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Lensers focus on digital fave Alexa

Camera polls high among cinematographers

Cinematographers have long debated the merits of film vs. digital, but today, as they evaluate options for upcoming features, they’re just as likely to ponder all the bewildering flavors of digital that are available.

Sony, Panavision, Red and others have cameras vying for market share in this high-stakes game. Arri recently threw its hat in the ring with the Alexa, which has been used on enough features to be assessed by d.p.’s. In a quick poll, it got raves.

“The camera is awesome,” said Byron Shah, who used Alexa to shoot Disney’s “Prom,” out April 29. Shah and helmer Joe Nussbaum tested it against several other digital cameras. “Unequivocally it had the best images,” Shah said.

However, Alexa was new and Shah was leery of being a pioneer. “There was trepidation at the studio,” he said, but Disney digital guru Leon Silverman persuaded the producers to take a chance. Shah shot “Prom” in L.A. last summer (in a twist, Los Angeles played Michigan, where the film is set).

The first Alexa feature was shot in March 2010 in Berlin, where d.p. Anna Foerster used it on Roland Emmerich’s period movie “Anonymous,” set for a fall release by Columbia.

Foerster took advantage of the camera’s extreme low-light sensitivity in scenes illuminated only by candlelight. “You could clearly see the (flickering) of candles on the eyes, faces and costumes,” she said.

Caleb Deschanel has used Alexa on two features: Timur Bekmambetov’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” which is shooting in New Orleans, and William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe.”

“It’s the first digital camera I deemed good enough to use without feeling I’m giving up too much compared to shooting film,” he said. “It’s very close to film in latitude.”

“Alexa is the only digital camera where I felt I had the same latitude as film,” echoed d.p. Bobby Bukowski, who finished shooting Oren Moverman’s “Rampart” on Alexa in December.

So sensitive was the camera that the d.p. often found himself using practical lights as the sole source of illumination, shifting some of the lighting responsibility to production designer David Wasco. “(David) became as instrumental in designing the lighting as I did,” Bukowski said.

Alexa isn’t cheap: $75,000 without lens. It’s also heavy and subject to the usual cabling that Bukowski describes as “the bane of the digital world.”

Arri addressed some of the limitations at this week’s NAB confab, unveiling a modular version that separates the camera’s front from the recording function — allowing shooting with a lighter unit in tight spaces and with 3D rigs, per Arri’s U.S. topper Glenn Kennel.

Other companies aren’t exactly standing still. At NAB, Sony showed footage shot with its upcoming F65 to wide acclaim. And film — the standard by which the Alexa users interviewed here judged the Arri camera — is still around.

“I don’t know the place for 35mm film right now,” Bukowski said. “But I do know that well-lit digital can look too sharp and brittle.” His solution: to couple digital cameras with the “old glass” of film lenses.

Bookings & Signings

iTalent booked d.p. Lawrence Sher on Larry Charles’ “Finchley’s Dream,” costume designers Johnetta Boone on Tyler Perry’s “Good Deeds” and Lisa Jensen on Steve Sommers’ “Odd Thomas,” UPM Joe Disner on TNT pilot “Dallas,” editor Mark Livolsi on Cameron Crowe’s “We Bought the Zoo,” makeup artists Tracey Levy on Seth McFarlane’s “Ted” and Douglas Noe on ABC pilot “The River,” hair stylist Mary Ann Valdes on Anne Fletcher’s “My Mother’s Curse” and production designer Michael Gallenberg on Fox pilot “Love Lives.”

Montana Artists signed editor Rachel Goodlett Katz (ABC’s “Georgetown” pilot). Agency has booked d.p.’s George Mooradian on TV Land’s “Happily Divorced,” Matthew Jensen on Joshua Trank’s “Chronicle,” Pietro Zuercher on Carlo DeRosa’s “Finding Joy,” David Robert Jones on NBC pilot “Best Friends Forever”; production designer Joseph Hodges on Fox’s “Terra Nova”; 1st AD’s Chip Signore on Steven Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Cara Giallanza on Lifetime Movie “5 for the Cure” and Lynn D’Angona on A&E’s “The Glades.”

Want to comment or suggest a column topic? Email peter.caranicas@variety.com

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