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Viper Shoots Super Bowl Spot


At press time Below the Line learned that David Fincher was directing a big-budget, high-profile Super Bowl spot for Amsterdam-based Heineken brewery, shot entirely with a Thomson Viper Camcorder in its FilmStream, high-resolution, 4:4:4 color mode. The spot, entitled “Beer Run” via agency Wieden and Kennedy’s Amsterdam office, stars Brad Pitt as a celebrity being chased through the streets of L.A. at night by paparazzi (or “stalker-azzi”).The commercial was lensed by cinematographer Claudio Miranda. This is Miranda’s third Viper commercial shot for Fincher. He also shot Fincher’s 2004 Nike Super Bowl spot, “Gamebreakers,” as well as a spot for Xelibri using Viper.The Vipers were rented from Hollywood-based The Camera House, which purchased two of Thomson’s high-end electronic cinematography camcorders in November.“With Viper, I find that the more I use it the better I get—the more I understand it,” said Miranda. He reported that the technology is also getting better rapidly, in particular in storage and transport, which has always been the proverbial weakest link in the chain for productions using Viper, as it churns out almost two gigabits per second of data. To accommodate the data, it has to be tethered to a rack of hard drives via dual link HD-SDI.“We’ve been working with Steve Roach at S.two, who’s been helping us. He takes our comments and input and every time we do a new job, there’s always a little new feature,” explained Miranda.S.two manufactures an uncompressed HD field disk recorder called and Digital Field Recorder (DFR). It’s based on the company’s removable D.MAG Digital Film Magazine, which come in either 18- or 36-minute magazines. S.two is one of eight companies that manufacture drives capable of accommodating Viper’s FilmStream output. Thomson has just announced an on-camera media recorder for Viper called Venom (see related story on this page).This time last year, when Miranda lensed the Nike “Gamebreakers” spot for Fincher, the FilmStream data was stored on a D-MAG linearly, meaning that users couldn’t jump around the disk and delete takes; they could only delete the last take before sending the hard drive off to be dumped into a bigger server like a Specter FS Virtual Datacine. The result was that Fincher developed a habit of deleting the last take on set.“Most of the hard drive disks were set up so that you had to write in order. You had to write sequentially. You couldn’t delete two back or three takes back,” explained Miranda. “But now that problem has been fixed. You can delete wherever you want. So it’s no longer and issue. David can sit down after a bunch of takes now and pick.”The spot was shot almost entirely at night, outdoors. “It was amazing how low light levels we can work with,” said Miranda. But of course, lighting is still vital. “Sometimes, to make a darker image you want to give it a little something extra in terms of lighting. You don’t always want to be on the toe-end of the camera itself.“Sometimes, if you try to bring up a dark image it gets kind of grainy. It’s always easier to bring it in, which we did a lot. It just looks better,” continued Miranda. “You always want to make sure you’re in the latitude. So we were dealing with a lot of practicals. The art department added a lot of sodium vapors. And there’s an alleyway shot where we added a bunch of metal halides.”In terms of on-set visualization, Miranda explained that he doesn’t let himself get carried away. “There’s the tap off the camera, and there are ways to set up look-up tables on a laptop, but it wasn’t that friendly. But I kind of know what I’m getting involved with when I look at it. Sometimes, if you try to get it looking too good on the monitor, then that’s all you’re struggling with, all the time. You know you’re going to want to tweak it. You know you’re going to want to put a window here, or desaturate a little there, and in a sense, it’s not really a place where you want to get all that carried away with it.”The S.two’s DFR is connected to a laptop which can easily grab individual DPX frames out of the FilmStream data. For Miranda and Fincher, those still images became the de facto dailies.“The S.two guys just had a little laptop that connected to the S.two and they were able to pull the DPX files off. I’d pick a frame and they extracted it for me and burned a CD. So I went home and did some Photoshop,” said Miranda. “Essentially, you have a full telecine… and it’s pretty easy to manipulate it, just being able to capture the stills, go home and manipulate it later—it was great. That was pretty much it for the dailies. When David asked for dailies, I just gave him prints. The great thing about HD is that you can see focus on the set as you’re shooting it; you see everything you need to see on two HD monitors.”With over 60 shots storyboarded, Miranda said the pace was hectic. “The storyboards were insane. I saw it and I said, ‘My god. This is huge.’ We had five days to shoot it and some of the shots were pretty wide and huge. Some of those were CG. In the shots above the buildings, they’re pretty much all CG.”Postproduction and effects are being handled at Venice, Calif.-based Digital Domain, with Eric Barba serving as visual effects supervisor. Most of the effects work involved crowd replication.“We only had around a hundred extras. We didn’t have that many and there’s supposed to be thousands of people. So Digital Domain is going to be doubling a lot of people. They did some motion capture to add in people where they thought they needed them,” explained Miranda. “So when he’s walking down the street and 200 feet behind him you see 500 people, actually we only shot 100 people.”Miranda has lensed spots for a massive list of high-profile clients including Budweiser, Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, Toyota, Subaru, VW, American Airlines and Boeing. He was nominated for a MVPA cinematography award last year for a Beyonce video and has won two AICP cinematography awards. In addition, his Xelibri spot was the first spot shot on a Viper to win a Clio.His collaboration with Fincher goes back to Se7en where he served as second unit gaffer, as well as The Game and Fight Club, where he served as gaffer. Said Miranda, “David Fincher was the one who helped me with my career. I said, ‘listen, I’m not going to gaff anymore,’ and he said, ‘well, do you want to shoot Nike?’ and that was a great help.”

Written by Scott Lehane

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