Robert Yeoman ASC goes anamorphic with ARRI Rental
The acclaimed cinematographer chooses ALEXA cameras and Master Anamorphic lenses for the musical feature film MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN.
A decade on from the first MAMMA MIA! film, but set five years later, the follow-up uses a flashback structure to explore the story of how Donna (played by Meryl Streep and in her youth by Lily James) first came to the Greek island of Kalokairi. Once again, the action is interwoven with dance numbers and the music of ABBA. Functioning as both a prequel and a sequel, the film was shot by Robert Yeoman ASC and directed by Ol Parker, neither of whom had worked on the original movie. Yeoman speaks here about the anamorphic format, working with ARRI Rental UK, and his general approach to the project.
What methods did you and Ol use to differentiate the time periods?
When I first got to England I had the idea of shooting 16 mm for the flashbacks, to give them a distinct look. We shot tests at Shepperton with a 16 mm camera and an ALEXA, and tried to make the ALEXA footage look like 16 mm, but I didn’t want to degrade the image too much because there were certain expectations for the look of the film. Also, we were shooting for six weeks in Croatia and sending the film might have been a little dicey, so we backed off from that idea and decided we’d play around with postproduction tools. We added some grain and a few other subtle things to differentiate the older footage, but a lot of it comes from the wardrobe and art direction. When you first see Lily, she’s identified as being in the 1970s, and after that the audience really doesn’t have any problem knowing they’re back in that time period.
What was the split of location and stage shooting, and what was involved in making them match visually?
The movie was shot in 70 days, so with six weeks on location in Croatia and about a week at locations in and around London, I’d say it was roughly half and half. We were fortunate because we went to Croatia pretty early in the schedule, so when we got back to England we could match on the stage what we had shot on location. My gaffer Pat Sweeney and I put hundreds of SkyPanels up in the ceiling of H Stage at Shepperton, with a giant quarter silk underneath to smooth it all out and provide ambience. He was able to control the color and intensity with an iPad, which was amazing because we could go from day to night in minutes, and of course being LED they kept the stage from getting overwhelmingly hot for the actors.
What was behind your format and lens choices?
We struggled at first with what format to shoot, but the first movie was anamorphic and I always felt anamorphic lenses have almost a magical quality to them, so it seemed like a good way to go. Our 1st AC Julian Bucknall and I tested a whole bunch of lenses and the thing I liked most about the Master Anamorphics was that they held focus all the way across. I knew we would be doing a lot of three shots and I didn’t want to get into a situation where the actor in the middle is sharp, but the ones on the edges are a bit blurry.
I don’t tend to shoot wide open unless I absolutely have to, which I don’t think we ever did, so for the interiors and on the stages I shot T4, and the exteriors were around T5.6 or T8. Sometimes when you shoot wide open, particularly on anamorphics, the backgrounds become so out of focus that it can almost look like greenscreen. I prefer to see a little detail in the background, so T4 is kind of my stop; it works out pretty well and the focus pullers all love it too. I hadn’t used the Master Anamorphics before, but I was very happy with them; they would be my lens of choice if I was shooting anamorphic again, for sure.
How did you tend to use the ALEXA SXT and ALEXA Mini cameras, and why did you choose them?
My first digital film was with an ALEXA and I’ve been an ALEXA person ever since. It’s easy to use and I just like the way it looks; to me it has the most filmic look of all the digital cameras. Mostly we shot we with the SXTs, using the Mini for Steadicam and handheld. I’ve come to really love the Mini actually; I shoot commercials with it all the time now and you could use it to shoot entire movies, it’s a great little camera.
Your equipment was from ARRI Rental UK and you travelled with it to Croatia; did all go well?
ARRI Rental UK did a fabulous job, providing total support. In Croatia we had a big dance number, “Dancing Queen”, and we had to bring more camera people down from London, and more gear. We got all the stuff we needed, and they were always there for us. I have nothing but kind words for the whole ARRI Rental team in London, they were fantastic.