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Tuesday, 02 March 2010 00:00

The Pacific

Written by  Bob Fisher
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Executive Producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks will revisit the war years with “The Pacific.”


“Band of Brothers,” the epic 2001 HBO miniseries that re-created World War II from the perspective of the common soldier, won six Emmys and earned thirteen additional nominations, including a nod for Cinematographer Remi Adefarasin, BSC. In March 2010, Executive Producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks will revisit the war years with “The Pacific,” a film that recounts the WWII struggle from the first battle with the Japanese forces at Guadalcanal, though the rain forests of Cape Gloucester, to the well-defended terrain of Peleliu.

As with “Band of Brothers,” “The Pacific” employed a roster of several directors to handle the ten chapters. When Adefarasin was asked by Co-Executive Producer Tony To to take on the assignment, the DP was initially hesitant. “When I first considered coming onto “The Pacific,” I hesitated, thinking I’d done enough of World War II,” says Adefarasin. “But when Tony spoke to me about the scope of the production, and how it would be such a strong statement about how bad war can be, physically and mentally, from every point of view, I decided I had to do it.”

This time Adefarasin split his camera duties with Australia native Stephen Windon, ACS. Each filmed five episodes for various directors. Each episode was filmed in 21 to 26 days, depending on the complexity of the script. The majority of the production was filmed in Australia, and the scale was vast – “The Pacific” is believed to be the most expensive television project ever mounted in that country.

The scripts were based on the memoirs of three United States Marines, Robert Leckie, Eugene Sledge and John Basilone, along with participant interviews conducted by the filmmakers. The writings of Leckie, Sledge and Basilone were chosen in part because their experiences were emblematic of the average Marine’s war. The visual strategy for “The Pacific” was founded on the realism of their stories. “In our creative discussions, we emphasized that in order for the audience to believe what was happening, we had to be honest about how we photographed things,” says Windon. “Every aspect, including the stunts and practical effects, were done in a very non-theatrical way. Tony was very passionate and knew exactly what things should look like, down to the beads of sweat on the face of a Marine stricken with malaria. If there was ever any doubt about believability, than we were probably visualizing it in the wrong way.”

Adefarasin says that they took some cues from images shot on reversal film by soldiers during the war. “Our images couldn’t look phony or doctored,” he says. “Some of those archival images had an amazing look. The reversal stocks from the 1940s couldn’t fake contrast too well. The saturation is quite high, so everything seems slightly exaggerated. Duplication and re-duplication over the years added contrast and twisted the colors somewhat. So the whole image is really quite manipulated, and there are wonderful textures and shapes and resonances. There’s a natural patina that you couldn’t actually re-create by mechanical means.”

After extensive testing, the filmmakers settled on shooting with tungsten-balanced film stocks, but without an 85 correction filter, which is normally used to adjust daylight color temperatures. “That gave a very slight color twist to the negative,” says Adefarasin. “We achieved the rest of the effect through lighting, by overexposure or by hard, heavy backlight, and also in the final grade.” Adefarasin and Windon used KODAK VISION3 200T 5217 and VISION2 500T 5218 film stocks in the 35mm format. They framed the images for 16x9 aspect ratio using ARRI Studio and Lite cameras, and Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses.

The production mounted sets at Melbourne City Studios, and shot at locations in and around New South Wales, rural Victoria and Port Douglas, Queensland, which served as the company’s base. The black-sand terraces of Iwo Jima were re-created in a quarry. Other scenes depicted Marines on leave in Australia, and the family homes of Marines back in the States, where loved ones waited and prayed. These scenes were filmed at homes in the Melbourne area. To shoot jungle battle sequences, the filmmakers braved poisonous snakes, jellyfish, crocodiles and aggressive plant life in the pristine rain-forest wilderness in far north Queensland, Australia. Strict rules preventing extensive light rigging or other alterations required inventive solutions from the cinematographers and their crews.

The decision to shoot film helped with scenes in bright sunlight and under the jungle canopy, where very little light penetrates. “Inside the jungle, you get huge changes in color temperature throughout the shooting day, as sun or cloud cover changes,” says Windon. “Where possible, to counteract that problem and to smooth the differentiation between the color temperatures, we put about 50 6K Spacelights up in the palm trees, with full CTB and some plus green gel on them. In a dark environment, it was amazing how much you could lift the ambient light. We ran these lights through a dimmer system. With camouflage nets and sometimes artificial rain, this worked pretty well. The 5218 doesn’t lose information in the darkness or in the highlights, even when there is a bright, white beach or a hot sky in the frame.” On the ground, Windon used some white and shiny bounce cards here and there, and sometimes laid blue bedsheets on the ground to reflect cooler-toned light up into the helmets and onto the faces of the actors.

Also important to the success of the shoot was the durability of the equipment. Re-creating the amphibious assaults put the filmmakers on small landing craft in very rough seas. “Imagine floating in a tin can with vomit and salt and sand and blood flying everywhere,” says Adefarasin, describing the shoot. “There was a lot of slamming around due to violent waves. If we had shot on a digital format, we’d have been dead after the first day of shooting. On a raw and epic film like “The Pacific,” so many violent things happen in front of the lens: explosions, water, blood, impacts and the contrast of light and shade. Film can handle it all.”

Handheld cameras were used with nonstandard frame rates and shutter angles to lend the battle scenes a frenetic, out-of-control feeling. “I only shot 24 frames per second when there was dialogue,” says Windon. “The rest of the time, I would make subtle changes in frame rate – sometimes 21 or 22 fps, or even 27 or 28 fps, sometimes combined with a 90- or 45-degree shutter, depending on what felt right for the shot. That creates a heightened intensity, or a lovely staccato as a mortar goes off, or enhanced something as simple as the turn of a head or the blink of an eye.” Adefarsin adds, “Our philosophy was that it should look as if a modern film crew were dropped into the past. The cameras were often handheld, but not deliberately shaken. The idea was to give it a vivid documentary urgency and vitality.”

In scenes depicting the Iwo Jima assault, Windon felt that a very deep focus would have more impact and intensity, and less theatricality. “In a way, it’s the opposite of a shallow depth-of-field, anamorphic look, which has one plane of focus. All the layers were sharp from eight inches from the film plane right through to a distant mountain. In the archival footage we looked at, things happened in a very nontheatrical way, and part of our job was to interpret that feeling with our photography.”

About 1.2 million feet of exposed negative was processed at Cinevex/Deluxe in Melbourne. The telecine transfer was handled at Digital Pictures in Melbourne on an HD Spirit Datacine, resulting in 4:4:4 HDCAM-SR files. Dailies Colorist Neil Wood used a daVinci 2K system to set a one-light look based on digital stills taken on the set and manipulated by the cinematographers. A full-2K digital intermediate was created for future distribution options. Negative was occasionally rescanned at 2K or even 4K resolution on ARRI or Spirit scanners, if the dailies grade wasn’t adequate. At Riot in Santa Monica, California, about 15 days of final color correction was devoted to each episode. DI Colorist Steve Porter did the final color timing with Postproduction Supervisor Todd London.

Adefarasin and Windon both express admiration and gratitude to their crews, who faced the location difficulties with skill and persistence. “We had a fantastic grip and lighting team,” says Adefarasin. “It was truly a global enterprise – the crew members were English, Australian, German and Japanese, etc. I was filming in a country where I had never shot before, but I’d love to go back. We collaborated in the best way a film unit can.” Windon agrees: “Every episode was so big and so different that it was like making ten one-hour feature films. There are incredible variations in looks. It was very interesting and engaging from an emotional point of view to even photograph. Every written word in the screenplays was powerful, strong and thought-provoking. I know this shoot will always be special to me. It was incredibly satisfying and rewarding to be a part of it.”

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