ALEXA 65 and DNA lenses on BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Newton Thomas Sigel ASC collaborates with ARRI Rental to develop a unique set of DNA lenses for the Freddie Mercury biopic, captured primarily with the ALEXA 65.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY relates the turbulent life of Mercury, flamboyant frontman of rock group Queen, from the band’s beginnings up to its historic performance at London’s Wembley Stadium for the Live Aid concert in 1985. Having previously used the ALEXA 65 with Prime 65 and Vintage 765 lenses on MARSHALL, Sigel turned to ARRI Rental’s exclusive 65 mm format again, this time choosing DNA lenses that were developed in-house. Directed by Bryan Singer, with Dexter Fletcher stepping in for the final leg of filming, the production was supplied by ARRI Rental UK.
What dictated your visual approach to this film?
I wanted to create a different language for each phase of the narrative. After an opening Live Aid teaser, we begin Freddie’s story in 1970s London, where we also meet the band for the first time. We photographed this first act with the ALEXA SXT and Cooke Speed Panchro lenses; it beautifully represented the idealistic romanticism the band had at the outset. Queen then got discovered and became a huge sensation, and as they launched onto the world stage and became an international phenomenon, we broke into large format with the ALEXA 65 and DNA lenses, some of which were made specifically for our film.
What made the DNAs the right choice?
I was playing with how to capture the look of the 1970s and 1980s. ARRI Rental had been making the DNA lenses and I tested them along with a number of other lenses, looking for that combination of both the high resolution that the ALEXA 65 gives you, with the softer roll-off that some of the older lenses give you. The DNAs were a perfect combination with the 65.
Each lens in the DNA world, and in particular our set, had its own characteristics, its own fall-off, its own range from the center to the edge of the frame, its own depth of field, even. It went beyond simply numbers on a chart. One of the things we did early on was test each lens under a variety of conditions and tried to get to know them—what does this lens give us and what does that lens give us, and apply it to the particular scene. Maybe it’s a softer, more romantic scene, or maybe it’s a harsher, more emotionally wrought scene. We found that, not only from lens to lens, but even going say from wide open to T2.8 or T4, an individual lens would start to take on a different characteristic. Sometimes we would literally switch between the A-camera and B-camera lens, to get that characteristic.
Which particular focal lengths were your go-to DNA lenses?
We had our heroes. We loved the 45 mm and 55 mm, which were our workhorses. For closer work, the 70 mm, 80 mm and 110 mm did the job. They each had their own personality—part of what we were looking for was a film that wasn’t perfect technically, but had an organic, handmade quality. At the same time, we wanted to retain the tremendous picture detail of the ALEXA 65. One of the great things about this camera is that it gives you greater resolution without being sharper or contrasty. It has tremendous half tones and subtleties in its rendering.
I think as cameras get higher and higher resolution, filmmakers are trying to see what tools they can use to retain an emotional, painterly feel in their films. The 65 can deliver the high dynamic range and ultra high definition that modern displays are demanding without being harsh. And the lenses are becoming almost like film stocks were in the past, where filmmakers and cinematographers are looking at the characteristics of the lens to give the storytelling a personality that goes beyond just high bit depth and high pixel counts.
How was your experience of working with ARRI Rental?
Our film was serviced by ARRI Rental UK in London and we had tremendous help from Russell and the gang there. I was shooting not only with the ALEXA 65, but with all kinds of other formats, and they were fabulous at bringing stuff out at the last second. Our schedule had a number of hiccups and changes in it, but we were able to get some of the obscure equipment that we were using at a moment’s notice, which was always great. They also came through with some funny lenses, when we needed to create unusual points of view; we designed a reverse optics lens for one sequence, which worked stunningly well. I can’t say a bad word about the ARRI Rental team.