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Wednesday, 30 December 2009 14:42

Invictus: Re-Creating History in South Africa

Written by  Bob Fisher
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The feature film Invictus takes audiences on a journey back in time to 1995, when Nelson Mandela used the Rugby World Cup competition to heal wounds caused by generations of apartheid.

(L-R) Clint Eastwood and Tom Stern, ASC on the set of Invictus Photo by Keith BernsteinThe feature film Invictus takes audiences on a journey back in time to 1995, when Nelson Mandela used the Rugby World Cup competition to heal wounds caused by generations of apartheid. The script is an adaptation of John Carlin’s book “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation.” Clint Eastwood directed the cinematic version primarily at the practical locations where history unfolded.
South Africa became an English colony in 1806, and the government subsequently made apartheid, which segregated, impoverished and denied basic human rights to native people, the law of the land. Native South African Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, beginning in 1964, for the role he played in leading the resistance to apartheid. And with the end of apartheid, he was freed from jail and later elected president in 1994. The film spans a six-month period, beginning with the announcement that South Africa would host the 1995 Rugby World Cup.Mandela envisioned the games as an opportunity to use the universal language of sports to bring all the people of his country together. He was aided and abetted by Francois Pienaar, captain of the Springboks team that represented South Africa during the championship games.

Morgan Freeman was cast as Mandela and Matt Damon as Pienaar, and Tom Stern, ASC was the film’s cinematographer. This was the eighth feature Stern has shot with Eastwood at the helm, beginning with Blood Work in 2002. Prior to that, Stern was a gaffer on 16 films directed by Eastwood. “It’s a story about Nelson Mandela’s humanity, including his evolving friendship with Pienaar, and how they helped to bring the people of their country together,” Stern explains. “There is an interesting dynamic between them. Mandela is head of the country and an international figure, so he is a larger character, but they are both on a journey. At the end, they both come across as regular guys who relate as equals.”

Stern traveled to South Africa about a month prior to production. Location Managers Peter Currey and Mick Snell and Production Manager and Executive Producer Tim Moore had already scouted locations. After visiting those locations, Stern met with Production Designer Jim Murakamito discuss ideas for enhancing the settings in ways that felt right for the story. “The film is a blend of dialogue and other dramatic scenes, and the rugby competition that we mainly filmed in the stadium in Cape Town where the games were played in 1995,” Stern says. “We shot another two weeks of rugby footage in Johannesburg. Clint cautions against the paralysis of analysis, which means don’t over-think. I created kind of a graph chart of the moods and feelings that Clint envisioned for different scenes. The lighting is mainly naturalistic withthe goal of helping the audience experience what it was like to be in that time and place.”
Stern brought Camera Operator Stephen Campanelli, First Assistant Cameraman Bill Coe and Gaffer Ross Dunkerley to South Africa, as they regularly collaborate with him on films that he shoots with Eastwood and on other projects. “We are like a family,” Stern says. He explains that there’s an innate trust that enables them to draw on each other’s strengths and work efficiently in a collaborative environment to bring out he best in everyone.
As a filmmaker, Eastwood has consistently produced his films in 35mm anamorphic format. “Clint loves the organic look and feeling that you can render with anamorphic lenses, and the 2.4:1 aspect ratio gave us flexibility to compose shots with characters interacting in their  environments,” Stern comments. “We envisioned making frequent use of over-the-shoulder and other shots from subjective points of view.” Panavision in Los Angeles shipped the camera package to South Africa, including Platinum XL and ARRI 235 bodies and the anamorphic lenses Stern has been using since he shot Mystic River with Eastwood in 2003. The lenses are periodically upgraded and are stored in a vault until Stern needs them. The package includes C Series 25–100mm Primes, E Series 135mm and 180mm long lenses, and an Angenieux 10:1 Zoom.

Eastwood generally plays roles in the films that he directs, but on Invictus he concentrated solely on directing. In an interview published by the New Yorker magazine, Eastwood said, “I’m free of extra pressure, the constant worry over how I am doing as an actor. As a director, I want to be watching my actors … it’s fun watching their emotions unfold. If it weren’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it.” The dramatic scenes were filmed before the rugby players arrived on the scene, and they were generally shot with a single camera, and occasionally two. Exterior scenes were filmed at practical locations, including outside the presidential palace. Interiors were mainly filmed on location with the exception of sets built for Mandela’s office and a television studio. “Clint and I agree that there has got to be a good reason to use more than one camera,” Stern says. “Dialogue and other scenes where characters are interacting can be shot faster with optimum lighting and more compelling images with a single camera.” There was no video village or playbacks, which is standard procedure for Eastwood. Stern was watching the lighting and Eastwood was in close contact with the actors. There were small monitors on the camera, which transmitted signals to portable monitors that Stern and Eastwood used to check composition.

Cinematographer Tom Stern, ASC Photo by Keith Bernstein     Stern chose to use a single stock, KODAK VISION3 500T 5219, which he routinely rated for an exposure index of 400 for a richer look. The exceptions were aerial scenes used to establish locations, which were filmed with a slower stock. “We would watch a rehearsal, usually did one take and trusted the crew to get it right,” Stern says. “We were moving fast, but I never felt rushed. It was a comfortable environment, which helps the actors concentrate. Clint likes the freshness of the first take. The actors knew what to expect and came prepared. It was like they were acting in a play.”Eastwoodalso gave the cast freedom to follow their instincts rather than limiting them to hitting marks. Campanelli generally had a Panaflex XL camera on a Steadicam. He followed the actors and framed them in their environments. “There are some interpretative shots, including scenes where Mandela’s eyes reveal what he is thinking and feeling,” Stern says. “Other times, we masked his eyes.”

Eastwood usually began coverage of dialogue scenes with a close-up of Mandela or another character who was talking, and then panned to the person listening to show the expressions on their faces as they reacted. Stern and Dunkerley made quick decisions about whether adjustments were needed in lighting. “That’s one of the advantages of working with the same crew, picture after picture,” Stern says. “I know what Clint likes, and he trusts me to get it right. The crew knows how I think, and I trust them to anticipate and react while we are shooting.”

After Eastwood, Stern and his crew watched rehearsals of the rugby action, they decided where cameras should be for coverage. Stern says that the goal was to cover the action from a subjective point of view as though the audience is in the game. The rugby sequences begin with a shot of Mandela backlit and silhouetted while walking through a dark tunnel. The crowd goes wild when they see him come out of the tunneland onto the field wearing the green Springboks jersey. He strides directly to Pienaar who introduces him to the members of the team. “It was a magic moment,” Stern says. “We could literally feel the emotions.”

Rugby sequences were planned, but Eastwood gave the players freedom to ad-lib. Campanelli was generally running with the players with the camera on a Steadicam, though at times Stern called for handheld shots for a more organic look. The ARRI 235 camera was usually on the front, back or side of a supercharged golf cart with rubber bungee cords to absorb the shock, and a zoom lens was used to grab cutaway shots. They re-created scenes from a dramatic night game that teams from France and South Africa played in the rain. They produced artificial rain, and Stern lit the night with a single ARRI Studio T24 Fresnel light that was 80 to 100 feet in the air. The latitude of the 500-speed film recorded details the way the human eye would see them on a rainy night. There were usually 2,000 to 2,500 people in the stands watching this re-creation of their country’s history. The rest of the standing-room crowd seen on cinema screens consists of CGI imagery that was seamlessly matched with the live-action footage in DI.

The exposed negative was flown to London daily, where Eastwood had someone supervise the transfer on a flight to Los Angeles. Technicolor in Los Angeles processed the negative and shipped digital dailies to South Africa. Stern knew upfront that he would be adding painterly touches during DI timing sessions with Technicolor Colorist Jill Bogdanowicz, who marks this film as their seventh collaboration. Bogdanowicz says that Stern never failed to record the rich, black tones and contrast on the negative, which gave them flexibility while fine-tuning looks.

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