However, the decision to do a DI raised some questions about Prieto’s desire to do a bleach bypass on a significant portion of the negative. He recalls, “That came up constantly in preproduction: ‘Why do it on the negative?’ I was told that you can achieve a very similar effect digitally, but I don’t think it’s the same; the difference is in the grain structure. Also, there’s something about doing the process on the negative that creates surprises; I’ve done it several times and am always surprised by the results. I wanted to use it in Alexander for sequences set in India, where the Macedonians encounter extreme hardship. I wanted to create the feeling of difficulty, and in a sense, having my work be difficult having areas go very dark and highlights blow out without my control was something I thought was appropriate. When it’s an effect you add in post, you might shy away from adding quite so much contrast, but when it’s built into the negative, it is what it is, and all of its defects or difficulties are part of its beauty.”
Prieto made another unconventional decision early on: to use a seventh stock, color infrared, to underscore the surreality of a near-death experience Alexander has in India. “My logic was that in the ecstasies of near-death, Alexander might see things that aren’t normally visible to the eye, and in turn, the Macedonians might see something in him that they couldn’t see before. It’s a very important turning point, and I wanted to signal a shift in the perception of reality. Although infrared wavelengths exist, the naked eye can’t see them, but perhaps, in a moment of enhanced perception, you can see the ‘invisible’ and understand another reality.”
Although Prieto had used black-and-white infrared on a short film in Mexico years earlier, he had never used its color cousin. Seldom used for motion-picture applications, the specialized stock must be ordered weeks in advance, kept refrigerated before and after use, and processed in total darkness. After making several tests, Prieto decided to rate the stock (Ektachrome 2443 EIR) at 125 ISO and use an ND.3 and a Yellow #12 on the lens without compensating for the ND with his exposure. “Michael Chapman [ASC] had worked with color infrared and advised me to test ND filters. By reducing the amount of normal-wavelength light that goes through the lens, the ND makes the effect of infrared light much more intense. Green foliage turns magenta, the red of lips or blood turns yellow, and white skin turns pale white, almost translucent. Sometimes the effect had strong color separation, and other times it was too suffused in red, but overall it was quite something. You never know how the stock will respond; the same shot with 10 minutes of difference looks completely different. It was very, very tricky, and we kept our fingers crossed. Oliver asked me during prep, ‘Are you sure about this?’ I said yes, but I really wasn’t. It was very scary, but I felt it was worth it.”
When Prieto saw dailies of the infrared footage for the first time, he was “exhilarated,” but at the time of this interview he was anticipating a few more challenges in the DI suite because of the choice. Not only was scanning infrared footage a bit of question mark, but the second unit ran out of infrared stock before it finished shooting its portion of the battle and had to switch to normal film stock. “Based on the testing I’ve done, I know it’s going to be very, very difficult to match that with the infrared footage,” he acknowledges. “In one sense, the continuity doesn’t have to be exact because infrared imagery looks so different from shot to shot, but infrared has particular qualities that we need to match somewhat.”
Prieto has long enjoyed experimenting with technique, and on Alexander that inclination was bolstered by the mutual trust he and Stone had established on their prior collaborations, as well as by Stone’s own method, which thrives on a certain amount of spontaneity. “One characteristic of working with Oliver is that you never feel safe,” says Prieto. “You must always be on your toes because he wants to push the envelope all the time in everything. He’s very knowledgeable about technique but also very, very open to suggestions and ideas about how to achieve what he wants. The energy level on set was always very high, but in a positive way; we had to be ready to respond to the moment, to Oliver’s energies and ideas, and to the actors. Overall, shooting this movie was a strange balance between not being in control and striving to make things work.
“The fact that Oliver and I already had a solid working relationship also helped a great deal in terms of time,” he adds. “It was a long shoot but a very, very tight schedule. The schedule was cut down from 120 days to 94, but the script didn’t get any shorter. In fact, it grew while we were shooting.”
Prieto emphasizes that the crews he collaborated with in England, Morocco and Thailand were essential to bringing a project of Alexander’s scope and ambition in on time. “We had incredible crews on every continent, and we were lucky to have them.” The production was based in England, at Pinewood Studios, and his key crewmembers were English and French. In addition to gaffer John “Biggles” Higgins, key grip Malcolm Hughes, and second-unit cinematographer Jonathan Taylor, Prieto’s core crew comprised three camera teams: Blue Team (A-camera) operator George Richmond and focus puller Chunky Richmond, Red Team (B-camera) operator Ian Foster and focus puller Ben Wilson, and Green Team (C-camera) operator Bertó and focus puller Olivier Fortin.
Alexander was shot in Super 35mm with an Arriflex package consisting of Arricam Studios, Arricam Lites, Arri 435s, Zeiss Ultra Primes, Optimo 24-290mm zooms, Cooke 18-100mm zooms and a Hawk 150-450mm zoom. (A Photo-Sonics camera was also used for one section of the India battle sequence.) The schedule mandated that at least two cameras roll at all times, and the camera teams had to be ready for anything. “Oliver is very particular about where to place the camera for the first shot in a scene, and I’ve found that choice is not necessarily so much about the frame as it is about feeling the emotion of the moment,” says Prieto. “We never used the term ‘master shot’; Oliver just doesn’t care for it. To start filming a scene, we’d figure out which was the key shot that would express what the scene was about. But it wouldn’t be a ‘master’ because it might be an insert! Once we had that, we’d resolve how to shoot the rest of the scene.