Chevrolet 'Little bit country'

Director: Rupert Sanders

My brief from the director on Chevy was simple; ‘I want to shoot it like a documentary, available light and handheld’. In essence a simple proposition, we simply strip away the plethora of film-making equipment and surplus personnel that often interfere with our ability to make fast and instinctive decisions. In some senses this leads me back to my roots, my first paid job as a cinematographer was a documentary for the BBC, shot on 16mm, whilst I was still at film school. So in fact were the subsequent five jobs. Over time I became so comfortable with the Aaton ATR 16mm Film Camera on my shoulder that my body evolved to accommodate it.

Or was it the other way around? In fact the Aaton had evolved from Jean-Luc Godard’s desire for a small handheld film camera that could provide him with mobility and intimacy and the compactness to shoot in real locations. The success of his approach is evident in cinematographer Raul Coutard’s work on Godard’s Breathless 1960.

Designed by Jean-Pierre Beauviala, sculpted and perfectly balanced to rest on the shoulder, the Aaton represents a triumph of minimalist ergonomic design. What then did this proposition equate to in 2018, the age of the digital ‘box camera', when many camera designers have reverted to a shape that is in essence crude, angular and simplistic. How can we use technology to our advantage? These were some of my ruminations heading into the project.

In prep I explored how to make the camera as small and lightweight as possible. Two cameras were tested, the Alexa Mini and the Sony Venice. I settled on the Alexa as the Venice was still in the final stages of development and it’s digital ‘umbilical cord’ was unavailable to us. Focus, Iris, Video and all camera functions were all controlled remotely and wirelessly. This approach gave me a tremendous amount of freedom when operating and reminded me of the flexibility the Aaton had originally offered, exhilarating! We balanced the camera so perfectly that using one hand I could suspend the lens two inches off the ground and run at full speed. In seconds I could then raise the camera to eye level for a portrait, meanwhile via a wireless headset instruct my DIT to remotely change the internal ND filter to achieve the perfect depth of field for the shot. One problem remains, reality does not always look that good. However due to our efficient camera platform our shooting process was so fast that we were able to sHoot for short periods thus maximizing the best light of the day. The question of how far one can augment reality and still maintain the illusion of realism is a poignant one, its execution requires a fine balance, a delicate touch. Much more can be said on this subject, indeed I have spoken before on inhabiting the photographic space between realism and stylization and will do so again, it is perhaps one of the ultimate challenges and represents a road on which I am still traveling.

What I can divulge is that a multitude of micro decisions and cinematographic interventions were made to get Chevy to look precisely as it does. This involved controlling the photographic process from origin to completion via many factors; the development of an original LUT for the project, pairing the LUT with lens choice and the particular sensor characteristics of a specific camera, positioning practical lighting judiciously, augmenting the natural light using minimal film lighting tools when desired and permitted! This is to say nothing of camera placement, camera movement and focal length choice. Simply pointing the camera at reality does not necessarily insure an impactful image, subjectivity inhabits the gaze of the camera whether we desire it to or not.