Monthly Archive for October, 1997

Robert Primes, ASC — Madrid Imagen Festival

I arrived in Madrid on Sunday, Oct. 4 with written instructions that I would be met at the airport. Well, of course, they had simply forgotten to meet me and weren’t answering their phone–so I took a cab. Because I was working on Friday, I missed some screenings on Sunday and was unable to serve as a judge this year (last year I judged feature films and we gave the top awards to Kolya, Jude and Lorca).

After being in transit for 13 hours and encountering a 9 hour time difference, I was exhausted and went to bed. That didn’t prevent my internal clock–tuned to some western-U.S. circadian rhythm–from awakening me at 2AM. I read much of the night, being held helpless captive of my rebellious biological clock!

The next morning, I discovered my old friend Walter Lassally, BSC at breakfast (Walter has shot 69 movies including Zorba the Greek and Tom Jones–he won the Oscar for Zorba). Walter is championing a universal 1.75 aspect ratio to be a new common film and TV standard and replace everything but “scope.” (More about that later.)

I struck up a conversation with German cinematographer, Arthur Ahrweiller at the same breakfast (where the real heavy-duty networking happens) and he told me that about 40% of television in Germany is letterboxed 16×9(!!!). The German government gives a small financial supplement to anyone shooting 16×9 (1.78) to hasten public acceptance of the new format and encourage investment in the new digital television technology. The fact that the German public readily accepted letterboxing delighted me because our US networks are terrified that the public won’t accept black bands at the top and bottom of their TV screens.

I found that throughout Europe, television production is routinely framed for 16×9 and letterboxed. In England–fearful of a public reaction to letterboxing–they are adding a little more to the top and bottom of the frame to narrow the black lines and ease into showing 16×9, but the rest of Europe seems to be shooting and displaying 16×9 with no problems. The question is: “If Europeans can easily accept a wider format without the need to shoot & protect, why can’t we?”

I lunched with Walter and the distinguished British cinematographer Alex Thompson, BSC who was here to show Kenneth Branaugh’s Hamlet. The discussion turned to Brent’s Rule, the proposed legislation to limit the entertainment industry’s working hours. Britain has a rule that everyone gets $40/hour after 12 hours. The unions used to be able to really control the hours and limit their working day to 8-10 hours, but now producers are trying to buy out unlimited hours and work the crew as long as they wish, just like in the U.S.

I attended Alex Thompson’s talk about shooting in 65mm. He shot Hamlet with Panavision 65mm cameras and praised them for their excellent service; but also praised the newer, quieter Arri 765 camera he used on the project for four days. Because 65mm can only be processed in Hollywood, London or Munich, there was a five day delay in getting dailies, and the 35mm reductions used for editing were not sharp–it was almost impossible to tell if the extremely critical focus was on. The lightest 65mm sound camera weighs 93 lbs. so all those fast moving shots that looked like Steadicam were actually shot from an Elemack dolly on an extremely level and smooth floor.

Although most of the guests stay at the Hotel Sueza, most of the Madrid Imagen events are held at the gorgeous, rococo Circulo de Bellas Artes which is a few doors down the street and houses a center for the arts complete with theatres and cafes. This is a beautiful building with a grand, marble double staircase winding upward past six stories of stained glass windows. Some of those levels are themselves three stories high with ornately decorated, gilded internal domes.

Later in the day, as part of a demonstration, I shot a test of the new Kodak 200T stock. Using an 85mm Zeiss lens at T2.1 (wide open), I shot a charming Spanish actress moving from full wide shot to closeup and stopping at six separate marks with six different lighting effects. I then shot the same scene on 5279 (Vision 500) for comparison. I shot the Kodak Gray Card as a timing reference and expect to screen the results tomorrow. I’m also trying to find the Spanish distributor of Money Talks to try to get a print here. Playing hookey the screening of a Spanish film, I returned to my room ready to sleep–finally. Unfortunately, a fully letterboxed, Spanish-dubbed version of Shadowlands was showing on television and I spent about an hour taking in Roger Pratt’s beautiful scope compositions before I finally fell asleep.