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‘District’ lenser braces for invasion

Cinematographer Trent Opaloch tackles first feature

What if the first feature you shoot becomes a cult classic?

Given the reaction of the fanboy crowd, which went “completely bonkers” over footage shown at Comic-Con for “District 9,” a sci-fi thriller about aliens on Earth that doubles as a doculike fable about tribal conflicts, cinematographer Trent Opaloch has a good feeling about the film.

“(It was) one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen,” Opaloch says. “They were so into it, it was surreal. The room was vibrating.”

Part of the credit, of course, must go to fanboy fave Peter Jackson, who produced the vfx-heavy pic, set in South Africa and directed by Opaloch’s longtime collaborator Neill Blomkamp. Opaloch and Blomkamp worked on shorts for vidgame “Halo,” and Opaloch was onboard the feature version, which was to be produced by Jackson, before it stalled.

Canadian-born Opaloch, who cut his teeth on commercials and musicvideos, used the sleek skyscrapers of Johannesburg and a squalid apartheid-era township as the backdrop for “District 9,” which hit U.S. theaters Aug. 14.

He captured the film’s stressed, jerky footage entirely on digital, mostly with the Red One camera, which he says the producers picked after some hemming and hawing.

“We decided to shoot on the Red because there was so much handheld work, and we were happy with the results from the testing,” he says.

His team used as many as nine Red cameras — owned personally by Jackson — and some Sony EX1 and EX3 cameras for secondary work. Opaloch was impressed with the Red’s performance, especially with all the handheld work he had to do in windy and dusty conditions.

Still, Opaloch cautions against “getting caught up in the hype” surrounding Red and advises learning from others’ experiences, especially when it comes to manipulating Red-captured content.

“I’m a film guy at heart,” he says.

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