Cinematographer Eric Koretz recently finished work on an untitled pilot for AMC that’s scheduled to debut at the channel’s web site, AMCTV.com, with the potential to become a regular series. That’s not the only unusual aspect of the show — Koretz also shot in lush black and white (when was the last time you saw that on TV?) using the Red One MX digital cinema camera. Look for the show online early next year, and get more details on the shoot from Eric’s blog at blog.theimagehunter.com. (You can also hear Eric discuss his recent work in 3D stereo at StudioDaily’s webinar on Shooting Stereo 3D this coming Wednesday.) For now, we asked Eric five questions about shooting with the Red, working for the Web, and the best in monochromatic movies.
Q: Why was it important to shoot in black and white? And how did that decision affect your job as a cinematographer?
A: Both of director Peter Glanz’s previous short films were shot in black and white. Usually networks are scared of black and white, however AMC is great and was all for it. That may change if it goes to series on TV, but because because AMC does bold shows, they aren’t afraid to take more chances. Not that black and white is taking a chance…it looks beautiful.
As a cinematographer shooting black and white is in some ways very different than shooting color. You of course have to be more aware of tones. You can’t use color to separate the characters from the background or to create mood, so your choices on how to light are much different as a result. I really love shooting black and white, I feel like you can be bolder in lighting choices because the light doesn’t have to be as motivated (motivated from a light source) as it does when you are shooting in color.
Q: You shot with the Red One. What resolution were you shooting, and how did you get the best possible monochrome image out of that camera?
A: We shot with the RED MX in 4K. In the presets we turned the saturation down all the way to get black and white. We didn’t have the budget for a DIT with a system to watch dailies, so I worked off viewing the raw image. With the RED, I always meter like it’s film, protect for the highlights, and use the [RED’s] false-color meter to make sure exposure is correct. I’ve shot with the RED a lot, so I know what I’m getting when I look at the raw file. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just looking at the monitor, so the false-color meter and my Sekonic [light] meter are great for keeping it real.
Q: Does working on a show for the Web (with presumably lower-res images on a smaller screen than an HDTV) influence any decisions you make in terms of lenses, lighting, or the overall look?
A: We didn’t even think about this show in terms of shooting for the web. Our goal all along was that this was going to be a television show, and we treated the shoot like that — except with a tiny budget compared to TV. I think we really accomplished a lot with a little because I had an amazing crew. It was an eight-day shoot with 45 pages and my crew worked their asses off to get it done. Sometimes, of course, we had to compromise on what shots we could get with a schedule like that, but for the most part everything turned out fantastic.
Q: Tell me about a single piece of gear that made your job easier during the shoot.
Single piece of gear? Hmmm. Didn’t have many toys on this one but I brought my LEDZ Brute 16 and Brute 9 lights in. They are small-PAR LED lights and really have a lot of power. They fit into tight spaces and are great for throwing up an edge or backlight super quick. I use those quite a lot.
Q: Quick — name five of your favorite black-and-white movies!
Of course there is Manhattan and Stardust Memories, directed by Woody Allen and shot by Gordon Willis — beautiful films that really took chances leaving characters in darkness, and the camera movement is so clever and amazing. Gordon Willis was a master.
I love 8 1/2, directed by Fellini. It’s all visual splendor.
I love some of the older Japanese films by Akira Kurosawa and Kon Ichikawa. They are filled with so much iconic imagery because they were working in metaphor so much of the time. The Burmese Harp directed by Kon Ichikawa really stands out to me for one particular scene: when the Japanese are surrounded by British soldiers and they’re framed inside the hut by this beautiful light coming through the slats. When the soldiers start singing, it’s one of the most beautiful moments on film. Of course, anything by Akira Kurosawa I’ve watched over and over again, Seven Samurai in particular.
Ivan’s Childhood, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. It was his first film, and it’s so visually stunning. There’s one shot where the camera follows parallel to a soldier, and as he moves down into a ditch the camera follows him down, and as the soldier moves out the camera follows him up. That kind of camera movement hadn’t really been done at the time, and it’s beautiful.
I do love film noir and films like Double Indemnity and The Third Man have always stuck in my mind — strong contrast, really, and so beautifully framed. So many films in that genre look incredible.
There’s a Czech film called Closely Watched Trains that I think has a lot of incredibly modern style shots that really reveal the character in a stylized but human way. The same with Band of Outsiders by Godard. Love that film, and it has an amazing way of revealing the characters.
Ashes and Diamonds, directed by Andrzej Wajda. Amazing film. So beautiful, powerful, funny, and sad at the same time.
Lastly, I’m a huge fan of Jean-Pierre Melville, and although most of my favorite films from him are in color, Bob le Flambeur is his black-and-white film that I love the most. There’s something about French gangster films from that era that is funny and bad-ass at the same time. Who doesn’t like French gangsters?
Was that five films?
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