Magazine article American Cinematographer

Single-Take Heist

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Single-Take Heist

Article excerpt

"One city, one night, one take" is the tagline for Victoria, which sums up the stunning tour de force by German director Sebastian Schipper and Norwegian cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen, DFF. While this isn't the first one-take film - 2002's Russian Ark [AC Jan. '03) holds that honor - it is the first to bring such harddriving, spontaneous energy to this high-wire act.

Consider the magnitude; Two hours and 18 minutes of handheld camera, 22 locations, more than 150 extras managed by six assistant directors, seven actors followed sequentially by three sound teams, and the whole enterprise timed to end with the morning light.

We first meet Victoria's title character (Laia Costa) dancing by herself in an underground club. She's a vivacious newcomer from Madrid, open to making friends, and is soon adopted by a quartet of rowdy rogues who say they'll show her the "real" Berlin. The first hour follows them from nightclub to city streets to a rooftop hangout to the coffee bar where Victoria works. She and the friendliest of the bunch, Sonne (Frederick Lau), hit it off, but their flirtation is interrupted by his ex-con pal (Franz Rogowski), who has promised a "favor" to the man who was his protector in jail (André Hennicke). Victoria is sucked into duty as a driver for the ensuing bank robbery, and the second half of the film follows them as they take the money and run. This hour has several dramatic set pieces - in the getaway car, celebrating at a nightclub, a police foot-chase, a hostage-taking - as well as more intimate moments.

When Schipper got in touch with Grovlen about the project, "I was intrigued, and a little skeptical," says the cinematographer, who'd met Schipper a year earlier while shooting Anders Morgenthaler's The 11th Hour, in which Schipper acted alongside Kim Basinger.

Potential funders were even more skeptical. To inspire confidence, the Victoria cast and crew shot a one-take 10-minute short. That calling card got them their funding, and it was also useful for finding the right approach to Victoria's camera movement. "Sturla was already on top of his game, but I told him, 'You can't shoot Victoria like this - you can't anticipate actions/" says Schipper. Instead, the director suggested he think like a war photographer. "I was to react to things happening around me, rather than have a preconceived idea of where to look or what's [in] the frame," says Grovlen. "It was important to have the energy of 'being in the now' coming through the lens, rather than trying to create a specific shot."

When the four weeks of rehearsals began, there was no script-just a 12-page treatment that was meant to be fleshed out with the actors. The story was broken into 10 segments, which the filmmakers immediately began rehearsing on camera with a full crew. "In that process, we learned the language of the film," Grovlen says. "The actors would improvise the theme, Sebastian would correct them, and the story would develop. I learned the rhythms of the actors, which helped me to read their body language in order to move with them. I was very tapped into their energy; when they were stressed, I got stressed, or when they were having a quiet moment, I could relax. It went hand in hand, with their energy coloring my work."

Grovlen also wandered the neighborhood with his camera, getting to know the lighting conditions and the ergonomia of the Canon EOS C300 PL. "I did test the Sony F3 and some sort of modified GoPro, where you could have interchangeable lenses," he says. "But I was pretty confident from the beginning that I would choose the Canon C300 [because of the camera's] ergonomics and light sensitivity - and I like the texture and image quality."

Eschewing cables of any kind, Grovlen recorded onto a 32GB CF memory card, which could hold two hours and 40 minutes using the MPEG-2 50 Mbps 4:2:2 codec. The C300 was outfitted with a Zeiss Standard Speed 24mm T2.1 prime lens, and a small matte box held a 1/8 Tiffen Black ProMist filter. …

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