“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” Cinematographer Greig Fraser ASC, ACS kicked off his career with an Instant Noodles commercial. Back then, he was so worried about where his next paycheck may come from he implored production to allow him to keep all the leftover instant noodles from the shoot. A month later he developed an ulcer from eating nothing but the nutrient lacking chemical non-food Instant Noodles. To now, where his latest work “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” will soon appear in theaters worldwide.
While I was suffering through one of my worst colds in years I had the pleasure of talking to the cinematographer for “Rogue One” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” We talked about early careers. What it takes to be selected to lens the latest Star Wars film and how the technology of filmmaking is both a blessing and a curse.
“I guess the main reason was because I worked hard in the past,” said Fraser after I asked him how the opportunity to shoot a Star Wars film was presented to him. Fraser says the key to his success has been to shoot commercials. The short medium sharpens one’s technical skills. DOPs can have an opportunity to work with amazingly talented directors who have not had a chance to shot features. “In the end, you have to shoot. The more you shoot, the better you get,” said Fraser.
For a cinematographer who sold all of his music gear for his first Nikon in his early years, Fraser did impart some wisdom to aspiring shooters. If you are expecting a magic solution on how to be a badass cinematographer to open up an exclusive shortcut to your dream career well guess what. You’re dreaming.
For Fraser’s career, it was a marathon and not a sprint. For those shooters who aspire to be great, he suggests to “shoot as much as physically possible, learn the medium, learn the craft, and study images.” Fraser even goes so far to suggest to only move the camera if the image is good. “My opinion is that too often shooters use movement to hide a so-so image.” I get it. I’m guilty of it too.
New Sensors / Better Filtration Needed
Here, at ProVideo Coalition, we talk a lot about cameras, camera tech, and what new features are coming down the line and to a manufacturer’s latest camera or sensor. The thing with new sensors and camera tech is the formula for capturing great light changes. As the science of the sensors advances new problems arise. One of those problems has been IR light pollution. Through testing and shooting “Lion” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in 2015, Fraser discovered the Neutral Density filters he had been using had not reduced all the light waves together.
When he took the Formatt-Hitech Firecrest, and True ND, filters for a spin he discovered he did not have the same problem. These filters brought all the light wavelengths down together. There was no color cast slipping through mudding up his footage. Greig was gracious enough to share with me a couple tests he did with the filters and a lightbulb. In the images below you can see how well the Formatt-Hitech Firecrest filter and True ND filter worked across all the light wavelengths instead of a portion of it. He shares this knowledge with me, and with you, because as he says, “I hate to see people use crap gear when better gear is out there. I’m currently shooting in Sicily, on a film called Mary Magdelene. We have been facing 50 miles per hour wind on the beach here, and we’ve chosen the Firecrest filters because they seem to not only give us the best filtration but are proving themselves to be incredibly durable also.”
Fraser’s take on shooting with the Alexa 65mm
“I feel very fortunate,” stated Fraser when talking about shooting on the latest camera technology. “The Arri Alexa 65 is essentially like any other camera,” according to Fraser. This, for me, was a little hard to digest. I mean, if we are to believe all the camera hype, which I can knowingly add to, the Alexa 65mm is damn near the Holy Grail. Fraser offered up details, “Shooting with the Alexa 65 is different, but not always easy. It’s slightly harder like how it is hard to make a great image on a Hasselblad. With a Hasselblad, if you shoot something ordinary it just looks more ordinary. Shooting on the Alexa 65 is similar.” The flip side, though, is that when you shoot something incredible, it is quite literally breathtaking. I do believe I’ve seen the future of filmmaking with this camera, but it’s important to make sure you use the correct lenses on there also.” I, as of yet, have had an opportunity to shoot on the acclaimed camera. I hope, in time, I will get the opportunity. Until then, I am left to wonder what it’s like to shoot. And then Fraser impart this wisdom. “Ultimately though, I care more with where to point the camera,” said Fraser. Maybe we all should care more about our craft and less about the tools.
Film & Digital
Like many of us, we have thrived during the digital film revolution. More options are available to us for a lot less cost for admission. This is not lost on Fraser, “It’s been a God send for creatives with more manufacturers competing against each other.” An excited Fraser said, “Sometimes you find new bits of technology and you get excited by stuff.”
Some think of cinematographer as a lifestyle and I was interested in finding out how Greig Fraser has learned to juggle his professional life with his personal life. I asked this type of question because so many aspiring cameramen/women worry about where their next gig may come from next. “I tend to balance my working life and my home life,” said Fraser. “I have a very understanding wife and family. Commercials are very short running, and, often, I can choose which city to work in. So if my family wants to be in Los Angeles, which is home, then I’ll endeavor to take commercials in Los Angeles.”