Visual Approach: Lensing the Film
"Flight" required a cinematographer who could seamlessly handle the film's
wildly kinetic, effects-heavy plane crash sequence, but also hone in on an
intimate character study and personal drama. Director of photography Don
Burgess, ASC, has collaborated with Robert Zemeckis as cinematographer on all of
his live-action films beginning with "Forrest Gump." "Flight" is the first film
that reunites them since "Cast Away." Despite the passage of time, Burgess
states, "It didn't take us long to get back in the groove!" After all these
years, Burgess still finds the experience of working with Zemeckis exciting and
challenging." He is truly one of the best directors working today."
Working with a budget more modest than films they had done was both challenging
Burgess recalls, "Bob and I had an abbreviated prep; we were under the gun from
the get go. We had also had a very tight shooting schedule. Every day of the
schedule had to be worked and re-worked to solve all the logistical problems of
complicated airplane scenes, actors availability, set construction and the most
important, trying to shoot as much in continuity as possible." Understandably,
over the course of a 25-year partnership, Burgess and Zemeckis have developed a
synchronicity that helped the production moving at a rapid pace.
To highlight the scenes where the characters are in an altered drug-addled
state, Zemeckis and Burgess decided that the camera should be "floating,"
accomplished via Steadicam. All other times would be filmed more traditionally,
mounted on dollies, also reflecting especially Whip's state of mind.
"First we needed to talk concept and style, which comes from the journey of the
main character," Burgess says. "Bob wanted to use the camera as much as possible
to keep the audience connected to Capt. Whitaker. When Whip is sober the camera
is fairly steady and when he is intoxicated the camera tends to move to the
level of his high. We varied focal length from wide to extremely wide and used
different camera speeds to help the effect in those situations. "
Burgess has recently embraced digital cameras, and for "Flight" he decided to
utilize the RED EPIC camera, noted for its small size. This was especially
useful for the plane sequences where the camera would need to have room to
maneuver inside the narrow cabin.
During pre-production, Zemeckis put together a pre-visualization of the plane
crash and then sat down with Burgess for a long time to discuss how they would
create the illusion of a plane flying upside down, where the camera should be,
the movement, whose perspective it would reflect. In those early stages, it
became clear the RED EPIC was perfect for the job.
Burgess recalls, "Very early in our prep I felt we need a camera that we could
use on a Steadicam, shoot hand held, shoot high speed, be small enough to fit in
the cockpit of our plane and also have the 5K of resolution for our wide screen
release. I felt that the RED EPIC would be the best choice and I'm very pleased
with the results. We shot the entire movie with that camera. We even mounted
three of them on the front of a helicopter to shoot aerial plates, which were
stitched together and used at the front windscreen of our plane. There isn't one
film or digital camera that can do all of that except the RED."
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