The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Table of Contents July 2016 Return to Table of Contents
Page 2
Page 3
ASC Close-Up

Applying this to bluescreen work, the filmmakers opted to place their main actors in front of real objects — “a plane, a wall, a rock,” Förderer suggests — such that matte lines would appear around those objects rather than around the actors themselves. Thus the break between in-camera and visual-effects imagery appears where it won’t be “as scrutinized or important,” the cinematographer explains. “This makes the shot not only cheaper but that much more effective. Roland is a master at this. He has an ‘eagle eye’ for making sure that the principal elements of a shot have clean silhouettes that [don’t overlap] the effects. In a movie like Independence Day, when you’re cutting to a new shot every few seconds, you only have to deflect [the viewers’] attention for a short period of time.

“So many cinematographers and gaffers obsess about the perfect blue- and greenscreen,” Förderer continues. “They spend hours carefully making sure it’s all evenly lit and always at a consistent stop. The truth is, as long as you have an evenly lit area around your main subject and enough contrast to separate the subject from the background, the rest of it doesn’t matter. The effects artists will matte it out, anyway.”

One sequence shot on stage in New Mexico employed photographic backings. While in the first Independence Day an iconic scene featured Will Smith’s character dragging an alien across the barren Bonneville Salt Flats in northwestern Utah, this time around the flats are the setting where a school bus full of children race for their lives. Concerned about the cost and practicality of sending the production to the salt flats, the producers asked Förderer whether there might be another solution. After scouting the flats, the cinematographer determined in this specific case that there was no benefit to shooting on location.

“We went to look at the salt flats, and there’s no depth out there at all,” he says. “It’s infinite white space, almost like snow, and mountains so far away that there’s no parallax. You have no sense of distance whatsoever. I said, ‘There’s no point going there to shoot. We can easily do this on stage.’ I shot plates with a Red Dragon, shooting at a very tight shutter angle and slowly panning 360 degrees. We then extracted stills from this footage and I sent them to Rosco, and they created one huge photographic backing for us.”

The production opted for Rosco’s SoftDrop backings, which are made from a woven, wrinkle-resistant, all-natural cotton fabric. The SoftDrop falls easily with minimal creases, can be backlit and has essentially no sheen. “One of the things to keep in mind with a backdrop like this is to let it blow out a little,” Förderer notes. “Let it lose a little detail, which will make it feel real. People make that mistake a lot and they expose ‘properly,’ and then it looks fake — it’s too controlled.”

Independence Day: Resurgence had one principal unit, with no second unit. “On these big films, no one questions having a second unit,” Förderer attests. “But they’re not always as efficient as you want them to be. To give the director options, they’ll generally shoot way more than the first unit would shoot, and if you don’t like it you end up throwing it out and reshooting it anyway. We budgeted it in from the beginning that we would be shooting all our own inserts and cutaways, and figured an extra two to three hours each day to get that stuff — but it makes sense. You’re already lit for it and you know exactly what you want and need. Sure, it means the actors might have to stand around a little bit while you shoot a piece of paper on a desk, but in the end it’s a lot more efficient and cost effective.” Förderer reports that the production employed approximately two days of separate stunt inserts.

As is the director’s preference, Emmerich’s master shots were most often captured with a moving camera. Noting that “camera movement is designed to not attract any attention,” Förderer expresses the importance of being “very smooth, always in the right place and always moving. There’s a lot of Technocrane and Steadicam [on this project] to keep the image alive at all times. We also knew this was going to be a 3D movie [following a stereoscopic conversion in postproduction handled by Stereo D], and movement is very important in 3D for depth perception. There was no set rulebook for how and when we moved — it was mostly motivated by characters and story.” The production also made use of dollies, tracks and handheld. François Daignault served as A-camera, Steadicam and Technocrane operator.

To ensure smooth cuts with the master shot, Emmerich’s coverage tended to be moving, as well. “You end up with this master shot and all of these people choreographed and moving through the frame with incredible precision,” Förderer says. “Then we go into coverage and every shot covers the full action, even if you’re moving on a 135mm lens for a close-up! Sometimes it’s impossible to keep focus on those shots, but you know you have other moments to [cut away to], since every shot covers all the action.

“Roland organizes and orchestrates all the actors and background,” Förderer relates. “We talk [briefly] about where to place cameras, we do one rehearsal, and he sees what will potentially be a problem in close-up 5 or 10 setups later, and we change it for the master to avoid the problem later. It’s a big puzzle, and it’s a challenge to light this way because we’re basically always lighting for 360 degrees. We might bring in a diffusion frame from time to time if we’re shooting a special close-up, but otherwise our master look is what we run with for the coverage. This is where LED really helps; it’s quick and easy to dial in a little more backlight or fade up or down an area as we pass by it. It’s amazing how fast it can go.”

In commending the crew of Independence Day: Resurgence, Förderer acknowledges “key grip Kurt Kornemann and his team, who were phenomenal and always open to new ideas, and gaffer Jay Kemp, who jumped deep into using brand-new LED technology like the Digital Sputniks.”

The cinematographer, who is still in his early 30s, admits, “I get flack sometimes for being so young. Roland told the studio that I was his guy and they didn’t question it, but then they met me and they were like, ‘Oh, my God! You’re a baby! Is this legal?’” Förderer says with a laugh — and adds in conclusion, “People ask me, ‘You’re so young, how can you handle this big show?’ The truth is that it’s no different from any other show. You have a schedule, you have shots and coverage, you have lighting and lenses and camera, and you deal with it all one shot at a time. Big budget, small budget — it’s all about being prepared and creating the best image you can, and that’s how I approached this film.”

A link to the film's trailer can be found below.




Red Epic Dragon, Weapon

Vantage Film Hawk V-Plus, Hawk V-Lite; Arri/Fujinon Alura; Zeiss Compact Zoom

Related Links

<< previous || next >>