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Shooting interviews/Errol Morris


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#1 Benjamin Lamb

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Posted 22 February 2015 - 11:03 PM

I'm wondering if anyone can tell me how Errol Morris shoots his recent interview work. Here's a short example (starts about 1:15): 

 

I believe he shot this on a green screen with a Red camera. I understand his "interrotron" method, but does anyone have an idea how many cameras he shot/shoots with? He has these "jump cuts" in this interview and I can't tell if he's cutting between different cameras, or if it's the same camera, just with a cut. Also, does anyone know if he shoots these with prime or zoom lenses?


Edited by Benjamin Lamb, 22 February 2015 - 11:03 PM.

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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 23 February 2015 - 01:21 AM

Can't say for sure about 'The Unknown Known' but I worked with Errol's DP Bob Chappell on another feature doc called 'Secretaries of State' a while ago. We used a similar setup to what you see here.

2x F55's and Master Primes shooting in 4K on greenscreen, one thru the Interrotron and one in 3/4 profile CU. I know we shot XAVC and we might have done RAW as well, don't remember. The Interrotron setup was framed in a medium shot so they could punch in for CU's in post. It looks like that is also what Errol Morris is doing here.
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#3 Benjamin Lamb

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Posted 23 February 2015 - 10:16 AM

Thanks! That's really helpful. Just for clarification, so the Interrotron camera would be a medium shot, then there was another camera for CUs right next to it? You didn't mean they were also reframing the Interrotron in post for close ups did you? If it's just a matter of two cameras, side by side, it's interesting how it looks like the subject is looking directly into both of them.

 

Also, what kind of lighting setups does Chappell tend to have for Interrotron shoots? I heard he likes to keep things "simple".

 

Thanks again.


Edited by Benjamin Lamb, 23 February 2015 - 10:17 AM.

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#4 Albion Hockney

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Posted 23 February 2015 - 02:30 PM

Having seen a few of the new errol movies. always looks like the classic super soft side key. in your example it looks like either a book light or through 2 layers of difussion. probably the biggest being an 8x and then an opposite side little edge/hair light


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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 23 February 2015 - 03:16 PM

Yes, the Interrotron setup was shot with single camera in the prompter in a medium shot, using the 4K to crop in as necessary in post. The other camera is off to the side several feet for a more profile perspective.

Wish I could remember how it was lit, this was a few years ago and I've worked on so many interviews in the meantime that they all blend together. But it was a large soft source from one side.

Really, the thing is that when you are interviewing a big political or business person, they are so busy that you generally come to them and film in an office or conference room in their building. The locations can often be quite small so you're limited in the lighting units and techniques you can use. Once you get on a sound stage, you can use things like book lights. But in a small office you would use something like 2x 4Bank Kinos through a frame of 216 and maybe an additional diffusion frame in front of that.
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#6 Benjamin Lamb

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Posted 24 February 2015 - 02:22 AM

That's a really ingenious method! So he shoots a medium shot with a prime lens and then in post, reframes it to make it look like it's a multiple cameras setup? Does Chappell move the camera at all when shooting or is it totally stationary? And is the image just cropped to a 2.35:1 aspect ratio in post?

 

I'm really wondering about the green screen. Maybe this is a silly question, but where do they come up with their background designs in post? Are they designed from scratch as a visual effect by someone, or are they standard designs in a program? And the background moves when they cut, like it's a practical background. So did they take the stationary, medium shot, then apply the background to the green screen, then just makes cuts after that? If that makes sense. Here's another example. It's a film Errol did for IBM. There are many interviews in it, but you can see one example at 5:09:

 

 

Also, I'm wondering what they generally use for a microphone. I never see a lavalier mic. Is it a boom mic or just a hidden lavalier or something?

 

Sorry for so many questions. And thanks again, this is really so helpful!


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#7 Albion Hockney

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Posted 24 February 2015 - 11:25 AM

Ugh I hate Kinos for this stuff Satsuki, I always find it hard to get a nice quality of light ....I have done that exact thing though Kino through 216 and I put some diff on the kino too. In the past I have done a 2k with diff on the head and then through Full grid (Like that a lot more! )

 

 

but I hear yea tight spaces are tough....I assume he rumsfeld come down to a studio though that one looks like a big key to me.


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#8 Benjamin Lamb

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Posted 24 February 2015 - 01:49 PM

I know that movie was shot on a stage, so maybe they had more freedom to light.


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#9 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 24 February 2015 - 04:15 PM

That's a really ingenious method! So he shoots a medium shot with a prime lens and then in post, reframes it to make it look like it's a multiple cameras setup? Does Chappell move the camera at all when shooting or is it totally stationary? And is the image just cropped to a 2.35:1 aspect ratio in post?
 
I'm really wondering about the green screen. Maybe this is a silly question, but where do they come up with their background designs in post? Are they designed from scratch as a visual effect by someone, or are they standard designs in a program? And the background moves when they cut, like it's a practical background. So did they take the stationary, medium shot, then apply the background to the green screen, then just makes cuts after that? If that makes sense. Here's another example. It's a film Errol did for IBM. There are many interviews in it, but you can see one example at 5:09:

 


 

Also, I'm wondering what they generally use for a microphone. I never see a lavalier mic. Is it a boom mic or just a hidden lavalier or something?

 

Sorry for so many questions. And thanks again, this is really so helpful!

About shooting 4K for the ability to punch in while editing, yes it's actually quite common these days. I don't know if that's how Errol Morris does it, but that was the way Bob did it on 'Secretaries of State.' I only got to work on one interview with him, with George Schultz. One day prelight, two days shooting. So I don't have a lot of details of his working style. If you're still curious, I will send Bob an email about this thread and maybe he can answer your questions himself.

We didn't really adjust the Interrotron setup at all, it was more or less a lock-off. I operated the B-Cam CU 3/4 profile angle and that required more constant adjustment, since it was framed tighter and there is always more apparent subject movement forward and back from a side angle. But as a general rule, if you're shooting against greenscreen you try not to move the camera unless you have to, since that means the background will have to be tracked and animated to the camera movement, creating more work for editorial.

No idea how the backgrounds are selected or generated, sorry! If I had to guess, they probably shot some background plates of something they liked and used that.

You would have to ask the sound person what specific mics they prefer to use. As you may know, many of them are very particular about mics. Generally, there is always a boom mic on one channel and a lav on the other. If you don't see the lav in shot, that's because it is hidden under the shirt, tie, lapel, etc. Most sound people much prefer the sound of the boom and use the lav only as a safety. Ocasionally, a production will ask for a specific mic to be used for continuity if the sound had already been established over the course of a film or series.
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#10 Benjamin Lamb

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Posted 24 February 2015 - 10:25 PM

I've heard of that technique being used before, I guess I just didn't consider it in the context of an interview, but it really seems smart. Is 4K necessary because the added resolution makes it easier to get closer up without compromising image quality?

 

When you say "one day prelight", is that just a day in the studio/location with a stand-in figuring out how the shot is going to be lit? How long does that typically take?

 

If you wanted to send him an email about this thread, that would be amazing. I'm really interested in knowing more about his method. It's also more difficult since there is not as much online info on it as other cinematographers' methods. Thank you for suggesting that.

 

That makes sense about shooting plates. They would probably shoot that in 4K as well?


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#11 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 25 February 2015 - 08:08 PM

Well you always want to start with more resolution than your final output if you want to crop in. Most feature films finish in 2K right now, so starting with a 4K image means that you can crop in up to about 30% (depending on other factors) without any visible loss in image quality.

Prelight days are just that, a full day or more to load in equipment, stage carts and cases, place cameras, block the shots, rig up the greenscreen, teleprompter, and set up lights. So then you can walk in the next day, turn on lights and cameras, tweak for a minutes, then start shooting. You could do it all on the day of shooting as well, it just depends on how complicated the set up is, how much shooting time you have with the talent, and how much material you need to cover.

For a simple corporate talking head, I've had as little as an hour, for a more important interview 3-4 hours. Full prelight 10hr day is non-unusual as well. Rarely more than one day of prelight for something like this.

For the background plates, I imagine they would shoot the same format as the interview. But I guess it depends on what the background actually is.

Sure, I will email Bob and we'll see what happens.
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#12 Robert Chappell

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Posted 07 March 2015 - 10:05 PM

Hello everyone,

 

I will try to answer questions as I remember them.

 

Donald Rumsfeld was photographed several times with 2 Red One cameras.  At that time it was the only set up where we could shoot very long non-stop takes, sometimes hours at a time.

 

Background was green screen, chosen mostly because we had not decided yet what the background should be.  Also, we didn't know if we would have to shoot Rumsfeld in different locations and we wanted it to seem like one seamless interview.  Some of the interviews were months apart, but we had him wear the same wardrobe.

 

Errol always wants the freedom to be able to move the subject both in size and position in editorial.  That only works well with a neutral background.  Green screen works, but it does involve heavy post work.  On previous projects we used a non-discript background which gave reframing options, but only needed to clone diffuse "wings" on either side of the image, extending the size of the set artificually.

 

The A camera was a medium shot, I think with a 40mm or 50mm.  The camera cannot be too far from the subject, or the connection between them and Errol's image in the teleprompter can be too far away.

 

The B camera was on a dolly to allow variations of side angles.  Since the A camera was static, I would push the B camera dolly myself, basically operating both A & B cameras.  However, in the end, I don't think we gained much by moving the B camera.  A 3/4 side angle seemed to work the best.

 

The IBM background was an evolution from a previous set, but we were able to diffuse it further using a single 12x12 net behind the subject.

 

All the best to everyone.

 

Bob Chappell

 


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#13 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 07 March 2015 - 11:43 PM

Thank you Bob!
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#14 Benjamin Lamb

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Posted 13 March 2015 - 02:04 AM

Thank you so much Robert and thank you Satsuki for the help!!

 

I'm just wondering if you might know if the interviews you shoot with Errol are shot using boom mics, since we never see lavalier mics on the subjects.

 

Also, do you have an opinion on the Canon C500? Would you feel as comfortable shooting an interview with a C500 as you would a Red?

 

Thank you again!


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#15 Benjamin Lamb

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Posted 18 March 2015 - 10:28 PM

Would it be possible to reframe shots with an Alexa in the same way that Errol and Mr. Chappell are reframing their 4K footage even though the Alexa is not a true 4K camera? Would it be possible if one were not shooting open gate?
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#16 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 March 2015 - 12:23 AM

Depends on how much softness you can live with.  People blow-up 2K/HD material all the time, it's just that technically it is no longer HD resolution, but whether it is acceptably sharp is a judgement call.


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#17 Benjamin Lamb

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Posted 19 March 2015 - 12:41 PM

Okay, I see. If I may, is that something that you as a cinematographer, David, would personally feel comfortable with?
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#18 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 March 2015 - 08:04 PM

No.
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#19 Benjamin Lamb

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Posted 19 March 2015 - 10:17 PM

Would you opt for a Red in that instance?


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#20 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 March 2015 - 12:20 AM

Probably.  I'm not a fan of zooming into a shot to get a close-up, it usually feels like an enlargement, but it doesn't hurt to start with a larger file size.


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