You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Old Lenses Give Depth to ‘The Hateful Eight’

Retrofitting a bloody Western with all-but-forgotten tech.

Quentin Tarantino wanted something special for “The Hateful Eight.” He knew he wanted to shoot it in 70mm — so much so that the words “in glorious 70mm” are peppered throughout his infamously leaked screenplay.

He also wanted the film to screen in a limited “roadshow” engagement, with an overture and an intermission — a throwback to old movie palace days. But when Robert Richardson, the director’s cinematographer over the past decade, stumbled onto a few near-antique Ultra Panavision lenses at that company’s facility in Woodland Hills, Calif., a new door opened.

The industry relics — used on movies like “Ben-Hur” and “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” but which hadn’t seen the light of day since 1966’s “Khartoum” — manifest the widest possible cinematic frame, with an aspect ratio of 2.76 to 1 (as opposed to the 1.85 to 1 or 2.35 to 1 aspect ratios of most modern productions).

However, “Hateful Eight” takes place mostly in one interior location, a circumstance that seems antithetical to a format so well suited to wide vistas and landscapes.

“I thought it could be really cool in this claustrophobic situation,” Tarantino argues. “It makes the close-ups very,
very intimate.

Some new lenses had to be manufactured, however, while the mechanics on some of the older ones had to be modified. That’s where Dan Sasaki, Panavision’s VP of optical engineering, and his team came in.

“Originally we thought this was going to be a slam dunk,” Sasaki says. “But (during) a five-hour meeting, the whole show just unraveled. We didn’t know if the infrastructure was going to exist. Is it going to look good? Will the lab be able to handle it? Will we be able (to have) the projection lenses?”

The look achieved by the old lenses duplicates what we see with the natural eye better than any other format, Sasaki says, with the camera’s prism elements evoking all of our natural depth cues.

“I’ve got half the room in the frame, minimal. If I’m moving, I basically shoot two-thirds of the room.”
d.p. Robert Richardson

The ultra wide angle also meant the camera would catch so much of the set that Tarantino could stage actors all over the frame in interesting ways to aid the visual storytelling. “Maybe it’s John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) talking about something, but then there’s also an important play going on in the background,” the director says. “You’re always able to keep track of where everybody is and what’s going on and the reality of the room.”

This greatly impacted Richardson’s lighting, however. “I’ve got half the room in the frame, minimal,” he says. “If I’m moving, I basically shoot two-thirds of the room. All I have to do is a six- or seven-foot move and a pan to recorrect, and I’ve basically shot out the set. And Quentin was doing 360. No holds barred for him. It didn’t stop his creativity.”

Ultimately Richardson was so taken with the format that he tried to rent the lenses for Ben Affleck’s “Live by Night,” which is shooting on the Arri Alexa 65 large-format digital camera Emmanuel Lubezki used for “The Revenant.” But alas, the Ultras had been whisked away to London for the production of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” by cinematographer Greig Fraser.

“The colors scream,” Richardson says. “It would be lovely if we could achieve more of this. But the cost is phenomenal, and there’s no one trying to lower that price point.”

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Women in Animation Logo

    WIA Partners With Animation Mentor, Toon Boom to Expand Scholarship Program

    Women in Animation has partnered with Animation Mentor and Toon Boom to expand the organization’s WIA Scholarship Program with workshops and software packages. WIA scholarships are given to animation students with a financial need and who demonstrate talent and passion for animation that will lead to a promising career in the field. The Animation Mentor [...]

  • Steven Poster ICG National President

    DP Steven Poster to Receive SOC Lifetime Achievement Award

    Stephen Poster, cinematographer on such classics as “Donnie Darko” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” will receive the Lifetime Achievement Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Camera Operators at a ceremony on Jan. 18, 2020. SOC grants the award to an Individual who has served the community at large and/or the Society through outstanding service [...]

  • Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep

    Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep Potential Runaways at Home

    Horror film “Midsommar” did it last year. A new adaptation of the Swedish classic “The Emigrants” will do it next year. Prestigious productions that could have taken advantage of beautiful Swedish locations and craft expertise continue to run away to foreign locations for lower costs and tax incentives. Despite having a strong film industry creatively [...]

  • Game of Thrones

    Ireland Lures Filmmakers With Locations, Expertise and a 37% Tax Credit

    Few locations on earth can match Ireland’s proverbial 40 shades of green. In addition to its restful hues, the island nation also boasts alluring lakes, rugged windswept coasts, small charming hamlets, rustic farmhouses of aged stone, hilltop castles and breathtaking expanses of wild scrubland. Bustling and modern Dublin, Ireland’s capital, will be the largest English-speaking [...]

  • UNDONE Animated Series Amazon

    How Animated Series 'Undone' Used a Mix of Techniques to Tell the Mind-Bending Tale

    When Kate Purdy wanted to tell a story about the nature of reality, she knew she wanted to play with perception and time, fade in and out of memories and give voice to visions that only her main character could see. And it wasn’t long before the executive producer and co-creator of Amazon’s new series, “Undone,” [...]

  • John Wick: Chapter 3

    James Cameron, Keanu Reeves Starring in '2nd Unit: Invisible Action Stars' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rootbeer Films has completed “2nd Unit: Invisible Action Stars” with James Cameron, Keanu Reeves, Mark Wahlberg and Halle Berry, Variety has learned exclusively. The film explores relationships between actors and stunt performers — a topic at the heart of Quentin Tarantino’s recent “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Joe Mantegna narrates “2nd Unit: Invisible Action [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    'Hustlers' Costume Designer and DP Joined Forces to Create Gritty Glamorous Look

    Mitchell Travers wonders if anything can really prepare a costume designer for working on a movie in which G-strings, double-sided tape and 8-inch platform heels comprise a complete outfit. But from the moment he began to read the script to “Hustlers,” he was in. “From the third page, I said I didn’t care what [any of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content