Camera House, then played matchmaker between Rinaldi and a set of Leica Summicron-C T2.0 lenses. "Rufus suggested the Leicas, and I literally fell in love," Rinaldi says. "They have a unique bokeh for a spherical set, they are lightweight and compact, and they perfectly married with our Cinemascope aspect ratio."

In choosing a digital camera, Rinaldi's main concern was finding a sensor that could handle the wide dynamic range necessary for Chimeras. "We had interior days with big windows that I didn't want to blow out, so I needed a camera that could easily handle overexposure," he says. "On the other hand, I had exterior night scenes in the desert, so I needed a camera that I could push to 1,600 ASA. The Arri Alexa Classic was the perfect choice."

Chimeras opens with a 90-second push-in amid a suburban dining room. The camera creeps toward a baby basket while the child's parents frantically cross in and out of frame. The parents remain largely in darkness, without the reassurance of fill light, while a hot toplight beams down upon the basket. "That first image is very important because it has to catch the audience right away, especially in a short film," says Rinaldi. "Gianluca and I wanted to immediately give a sense of mystery and anxiety, and we used the toplight on the baby's crib to underline that the baby's character is pure."

To convey that purity, Rinaldi left the Joker-Bug 200 HMI used for the toplight free of gel, while placing A CTO on the 4K HMI backlight positioned outside the glass sliding door. The backlight was pushed through a 4?x4? frame of Lee 251 Quarter White Diffusion.

The bulk of Chimeras unfolds at a motel located in the sandy wasteland of the Mojave Desert. Those scenes were filmed at the Four Aces - a movie set comprising a motel, diner and gas station - in Palmdale, Calif., approximately an hour northeast of Los Angeles. Rinaldi describes the location as "a little jewel. Shooting there helped us make the desert a character. We wanted to have this deepbrown, sandy palette and really make the audience feel how hot and dirty the place is. …

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