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Tecnología

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One take, one chance: filming Victoria with the EOS C300

One take, one chance: filming Victoria with the EOS C300

© MonkeyBoy GmbH

December 2015

Danish cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen filmed the entire 140 minutes of the movie Victoria's gritty scenes, consecutively in a single shot, using the EOS C300 digital cinema camera. CPN writer James Morris caught up with him and found out the full story behind a remarkable film...

Victoria made a considerable splash this year. Alongside Sturla Brandth Grovlen's Silver Bear for cinematography at the Berlin Film Festival, the film also won the Berliner Morgenpost Readers' Jury Award and the Prize of the Guild of German Art House Cinemas as well as being praised at last month's Camerimage festival in Poland where Grovlen was hosting a special Canon Cinema EOS workshop and where another film he shot, Rams, won the Silver Frog in the main Camerimage completion. Victoria was complimented universally for its technique, general viewer appeal and artistic value. Directed by Sebastian Schipper, best known for his acting role in the seminal Run Lola Run, Victoria is about a young girl from Spain who is in Berlin for a couple of months trying to earn some money and have some fun. After a night dancing in a club, she meets a group of boys who take her under their wings and want to show her Berlin's underbelly. Whilst she wants to have a fun night, what she actually finds herself involved in is a bank robbery. However, the film is not about the robbery, it's about the hour before and the hour afterwards, which Grovlen captured in real time using a single continuous take.

"The concept of the one take was the director's idea," explains Grovlen. "When he contacted me it was one of the first things he said: 'We're going to do it one take. What do you think about that?' Sebastian's idea was that we were going to do it more like a documentary, do it more in the moment, not stylised, more like a punk band: raw, intense. One of the things we talked about was how to keep it fresh, not to have it too constructed." The film was not heavily influenced by the previous award-winning single-take movie, Alexander Sokurov's 96-minute 2002 film Russian Ark. "I haven't seen Russian Ark, but from what I understand it's very controlled and stylised, unlike Victoria. So we didn't have a one-take film as a reference, and didn't want to have one."

© MonkeyBoy GmbH

Please click on the image above to watch the trailer of the movie Victoria, filmed in one take on the EOS C300 digital cinema camera.

Victoria was not a closely controlled production, unlike Russian Ark. "The script was without dialogue, like a 20-page treatment," continues Grovlen. "We knew the action but didn't necessarily know how the dialogue was going to develop. We split the film into ten parts, and rehearsed each part separately. This was in some ways script and character development. It was a great possibility for me to see what works and what doesn't. The actors were more or less free to do as they pleased. I didn't plan any specific camera moves, although I had ideas about how to get in and out of the car for the driving scene, and because I had rehearsed it my body kind of knew what to do."

The film is shot with the camera in amongst the action, although not as if it is the point of view of a specific person. "The camera is a fly on a wall, and an extra character," argues Grovlen. "But people who have watched the film don't really think about the camera and that it's not cut. The real-time aspect of it does something to the perception of the movie. You don't feel manipulated. It was important to me that it had poetry, and had a style. It wasn't just trying to catch the dialogue, but also trying to catch poetic moments. We did light the film and try to work with colours. But it doesn't feel like something that is put on top of it, it's something integrated."

Choosing the EOS C300

Although there are now a number of digital cinema cameras that could have provided the ability to shoot a whole feature film in one take, in the end Grovlen decided the EOS C300 was the only real contender. "When Sebastian first talked about the one take, it was the first camera I thought of. I'd worked with the C300 before on documentaries, so I knew it was a camera I was comfortable with," he explains. "I needed a camera that recorded that long, had a battery that lasted that long, and that was lightweight. I also needed the light sensitivity. We shot at ISO 2000. I didn't really test other cameras, but I did do a lot of tests on the C300, with different lenses, to see which one provided the best balance of aperture and weight. I quickly went away from the idea of using a recording device. I thought about the C500, but felt very comfortable that the C300 could do the job. I didn't feel I could gain much more from the C500 from this setup. It's a little bit bigger and a little bit heavier, and I was counting every gram."

© MonkeyBoy GmbH
© MonkeyBoy GmbH

A still from the movie Victoria, which was filmed in one take on location in Berlin.

Unlike other movies that have been cleverly edited to look like one take, most notably Birdman, Victoria really is one single shot from start to finish. There were three takes, but only one was used for the final movie. "Sebastian was very clear about that," says Grovlen. "We do one take and we keep it like that, or we cut it and tell people that. The film had to feel honest. We used the last take. Ironically, technically for me it was not the best one, but it was the best film without a doubt." Each take had little issues, although not readily visible to the viewer. "These were small things like getting caught on the door. The microphone on the camera made a shadow that it hadn't on the previous take. There was an HMI light that was supposed to be turned on before we reached the next location, but the bulb went. There was also another location where the bulb went, and we had to change it with a less powerful bulb. But nobody notices except me!"

"Two incidents came close to ruining the take," adds Grovlen. "The first happened as one of the characters had a panic attack. The scene took place on the street, and two drunk Russians passing by thought it was for real and wanted to help. Luckily, Sebastian Schipper managed to keep them away from the scene. The other incident was after the bank robbery and the characters are driving away. We had a route planned, but in the midst of the chaos, we took a wrong turn and headed directly to the base where we had the crew waiting for the next scene. I managed to see this out of the corner of my eye and framed to one of the characters that were lying on the floor of the car. The chaos added a lot of drama to the scene and actually makes it better, but it was close to a disaster!"

The C300 handheld rig

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Victoria is that it was all shot handheld, without even the use of a body-mounted Steadicam, which would have been too bulky and ungainly to follow some of the action. The C300 was installed inside a RedRock cage, weighing around 5.5kg in total, with a heat package around the viewfinder to prevent it fogging up. This provided a top handle, as Grovlen wasn't using the handle that comes with the C300. "I had a hook made that could be pulled out behind the handle. I planned to use it in the car, resting the camera on a bungee cord that was installed inside. However I didn't use it in the take that became the final film. I could also hold the handle when running, or if I had to use my other hand to support myself when going upstairs. As long as I was moving with the actors, all the shaky bumpy stuff disappeared a bit, because the camera becomes a part of the movement of the actors. My biggest fear was that the actors would leave me behind, and I'd have to catch up, which would really make the camerawork obvious. It's also very shaky in some points, but it comes together, because when the drama happens and the actors become agitated, I move faster, and move more agitatedly too. It was a kind a symbiosis with the actors, kind of a method camera!"

© MonkeyBoy GmbH
© MonkeyBoy GmbH

Sturla Brandth Grovlen’s handheld rig for the EOS C300 enabled him to keep pace with the action as it unfolded in Berlin.

Capturing the sound was also complicated with the action and camera moving dynamically between locations, and the constraints of the single take. This was a part of the film that did require significant mixing and editing. "We had three sound crews waiting at different locations with booms," explains Grovlen. "The actors had microphones on them. The camera also had a microphone. We used that, for example inside the cars, and some locations where the sound boom operators couldn't be. We were very aware that this wouldn't be perfect, and there would be a million mistakes with it. But we agreed that this was okay. We used these mistakes to add to the realism."

Unsurprisingly, the whole of the movie was shot with a single lens. It would not have been possible to change lenses whilst maintaining the single take. Grovlen explains: "I also tested the EF mount with some lenses, but I like to be able to control the focus with cinema lenses, because of the declicking and slow controlled focus changes. The Canon Cinema lenses were too big and bulky for this kind of handheld work. However, I have used the Canon compact primes on TV series, as well as the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM and EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. They're great. Also very lightweight, with a very long zoom range. But I'm leaning mostly towards PL cinema lenses, because of the stepless aperture adjustment and the focus control." Because he feels the digital image can become too sharp, Grovlen often shoots with a soft filter, usually a Black Pro-Mist 1/8.

Post production and film quality

Victoria was shot in the C300's standard 50Mbit/sec XMF format, using a pair of 64GB CompactFlash cards in dual recording mode. The C.Log format was used, so although there was no editing to be done, there would be plenty of flexibility in the grade, which was performed using Da Vinci Resolve. "Our grader, Pana Argueta, quickly understood how to approach the film, and pushed the colour and the contrast a little further than I would have dared to do, but that really gave an extra dimension to it," explains Grovlen. "When he came with his first take on the film, that really blew me away. He gave it a lot of punch, a lot of colour, when I would have been more conservative than his approach."

Grovlen was very pleased with the visual quality achieved by the C300 on Victoria. "I had not seen the film on the big screen until the premiere at the Berlinale. I felt it held up really well. The visual style, the handheld camerawork was very energetic and intuitive. There were some highlights and graininess coming out because we had to push up the shadows, but this merely added to the realism. Some reviews talked about the energetic grainy digital image."

So what effect has winning the Silver Bear had on Grovlen personally? "I'm still in the clouds. I was just super happy with the response the movie got after the premiere. To have the cinematographer in the reviews rarely happens. Winning the Silver Bear was out of this world. There have been a few phone calls and interviews. But I shot three features last year so I need a break!" After the critical success of Victoria, however, which continues to pick up awards at film festivals, we're not sure how long that break is really going to last.

Biografía: Sturla Brandth Grovlen

Sturla Brandth Grovlen

Sturla Brandth Grovlen studied film history and theory at Lillehammer University College from 2000 to 2001, and then from 2001 to 2001 at the European Film College in Ebeltoft, Denmark. From 2003 to 2006 he studied photography at the Bergen National Academy of the Arts, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Then, from 2007 to 2011, he studied at the National Film School of Denmark in Copenhagen. Since graduating, he has been cinematographer on a series of short films, and won the Silver Bear for cinematography for Victoria at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival.