Sons of Anarchy director of photography Paul Maibaum, ASC revealed that he has been relying on an assortment of Vitec gear, including batteries from Anton/Bauer, lights from Litepanels and support equipment from OConner for stage and location shoots since the show’s first season.
Maibaum has been the show’s director of photography since the second episode of the first season. Created by Kurt Sutter, Sons of Anarchy explores the lives of members of an outlaw motorcycle club in California’s Central Valley. The drama has been the highest-rated series in the history of FX.
“Sons of Anarchy is like a modern-day Western with vistas and composition driving a look that harkens back to the movies of John Ford and Spaghetti Westerns,” Maibaum said. “Only on this show the horses are motorcycles, and the code of the west is the code of the club.”
The challenge of developing the look for the show was to make it “natural, not too slick,” he explained. “Handheld gives the narrative a feeling of immediacy that’s organic to the story. There are many non-verbal, dramatic elements that are signature shots of the show. It’s not rushed, in the sense that we like to get the reactions of the characters.”
Maibaum is a long-time user of OConnor fluid heads and Litepanels LED lighting fixtures. “I cannot remember a project that I have worked on where there weren’t at least two OConnor heads, going back to the days of the OConnor 100, and I have used Litepanels’ Ringlite Minis, MiniPlus and 1×1 LED panels almost since they first came on the market,” he said.
On Sons of Anarchy, Maibaum has a pair of ARRI Alexa cameras as his A cameras with one or two Sony F55 CineAlta cameras supplementing the 1st unit or serving as a two-camera package on the 2nd unit. Angenieux Optimo Zoom lenses are deployed to enable operators to switch back and forth from handheld to studio mode and stabilized camera moves with minimal downtime. Maibaum noted that approximately 60% of the show is shot handheld, splitting the rest of the scenes evenly between dollies and camera stabilization systems.
Location and studio production are evenly split during the seven- to eight-day shooting schedule, with the studio housed in a converted warehouse in North Hollywood and locations throughout Los Angeles.
OConnor 2575 fluid heads have been part of Maibaum’s camera package since the outset of production. “It is the fluid head of choice for every operator who has been on the show,” he reported.
“The OConnor head is easy to use, and resetting the sinusoidal counterbalance is a simple step. It’s easy to add more or less drag and tension so the operator can easily adjust to his or her needs,” Maibaum explained. “The Alexas and F55s weigh approximately the same, but the lenses change and they can weigh more than the camera. OConnor makes it easy to adjust with a change of lens and to go from shoulder to dolly to camera stabilization systems. It makes it easy to point your camera where you need it. The show’s signature shots include large masters, high angles and close ups. OConnor makes this possible.”
He recently tested the new Litepanels ASTRA 1×1 Bi-Color panel on the show. “This light is a marked improvement over the current 1x1s, and that’s saying a lot because they are one of my favorite lighting fixtures,” he said. “The output of the ASTRA is surprising. Recently, I was able to use it as a fill light during some insert car work, filling the actors’ faces in broad daylight with the fixture projecting from roughly 8 feet from the subject’s faces. It was much brighter than the original light that we planned to use.”
The DP turns to the Ringlite Minis on the cameras about half the time. On the set, he reports that the 1x1s hang quick and easy – “they’re a solid, good-looking light; from flood to spot it’s easy to narrow the beam.”
Litepanel MiniPlus bricks are often used for eye light. “In scenes where lighting is sketchy, I’ll tell the team to add a ‘ping’ – or place a ‘brick’ to brighten the eyes,” said Maibaum.
According to gaffer Tony Anderson, “The freedom of battery-powered lighting has saved me many times. When the DP needs ‘one last thing,’ the 1×1 is my go-to instrument. I have also worked with the ASTRA and am very impressed with the versatility and output of this head. It has enough output for bounce keylights yet is light enough to rig just about anywhere.”
Anton/Bauer batteries fill many mobile power needs for Maibaum’s crew. They use the CINE VCLX as the main camera battery for the Alexas and F55s when on dollies or cranes. The DIONIC HC and HCX batteries act as a power supply for the handheld cameras and Litepanels 1x1s, and also power the wireless video assist.
“What I like about Anton/Bauer batteries is that they charge quickly, don’t lose their charge, and the digital readout tells me how much power is left all the time. They’re also lightweight and attach on and off quickly to the camera or light,” said Maibaum.