For the opening sequence of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount Pictures’ epic “Ben-Hur” 2nd unit DP Sergei Kozlov turned to Blackmagic Micro Cinema Cameras for his camera of choice. Again, and again the Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera is being used as the crash camera, pov camera, and action camera of du jour. The small size and beefy dynamic range (13 stops) gives filmmakers like Kozlov a new tool to create the exciting. Yes, your little Micro Cinema Camera is being used in Hollywood. They may not be shooting an entire movie with the Micro Cinema Camera, but it is still pretty cool to me to see a $995.00 camera anyone can afford to make it on a big action-adventure film like “Ben-Hur.” Oh, and they used off-the-shelf MFT lenses for at least some of their lens choices.
After the opening shot, the movie’s first scene is of two riders: Judah and Messala, who are racing their horses’ full tilt around dangerous curves and pushing each other into the trees and rocks. The scene showcases the friendship between the two young men and sets the stage for what is to come down the line. Luckily, the actors playing Judah and Messala were accomplished riders so director Timur Bekmambetov used them, instead of stunt riders, for quite a lot of the opening scene. From Kozlov, Bekmambetov wanted to shoot as close as possible to the actors’ faces to capture the emotion and intensity as it played out naturally.
From my perspective, accomplished riders on horseback, Blackmagic Micro Cinema Cameras, and Freefly systems’ Movi gimbals in the hand of stunt riders seems to be the recipe to create an action-packed open for “Ben-Hur” if not a field day for a director of photography. “They (the cameras) needed to be small enough for the stunt person riding on a horse next to the actors to hold in his hands,” said Kozlov. “So we could mount it on a small stabilizing stick and Movi rig. The stunt person could then get great shots of the actors’ faces as they are riding.”
For these Movi shots, a stunt rider wore an Easyrig supporting a Movi with a Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera attached while Kozlov operated the camera from the ground holding a Mimic Control System with a monitor in his hands. If you have used Freefly System’s Mimic then you understand it can be incredibly freeing for an operator especially if getting a camera into the right position is difficult or dangerous.
Yet, this was not the only way Kozlov pressed the Micro Cinema Camera into service. “For an even wilder style, we put a wider angle Rokinon 7.5mm MFT lens on the Micro Cinema Camera and gave it to the stunt rider, and he shot some useful footage with his outstretched arm, just holding the camera by itself and pointing it at the actors’ faces. The Micro Cinema Camera is very light and compact, which is perfect for rigging and mounting in some unpredictable places,” said Kozlov. Which is exactly what he and his team did. They rigged the Micro Cinema Camera onto straps dangling underneath the horse as well as on the sides of the saddle.
I would have loved to have been there to see this scene captured. It all sounds like 2nd Unit DP Kozlov and Director Timur Bekmambetov might have had a wonderful time on set during the making of the opening scene to “Ben-Hur.” I mean what cameraman/woman would not have fun shooting horses with a Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera on a Movi held by stunt riders? Well, maybe some DOPs out there would not enjoy this, but not this one.