Quantum of Solace: Forging A New Bond

Roberto Schaefer, ASC, AIC and director Marc Forster continue their filmmaking partnership with the 22nd James Bond feature.

Mark Hope-Jones

Unit photography by Karen Ballard and Susie Allnut

Click this image for our complete Bond story collection.

James Bond needs no introduction. Conceived by his creator, Ian Fleming, as “an anonymous blunt instrument” wielded by the British government, the suave but ruthless secret agent is perhaps Britain’s best-known fictional character. Because it was based on the first Bond novel, the last Bond film, Casino Royale (AC Dec. ’06), presented an opportunity to not only usher in a new lead actor, Daniel Craig, but also start afresh with the character. Emotionally hardened by his first mission as a licensed-to-kill operative, Bond returns to the screen this month in Quantum of Solace, directed by Marc Forster and shot by Roberto Schaefer, ASC, AIC.

“When Marc told me he had been offered this movie, my response was, ‘How could you not do a Bond film?’”
— Roberto Schaefer, ASC, AIC

This article was originally published in AC Nov. 2008.

“When Marc told me he had been offered this movie, my response was, ‘How could you not do a Bond film?’” recalls Schaefer, who has shot all of Forster’s films. “He wasn’t sure because the script didn’t really exist at that time, but I told him that to be part of a Bond film is every boy’s dream. Our editor, Matt Chesse, said exactly the same thing. The dream of doing Bond sort of sucked us into the reality of it.”

Once onboard, Forster envisioned a stylistic approach that combined elements of early Bond films with a more contemporary look. “I loved the Bond films with Ken Adam’s production design,” says the director. “Those movies were so much about style, design and clothing. I wanted to go back to that and yet still make a modern Bond.”

Crucial to achieving this look was production designer Dennis Gassner (The Golden Compass, AC Dec. ’07), who was making his first foray into the world of 007. “Dennis is really collaborative, maybe more so than anyone I’ve ever worked with,” notes Schaefer. “So often on films, there are incredible sets, but [shots] end up being fairly close and you don’t really see them. When I see beautiful architecture, I want to show it off; without being gratuitous, I like to find a way to work good sets into a film.” In practical terms, this meant frequently using the wider end of the filmmakers’ set of Arri/Zeiss Master Primes. According to A-camera operator George Richmond, “Our hero sizes were between a 21mm and a 35mm. We would use them to show the sets and develop master shots, and then we might punch in and use longer lenses to bring the performances out for key moments in a scene.”

Another of the filmmakers’ ideas was to deliberately compose partially obscured frames, in the spirit of Roman Polanski’s famous shot of Ruth Gordon sitting half-concealed by a door in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). “I think those sorts of obscurities increase tension, because everything you don’t see is left to the imagination of the audience,” explains Forster. “It applies not just to framing, but also to characters and the things they reveal or don’t reveal. That’s what makes Bond so interesting: he is hidden from us.”

Schaefer encouraged various departments to let things be obscured occasionally, but found “it sort of goes against everyone’s instincts, so we had to fight to let things stack up in the frame without people moving them out of the way. We probably didn’t get quite as much of that as we hoped to, but we also didn’t want the first-unit material to stand out from the second-unit footage.”

As is typical on a Bond film, the second unit’s work was extensive, and this influenced the filmmakers’ decision to shoot Super 35mm. (The second unit was led by director Dan Bradley and director of photography Shaun O’Dell, collaborators on The Bourne Ultimatum.) Schaefer initially considered 2-perf, which was ruled out because of the unforgiving lack of space between frames, and anamorphic, a favorite on previous Bond films. “Marc and I really wanted anamorphic, and the effects team could have worked with it, but in the end, we went with spherical because the post schedule was so tight we knew they’d be delivering effects up to the last day of my final grade,” says the cinematographer. “We didn’t want to be a week away from the film being shown and still getting effects shots delivered that we weren’t happy with yet.

“On the other hand, my difficulty with spherical and specifically the digital-intermediate [DI] process is that anybody can go in and change everything — editors can reframe to make an edit work without paying sufficient attention to composition,” he continues. “If you shoot anamorphic, you’ve got the top and bottom of the frame, and that’s it. Spherical was a double-edged sword; certain things worked to my advantage, but I was also fighting to protect my compositions.”

While the main unit shot 3-perf Super 35mm, the second unit shot 4-perf using a centered 2.40:1 ground glass. “I couldn’t be sure they would frame to my liking, and that gave me a lot of room to rack up and down,” explains Schaefer. “Also, there was a lot of action, so if a fast-moving object goes out of your frame and then comes back again, there’s something you can do about it later.”

An Arricam Studio served as the A camera, and an Arricam Lite was the B, which was used both for studio and handheld setups. A second Lite was dedicated to Steadicam work, while an Arri 235 was employed in particularly demanding handheld situations. In addition, several Arri 435s were used for high-speed filming. George Richmond and his brother, focus puller Jonathan “Chunky” Richmond, have a unique way of configuring the 235 to give them as much maneuverability as possible. “We use a bag strap that enables you to wear the camera almost like a banjo, with handles attached to each side,” says George. “We take the eyepiece off and use a monitor instead. If you’re nimble, you can get lens heights from just below the knees to just above the eyes all in one go. It’s basically a very stripped-down version of the camera, with a small lightweight battery and a transmitter that keep us free and untethered. Chunky was on remote focus, and we could dart around the actors to get interesting positions very quickly.”

Although many scenes required multiple cameras, the filmmakers shot one-camera setups whenever they could. “I like shooting single-camera,” notes Schaefer. “The idea of using two cameras often comes up for cross-dialogue shooting because it saves time and helps the actors, but it’s just awful for the lighting, and it’s a challenge to keep each camera out of the other’s shot. With two cameras, I’d rather shoot two different focal lengths from the same direction, but then the sound department says it can’t get a microphone in for the tight shot because you’re shooting wide as well. Of course, [sound] is the last thing you think about as a cinematographer, but I try to help them, and I have a good relationship with [production sound mixer] Chris Munro.”

Since Monster’s Ball (2001), Schaefer and Forster have made a habit of setting aside several weeks during prep to draw up detailed schematics of how they intend to shoot every single scene. “On the blueprint of a location, I’ll draw in the camera position and direction, specifying the lens and the shot number,” explains the cinematographer. “Next to that will be a list describing the shot from beginning to end; if there’s a dolly, I’ll mark the tracks, or if there’s a crane, I’ll show the movement. It’s like a storyboard that uses overhead schematics instead of pictures.”

These schematics become a guidebook for the entire shoot, and copies of the pages relevant to each day’s filming are circulated with the daily call sheets. “It’s a very good way of working because we communicate to the crew exactly what we want,” says Forster. “Our first assistant director can use the pages to do a lot of the logistical planning, and that gives me time to work with the actors.” Schaefer describes the preparation as “more mentally exhausting than the shoot, just because it’s such a feat of imagination and memory to sit in a room and map out every different angle and shot of every different location. But it pays off.

“Of course, being in the actual space can throw up new perspectives or problems, so we do sometimes stray from our plans,” he continues. “If I see an angle or a camera move that simply works better, I’ll show it to Marc, and as long as he can make it flow with the scenes that come before and after, he’ll go for it.” On Quantum, Forster had a PL-mount viewfinder with either a 15-40mm or 28-76mm Angenieux Optimo zoom and a very small monitor attached to it so he could discuss how shots would work with Schaefer and others; Schaefer had the zooms marked up to exactly match the Master Prime set, so when Forster selected a focal length from his finder, there was no discrepancy between what he saw and what the camera would shoot.

One of the most dramatic sequences in Quantum is an aerial chase involving a Marchetti turboprop military aircraft and a Douglas DC-3 piloted by Bond. Bradley, aerial director of photography David B. Nowell, ASC, and aerial camera operator Ron Goodman traveled to Mexico to film exteriors, some of which were captured by SpaceCam’s new SnakeHead, a stabilized optical system that mounts to the nose and tail of a Piper Aerostar plane. “The SnakeHead allowed us to get shots at speeds and angles we have never had the chance to get before,” says Nowell. “It was the perfect camera setup for shooting this exciting chase sequence, which involves fixed-wing aircraft flying down through very narrow canyons.” Also in Mexico, visual-effects designer Kevin Tod Haug (The Kite Runner; AC Nov. ’07) oversaw the photography of plate shots that would later be composited with the aircraft interiors to be shot at Pinewood Studios in England. “We knew that by the time we came to shoot the DC-3 interiors, it would be too late to go back to Mexico,” says Haug. “So we were running up and down canyons with a SpaceCam/Imax rig and a 30mm lens that gave us a 170-degree field of view, shooting everything we could. From that, we could carve out any section we might need later, depending on the lenses that we chose, to use as an undistorted background.”

Once the second unit’s work on this sequence was complete, “my editor put the footage together so we could decide where we would cut to the DC-3 interior,” says Forster. “We had part of a plane on a gimbal at Pinewood, and we programmed it according to the cuts so the gimbal would move exactly like the plane moved in the exterior footage.” Inside the plane, three remote-head rigs were built for a few specific shots; for everything else, the Richmond brothers were trying to stay on their feet with the Arri 235. “It was very claustrophobic but very energetic — the camera being independent of the plane’s movement really gave the footage life,” says George Richmond. “At one stage, I was strapped to the nose of the plane with the 235 strapped to me, I was looking through the window, and we had the plane go from horizontal to almost vertical. Our key grip, Dave Appleby, was instrumental on all the rigs and made it safe for me to do that kind of work.”

Forster is a great proponent of location filming, and, given Bond’s jet-setting lifestyle, this meant the production traveled all over the world, making long stops in Panama and Chile. “I think you feel the texture and character of a real location, and it’s very hard to re-create that on a stage,” says Forster. “I will often find a place I love that is very small and really challenging for Roberto to light, and the great thing about Roberto is that he values real locations and understands why I want to shoot in them. He adapts with all sorts of methods and is always prepared to take the chance and go with it.”

“There were some restrictive locations on this film,” observes Schaefer. “For example, some of the old city streets in Panama are very narrow, and it was hard to do the cabling or get cranes in there. For lighting, we relied on Wendys, Dinos and 18Ks — pretty standard stuff. My general approach to lighting was to use a lot of fall-off. This movie features a lot more dramatic use of darkness than other Bond films.”

One particularly cramped location was a run-down building in Colon that doubled for a hotel in Haiti. Bond gets caught up in a violent knife fight, and because the rooms were so small and the action so extensive, Schaefer’s only option was to light from outside. “I’d planned to use Condors with Arrimax lights and MaxMovers outside the windows, but when we got there, it was too windy,” he recalls. “One of the lights broke, and then the remote stirrups didn’t want to work. In the end, we used just one light locked in one position and secured to the surrounding buildings with wires to keep it from swaying.”

The kinetic action and limited space provided George Richmond with another opportunity to make use of his 235 rig, supplemented by the B camera, operated by Mark Milsome. “The way the fight was choreographed meant the actors were everywhere,” he recalls. “We were free to dance around with the cameras as long as we didn’t get in front of the windows. The B camera would stand on the outside of the action and get individual cuts on longer lenses, up to a 65mm. I was in there, just outside of the B camera’s frame line, with an 18mm or a 21mm. When an arm moves in front of a wide lens, it travels at a great speed over a vast part of the screen, so it really makes it feel like you’re there.”

In most situations, Schaefer was trying to maintain a stop of T2.8, though he often opened up to a T2. “There was a little bit of T1.3 when it was necessary,” he says. “Kodak’s [Vision3 500T] 5219 is pretty forgiving, so you can underexpose it a bit and still get a really solid negative. We only used two stocks on this film, 5219 and [Vision2 200T] 5217. When you have that many cameras in all those locations and you start using three or four stocks, it becomes a nightmare for the loaders.

“When we scouted Chile and Panama, I decided to use 5219 and then either 5217 or [Vision2 100T] 5212 as my other stock,” he continues. “I was drawn to 5212 for its finer grain, but I was worried about having to push it a bit too far when we were shooting into the late afternoon or when I wanted to use a polarizer, so I decided to go with 5217 and throw in an extra ND [filter]. The visual-effects team preferred 5212 for greenscreen work, but they were okay with 5217.”

Roughly half the picture involves visual effects of some type, according to Haug. The effects shots were split between Haug’s in-house team and a number of mainly London-based facilities. “Double Negative had worked with Dan Bradley before and were familiar with his style of shooting, so it made sense to use them,” says Haug. “They’re also very strong in R&D, and they did fairly intense R&D for a complex skydiving sequence. [See sidebar.] Framestore CFC has great matte painters, so they were tasked with re-creating Siena, where we shot a foot chase. Machine Effects is an all-rounder and easy to work with for the smaller stuff that just comes up, and Moving Picture Co. came in at the end because it has really solid fluid-dynamics software.”

In order to ensure the various effects would blend into the rest of the film, Schaefer was in constant communication with Haug from prep onwards. “I always make sure I see all the effects before they’re finalized to check that they’re not headed in the wrong direction,” says Schaefer. “Just the other day, we did some additional debris, flames and smoke in the big explosion sequences where we couldn’t get the fire too close to Daniel. While we were shooting, we shot plates with a separate camera that was 4 stops underexposed so they had every detail in all the flames. We were delivered some effects that were too burned out, but we were able to bring [the look] back to where we wanted it. A lot of communication really helps you cut down on the surprises.”

On set, Schaefer used a specially calibrated digital-stills camera to make exposures at the same T-stop he was using on the film cameras. “Every night, I would spend a couple of hours grading some representative stills, and I’d e-mail those to the dailies colorist and also post them to an FTP site,” he recalls. “The monitor in the grading suite was calibrated to match my monitor, and as soon as they timed the dailies, they would pull some stills and post them to the FTP so I could see the results. The dailies arrived on HDCam, and I had a calibrated 20" Sony CRT monitor that traveled with me almost everywhere. When I didn’t have that, I had a calibrated Sony SXRD projector, so I always saw dailies in the best possible quality. In a sense, they were even better than film dailies because the grade was closer to where my DI was going to end up than photochemical film dailies would have been.”

Schaefer did most of the final grade at Company 3 in Santa Monica with colorist Stephen Nakamura, and he worked with Rob Pizzey at Soho Images in London on the preview grade. “Stephen came over to London with an engineer to make sure everything was set up properly,” notes Schaefer. “They calibrated the system at Soho Images to work in exactly the same way as the one at Company 3, so we got a very well-matched output for the preview screening.”


Super 35mm (3-perf and 4-perf)
Arricam Studio, Lite; Arri 435, 435 Advanced, Eyemo
Arri and Angenieux lenses
Kodak Vision2 200T 5217, Vision3 500T 5219
Digital Intermediate
Printed on Kodak Vision Premier 2393 and Vision 2383

In the following clips recorded at the ASC Clubhouse, Schaefer discusses his work in the film:

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