Blood, sweat and sandy gear

Almost a decade on from the enduringly successful television drama BAND OF BROTHERS, executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, as well as many others from the original production team, regrouped for another ten-part miniseries set against the backdrop of World War II. Chronicling the experiences of three US Marines during the hard-fought campaign against Japan, THE PACIFIC takes place on hot and humid jungle-covered islands on the other side of the globe from the European theatre of conflict. For Remi Adefarasin BSC, who split cinematographic duties with Stephen Windon ACS, this presented a set of challenges entirely different from those he faced on BAND OF BROTHERS.

THE PACIFIC was shot on ARRICAM Lite and Studio cameras with ARRI Ultra Prime lenses. Equipment was supplied by ARRI Media in London and ARRI Australia in Sydney.

VisionARRI: How long were you away for the shoot and how did it differ from BAND OF BROTHERS, which was filmed in England?

Remi Adefarasin: The shoot was eight months, but I was away for ten – choosing locations, sorting out logistical problems and doing basic prep. The places we were filming weren’t as tame as England; Australia has all sorts of horrible creatures and they seem to be more potent than anywhere else in the world. There were poisonous snakes; poisonous spiders; plants that stung you; plants that had hooks; Irukandji jellyfish and of course crocodiles. We were lucky that nobody got hurt.

On BAND OF BROTHERS we were at Hatfield so if we had a problem we could easily replace whatever broke down, whereas our first week shooting THE PACIFIC was in Far North Queensland. Our cameras came from Sydney, which is more than a two-day drive, so it wasn’t easy from a replacement point of view, but ARRI Australia very kindly gave us an engineer – Aaron George – who was an important part of the team. For instance, in the first week we were shooting in open Higgins boats on a very bumpy sea, with effects guys spraying salt water and sand at us; however much you protect the camera, salt water gets in. Then when we were on the beach sand would rain down on the cameras every time there was an explosion – the shoot was often physically violent on the cameras. Aaron was able to clean equipment and repair leads, but we were very fortunate because we really didn’t have too many technical issues.

VA: How much coordination was there to achieve a uniform look for the series?

RA: A few weeks after I started shooting episode one, Steve started doing episode three, so we were very much working in tandem. Before the production began we met for a long time in Sydney and continued communicating with each other from then on. Steve was watching my rushes and I saw his, so we could keep abreast of what we were each doing, but the biggest thing was that we had different directors and directors have different styles. THE PACIFIC is a partner to BAND OF BROTHERS, so we knew the basic look we were going for and we both wanted to be very honest with the images; we didn’t want it to have an artificial, movie quality. It needed to look like a documentary without being deliberately jarring, so we weren’t going for a shaky-cam style – when we did go handheld we did so with the best possible handheld photography, so that you hardly noticed it. We were after a style that was more classical and that would have longevity rather than reflecting a very short period in filmmaking sensibilities.

There were poisonous snakes; poisonous spiders; plants that stung you; plants that had hooks; Irukandji jellyfish and of course crocodiles.

VA: Was there ever any doubt that this project should originate on film?

RA: If there was, it was before I got on board, and if I’d been brought on board and they’d said we’re going to shoot this on Red, I wouldn’t have done it. I do recall hearing (postproduction coordinator) Todd London saying that there was some early discussion about shooting digitally, but everyone decided very quickly that it would be the wrong thing for this. We had quite a budget and I think any financial benefits of digital acquisition are only really apparent when you haven’t got money. Also, we knew that the contrast ratio was going to be enormous and we wanted to exploit that at times, without losing details.

VA: The difference in light levels between being on a sunny white beach and under the jungle canopy must have been huge?

RA: That was actually the biggest problem for me. When we were in Far North Queensland everything was incredibly well protected by the conservationists; in the forest we couldn’t dig down more than eight inches and we couldn’t remove any foliage. I was promised that it would be sunny and in fact it was overcast for all the days we were there; we could only comfortably shoot between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. – after that it got very, very dark, even on fast film with the filter taken off. We had some very heavy days and the absence of sun was a real killer because we wanted those little splashes of sunlight poking through. Making it look natural in such a dark forest was the hardest thing.

VA: The Japanese often attacked at night – what challenges did you face in photographing nocturnal jungle warfare?

RA: Flares help, but it’s always a problem when you have a lighting change over a long sequence, because what can happen is that we shoot it and we get the timing of the flares right, but then in the cutting room the editor uses a moment where the flare is on to go into a scene where the flare isn’t supposed to be on, and vice versa. If you have a lighting change, you need the editors to honour that. Lighting lush jungles was pretty much a chess game. We had to light in such a way that we could change direction at the flick of a switch; the foliage easily signals the sources and the result looks phoney. We often had cranes or towers in shot that were camouflaged to give a gentle soft light.

VA: Did advancements in DI grading tools since BAND OF BROTHERS make it easier to blend in any inconsistencies?

RA: I was able to meet our colourist and we went through every episode that I did in terms of the look, so he knew my sensibilities. For example in episodes one and two there are night battles with flares. One of the things about moonlight is that the eye doesn’t see green, so I had told the colourist that the foliage had to be desaturated to grey, but that when a flare or explosion went off, the green should be allowed to come through. Even when the cut changed after I did the grading, he could address that with subsequent edits because we had spoken about it. The neg was developed in Melbourne and Digital Pictures scanned it to make a work copy for the editors, who were in Australia with us. Rushes were graded according to JPEG images I supplied, because one constant problem is that if the colours are wrong in the rushes or in the edit, people can get used to them and don’t want to implement the look you always had in mind. The grade was done in America and I was actually able to spend some time with the colourist, but if I hadn’t, he would at least have had a good idea of what I was aiming for, based on the rushes.

VA: There is a sequence where you and the other operators handed the camera to each other for one long scene. How did that come about?

RA: That was inspired by a wonderful film called SOY CUBA (I AM CUBA), which is a Russian political movie that was shot in Cuba in about 1964. They filmed it on a very wide angle lens and the camera did some incredible things; it was really the communist culture that allowed the idea of passing the camera from one person to another. That film could only have been done by the operator not being possessive. I was trying to find scenes in THE PACIFIC where my operators (Simon Finney and Ben Wilson) and I – who have worked together for years – could trust each other and hand the camera over in that way. We did a few shots, mainly in episode five, including a beach scene where the camera starts handheld and then is passed to somebody on a crane, and then handed off to someone else who runs with it.

Lighting lush jungles was pretty much a chess game. We had to light in such a way that we could change direction at the flick of a switch.

VA: Were you usually shooting with more than one camera?

RA: We had to film with multiple cameras, which is always a hazard because you can end up being too far back on telephoto lenses. At certain times we had to demand that a main camera would get in close, so the audience experiences the full horror, and the other cameras just did their best to avoid it. There was one scene in BAND OF BROTHERS where the explosions took so long to rig that we felt we had to shoot it with three cameras on tighter lenses. We got fantastic coverage but it wasn’t experiential; you didn’t experience the moment with the character, so we reshot it with one camera running along right behind him and you really got a feeling for the hell of his experience, so we had learned that lesson. Nevertheless, you can’t shoot major explosive scenes with just one camera, so sometimes we had one camera being greedy and the other cameras shooting around the periphery.

VA: Why did you choose Ultra Primes and were you shooting across a wide range of apertures?

RA: Mainly because of the weight. Master Primes are great but they’re so much heavier if you’re running around a battlefield. We wanted superb quality and resolution, and Zeiss really did make a good lens with the Ultras. I don’t like shooting wider than T2 because of the shallow depth of field; it’s OK for a wide angle lens on a static shot but if you’re following someone and their nose is sharp while their ear is massively soft, it can look annoying and you’re taken away from the piece. I tried to keep the maximum aperture to T8 or sometimes T11. I would love to have shot at those apertures in the jungle, but for some of those scenes I was at T2.8.

VA: Were you using many filters?

RA: We made a creative decision to shoot the whole series on tungsten stock, but without an 85 filter. What that does is to increase the exposure on the blue / green level of the foliage when you’re in the jungle, which helped a lot. It very slightly corrupts the colour and gives you a bit of an old fashioned look. We put the colour back in later of course, but something stays slightly altered that you can’t put your finger on and that doesn’t look fake. We used a lot of ND filters and if not NDs, then at least optical flats, because of the explosions and the flying sand, sweat and blood.

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