“The camera feels like a witness or a participant, so the camerawork is pretty kinetic, but I didn’t want it to feel modern or documentary-like. We used a great deal of Steadicam, primarily because George Richmond is so good at it he’s a fantastic Steadicam operator and a great regular operator. I think a well-operated Steadicam feels more organic, or less mechanical, than some other methods of moving the camera, and once we saw what George could do, we started incorporating a lot of Steadicam into our strategy. For example, when we wanted to track with Alexander and see his face during a cavalry charge, George took the Steadicam onto a four-wheel quad bike and sat facing backward as it raced full-on through the trees, holding a close-up of Alexander on an 85mm lens. That kind of shot is very, very difficult to operate well, and he did a fantastic job.”
Interior camerawork was every bit as challenging, particularly given that firelight was often the only source of illumination and depth of field was minimal. For close-ups, offscreen firelight was created with 4' and 8' battens of 150-watt household bulbs; by wiring them to dimmers with Socapex cable, the crew could control each bulb individually and create different flicker speeds and rhythms. “The effect is a dancing, soft source,” says Prieto, “and it was the most realistic firelight of everything I tested. We could cluster three or more battens together to create a wall of light, and we could tuck them behind columns or hang them; when we hung them, we contained them with blackwrap to make the light more directional. When I needed more throw or slightly harder firelight, we used 3-foot battens of MR16s. For wide shots, we bounced Arri T-12s gelled with Full 85 onto 12-by and 8-by frames of silver lamé; the material was loose on the frame, not taut, and the crew moved it by hand to create a moving source.
“We did many, many Steadicam shots on very long lenses that were a challenge not only for George, but also for Chunky, his focus puller [and brother],” he continues. “In general, instead of breaking a scene up into pieces close-up, close-up, wide shot we’d shoot the whole scene from different angles in motion, and to follow an actor through an entire scene with a 100mm on a Steadicam, working at a stop of T2 or T2.3 with firelight sources, is almost impossible.” With a laugh, he adds, “In certain scenes, Oliver wanted the image to slip out of focus to suggest things spiraling out of control, and it was not difficult to make that happen.
“Every line in Oliver’s script means something that has to be visually translated into an angle, a lens, lighting and an overall mood,” he adds. “[The visual cues] really are all in the script, you just have to figure out how to express them with cinematic language.” As an example, he cites a shot after Alexander’s wedding in the mountainous area of Baktria (present-day Afghanistan). “Alexander marries a local woman, Roxanne [Rosario Dawson], and the script described her eyes as powerful, expressive and without fear. She looks at Alexander fleetingly once or twice, and her eyes pull him into a strange state of mind.
“In reading this, I knew I had to do something special. Inspired by a technique Jordan Cronenweth [ASC] used for the replicants’ eyelights in Blade Runner, I shined a dimmed-down Dedo light on an optical glass placed on a 45-degree angle in front of the lens, so that the eyelight would come from the same axis as the lens and reflect back to the camera off the retina. That gave Rosario’s pupils a subtle glow that reminded me of a panther’s eyes. I knew the shot should start very close to her eyes and then pull back to a two-shot of her and Alexander with the mountains behind them, but I didn’t want to simply do a reverse zoom. We decided to use the [Cine Magic] Revolution Lens, which enables you to maintain very, very close focus on a wide lens. We used a 24mm and started right on top of Rosario’s eyes, and with a pullback of just 9 or 10 feet on a dolly, we were on a wide medium shot that revealed the whole landscape.”
Innocence and Experience
Prieto recalls that Stone used the word “innocent” to describe the look he wanted for Macedonia. “Oliver wanted the colors to be primary, and Jan and Jenny really went with this concept for Macedonia. Jan’s sets feature white rock and a lot of color red, yellow and blue and Jenny’s costumes are mostly white with touches of primary colors. We had to go through quite a bit of testing to make sure it wouldn’t look like a carnival, but this use of color was actually true to that period.” Prieto filmed Macedonia sequences on Eastman EXR 50D 5245 (day exteriors) and Vision 200T 5274 (day interiors) and kept the lighting and lenses unfiltered. “We wanted the sense of transparent air, a Mediterranean feel, so I used a Polarizer outside but no other filtration on the lens.”
The pristine imagery of Macedonia is mirrored by that of Alexandria, where Ptolemy’s recollection of the late king frames the action of the film. “Ptolemy’s narration is presented as though it unfolds over the course of a day it’s morning at the beginning of the picture and late afternoon at the end,” explains Prieto. “We wanted Alexandria to feel very pure and clean, and we went back and forth about whether to shoot these scenes on location in Morocco or on stage in England. Because we wanted the feeling of real sunshine, I was reluctant to go on stage and shoot against bluescreen. But when we scouted locations in Morocco, we realized dealing with the changing light and weather would consume too much time.