Watergate Film Goes for ‘70s Look

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Fri, 10/13/2017 - 12:38 -- Nick Dager

Cinematographer Adam Kimmel ASC used Cooke Optic’s new Anamorphic/i SF lenses to shoot Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House.Cinematographer Adam Kimmel ASC used Cooke Optic’s new Anamorphic/i SF lenses to shoot Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House, which tells the story of the whistle-blower FBI agent who worked with journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to uncover the Watergate scandal.

This was Kimmel’s first digital feature film. He shot with Arri Alexa XTs in ArriRaw. He and director Peter Landesman discussed a wide screen aspect ratio, but came to feel a true 2:40 frame wasn’t right for this project. Kimmel proposed shooting with anamorphics but finishing in a 2:1 aspect ratio, a format he felt landed in the right space for this project.

“I shot anamorphic but cut the sides, using a smaller part of the sensor,” said Kimmel. “I wasn’t concerned with the smaller image size as I wanted a look that reflected the ‘70s period and stayed away from the more pristine and clean side of the digital world.”

As a longtime fan of Cooke lenses, Kimmel looked to the technology of the Cooke Anamorphic/i primes, which he believe had everything he wanted for this story. “There’s a theme of paranoia and isolation that I felt the compression and shallow depth of field of anamorphic lenses would serve well, but I was concerned about the newer lenses being a bit too perfect and modern,” he said.

Image with newly coated Cooke Anamorphic/i lens.Specialist rental house CamTec Motion Picture Cameras of Burbank had been asking Cooke to produce a special lens coating for standard Anamorphic/i lenses to add more flare, so Kimmel asked CamTec to run some preliminary tests side-by-side with the standard Cooke coating and the new coating. The tests looked positive, so CamTec sent Kimmel the lenses in Atlanta, and with camera assistant Bobby Mancuso, they took a day to test and compare.

“We looked at older spherical sets as well as the [standard] Cooke Anamorphic/i range, but these modified coating lenses just landed right in between,” said Kimmel. “They looked great in a variety of tests that represented the kind of light I wanted to use and really completed the period look we were after. Peter absolutely loved the images from the new, coated lenses saying, ‘That looks like our movie.’"

Image with regular Cooke Anamorphic/i lens."It’s hard to put into words the difference the new, coated lenses bring because these are images. It’s something that has to be seen. I was looking to find the balance between a ‘70s period film look and something more accessible, but I didn’t want to go as far as vintage lenses — which can be inconsistent within a set — these newly coated lenses gave me the consistency of a matched set of glass but without being too sharp or overly contrasty, and also gave me more texture and flare that worked great with the type of softer light I was using.”

Equipped with a set of newly coated Cooke Anamorphic/i lenses– subsequently branded and launched to the wider world as Cooke Anamorphic/i SF (Special Flair) - Kimmel now had the look that he wanted and the tools to help convey a feeling to the audience. The set comprised the 25mm, 32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 65mm Macro, 75mm, 100mm and 135mm, plus a 2X extender which Kimmel used on the 100mm and 135mm a great deal.

Les Zellan, chairman and owner, Cooke Optics, said, “The reason for developing the SF coating was to give cinematographers more choice and the opportunity to create interesting images and effects. We’re excited to see the first example of work shot with the Anamorphic/i SF range.”

“Without the Cooke lenses and the SF coating, this movie would not have the look that we wanted for this story,” added Kimmel.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House is a production of Endurance Media, MadRiver Pictures, Playtone, Riverstone Pictures, Scott Free Productions and Torridon Film. It was released worldwide in September.