Top 5 VariCam must-watch movies4 minute read
In cinema, the look of a film can be as integral to the storytelling as it’s characters and dialogue. Cinematography paints a mood, creates a setting, and establishes a point-of-view. And in the case of groundbreaking films shot with Panasonic VariCam digital cinema cameras, it can even play a leading role.
“The main attribute that I love about VariCam is the richness of the color and the ability to grade the image,” says cinematographer Drew Dawson. “The camera has a really unique sensor, and for me, that opens up creative avenues.”
From iconic books-turned-movies, to indie breakouts and an award-winning cinema short, five talented cinematographers take us behind the camera, revealing how they achieved the creative look of their must-see films.
Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy-drama film, based on the best-selling novel by Kevin Kwan, and tells the story of an Asian American woman who meets her boyfriend's family, only to find out they are one of the richest clans in Singapore. The Warner Bros film was directed by Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and features an all Asian cast, including Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Ken Jeong, Michelle Yeoh, and many others. It is the first Hollywood studio film to feature Asians in leading roles since director Wayne Wang’s 1993 film, The Joy Luck Club.
The film was shot by cinematographer Vanja Černjul, ASC, HFC (The Perfection, The Deuce, Marco Polo) with VariCam Pure cinema cameras. “I loved (director) Jon Chu’s approach to the story,” explains Černjul. “He wanted Crazy Rich Asians to be the most beautiful film he ever made. He is a visual director and I was excited by the challenge.
Černjul was very pleased with the way Crazy Rich Asians turned out. “Besides being an important milestone on the road towards more equal representation in Hollywood, the film was received overwhelmingly positive by both audience and critics so far,” he says. “I am happy I had a chance to be a part of what is being described as not only a film, but a movement.”
Read more about the Crazy Rich Asians shoot.
Written during the McCarthy era and published in 1953, Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, is set in a society where books are outlawed and firemen are charged with burning them. In 2018, Ramin Bahrani co-wrote and directed the film adaptation for HBO, starring Michael B. Jordan, who also served as executive producer.
The stylized film was shot by cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau, ASC (Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World, Terminator Genisys). For Morgenthau, Fahrenheit 451 brought him back to his early roots as a filmmaker and awakened his artistic sensibilities, as well as his passion for film.
“Literature and art are a valuable part of our culture that we sometimes take for granted,” he explains. “There are things that should be cherished and protected. Also, Ramin is a passionate filmmaker and has made a lot of amazing independent films like Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and 99 Homes – they’re all strong films that are purely about story and character, not spectacle. When reading the script, Fahrenheit 451 seemed to me like one of those films.”
Go behind the scenes of Fahrenheit 451.
Alex Strangelove is a high school romance film that was directed by Craig Johnson (Wilson, The Skeleton Twins) and shot by cinematographer Hillary Spera with VariCam Pure cinema cameras. The Netflix feature film tells the story of Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny), a well-rounded high school student who plans to lose his virginity to his girlfriend Clare (Madeline Weinstein) during his senior year. Complications occur when he meets Elliot (Antonio Marziale), who makes him question his sexual identity.
“I had been a fan of Craig’s work and this was a truly unique and awesome script,” says Spera. “It was incredibly funny, had so much heart, and I loved how real the characters felt, in addition to the use of magical realism to show Alex’s rich and complex inner world, and his relationship to the outside world as he discovers himself.
One of the challenges that Craig and I talked about was trying to maintain naturalism while showing the surreal moments when Alex is realizing who he is. How bizarre and wonderful high school first love can be. The excitement, the heartbreak, the mistakes – all of it. We set out to show that in a way that unique but not over the top and specific to him and his view of the world, while maintaining a story that felt tangible, relatable, and grounded."
Learn more about the making of Alex Strangelove.
While trying to keep her boyfriend’s surprise birthday party on track, Katie’s day takes a drastic detour after picking up her brother, Seth, and his daughter. Realizing Seth has relapsed in his heroin addiction, Katie drives him around town trying to find a detox center that will admit him. 6 Balloons was written and directed by Marja-Lewis Ryan and shot by cinematographer Polly Morgan, BSC (Spinning Man, The Intervention) with VariCam 35 cameras. The Netflix feature film, which stars Abbi Jacobsen and Dave Franco, had its premiere at this year’s South by Southwest film festival in March and began streaming on Netflix in April.
Morgan got involved with 6 Balloons after her agent sent her the script, as well as a look book that Ryan had created. Morgan was impressed by both. “We met for coffee and after talking, we realized we were on the same page,” explains Morgan. “We agreed that the film had to be really raw and real. It couldn’t be glossy.”
“We didn't want the audience to be aware of the cinematography,” Morgan explains. “We wanted the viewer to feel like they were on the journey with the two protagonists – a bystander forced to witness the events that unfold. We didn't want the film to look perfect, but to make it feel immediate so people could emotionally respond to the story and feel the sense of drama and panic unfolding.”
Read more about the shooting of 6 Balloons.
Premiering at the 2017 Austin Film Festival where it won Best Narrative Short, Demon tells the story of a desperate man emerging from the night where he encounters a solitary shack in the middle of the desert. It is in this night setting where he discovers a dark secret that the property owner possesses on his property. The supernatural drama/thriller, directed by Caleb Slain, was shot by cinematographer Drew Dawson with the VariCam 35 camera just outside Joshua Tree National Park.
The Demon script had the setting as a desert landscape with a full moon. According to Dawson, the goal was to capture the entire film with moonlight, practicals, and minimal film lights.
A big influence for the look came from Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period. In the color grade, colorist Chad Terpstra added some green to the moonlight which was captured at 4250K in camera. According to Dawson, shifting the moonlight to be a little greener gave them the feel as if there was a kind of sickness out there in the desert.
See how Demon was shot.