The American Society of Cinematographers

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Entourage Goes Big

Steven Fierberg, ASC, taps 35mm to bring the HBO series about fame and friendship to the silver screen.

Unit photography by Claudette Barius, SMPSP, courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment, Rat-Pac-Dune Entertainment, Entourage Holdings and HBO.

Entourage, the Queens-meets-Hollywood TV series about a newly minted movie star tearing up Tinseltown with his hometown posse, debuted July 18, 2004, on HBO. With only a handful of small projects under his belt, series creator Doug Ellin hit paydirt with the series, which ran for eight seasons. When the show rolled its last end credits in 2011, fans were left pining for the series’ indelible characters: screen idol Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier); his best friend and manager, Eric Murphy (Kevin Connolly); his brother, Johnny “Drama” Chase (Kevin Dillon); helpful hanger-on Turtle (Jerry Ferrara); and, of course, Vinnie’s ever-scheming agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven).

But now they’re back. The Entourage feature finds Ellin back at the helm and Steven Fierberg, ASC — who shot the first 25 episodes of the series and set its visual tone — behind the lens. Since wrapping the show, Fierberg has continued to work with several of his fellow Entourage alumni. “I’ve done a movie and pilot with [director] Julian Farino and two pilots with [director] Mark Mylod,” he says. “I also shot part of Adrian Grenier’s documentary [Teenage Paparazzo] and the feature Dear Eleanor for Kevin Connolly.”

When Fierberg came aboard the feature, he and Ellin talked about the look and spent time watching everything from Goodfellas to Woody Allen comedies. “We wanted to make Entourage as visual as possible,” says Ellin. “It’s not a complete departure from the show, but we wanted to amp it up, so we took the time to get it right. The series was ‘aspirational realism,’ so we still wanted it to look real, not overly stylized, but we wanted to make it pop as much as we could.”

The first shooting decision didn’t take long. “We shot the series on film, and we shot the movie on film,” says Fierberg. “If we do an Entourage 2, we’ll probably shoot that on film, too.” Fierberg is an outspoken advocate of film, believing that grain and other unique characteristics of the medium create an emotional connection with the viewer. “If you have money, and especially if you’re shooting a lot of day scenes, which we did on this movie, you should consider shooting on film,” he says.

Fierberg still vetted some digital cameras during prep, however. “We shot a test with the Arri Alexa and film [using the] same lenses, same everything,” he says. “With 200 ISO film, I think it would be very hard to say film is not better than any digital camera. When you talk about [Kodak Vision3 500T] 5219, which is 500 ASA, you could argue the Alexa has certain advantages. But [Vision3 200T] 5213 is unparalleled.” Fierberg shot with both 5213 and 5219, using Arricam Lites rented from Otto Nemenz.

Both Fierberg and Ellin had strong opinions about how the movie should look in relation to the series. “We both agreed we didn’t want this to be Episode 82 of the show,” says Fierberg. “First of all, we wanted to go widescreen — 2.39:1, not 1.85:1. We try not to do a lot of singles, and 2.39:1 is a good format if you have four people, or even just two people, composed in the frame. We shot 3-perf 35mm, which saved money over 4-perf, but also because anamorphic felt too ‘movie,’ too abstract. Entourage needed to feel real — natural — so spherical felt right.”

Fierberg chose his lenses both to cement the movie’s style and to distinguish it from the series. “We shot with Cooke S4 primes, the Fuji 18-85mm T2.0 zoom, and Angenieux Optimo 15-40mm [T2.6], 28-76mm [T2.6] and 24-290mm [T2.8] zooms,” he says. “On the series, the look was primarily 40mm and 65mm. But on the movie, 21mm, one of my favorite focal lengths, became the normal lens. My favorite lens for stills is 28mm, which is about the same angle of view. I like wide angles, and extreme wide angles as well, and I love telephoto lenses. This movie mixes it up with a big range of lenses.”

Fierberg notes that the series was known for its handheld look, “which many shows copied. I was kind of bored with that look and thought the audience might be, too.” Thus, the decision was made to almost entirely eschew handheld camerawork. “We don’t do it until the very last scene, where it’s done purposefully, as a way to recall the series,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s always dolly or Steadicam.”

One camera move that became a leitmotif of the series is also employed in the movie. “It’s a long master where we trade off characters inside the house and move outside into the sunlight, pulling eight stops, and then go back into the house,” says Fierberg. “We did that extensively in the series, and we did it in the movie. To do complicated hand-offs and staging like that, you have to rehearse a lot.”

A few other complicated sequences also required extensive rehearsing. “Doug and I would stage scenes with stand-ins; I’d shoot them on video with my [Canon] 5D and edit them in Final Cut; and then we’d discuss and fine-tune the result for the ideal pace,” Fierberg says. “Doug is all about rhythm. He has a perfect sense of timing, [like there’s] a metronome in his head, which is why his comedy works so well. With a lot of movies, I’ll make a photo storyboard as part of prep, but this was the most effective way for us to collaborate.”

The most challenging sequence was the movie’s opener: a party on a 110' yacht in Miami’s Biscayne Bay, which doubled for Ibiza, Spain. According to key grip Charles Smallwood, the crew mounted a gyrostabilized digital remote head on the bow of a chase boat and did “some incredibly long-lens work” with a Canon 150-600mm zoom. The scene also involved a camera on a helicopter that could swoop down onto the yacht. Fierberg notes, “The collaboration involving me, executive producer Wayne Carmona and first AD Gary Goldman — who was on Entourage from the beginning — is fantastic, so we always get what we need to make the scene great.

“We planned out very carefully how to do things and then moved quickly from one to the next,” the cinematographer continues. “While the Steadicam team was working, we’d set up the dolly shot, and while the dolly shot was being done, the helicopter was prepping. We used two cameras, less to get two angles and more just to do this kind of leapfrogging. That way, I could set up one shot and then talk to the guys prepping the next one. I watched all the takes, but during the time between shots, I could go over to the other team. I ran a lot — I wasn’t sitting down in the chair very often.”

Helping Fierberg execute this plan were A-camera/Steadicam operator Scott Sakamoto, 1st AC Bob Hall, 2nd AC Dan Schroer, B-camera operators Todd Dos Reis and Mike Weldon, and gaffer Raman Rao. The film was shot on location, except for scenes set in Gold’s office, which was constructed onstage at Warner Bros. in Burbank.

Location work proved to be a bigger challenge during filming of the Southern California scenes. “The houses in the Hollywood Hills were small and located on winding roads that gave us poor access and limited shooting time,” says Rao. “Because of the locations, we limited ourselves to one 10-ton truck. Of course, it helped that we had a small but outstanding rigging crew led by the justifiably renowned D.J. Lootens.”


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