Magazine article American Cinematographer

First-Person Mayhem

Magazine article American Cinematographer

First-Person Mayhem

Article excerpt

The feature Hardcore Henry is depicted entirely from the firstperson perspective of its title character, who wakes up with amnesia and must frantically run, jump and shoot his way through Moscow. Henry fights to rescue his wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett), from warlord Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) while receiving assistance from sardonic sidekick Jimmy (Sharlto Copley).

Russian director Ilya Naishuller is both a filmmaker and leader of the punk band Biting Elbows. After directing first-person point-ofview music videos for his band's songs ''The Stampede" and "Bad Motherf-er," Naishuller wanted to apply a similar visual perspective to a feature film. Acclaimed director-producer Timur Bekmambetov offered to produce the film, after which Naishuller acquired further investments - and then secured finishing funds via crowdfunding through Indiegogo. The project was completed after a year and a half of sporadic shooting. Hardcore premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and promptly set off a bidding war, ultimately resulting in U.S. distribution via STX Entertainment.

Naishuller drew stylistic influences from both first-person video games and features, including Kathryn Bigelow's sci-fi movie Strange Days (AC Nov. '95) - shot by Matthew F. Leonetti, ASC - which depicts a commoditized virtual-reality technology. "My primary inspiration had to be film, as I love movies more than video games," notes Naishuller. "I've seen every first-person POV film, but my favorite was always Strange Days. It captured the feeling I was aiming for, where I'm really there as the robber or I really feel that fatal jump."

Naishuller shot Hardcore on location in Moscow over three distinct periods from July 2013 through the end of 2014. Due to scheduling conflicts, each portion was photographed by a different cinematographer: Vsevolod Kaptur, Fedor Lyass and Pasha Kapinos. The majority of the film was shot with off-the-shelf GoPro Hero3 Black Edition cameras.

"This was Ilya's first feature, it was going to be technically very complicated, and he knew that I could take care of the kind of difficulties we would be going up against," recalls Kaptur, who shot Hardcore's first segment and had previously collaborated with Naishuller on music videos. "I wasn't put off by shooting a theatrical feature on a tiny consumer camera, but we knew we'd need GoPro's tech support. Gregg DiLeo from their (marketing] department facilitated our contact with engineer David Newman, who gave us some [prototype] exposure software, which has since been incorporated into later generations of GoPro cameras."

The production team captured Hardcore with a custom, magnetically stabilized helmet mount fitted with two GoPros for redundancy and multiple levels of exposure on certain longer takes. "We put a lot of effort into stabilizing the mount," says Naishuller. "We did that to make sure that the audience could watch without getting dizzy, because even I get motion sickness very easily."

Kaptur adds, "We hired an engineer friend of mine, Vladimir Kotihov, who was an American football player, so he knew about helmets. The first one looked like a medieval torture device before we got it to where we needed it.

"I then did the first shooting block - a little over half the film - in the summer of 2013," Kaptur continues. "I had to leave due to a prior commitment, so I passed the baton to Fedor Lyass. He shot the interiors for the finale and the intro scenes. When Kapinos agreed to take the third part of production, I met with him [as well]."

Lyass notes, "The most important device developed for this project was the special mask with a magnetic stabilization system. The goal was to stabilize the motion of Henry's footsteps while reducing the vertical shaking when the actor walks, runs or jumps. The final rig included Russian military technology, Japanese bearings, and a 3D-printed head mount to snuggly fit the actor-stuntman's head. We also crafted a GoPro-based viewfinder for the director. …

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