Full disclosure. I hold the cinematography Oscar close to my heart as the single most prestigious honor of the evening outside of the Big Eight. I feel like it’s the most esteemed award a movie can win to elevate its reputation and help alleviate the sting of neglect in the “star” categories. Cinematographers are stars, to me, and the Oscars for There Will Be Blood and Pan’s Labyrinth have been personal highlights of the night the past couple of years.
Ari Presler is president and founder of Silicon Imaging, the geniuses behind the super-portable SI-2K digital camera used by Anthony Dod Mantle to such astonishing effect in Slumdog Millionaire. Ari’s been sending amazing material this season with behind-the-scenes anecdotes and all kinds of cool insider dish for a cinematography buff like me to devour. I held onto most it, because (a) Slumdog Millionaire was doing just fine without any extra push, and (b) I truly admire the work done this year by Wally Pfister on TDK and Claudio Miranda on Benjamin Button. I’d have felt guilty of betrayal if we’d overhyped Slumdog to the detriment of the other two. Now that votes are all counted and whatever will be, will be, I’m ok with sharing some terrific quotes from Anthony Dod Mantle and Danny Boyle, after the cut.
[Note: This is a compilation of material Ari Presler sent me a couple of weeks ago. I’ll publish it all here in its lengthy entirety, since I think a lot of it is an Awards Daily exclusive.]
Slumdog Millionaire shot with innovative SI-2K Digital Cinema Camera receives 10 Oscar Noms, 4 Golden Globes and Producers Guild Awards
Slumdog Millionaire, which already swept 4 Golden Globes earlier this month continues its own rags-to-riches story with a total of 10 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director for Danny Boyle and Best Cinematography for Anthony Dod Mantle. In the crowd pleasing fantasy, Danny Boyle tells a love story about a teenager who rises from the slums of Mumbai to win the Indian version of the television game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Many of the fast-paced chase scenes and game show set were shot with the Silicon Imaging SI-2K Digital Cinema Camera.
‚ÄúThe film uses dazzling cinematography, breathless editing, driving music and headlong momentum to explode with narrative force, stirring in a romance at the same time‚Äù states Roger Ebert, for the Chicago Sun-Times.
The challenge of shooting of one of the densest and fasting moving cities in the world fell upon Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle, who most recently shot Last King of Scotland and had previously worked with Boyle on both 28 Days Later and Millions. The plan was to shoot in the heart of the city‚Äôs infamous but rarely explored slums, capturing their energy and urgency on-the-fly, with an unforced realism.
‚ÄúDanny Boyle and I had made four films together prior to this and we have developed a method and a trust‚Äù, stated Anthony Dod Mantle. We both have strong opinions about our work and about cinema in general and we always want to try to push ideas to the fullest.‚Äù
Danny Boyle was adamant that he did not want to take large, cumbersome 35mm cameras into the slums. He wanted to use smaller, more flexible, digital cameras to enable them to shoot quickly with minimal disturbance to the natural flow and communities.
‚ÄúWe started off using classical kinds of film cameras and I didn‚Äôt like it.‚Äù Boyle explains. ‚ÄúI wanted to feel really involved in the city. I didn‚Äôt want to be looking at it, examining it. I wanted to be thrown right into the chaos as much as possible.‚Äù
“I had to find a camera set up that would be ergonomic enough for me to throw myself around the slums chasing the children whilst, at the same time, withhold as much detail in the shadows and highlights‚Äù says Anthony Dod Mantle. Our producer, Chris Colson, had hoped for Danny and Anthony to repeat the efforts on Mini-DV‚Äù. This was all well and good, except for the monumental difference between shooting multi camera fiction on sets where I could light, sometimes quite heavily. We needed a digital camera with enough latitude to hold highlights and something very small so we could enter the children‚Äôs world at their level. ‚ÄúSlumdog Millionaire‚Äù needed a completely different tactical approach.‚Äù
They found the right combination in the innovative IT-centric Silicon Imaging SI-2K Digital Cinema camera. It delivered over 11 stops of dynamic range, flexible connectivity and film-like digital content, which could be easily inter-cut with traditional film footage.
Unlike modern HD cameras, which develop and compress colorized imagery inside the camera, the Silicon Imaging SI-2K streams 2K (2048×1152) data as uncompressed raw ‚Äúdigital negatives‚Äù over a standard gigabit Ethernet connection. An Intel Core 2 Duo processor-based computer embedded in the camera or tethered to a laptop up to 100 feet away, processes the digital negatives, where they are non-destructively developed and colorized for preview using the cinematographer’s desired “look” for the scene.
The digital negatives and “look” metadata are simultaneously recorded to hard drive or solid state disk where up to 4-hours of continuous footage are captured on a single 160GB notebook drive; this is the equivalent of 14-reels of 35mm film which has an associated cost exceeding $25,000 for materials and processing. The recorded files, can be immediately played with the target color look at full resolution, without the need for film scanning, tape ingest, format conversions or off-line proxies.
A customized camera support and recording package had to be built to meet the unique form factor demands of the Slumdog shoot. . They enlisted Pille Film, of Wiesbaden Germany, to create a custom solution which included a gyro stabilizer for the base of the SI-2K Mini. Instead of using the traditional film-style camera body, they elected to use Apple Mac book Pro notebook, running Windows XP, for the recorders, and built them into ruggedized backpacks, to be worn inconspicuously. Stefan Ciupek, the show‚Äôs technical supervisor and additional camera operator, coordinated the design and modifications of the camera system with Wolfgang Damm of Pille, whose team worked around the clock to get the 2K Mini rigs built
Pille assembled four units for the production, and by testing them in a sauna, determined that the laptops would have to be packed in dry ice so they wouldn‚Äôt fail in India‚Äôs intense heat. Once shooting began, the dry ice had to be reloaded hourly; the production required up to 45 pounds of dry ice daily.
“I’ve done some odd things, but this was the oddest,” Mantle says. “It was unknown territory and unknown technology, which was exciting. Attaching a gyro to the base of the handheld unit enabled me to move the camera in a very unusual way, somewhere between handheld and immaculate Steadicam,‚Äù says the cinematographer. I could make fast movements, throw the camera a certain way, swipe it up and sideways, and make a brake just before the gyro kicked in so it came to an abrupt stop. Boyle loved the results.‚Äú
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not like jiggery-pokery handheld,‚Äù says director Boyle. ‚ÄúWhen you work handheld with a film camera, it‚Äôs always connected to the body mass, but Anthony separated the camera from his body weight, so his body weight could be on the left and the camera on the right. It was extraordinary what he could accomplish. He‚Äôs the greatest operator I‚Äôve ever seen.‚Äù
‚ÄúThe SI-2K‚Äôs handled the highlights amazingly well.‚Äù stated Mantle. ‚ÄúI have since shot on the Red camera and found I had to be more wary of clipping the highlights in Scandinavia than I had to be with the SI2K in scorching India. Its weight factor obviously allowed me to operate more intuitively and emotionally instantaneously than I can with the normal weight of even a modern celluloid camera.‚Äù
The filmmakers originally planned to shoot specific scenes digitally and the rest on 3-perf Super 35mm, but Boyle was so pleased with the SI-2K performance that he gradually decided to shoot more and more with it. The SI-2K digital cameras also allowed me to shoot more content than I would have done, for a similar budget, on pure film stock.
‚ÄúDuring the final grading of Slumdog Millionaire both Danny and myself used words such as magnificent, regarding some of the SI-2K scenes.‚Äù Stated Dod Mantle. Along the way I shot up to 5 different film stocks which were interwoven into the digitally captured material at the grade in London with the MPC team with the colorist Jean Clement. The conditions were tough for any camera including the heat, dust and rapid camera movement. I am deeply happy and excited about the final sheen this film will have and I think the SI-2K helped to bring out the vibrancy and the immediacy to what was always an amazing script.‚Äù
“This was not a conventional piece of cinematography, not one where I was able to start a shot and complete it and orchestrate it,” he says. “I had to work my pants off shooting in the slums, with the unforeseeable rampant running. We shot crowd scenes, like the chase through Juhu slum at the beginning of the film, using the people who happened to be passing by on the street for added realism. The hyperkinetic chase sequence involving the young Jamal and Salim at the beginning of the film was filmed incrementally, built up, like a montage over a period of time.
Anthony Dod Mantle, who received an oscar nomination for Best Cinematography, has already won honors for his color-infused photography on this film, including the Golden Frog from the Poland’s CamerImage Festival; the most prestigious international award for cinematographers.
“I’m ecstatic! Thank you to the Academy from the cast and crew here in Mumbai where the film was made and where it’s being premiered tonight. It feels like you’ve given us a billion nominations!” director Danny Boyle said in reaction to the nominations.
‚ÄúSlumdog Millionaire was the first Hollywood, or even Bollywood, style production to leverage all of the core technologies and unique benefits of shooting with the SI-2K camera,‚Äù states Ari Presler president and founder of Silicon Imaging. ‚ÄúIt is a great honor to have played a role in the shooting of ‚ÄúSlumdog Millionaire‚Äù and for the Academy nominations which included Best Picture and Best Cinematography‚Äù
‚ÄúI had an unforgettable time shooting with the SI-2K in India,‚Äù says Dod Mantle. ‚Äú I am very, very grateful for the support I have been given by the Silicon Imaging and Pille Film team, making the film unfold in such a beautiful way.‚Äù
Thanks Ari, and best of luck tonight to Anthony Dod Mantle.