The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Tulip Fever
Page 2
ASC Close-Up

      Niblett found the story’s heart in medium shots and close-ups of the competitors’ and judges’ faces. He registered the judges’ initial condescension, and the shock of everyone — except Agalai and Aisholpan — when the 13-year-old girl not only won the competition, but bested the record time for calling an eagle.

      Winning the Golden Eagle competition did not yet make Aisholpan a master, however; she still had to prove her skill in a winter hunt, tracking foxes across snow. Bell suffered a serious broken arm before this trip, and although he made it to Mongolia, the injury forced him home, leaving only Niblett and Crossley to film this final test. With average temperatures of -4 degrees Fahrenheit, and nights commonly at -40 degrees, this proved to be the most physically brutal shoot of Niblett’s career.

      To keep certain pieces of equipment from freezing, he enveloped them in racing-car tire warmers that were placed inside an insulated cooler bag, and then put this on top of a running auto engine. “Mainly drone batteries,” Niblett replies when asked which equipment needed such warming. “[They] have to be lithium polymer due to the very high discharge rates. Their performance drops hugely if they are below about 5 degrees C. Also the Blackmagic Pocket camera batteries, and indeed the camera — we would sometimes record continuously on the camera to keep it warm. Because it’s a raw camera, the small processor in it has to work very hard, so it generates a lot of heat. We also ran the tire warmers off batteries when away from the van, and it was ‘chicken and egg’ [because] the tire-warmer batteries needed warming!”

      It was often impossible to see anything on the cameras’ LCD screens, since they frosted almost immediately, and Niblett and Crossley had to choose between working with bulky gloves and frozen hands. Aisholpan’s task was not an easy one, and she and her father ventured out many days before ultimately succeeding.

      Both Niblett and Bell realized the film needed more than spectacular outdoor scenes to truly reveal Aisholpan’s story, but it was difficult for two Englishmen to overcome her natural reserve. Fortunately, they were introduced to Martina Radwan, a cinematographer and director who has extensive experience making films in Mongolia and helping young people. She traveled with only a translator to live with Aisholpan’s family in their one-room house in the countryside, and then with their relatives in the village where Aisholpan attends school. 

      Radwan’s intimate work opens up the family’s personal life. Shooting with a C300 Mark I, she sometimes used a polarizer with her set of Canon EF zooms, comprising a 17-55mm (f2.8), 24-105mm (f4) and 70-200mm (f2.8). “I would use the polarizer filter only for exteriors, to enhance the contrast in sky and clouds,” she says.

      “The people are not used to a camera, so it’s a bit of a struggle to capture them,” Radwan continues. “They often are shy or think they need to perform for the camera. In that sense, it was good that I was by myself. I captured beautiful moments of Aisholpan, particularly at school, where I encouraged her to talk to her friends about her experience as an eagle huntress, which she had never done before.”

      Despite having multiple cinematographers shooting in various locations at different times of year, The Eagle Huntress is visually seamless. Niblett credits much of the continuity to the cameras. “We captured in full 5K on the Reds, 4K on the BM Cinema Camera and 1080p raw on the Pocket Camera,” he explains. “The Epic is versatile and robust, and the R3D files it produces are highly gradable, which meant we could match the cameras more easily. Both of the Blackmagic cameras shoot raw DNG files, so again it made the grade more efficient.” The grade was conducted at executive producer Morgan Spurlock’s New York studio, where colorist Brian Boyd — with Niblett present — worked with Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve.

      Niblett has shot more than 200 documentaries in 150 countries, built some 18 drones of his own design, and flown them in locations as remote as Antarctica. With The Eagle Huntress he faced some of the toughest conditions of his career and returned with brilliant imagery of a magnificent landscape and the unique people who inhabit it. That Niblett can artistically thrive on today’s cutting edge is due in part to the fact that he integrates the old with the new. As he says, “I used my good old Ronford-Baker tripod, which — in 30 years of owning all sorts of equipment — is the only piece of equipment I have had since I started in this job.”



Digital Capture

Canon EOS C300 Mark I, EOS-1D Mark IV; GoPro Hero4 Black; Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera, Production Camera 4K; Red Epic Mysterium-X

Duclos, Red, Canon

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