×

‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ Takes Leap Into Cinematography Technology

When Ang Lee first approached Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll (“Braveheart,” “Legends of the Fall,” “Cloud Atlas,” “Sense8”) with his ideas for “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” Toll was somewhat skeptical. Lee felt the time was ripe for a quantum leap in filmmaking technology that would combine 4K resolution, 3D capture, and high frame rates. The undertaking would require innovation at every step, and stretch technology to the breaking point. Toll had little or no experience with 3D, but he respected Lee as a filmmaker, and the early tests piqued his interest.

“Movies haven’t changed for a long time, and I think we’re all dying for a change,” said Lee at NAB in 2016. “When I was a kid at the movies, I got excited and my blood pressure shot up. I want to be that person when I go to the theater now. With more information, it feels more human. You can get to the emotion. We can see performance during action. For filmmakers, it’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.”

The search for a new, more powerful way of presenting visual stories led Lee and Toll to a frame rate of 120 frames per second, five times the rate Lee and Claudio Miranda used on “Life of Pi,” and a number easily divisible into the rates required by the wide variety of eventual deliverables. Based on testing, Toll chose Sony F65 cameras, which features a sensor capable of 8K resolution, along with Master Prime lenses and Stereotec 3D rigs. Prior to wrapping the shoot, the filmmakers were only able to see actual 120 fps 4K 3D images on two occasions. Frame blending techniques were important during post-production, where massive amounts of data were wrangled. In many cases, there was no one to ask for advice, because the tools and techniques were essentially being invented on the fly.

“You can’t approach this technology lightly,” says Toll. “It’s demanding, which requires a director who’s very aware of the demands that it places on you — not only how to use it but how you plan everything around it. It’s incredibly demanding. It’s not like, ‘Let’s just pull it off the shelf and turn it on and use it.’ You really need to make adjustments and sacrifices for the technology.”

Contrast, framing, depth of field, movement, focus, 3D depth — every aspect of the photography was reconsidered. Editing, makeup, costume design, and even performance had to adapt to the clarity and depth of the imagery.

Toll says that throughout the endeavor, everyone involved had the sense that it was a grand experiment.

“It was always Ang’s faith in the idea that motivated everyone,” says Toll. “I don’t think anyone really knew where we were going to land. We were always working toward a goal, but we had no guarantee that it was actually going to be worth it. We had to believe that all the sweat and effort that went into shooting at 120 was going to pay off, and in retrospect it has. Ang actually knows how to use the technology to enhance the story, which is what it’s all about.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Fernando Meirelles The Two Popes

    Film News Roundup: 'The Two Popes' Wins Audience Award at Miami Festival

    In today’s film news roundup, “The Two Popes” wins an audience award, “A Night with Janis Joplin” and “Fittest in Dubai” get releases, Artists First reorganizes, SAG-AFTRA expands its headquarters and Film Fest 919 announces its winners. AUDIENCE AWARD Fernando Meirelles’ “The Two Popes” has won the audience award at the Miami Gems Film Festival. [...]

  • Scotty Bowers

    Scotty Bowers, Old Hollywood's Sexual Matchmaker, Dies at 96

    Scotty Bowers, a “sexual matchmaker” for dozens of stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood who wrote about his colorful — and sometimes unbelivable — life in his memoir “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars,” died at his Laurel Canyon home on Sunday. He was 96. The [...]

  • AMC theater

    AMC Entertainment Introducing On-Demand Movie Service

    AMC Entertainment will introduce an online video store in the United States on Tuesday. Adam Aron, AMC’s president and chief executive, said that the AMC Theaters On Demand will offer about 2,000 films for sale or rent after their theatrical runs — much like Amazon or iTunes. Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Sony and Paramount have [...]

  • Scarlett Johansson poses for photographers upon

    Scarlett Johansson 'Pushing' for All-Women Marvel Movie

    After the epic battle scene in “Avengers: Endgame” depicted the female superheroes uniting to protect Spider-Man from Thanos, Marvel fans started wondering if they’ll ever see the women unite for a standalone movie. “Captain Marvel” star Brie Larson generated even more buzz when she told Variety that she and other female co-stars have approached Marvel [...]

  • Ivana Lombardi Netflix

    Annapurna Film Head Ivana Lombardi Named Director of Indies at Netflix (EXCLUSIVE)

    Annapurna Pictures president of film Ivana Lombardi is moving across town to Netflix, after almost a year in her role at Megan Ellison’s company. As of Nov. 6, Lombardi will serve as director of independent films at the streamer. She will report directly to Lisa Nishimura, Netflix’s vice president of independent film and documentary features. [...]

  • Zoe Kravitz 'Big Little Lies' TV

    Zoe Kravitz to Play Catwoman in 'The Batman'

    “Big Little Lies” star Zoe Kravitz has been tapped to play Catwoman, the antiheroine and sometime love interest of the Caped Crusader, in Matt Reeves’ upcoming “The Batman.” Kravitz will star opposite Robert Pattinson as Batman. In recent weeks, the role came down to Kravitz, Zazie Beetz of “Atlanta,” “Deadpool 2” and “Joker,” “Baby Driver’s” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content