“I started calling the ALEXA 65 Okja”
Darius Khondji ASC, AFC discusses how the huge, gentle ALEXA 65 sensor was perfect for the story of a huge, gentle creature in Bong Joon Ho’s film OKJA.
A South Korean-American feature film distributed internationally through the Netflix streaming service, OKJA is directed by Bong Joon Ho and tells the story of Mija, a young girl who raises an enormous pig-like creature and fights to save it from the clutches of corporate greed. Cinematographer Darius Khondji ASC, AFC shot the film with ALEXA 65 cameras paired with Panavision lenses. He spoke with ARRI Rental, exclusive provider of the ALEXA 65, about the camera’s unique aesthetic.
What was the visual tone of the film and what kind of a camera did you feel it required?
The story takes place in the lush countryside of Korea, a paradise for the little girl who is being raised by her grandfather, and who is raising this animal. Then as the film progresses we are in the city of Seoul, crowded with people, a lot of energy, a lot of streets, everything busy and in motion. And then the story moves to America, with a different atmosphere again. For all these different environments I was looking for a camera that can capture in a very special way, for an image that was bigger than life and that could record life in a hyper-realistic way.
You had used the ALEXA 65 before, is that right?
I had shot a project a year before with a great French artist called Philippe Parreno and ARRI Rental gave me two ALEXA 65s. At that point there were only five of them in the world, so we sort of pioneered shooting with the ALEXA 65. I remembered that experience and we told Netflix there is this 6K ARRI camera that I love shooting with. They said, “Is it digital?” And I said, “Yes, it is digital, but it is something very special, it is not like any other camera around today. It looks completely different.” I shot tests for Bong Joon Ho and his producer Dooho Choi with the ALEXA 65, and we really loved the results. We decided we wanted to shoot with the system and ARRI Rental was a big help in getting two ALEXA 65 cameras on the film for us. We were also lucky to marry our ALEXA 65 with the Primo 70s from Panavision, which were custom-tuned for the movie by their lens team.
How would you describe the ALEXA 65 look?
It does not look like film, it is different, but it is a special image that I really enjoy making. The director kept on telling me how beautiful the images looked. He was really thrilled, so it was very exciting to shoot with it. We enjoyed the quality, the softness – the sensor renders skin tones so well and makes everything bigger than life. It glamorizes the image and that is what I found essential. If you do not want to glamorize the image, you can just downgrade it a bit, but getting a glamorous image is very easy because the quality, the shallow depth of field, the focus fall-off, and the rendition in low light are all so beautiful.
The image you build with these beautiful large pixels is very profound, with an incredible depth and beauty, whether you are shooting an extreme close-up or a very large vista. The feel of it is sometimes magical. I think this camera finally opened the future and horizons of digital imagery with a big door.
How did the ALEXA 65 cope with the conditions of the shoot?
I was shooting at locations in the countryside and mountains of Korea that were very difficult to reach, so we had to carry the cameras long distances by hand, but it was fine, it was like carrying a regular ALEXA. A bigger challenge was the heat and humidity, but we never had any problems with the cameras. We had a lot of action scenes so we were mounting the ALEXA 65 on cars, on trucks, putting it in many different situations; it was just great.
You know, I started calling the ALEXA 65 Okja. The pig named Okja in the movie is female, and very sweet, but it is extremely big – just like the ALEXA 65 and its beautiful monster of a sensor. So we really enjoyed the ride with this camera, it was a wonderful time, we were all very happy to have it.
What are your general views on the ALEXA 65 system and its other potential uses?
I think it is great that ARRI Rental is developing more and more lenses for the ALEXA 65, because having more lenses to choose from – zooms as well as primes, preferably – is the most important element. That is the main thing to keep adding, but it is a superb camera system. And it is not just for movies; I recently shot a commercial with it and it was very nice because I used it in a way where I could zoom into the picture without missing any quality. I also just shot a really beautiful art film called JARDIN D’HIVER. The only problem I have with the ALEXA 65 is that I want to shoot with it all the time, because it is so good.