The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Presidents Desk
Southpaw
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DiaryofTeenageGirl
ASC Close-Up
Southpaw

Director Antoine Fuqua and Mauro Fiore, ASC, aim for maximum authenticity in the ring.



Unit photography by Scott Garfield, SMPSP, courtesy of The Weinstein Co.


“I’ve been boxing since I was a kid,” says director Antoine Fuqua. “I love the sport of boxing, and I love the science of boxing. When I go to fights, there is an energy in those arenas that you feel. The air is thick with a sense of violence. Once the bell rings, the fight starts and it’s just two men, going at it pound for pound.”

Fuqua’s passion permeates Southpaw, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as boxer Billy Hope; Rachel McAdams as his wife, Maureen; and Forest Whitaker as Billy’s mentor and trainer. The film — which follows Hope through his fight to the top, the tragic events that tear his life apart, and his struggle for redemption — was shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore, ASC, whose collaborations with Fuqua include Training Day, Tears of the Sun and the upcoming Western The Magnificent Seven.

Southpaw is a project that Antoine has been passionate about for a long time,” says Fiore. “We talked about this film four years ago, and finally the Weinsteins decided to produce with Jake in the starring role.”

As Gyllenhaal was training — triple sessions daily alongside Fuqua — the director started talking with Fiore about how to “get into the head of Billy Hope and conceptually deal with his breakdown,” the cinematographer says. The idea they came up with was twofold. First was the look they hoped to achieve from each of the four fight scenes in the movie: “Reality,” explains Fuqua. “As close to reality as you could possibly get in a film.”

Second was to tell Hope’s story through each fight. “We didn’t do a lot of specific storyboarding,” Fiore says. “We tried to let the action lead the concept. Antoine wanted the first fight — which takes place at Madison Square Garden — to be the introduction of the fighter and his character. It’s very observational, with an objective viewpoint.” The fights that follow become increasingly subjective. In the second fight, notes Fiore, “we are slowly getting into the ring with him, and into his head.” And it’s a brutal match — or as Fuqua puts it, “self-punishment. A sense of guilt and an attempt at suicide.”

By the time the film reaches the final fight, “we’ve mounted cameras onto the fighters, so you become part of Billy’s mind and expression,” Fiore says. “You experience the fight the same way he does.”

Fuqua’s ambitious plan was to shoot all four fights in the first two weeks of production. “We had a lot of doubt at first,” admits Fiore. “Jake and the other fighters had to be prepared to go all the rounds of each fight without stopping, and we were rolling the whole time. It was exhausting for them, but it ended up being incredible, due to Jake’s preparedness and Antoine’s intensity in getting the action in a continuous run.”

Each fight was highly choreographed, says Fiore, thus calling for substantial rehearsal time. “We had monitors for every camera, the same way you would in TV coverage, and we ran through what everyone would be doing,” says the cinematographer. “We’d specifically communicate after we filmed each fight; we’d play back and observe, and talk about what we could do to improve.”

The filmmakers turned to HBO World Championship Boxing as their model, particularly for the first fight. To ensure authenticity, the production brought on two seasoned HBO Boxing camera operators, Todd Palladino and Rick Cypher. Palladino, a 13-year veteran of HBO Boxing as a ringside handheld-camera operator, explains, “We did multiple takes of the fight sequences, including different camera angles, as well as rolling straight through. [During those extended takes] we averaged two to four rounds of boxing, with each round being three minutes long without a cut, covering it like a live televised fight. [Shooting ringside] is so intimate; it really brings the viewer into the action.”

Palladino adds that on occasion, he has nearly been knocked out of the ring. “You try to anticipate the direction the boxer will go, but I’ve had some near misses where the glove has hit the camera. Once in awhile, I’ll get splattered by sweat or blood, which can take you out of the game a little bit.” No strangers to scripted drama, Palladino and Cypher worked previously on The Fighter (AC, Jan. '11) and Grudge Match. “We’ve become Hollywood’s go-to guys for fighting movies, I guess,” Palladino lightheartedly observes.

Fuqua and Fiore attended an HBO match at Madison Square Garde to both observe and shoot background plates. “The visit to Madison Square Garden for a fight was when it all came to life,” Fiore recalls. “It’s a huge, spectacular event. Production designer Derek Hill and I had already done a lot of research into the HBO world of fighting, and at the fight, we were able to walk around, talk to every technician and even get lighting diagrams.”

The plate shoot focused on a center block of the audience, which would be used to re-create a 360-degree view via visual effects. “We were collecting massive audience plates,” says Fiore. “The scale is incredible when you have so many people.”

These large audience plates were a crucial acquisition, as the location that would stand in for Madison Square Garden was a modest space at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “That's what was available, and we tried to create the ring as accurately as possible,” says Fiore. “We could put in our lighting rigs and stay there for the period of time we needed to shoot. Even if the scale wasn’t accurate, the center of the ring was.”

Fiore gave the maps and diagrams of Madison Square Garden to lighting-console programmer and operator Kevin Hogan, who explains, “They asked me to figure out the rig, but there were hundreds of fixtures and perimeter trusses, and it wasn’t possible for us to do. So there were a lot of discussions about how much to shoot practically and how much would be expanded in visual effects.” With a mandate to create as much footage in-camera as possible, Fiore also conferred with visual-effects supervisor Sean Devereaux on the specifics of virtually expanding the arena.

To re-create an HBO-style experience, the production employed six Arri Alexa XTs supplied by Arri Rental. Radiant Images provided the lens package, as well as Vision Research Phantom, Silicon Imaging SI-2K Mini and Red Epic Dragon cameras, which were used for specialized shots. HBO is specific about camera placement, a blueprint Fiore followed as closely as possible. “One camera is in the middle of the audience, and you get left and right of the ring,” he says. “[They are] very specific as to height; you had to see above the second rope, meaning the fighters would be clear of all the ropes.” According to 1st AC Larry Nielsen, an Angenieux HR 25-250mm (T3.5) zoom was used for these shots.

Another camera was above the ring near the location’s ceiling, 40'-50' up, and captured the image for the Jumbotron. “In Madison Square Garden, the operator has a huge pedestal camera with zoom controls in a steel deck above the audience,” says Fiore. Nielsen reports that the high-angle camera used in the film was fitted with an Angenieux Optimo 24-290mm (T2.8) zoom.

 

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