Sean Bobbitt, BSC and Spike Lee Remake Oldboy in New Orleans
By: David Heuring
Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Oldboy 2013
Fletcher Camera & Lenses Louisiana played a key role in Spike Lee’s latest production, Oldboy, by providing and supporting a wide assortment of cameras for the production. Director of Photography Sean Bobbitt, BSC used the formats, including 2-perf and 3-perforation 35mm and Super 16, to create a range of looks and textures.
The original Oldboy movie was a highly regarded 2003 thriller made in South Korea based on a manga, a Japanese variant of a graphic novel. The film took the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and garnered an enthusiastic and devoted fan base.
Lee and his collaborators, including screenwriter Mark Protosevich, decided to completely reimagine the story. Josh Brolin plays a man who is finally released after 20 years of captivity with no explanation. Freed from his cell and seeking vengeance, he remains trapped in a web of conspiracy. He has five days to solve the mystery.
Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Oldboy 2013
Lee’s passion and dedication to helping the city of New Orleans is well known, and he brought the Oldboy production to the Crescent City. The camera crew, almost entirely local, was led by Sean Bobbitt, BSC, who had recently finished Twelve Years a Slave, shot on 35mm film in New Orleans with director Steve McQueen.
Bobbitt, a proud native of Texas, grew up mostly in the UK, and is currently based there. Lee and Bobbitt envisioned the story with a number of different textures and time periods. After talks and extensive testing, they decided to visually set off various threads of the story by shooting in a range of formats.
For the majority of the tale, Bobbitt shot 35mm film in the 2-perf format. The 2-perf format creates a widescreen image area on the film negative that is two perforations high, rather than the normal three or four. Compared to traditional 4-perf, the result is a 50% savings in raw stock and processing costs. Two-perf also makes for longer takes between magazine changes, improving efficiency and saving additional time and money.
Bobbitt says that Lee wanted to shoot film, and the 2-perf format was a way to do that within the budget. “I’m old school,” says Lee. “I love film. For certain stories, film is absolutely the right choice. I was unaware of the 2-perf 35 mm format until Sean hipped me to it. It was perfect for this production, because it meant we could shoot film and get that analog feel.”
Bobbitt had recently shot Shame in 35mm 2-perf, and won the European Film Awards Carlo di Palma European Cinematographer Award for his work on the film. “With today’s film stocks, 2-perf gives you an exceptional image,” says Bobbitt.
For pre-captivity scenes set in 1983, Bobbitt switched to the smaller Super 16 mm format, and used digital intermediate techniques to create a reversal-film look. In addition to scenes shot in 2-perf 35 and Super 16, some flashback sequences were done in Super 8 format. Some surveillance footage and television playback material was shot using a Sony F3 and a GoPro rig. An ARRICAM set up for 3-perf was also on hand for scenes involving visual effects.
The camera package, consisting of ARRICAM ST and LT and Arri 416 cameras, Cooke S5/i primes and Arri/Fujinon Alura zoom lenses, was provided by Fletcher Camera and Lenses Louisiana, the city’s only full-service Arri camera rental facility. Fletcher operates a 6,000-square-foot facility staffed with experienced camera and lens techs and offering comprehensive technical services including lens collimation, projection and camera maintenance.
Bobbitt says that Fletcher’s presence has been essential to the success of the Oldboy shoot. “Fletcher has been absolutely fantastic,” says Bobbitt. “Their team here has worked very, very hard to ensure that we have everything we need. Shooting two cameras, day in and day out, on the sort of schedule we have, is very tough on equipment. No matter what time of day or night, they’re out to fix, maintain, repair or replace. I’m very grateful to them.”
Bobbitt says that in one instance, a screw had worked loose on the viewfinder system on one of the production’s ARRICAMs, causing some noise issues on the set. “Tim Caldwell from Fletcher was here at 8 p.m., took the camera away, worked on it through the night, and had it assembled, back on the set and ready to go before our 7 a.m. call,” says Bobbitt. “That is exceptional service, something you truly appreciate as a cameraman working on a tight schedule. With another rental company, we might have had to ship it out, or just tried to live with the problem. But those little annoyances, by day 35, add up. If you’re going to shoot a film in 35 days, then you’ve got to keep shooting. I’m very happy to be working with Fletcher.”