The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents September 2007 Return to Table of Contents
The Bourne Ultimatum
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DVD Playback
Points East
Post Focus
Cinematographer Oliver Wood circles the globe for The Bourne Ultimatum, the third installment of the action franchise.

Unit photography by Jasin Borland, David Lee and Abbot Genser
Based on a character created by Robert Ludlum, the Bourne trilogy — The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum — focuses on a somewhat more cerebral agent than those found in most action movies, one who is always several steps ahead of those pursuing him. All three pictures were shot by Oliver Wood, who notes that “the franchise has an unscripted, spontaneous quality, like we were lucky the cameras happened to be rolling at the right moment. That applies not only to the cinematography, but also to the acting and the way the scenes are blocked.” 

This was especially true on the recently released Bourne Ultimatum, which reunited Wood with Bourne Supremacy director Paul Greengrass. Filmed on location around the world and featuring elaborate chases and other set pieces, the project commenced shooting last winter with a script that was still being hammered out and an early August release date looming on the horizon. “The way you make movies today is so fast,” says Wood. “An all-digital post compresses time. Everyone knows you can change things right up till the last moment. That can make it hard for a cinematographer to build in a look, but on this film that was okay. The style of these movies is a little offbeat, anyway.” 

In Bourne Ultimatum, amnesiac CIA agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) continues his quest to discover his identity and remember details from his past. This time the search takes him to Moscow, Paris, Madrid, London, Tangier and New York, and his efforts are hampered by the fact that he is wanted by law-enforcement agents around the world, and by a group of deep-cover CIA agents supervised by Noah Vosen (David Strathairn).  

Greengrass’ preference for imagery that has a spontaneous feel gave Wood some leeway, in the sense that a fluorescent interior could go a little green, a composition didn’t have to be perfect, and focus could be a bit off for part of a shot, and it would all work within the overall visual style. “Paul trusts his designers and cameramen,” says Wood. “He’s more interested in what the actors are doing and the story of the scene than the camera angles.” Wood and his crew captured the action in an almost documentary fashion, giving Greengrass and the editors plenty of coverage options in the cutting room. 

The cinematographer emphasizes that it requires an extremely skilled camera crew to create the illusion that something just “happened,” and he credits his operators and assistants for their talent and professionalism. “I worked with a mostly English and American crew on Bourne Ultimatum, and they were very attuned to the situation — they’d done a movie before, if you know what I mean. We were also lucky to have very good people on our second unit, especially [director/stunt coordinator] Dan Bradley and [cinematographers] Mark Moriarty and Igor Meglic, and we kept close contact with them. 

“The position of the director of photography nowadays is more that of an organizer and administrator,” he continues. “I’m brought into discussions very early on, and I go on prep whenever possible. But during shooting I might have to leave the set to prepare other stages, and I need to know I can rely on excellent A-camera operators who can run the camera department while I’m gone.” On Bourne Ultimatum, as on Bourne Supremacy, Wood’s right-hand men were A-camera operator Klemens Becker and B-camera operator Florian Emmerich. 

With Greengrass, the action is always covered with two or more cameras, usually handheld. “Sometimes we’d have a second camera, or a third and fourth, on a dolly with a 12:1 zoom, but we’d set it up to have that kind of loose feeling,” says Wood. Working handheld “is physically very demanding work. Being on a dolly or crane is a lot easier than picking up the camera and running around, zooming. Klemens and Florian are great. I would have been burned out in a few days trying to do what they did!” The cinematographer pulled focus early in his career and expresses a particular appreciation of that job, especially on films as kinetic as this one. “Pulling focus can be the most nightmarish position on the set. There are so many sleepless nights. Very few people know how hard it is to be a focus puller.” 

“On most shows everything has to be sharp, but Paul and Oliver gave everybody freedom,” says A-camera 1st AC Birgit “Bebe” Dierken, who also worked with Greengrass on United 93 (shot by Barry Ackroyd, BSC; see AC June ’06). “At first it’s hard to let things go out of focus, but after a couple of weeks you get used to it and realize it gives you creative input. Suddenly you’re throwing into focus what you think is important, following your own instincts and those of the operator; if I felt a hand in the foreground should be more dominant, I’d focus on that. Oliver is very supportive, and he has so much enthusiasm for the job that it’s contagious. It makes everyone more excited and willing to experiment.” 

The production’s camera package was supplied by Arri Media in London. The main cameras — Arricam Lites and Arri 235s — were focused remotely with Arri’s LCS-3 wireless remote-focus system. Operators could control the zooms while shooting handheld, and the focus pullers would use their monitors and judgment to control focus. The picture was shot in Super 35mm full frame, without hard mattes. “I like to have everything on the negative,” says Wood. “I reframe things in the digital intermediate [DI] quite often.” 

The production carried Cooke S4 primes lenses and an Arri LWZ 15.5-45mm zoom, but the crew “mostly used lightweight zooms that I had specially made from two Nikon digital still-photography lenses, a 28-70mm and an 80-200mm,” says Wood. “Arri in Munich converted them to lightweight cinema-style zooms, and they work quite well. The Nikon glass is brilliant.” Dierken notes, “We called them the Oliver Lenses, and they helped the operators shoot everything handheld with the documentary approach Oliver and Paul wanted. Unlike other zooms, which are either too heavy or too slow, these zooms opened up to T2.8 and were quite light. Arri made the housings in six weeks, and the lenses turned out to be very sharp and the contrast was quite good. [Still-photography] lenses turn the opposite of the way cine-style lenses do, which could have been unpleasant if we’d used a normal follow focus, but with the LCS-3 we were able to just reverse the gears. The lenses worked so well that we ended up shooting 70 percent of the movie with them, and now Arri is making more!” 

Wood shot Bourne Ultimatum on two Kodak Vision2 emulsions, 250D 5205 and 500T 5218. “I used to rate Kodak’s 500-speed stocks at [EI] 320 or 400,” he says, “but with the Vision2 stocks I don’t need to get quite such a thick negative to get the same result, so I actually rated them at what was written on the can.” 

One of the major set pieces in the film concerns a chase over rooftops and through a series of apartment buildings in Tangier, Morocco, overlooking the large marketplace called the Medina. Moriarty, the 2nd-unit cinematographer in England and Morocco, explains, “Bourne is following two people from afar, so we were on the rooftops about 70 feet up. The special-effects department positioned a massive cable rig for the camera that spanned six buildings; it was held up on one end by a crane and on the other by the roof of a building. Dan Bradley likes to do setups many different ways and run at least three cameras for every take, so we got a great deal of coverage.” 

Moriarty notes that such work in a place like Morocco can present problems he wouldn’t expect to encounter in some other countries. “We wanted to get a Chapman
Lenny 2 crane on the roof for some shots, and we all agreed we could do it, but then all of a sudden someone got cold feet. The crane weighs a lot, and you can’t just check the building specs in Morocco like you can in Britain or America. The buildings are at least 100 years old, and they don’t have all that information.”

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