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A Flexible Finish
American Cinematographer Magazine
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After resuming their run from the infected, Jim and Selena make their way to a high-rise apartment building where they encounter Hank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter (Megan Burns), who have been tuning in to a repeated radio message from the military. The production caught a break with this location for day-for-night work. Because the building was slated for demolition, Dod Mantle had production designer Mark Tildesley repaint the walls of the stairwell a darker color, about five or six stops down, and the cameraman filtered the windows to control the ambient light. "If the sun started to creep in, it was so gentle and soft that I could turn that into night," the cameraman notes. "I tried to put a bit of greenish-cyan into that scene as well."

The four survivors decide to escape the city in Hank's taxi and track down the source of the radio message. To do so, they must travel through a debris-cluttered tunnel, where they blow a tire. Soon enough, a horde of rats rushes toward them, with a mob of infected on their tails. As the infected close in, their shadows loom larger and larger on the tunnel walls. "It's an old trick," concedes Dod Mantle, who had 18K HMIs bookending the tunnel. "I had half the group running back towards the light, but out of shot so that the shadows would grow." Hidden among the debris and wrecked cars were the cinematographer's usual array of Kino Flos and small pin-spots, as well as a few medium-sized HMIs to provide ambience. "On this film I worked with as many lamps as I usually do on any other format," he says, "but the lights were generally smaller because I was basically working at a faster [exposure] speed."

After escaping the tunnel, our heroes motor their way into the countryside toward a military encampment - or, as Maj. Henry West (Christopher Eccleston) calls it, a little piece of "civilization." The compound is actually a sprawling estate that he and his small band of soldiers have converted into a fortress that even offers the luxury of hot water and electricity. West has been sending the radio message with hopes of strengthening his ranks to battle the infected, but his real reason for attracting any remaining humans, and in particular women, serves baser instincts.

The compound had a perimeter of searchlights that served as motivation for the interior illumination. "The only problem with seeing those lights in the shots is that they tend to streak because of the chip in these small cameras," notes Dod Mantle, adding that some of the streaking was removed in post. "The end of the film becomes more Gothic. In the case of the house, there are a lot of very expressionistic shots of the stairways that recollect the theories of sexuality and stairwells from the era of Expressionist cinema, and the lighting is baroque."

At the point in the story where all hell broke loose, the filmmakers deliberately avoided the standard option of frenetic camera movement. "This was not a film that needed any more fear and disaffection due to the camera movement, because there's already enough of that in the story," the cinematographer maintains. "I think it would have been fatal if I'd moved the camera around too much. I didn't want to go over the top, so that's where the dolly came in - the camera remained slightly nonchalant, but aware of the presence [of action and the characters] in the scene. A fast shutter, however, was always used to enhance the close shots of the infected's movements.

"However intense the shoot was at times," he says about the film's complexities, "I have never before appreciated so tight and dedicated an alliance among director, director of photography, producer, production designer and writer, as well as with editor Chris Gill. That is what I believe brought life and energy to the film."

All footage was upconverted to D-1 tapes (125 in all) by Clear Ltd., who also handled the visual effects. D-1 provides YUV 4:4:2 uncompressed PAL images. (The PAL Canon XL1 is 4:2:0.) After editing and conforming, the seven D-1 masters were handed off to MPC, where Dod Mantle spent almost a month in tape-to-tape grading with colorist Jean Clement Sorret, who used a Pogle Platinum and a Cintel DSX with the PiXi secondary color corrector. The graded masters were captured onto a digital disk recorder for treatment on a Linux Shake workstation. Running through MPC's proprietary FilmTel software, the 16x9 images were enhanced and interpolated to 2K files, blown up slightly to 1.85:1, then recorded onto grain-free Kodak Vision Color Intermediate 5242 stock via the Arrilaser. The answer print was created by Technicolor London on Fuji HiCon 3519D. Deluxe handled the release prints on Vision 2383. Dod Mantle was impressed by the capabilities of and the support provided by MPC and sets aside high praise for the company, along with postproduction supervisor Clare St. John and coordinator Steve Harrow.

While watching 28 Days Later, movie buffs will undoubtedly notice that a few scenes recall moments of flesh-eating terror from other classic zombie and viral-apocalypse horror flicks. Are these homages, or just the nature of the genre? "You can't avoid the parallels, but we didn't pull out any genre movie of that kind and sit down like good boys and look at it," Dod Mantle asserts. "Looking at one piece of work of the same genre can send you off on a kind of secondhand journey, so I think it's best to create your own world. The film's been doing well, which is quite extraordinary, and I think it will have a life in America."

The CDC is on alert.

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© 2003 American Cinematographer.