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January 2013

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on set Zero Dark Thirty DP Greig Fraser By฀CHRISTINE BUNISH L Capturing the light, and dark, of the desert. Greig Fraser capturing driving shots with Arri's Alexa M, in what he jokingly calls "the world's smallest minivan." OS ANGELES — Even before its wide release nationwide this month, Zero Dark Thirty, the story of the nearly decade-long effort to find Osama bin Laden, garnered Best Picture honors from the New York Film Critics Circle, nabbed other award nominations, topped many Ten Best lists and was a certain contender for the Oscars. The film's director of photography, Greig Fraser, ACS (Australian Cinematographers Society), is also collecting accolades. He won Best Cinematographer from the New York Film Critics Circle and is short-listed for a number of other awards. This recognition caps an extraordinary year for the Australia-born, but LA-based, cinematographer who shot the 2012 releases Snow White and the Huntsman and Killing Them Softly prior to commencing Zero Dark Thirty. "I haven't come up for air," Fraser laughs. Fraser began shooting Zero Dark Thirty with Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow at the start of 2012. The film, which culminates with the Navy S.E.A.L Team Six raid on bin Laden's compound, took its cast and crew on location to northwest India and Jordan, which doubled for Afghanistan and Pakistan. It marked Fraser's first experience shooting with Arri Alexa, although he did extensive testing with the camera for other films. with "a great stash" of equipment because gear could not easily be obtained on the road. "We were a traveling circus," he quips. UKbased Digilab's mobile capabilities enabled dailies color timing on location. "It was a really good process for setting the overall mood" of the footage, Fraser says. "We could see if the lenses and lighting were working or not." RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB He opted for Alexa for Zero Dark Thirty because it was "the most tried and tested format," and he felt it "would respond well to the brightest desert highlights and the darkest shadows of bin Laden's compound." He turned to a Canon EOS 5D for a few shots, but despite a "very guerrilla, run 'n' gun" style of filmmaking, "we weren't mounting cameras in ridiculous places or blowing them up," so Alexa recorded virtually all of the action. "One of the greatest misunderstandings is how a [S.E.A.L.] field team operates.They don't go in like cowboys:They're so trained, methodical and purposeful. Nothing moves without a reason to move. I felt that mounting cameras in odd places may have cheapened or diminished what those guys did," Fraser explains. With the goal of getting images "recorded with the right mood and feel," he chose Alexa's Rec 709 LUT throughout. He requested not to have a DIT on-set since he and a number of the camera crew already knew a lot about how Alexa performed. The desire to honestly and realistically document the connect-the-dots tale that led to finding bin Laden drove the production of Zero Dark Thirty. "When I spoke to Kathryn early on, we agreed not to create anything false or labored," Fraser explains. "We tried to be very genuine and not do anything that would detract from a real location. When you have a fantastically production-designed set, you really just have to try not to screw it up." On location in Jordan, Fraser used polarizing and ND filters for the desert sequences to capture a neutral palette that could be altered slightly in the final grade as needed. His chief concern was the very fine dust the Jordanian desert produces. "It's so thin, and it gets into everything — your hair, clothes, the equipment, lenses. So we needed to make sure the camera was protected. We didn't want to use plastic bags, so sometimes we used old T-shirts:The dust would accumulate in them before it went into the camera," Fraser recalls. Moistening the camera's fan vent area also helped trapped some dust before it entered the fan. "Alexa's sensors always stayed clean," he notes, "and the camera really performed well" despite the desert conditions. ON THE ROAD Fraser admits that the production traveled 16 Post฀•฀January฀2013฀ Post0113_016-on setRAVV5FINALREAD.indd 16 NIGHT VISION The tension-filled night vision raid required a unique solution from Fraser and his crew. Fraser and Bigelow discarded the idea of shooting the sequence normally and putting a green cast on it in post, "which would have been easier for the camera department and for Kathryn," he notes. They also rejected Fraser: "When we first put night vision on a scene it just looked like green Alexa footage — it didn't feel different. So we had to figure out how to light it with infrared light, and where to find them." shooting with a high ISO with lots of grain and a green filter. What Fraser and his crew did was extract the infrared LEDs from security cameras used as props in the embassy scenes and mounted them to the camera with gaffer's tape. Then they mounted night vision devices, sourced in Jordan, to the camera so the lens could pick up the invisible light of the LEDs. "It was very ballsy of Kathryn to support us in being truthful and real with the night vision — we didn't have a Plan B," Fraser reports. "We went through a lot of trial and error. When we first put night vision on a scene it just looked like green Alexa footage — it didn't feel different. So we had to figure out how to light it with infrared lights, and where to find them." He credits a can-do crew with having the skills to "solve practically any problem." Fraser recalls stressing about a night vision shot with a lot of dust on the lens kicked up by a helicopter. "I thought, 'this would look so good if it wasn't for the dust from the helicopter.' But it actually looked incredible because continued on page 46 12/21/12 7:35 PM

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