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Cinematographer Visually Creates Emotion in Darkly Futuristic ‘Equals’

Young director Drake Doremus is known for heart-wrenching relationship dramas. While “Like Crazy” and “Breathe In” took us to conventional U.S. locations, “Equals” — out July 15 — catapults us to a futuristic society.

In Doremus’ new film, Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult live in a sterile, emotionless world where only the contraction of a mysterious disease makes it possible to feel again — and fall in love. Cinematographer John Guleserian, Doremus’ longtime collaborator, was tasked with capturing the ups and downs of true love in an antiseptic environment. “It’s the simplest story,” says Guleserian, “told by the visuals and the performances. It’s like a mood piece at times.”

Working with production designers Katie Byron and Tino Schaedler, Guleserian illuminated the movie with only LED lights mostly built into the sets. “This gave us the ability to change the color and intensity of the light while the cameras were rolling,” he explains. “We stuck to a limited color palette and wanted the light to feel like it had its own heartbeat. We had images of nebulas taken with the Hubble Space Telescope as references.”

They used an Arri Alexa XT, shooting open-gate, deploying Zeiss Ultra Prime spherical lenses for the first half of the film and Super Speeds for the second. “The beginning of the movie is quite static,” Guleserian explains. “Mostly white and lots of straight lines. Our intention was to make the characters feel trapped, to keep them in their world of equals. For this, we used the Ultra Primes. But as they broke out of that world and the disease took hold, we got more messy and added flair by switching to the uncoated Super Speeds and adding in our lights.”

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