The American Society of Cinematographers

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ASC Theatrical Nominees
Adam Arkapaw
Mátyás Erdély
Cary Joji Fukunaga
ASC Close-Up


Cinematographer: Adam Arkapaw

Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw receives his first ASC nomination for the bold adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, directed by his friend and frequent collaborator Justin Kurzel. The two have made many commercials together, as well as the features The Snowtown Murders and Assassin’s Creed (due out later this year).

“Justin and I met in film school, and we’ve known each other for 12 years,” Arkapaw told American Cinematographer. “Over time we have developed a lot of trust in each other, and we definitely have a shorthand. I know what he likes and doesn’t like. He’s very trusting with me about coverage, lighting and color, to the point where I don’t really need to run a lot of what I’m going to do by him. I just know him so well … that he trusts me to do what I think is best.”

Arkapaw noted that he had a sentimental connection to “the Scottish Play,” explaining, “My dad was an English teacher in Australia. I never really understood how great literature was, or why my dad loved it, until high school, when he took me away for two weeks to study Macbeth. He showed me the art behind the words and the various meanings that could be deduced from the text. It was an inspiring and eye-opening experience, the genesis of my love of literature and storytelling. So, many years later, it was really meaningful to have an opportunity as a cinematographer to ‘give back’ to this play.”

Opting for digital capture because “we wanted the movie to look contemporary,” Arkapaw chose the Arri Alexa XT Plus, shooting in ArriRaw and mainly using Panavision C and E Series anamorphic lenses. “The aberrations of anamorphic help create an expressionistic and painterly effect, and they also play against the sharpness of [digital capture],” he said.

The first battle scene in the film, which shows Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) immobile while the soldiers around him are moving in slow motion, “went through different versions,” said Arkapaw. “At first we were scheduled to have 10 days to shoot it, which became six, which became three! But sometimes restrictions can be the best thing for your movie. We simplified the battle to one charge where Macbeth went through a number of kills, saw the witches, and then had a second run. We cross-shot it, running with Michael from three different angles, and we also had a [Vision Research] Phantom Flex camera, which gave us about 10 seconds to keep [per take].”

A key scene between Macbeth and his wife (played by Marion Cotillard) is set in a small candlelit church. “It was a small space, so we created a wedge light,” Arkapaw recalled. “We started with an 8-by-4 poly up against a wall, and then placed a light on the ground at a 45-degree angle, pointed into the poly. Then we draped a Grid Cloth from the top of the poly to the ground, surrounding the light. This created a compact source in the shape of a wedge.” To simulate candlelight, Arkapaw used Showtec Sunstrips, thin strips of 10 DMX-controlled MR16 tungsten bulbs. “My gaffer, Lee Walters, had just come off Fury, where he used them for firelight at night. We put together panels with five Sunstrips, which gave us about 50 of those hard little lights. Someone has done a very clever job of putting a DMX chase system into the Sunstrips, so all the little globes glow on and off. It looks pretty convincing, the best [firelight simulation] I’ve come across.

“With Shakespeare, you can take the interpretation so many different places,” the cinematographer noted. “Instead of plotting out scenes with pen and paper, Justin was really keen to explore it on set with the performance. He could do 10 takes of a scene, and every take would be markedly different. I’ve never been more excited or inspired on set, because you never really knew what Michael or Marion would bring to it. It was so interesting and inspiring to see the range of interpretation that’s possible with such a great piece of literature.”

Adapted from a Q&A in the January 2016 issue. Original reporting by Benjamin B. The full article is available online.



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