Dissension grows in the Macedonian ranks as they continue their pursuit of Darius; after unsuccessfully attempting to cross the Hindu Kush, they go around the mountains and into the jungles of India, where they encounter monsoon rains, sweltering heat and hostile troops. “We shot the Hindu Kush scenes at the top of the Atlas Mountains in November, when there was a little snow on the peaks, and to give the images a cool feel I switched to 80C filters, which gave 5246 a platinum quality that was quite a shift from the look in Baktria,” says Prieto.

“When they head into India, I wanted to create a feeling of greater difficulty, a sense that their objective has become muddied, so I switched to [Kodak Vision 500T] 5279 and did a 1⁄3 bleach bypass on the negative — I found during prep that a 1⁄3 bleach bypass at Éclair is pretty intense, almost equivalent to a full bleach bypass in L.A. labs. We continue that look through all of the India scenes up to the point where Alexander tells his men they’re finally going home. That scene was shot on 79 but processed normally.” For scenes intended for bleach bypass, he underexposed 5279 by 1⁄3 of a stop and used only 85 filters and Polarizers on the lens.

Before the Macedonians leave India, one of Alexander’s friends, Cleitus (Gary Stretch), gets drunk at a banquet and confronts him about his mistakes. Incensed, Alexander kills him on the spot. Prieto cites lighting this scene, which is set in a palace that the Macedonians have overtaken, as an example of turning a potential obstacle into an asset. “This was a massive set built on the James Bond stage at Pinewood, and it’s essentially a large courtyard that slopes down to a pond, and in the middle of the pond is a platform where the action takes place. A few days before we started shooting, I discovered that a huge, bright-orange awning had been added to the set, so there didn’t seem to be any place from which to light the platform.

“I decided to use the orange awning and light through the material to contrast with the color of the set, which had a cool, blue-green tint. We rigged about 40 1K Par cans with Firestarter bulbs directly over the awning, and Biggles’ crew wired the bulbs with Socapex cable so we could use dimmers to create different flicker rhythms. Diffused and colored by the orange material, the resultant light resembled firelight, which was justified by some torch practicals scattered around the area. We created moonlight ambience with spacelights overhead and, at extreme left and extreme right, one Arri Studio T12 and two Maxi-Brutes going through 12-by frames of diffusion and Lighttools eggcrates. We also had two 24Ks in each corner of the set raking the walls. All of these ‘moon’ lights were gelled with 1⁄2 CTB and 1⁄4 Plus Green, which enhanced the set’s blue-green tint and created quite a dramatic contrast with the pool of orange light in the center. In the end, instead of arguing against the awning and imposing a way I knew the scene could be lit, I went with it and discovered another way.”

By the time the Macedonians return to Babylon, they have lost scores of men to the jungle and desert. “Babylon looks very different to them than it did on their first visit, and I used 5279 for day and night scenes to give this sequence more grain and more contrast,” says Prieto. “I used 5218 for most night scenes in the movie, but I wanted the return to Babylon to have a slightly harder feel.”

Quality Control
The variety of looks in Alexander made accurate dailies vital, and the production screened select 35mm film dailies (projected theatrically at Pinewood and with an Arri LocPro 35 on location) and HD dailies; Prieto watched both sets of dailies, while Stone preferred the HD tapes, which enabled him to jump forward and backward quickly while discussing ideas with the editors. Although Prieto communicated his intentions to the Éclair team with frequent e-mails and numerous Kodak PreView System digital stills before and during principal photography, there were a few mishaps along the way. “I’m still trying to find a method for effective communication with the telecine colorist,” he acknowledges. “There is no established ‘zero’ setting in telecine, and because it has to be dialed in by someone, it’s entirely subjective.

“There was also the occasional misinterpretation — such as translating ‘moody’ as ‘muddy’ — or a change in staff. While we were filming the Gaugamela battle, for example, the first unit eventually moved on to other material, scenes set in Macedonia, while the second unit kept shooting in the desert. During that time, our telecine colorist went on vacation, and the replacement person apparently thought our new scenes set in Macedonia were all part of the Gaugamela battle, so we got a week’s worth of Macedonia digital dailies that had all been tinted tobacco by the telecine operator; the look we intended for those scenes was ‘innocent’ and clean.

“The one possible advantage to HD dailies is that an HD preview cut can be graded digitally,” he adds. “I’ve just done a color-correcting pass on an HD preview cut of Alexander on an Avid DS Nitris and was able to approximate the final colors. In fact, that will serve as a reference during the DI.”

Surveying his work on Alexander, Prieto leans back, smiles and offers, “This picture was quite a challenge, but Oliver and I have been through such intense times together that in a way, it felt like the logical progression of our working relationship. Every day seemed impossible to achieve and posed daunting technical difficulties. It was like a final exam: it covered everything. I don’t know whether I passed, but at least I survived!”


Super 35mm 2.35:1

Arricam Studio, Lite; Arri 435;

Zeiss, Optimo, Cooke, Hawk
and Revolution lenses

Kodak EXR 50D 5245,
Vision 200T 5274,
Vision 250D 5246,
Vision 500T 5279,
Vision2 500T 5218,
Ektachrome EIR 2443

Bleach Bypass (select scenes) and
Digital Intermediate by
Éclair Laboratories

Printed on
Kodak Vision Premier 2393

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© 2004 American Cinematographer.