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To reduce grain, Element's Parisian cinematographer, Thierry Arbogast, AFC (J'embrasse pas, Ma Saison Préférée, Mina Tannenbaum, The Horseman on the Roof, Ridicule, L'Appartement and the upcoming She's De Lovely), chose to shoot the film with slower stocks that wouldn't be as vulnerable to image degradation. Kodak's 5293 was employed for non-effects photography, and 5248 for any scenes requiring greenscreen work or other image manipulation. This concession also allowed Besson, who prefers lightweight equipment for obvious reasons, to avoid using the bulkier VistaVision camera system.

The director found the most distinct difference between the anamorphic and Super 35 formats to be their respective depth-of-field parameters. "There is not a lot of depth when you are shooting in Cinemascope, so the background will be very unfocused," he notes. "If I shoot someone who is backlit at night in anamorphic, the light will be washed out and totally out of focus. But with Super 35, the depth is so great that it changes everything for me [in terms of shot composition].

"Now I have to focus on almost everything. If you take a 35mm or 14mm lens in anamorphic, the minimum focusing distance is three or four feet. In Super 35, the minimum focus suddenly becomes very close, say one and a half feet. Since this is a sci-fi movie, I was very happy that I could play with [focal depths]. I could come in very close to the actors and still have full focus."

Besson is enamored of visceral camera movement that features a full range of kinetic techniques, including handheld work, dolly and crane moves, and Steadicam. When filming action sequences, Besson prefers to create the tension during the moment, rather than enhancing it afterwards. He explains, "For me, there are two ways to shoot an action scene. The American way, let's say, is more inclined to add the action [in postproduction]. First, lots of coverage is shot with six cameras outfitted with long lenses, and then the rhythm is created through the editing. So it's basically one 25-second-long scene edited between six angles.

"I write each action scene as if it is a ballet; the movements fit with the music. Generally, I'll shoot a fight sequence for 10 days using just one or two cameras and a very small crew. I've already written out the fight scene in my head, shot by shot. I do this for each and every sequence so that we can just shoot it, and then put the scene together in the editing room. At the same time, when you're on the set, you can have an idea at the last moment; you realize that from a different angle the light might be better, so you change the perspective [of the shot]. But I'll always write down and block out this [new] progression."

Besson's framing and compositional preferences are rooted in portraiture, particularly the work of 16th-century Flemish painters, Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, and Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali, as well as various still photographers. "Paintings and pictures are good for understanding movement, because you're not bothered by the story," he offers, comparing the experience to studying motion pictures. "The aestheticism is more efficient, more upfront. When a movie is really well-done, you're supposed to be totally involved in the story and not even care where the camera is. The first time I saw One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest [photographed by Haskell Wexler ASC and Bill Butler, ASC], I couldn't tell where the camera was, because I was crying and totally overwhelmed. I often have to see a movie three or four times before I can figure out how the director did something."

Since Arbogast had previously collaborated with Besson to create dazzling imagery for the action-thrillers La Femme Nikita and The Professional, the cinematographer was accustomed to the director's unique division-of-labor during the production process. But given the immense scope of Element, and the extensive amount of special effects — two new challenges for Arbogast — the cameraman says that he had more than enough work on his plate.

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