Bob Odenkirk in Nobody
In the middle-aged revenge fantasy film, the protagonist's onslaught of violence is reluctant. In your John Wicks or Takens, these are men who are forced back into action by a transgression so serious that it requires brutal retribution. They don't want to, but they have to. As director Ilya Naishuller points out, no one is a reverse of this formula. When Bob Odenkirk & # 39; s retired assassin Hutch is ripped off the suburban drudgery by a burglary, all he loses is a few dollars, a kitty cat bracelet, and some pride. Hardly a kidnapped daughter or a murdered puppy. Hutch doesn't need to dust off his sleeping aptitude for slaughter … but he really, really does. It's basically his version of a midlife crisis. Until his house is littered with corpses of Russian gangsters, "Odenkirk deadpans", "I might have overcorrected."
For the cameraman Pawel Pogorzelski, mutilated Russian henchmen are almost light and airy. The Polish-born, Canada-raised DP made his name by shooting Ari Aster's troubling Hereditary and Midsommar. Pogorzelski spoke to the filmmaker about his role in creating an unlikely new action hero.
Filmmaker: How did the script read when you first saw it? The opening is this almost dialogue-free montage of Odenkirk & # 39; s monotonous daily routine.
Pogorzelski: When I first read the script it was like a John Wick movie and I had a hard time realizing how different it could be, but I really liked the work of (Hardcore Henry) director Ilya Naishuller. It was my conversation with Ilya and understanding his vision that sparked my interest in the project and made me think this could be something really cool and funny.
Filmmaker: The feeling of John Wick is understandable. Nobody has the same scriptwriter and it is produced by 87North, an offshoot of the stunt team responsible for the Wick series. How was it working with these guys? One of the ways to make a name for yourself as stunt coordinators before going into directing was by choreographing, shooting, and editing fight scenes as a prior template.
Pogorzelski: Ilya has already submitted a lot of storyboards. He spoke to our stunt coordinator Greg Rementer, then Greg's teams built each sequence and shot a test version. Then we would start making adjustments and they would shoot more and cut it again. Greg or Ilya would have the idea of changing something and that would (create a domino effect) if another part had to change and then another action was added. It was this great game of ping pong that they would go back and forth and do better and better.
Filmmaker: And for scenes like the bus fight, where Hutch has his first outbreak of violence, when you actually get into this physical space for the first time, you'll have to make a whole new round of adjustments.
Pogorzelski: Right. We rehearsed this scene with the actors on the bus before filming it to make sure the camera angles we came up with in the preview still work. We also had to see which parts of the bus, such as seats or bars, had to be quickly and easily removed during the day.
Filmmaker: You used a real bus for the scene. Did you have to add that streak of light that runs up inside the interior?
Pogorzelski: You were already there. We have just taken out the fluorescent lights inside and replaced them with Astera tubes. I wanted to be able to control the light so that there was a key light on one side and fill on the other so that everything wasn't flat. So I put dimmable Astera tubes the full length of the bus and was able to control each section. Usually, wherever Bob was on the bus, I made it half a stop a little more intense and made everything else a little darker.
Filmmaker: You shot this scene on a real street rather than on stage. Did you have to swap out the handy lightbulbs for the street lamps and building lights we see from the bus windows?
Pogorzelski: We had to ask the city to turn off certain lights that we didn't like and keep the ones we turned on. Then we put a few bigger lights on the condors in the background to add a bit more depth.
Filmmaker: This scene is mostly hand-held. I also suspect that there were more individual cameras than the rest of the shoot due to the limited space in the bus. How much of this style was dictated by the limitations of space?
Pogorzelski: It was definitely mostly a camera. Maybe we could work two cameras there a couple of times, but there really wasn't any space. We actually thought of a different look for this scene first and even did a rehearsal using dollies and jibs. Emotionally, it just didn't feel right. This is the first burst of energy Bob can finally release, and when we got back to the handheld we were able to get the energy we wanted. When shooting with the handheld, we were also able to get closer with wider lenses, which made it feel more like you were in combat and part of the action.
Filmmaker: Was that the first big action set piece on the program?
Pogorzelski: It was the first big action, yes. I remember everyone felt relieved when we got it. For example: "Okay, we survived that." But we couldn't feel too comfortable, because then we had to move on to the next big set piece and then to the next big set piece. It was challenge after challenge.
Filmmaker: I've seen three films you made and each one used a different camera: Hereditary was Alexa, Midsommar was Panavision DXL2, and Nobody was Red Helium. How do you choose?
Pogorzelski: With every film I make, I try to test every single camera I can get my hands on. I have not tested the Sony Venice, the Red Monstro and Helium or the Alexa Mini and LF for anyone. We knew we wanted to make anamorphic, so in this film we tested a number of anamorphic lenses at Camtec in Hollywood.
Filmmaker: What are you actually shooting for these tests? Is it just a replacement on a stool in different lighting conditions?
Pogorzelski: I usually let them walk around, maybe come in through a door so they move through different contrasts and different spaces and I can see each lens focus. And for each lens, they turn on a light that flares the camera so I can see the flares. It's probably 20 seconds per lens, and that usually adds up to a 30-minute ordeal to see it all with the director.
Filmmaker: is it an ordeal? I think 30 minutes of someone walking through the same room would be boring.
Pogorzelski: It feels so long.
Filmmaker: And if you do this screening, it's a blind test for the director, right? They don't know which camera or lens they are looking at.
Pogorzelski: Right. We look at these tests and then choose which lens and camera combination is best for the film. When we record the tests, I usually get an idea of which combination I'm going to like, but that's because I see it on a 17-inch monitor. As soon as I get on the screen and see it on the projector, it changes. It's actually not a technical test. It is very much an artistic test. For example, I can't remember why I chose Alexa for Hereditary. It only worked for this movie.
Filmmaker: You haven't shot anyone at an ISO higher than the Helium's 800 base?
Pogorzelski: We knew we wanted to add grit in the mail, but when we set the camera to 1600 we already got sounds that were really interesting. Even when we saw the 1600 tests with only Rec. 709 and no other class, it was so close to our vision of the film. We wanted a look that was a little dirtier and grubby, and 1600 already gave us a little bit of that. Then we went from there and created our LUT.
Filmmaker: For this LUT show, you basically pulled the exposure down because of a stop?
Pogorzelski: Yeah, just to force me to put in a little more light to get a healthy negative. The LUT was a good 2/3 of a stop darker.
Filmmaker: In the digital intermediate stage, did you use that extra information and raise the levels, or did you tend to live where the LUT put you during filming?
Pogorzelski: There were few things that were raised, outside areas of the city where we only had to use available light because it was a run and gun with Bob to get some b-roll, and it was super dark . After four days in the color class, we felt pretty exhausted. Then the producers came in and they had very few notes. What is funny, however, is that I remember Ilya and (colorist) Walter Volpatto saying at the beginning of the class, "Let's just try something different and see. Let's try a few pictures and explore and play with the picture. "And no matter what they changed, it just wanted to sit where we shot it. I hadn't seen any footage in a long time before the DI. I don't like to see cuts so I can go to class with fresh eyes. Maybe by then we were all just getting used to the look on set, but no matter what we did, the film just seemed to want to sit where we shot it.
Filmmaker: You used the Hawk V-Lites for this one. I had just revisited Steven Soderbergh's Haywire, an early film that used these V-Lites, and I'd forgotten how bad the barrel distortion is.
Pogorzelski: Yeah, these distortions are cool. I remember immediately liking these lenses for Nobody, and so did the director. We discussed camera bodies, but with the Hawks it was like, "That's it." We liked the imperfections. The wide lenses were so crazy about how much they were distorted, but we accepted that.
Filmmaker: After the opening montage of "Bob's Desolate Suburban Existence," the villain – a Russian gangster named Yulian – is introduced and the style for his world changes to this colorful palette with a roaming camera. The first shot of Yulian is a long tracking shot that starts outside the club he owns and then – like the Copa Steadicam shot of Goodfellas – we follow him in as he works the room before he goes on stage to sing.
Pogorzelski: It was a lot of fun putting this shot together. The hardest part was that the cars stopped right next to the actor (as he jaywalks across the street towards the club) and the actor wasn't looking or responding trusting that the drivers wouldn't hit him. The same applies to the steadicam operator. It was Winnipeg in October / November so the roads were a bit slippery. So we were all nervous.
Filmmaker: After Hutch escapes from a henchman's suitcase, there's another great shot. It starts as an empty static long-range shot, then a car crashes into the frame and pulls out a light pole. The camera slides in and Bob jumps out of the trunk and begins questioning one of his kidnappers. Although it's seamless, I'm assuming these are two shots sewn together and that you didn't flip the car with Bob.
Pogorzelski: We took this shot on a Technocrane with a gauge of about 20 feet because the (telescopic) arm wasn't long enough to slide over to the other side of the car without moving the crane. Once we were happy with the opening frame, everything was locked (for taking in the car that crashed in. We framed it so that if the car didn't go exactly where we wanted it, we could post it in later) So we did the stunt with the camera movement, then cleaned everything up and put a new car in the frame, which was prefabricated for Bob in the trunk. On set we had an overlay on the monitor of (the final of the stunt car) the landing area and the position of the new one Cars) so we can customize them. Then you just do the move again, Bob gets out and in the post office they sew it together.
Filmmaker: It's amazing how invisible this technology has become.
Pogorzelski: Yeah, it's pretty crazy what you can create today. You just need imagination.
Filmmaker: The second big action set piece after the bus close combat takes place in Hutch's picturesque cul-de-sac. He unknowingly killed Yulian's younger brother and a Russian hit party has come to pick him up. Hutch cuts the power to his house and gets the Russians out in the dark.
Pogorzelski: That was a difficult question. We shot this on a stage and instead of a blanket, I put a 20 "by 20" frame of muslin on it, maybe 10 or 15 feet above the ceiling. I threw in two 5Ks from outside the set to create this very soft feel. I also had harsher lights from the windows. Then I would have a bit of fill light to create an eye light, either with a DMG Lumiere SL1 or, if we were moving around a lot, a china ball with LED strips inside.
Filmmaker: They also put LEDs in the guns to simulate muzzle flashes.
Pogorzelski: I don't want to honor the wrong department, but it was either the armorsmiths or the props that built these weapons for us. Every time someone pulled the trigger, it blinked. It was so cool for those dark scenes to have this interactive lighting.
Filmmaker: How do you measure exposure when you're doing a complicated low-light action scene like this that moves through different rooms?
Pogorzelski: I used my light meter. It gives me a simple, easy number to properly respond to. When I'm on set with the actors and measure the lights, I know exactly where the source that I need to fix is coming from and how much to tune in. I still think this is the best way to work.
Matt Mulcahey works as a DIT in the Midwest. He also writes about film on his blog, Deep Fried Movies.