An interview with Scott Kevan on “Deliver Us From Evil” with Panavized Sony F55 Cameras, Panavision Flare and PVintage lenses.
JON FAUER: “Deliver Us From Evil” was released in July. What was the concept and visual style?
SCOTT KEVAN: It’s a story inspired by actual accounts of a NYPD sergeant from the Bronx, Ralph Sarchie, and his interaction with both violent street crime and some unusual experiences involving possession and the supernatural. The visual style wanted to reflect this, a combination of the reality of being a cop in NY mixed with his paranormal encounters.
The visual style comes from dealing with a subject matter that plays with what we know to be real, or what we think we know to be real, and what we don’t or what we’re not sure about. We wanted to ride this fine line between what’s possible and what’s impossible. Everyone experiences things in their lives that cause them to look back and question if it really happened the way that they think it happened or they are not 100% sure. Representing that visually was one of the goals. Another visual theme was guided by the fact that our main guy, Sarchie, lives in a world of darkness – literally and emotionally. Additionally, both of these ideas work together. It’s in the darkness where one can get tricked by shadows and movements and question one’s self. Finally, we wanted the environment of the Bronx specifically to inform the compositions and be a major presence in the story as well. That’s where the actual events took place and the architecture of that area has a weight to it and a darkness even in the daylight.
When did you first get involved in the production?
I got involved in the spring of 2013, I’d say about 7 weeks prior to principal photography. Immediately after reading the script, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the production and then after talking to Scott Derrickson, the Director, I was even more convinced.
It all shot in New York?
It was 95% shot in New York…the opening sequence was shot in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi? Why?
The opening sequence takes place during the war in the Middle East. A military unit is following insurgents through the desert and into a palm grove, where they uncover a tunnel in the ground and upon exploring that, find some writing on the walls, deep, deep down under ground. Smash to black as they say and we’re in the Bronx.
Where did you rent the camera equipment?
Panavision New York.
These were Panavized F55 cameras?
Exactly. Panavized Sony F55s and we also had an F65 for some visual effects and off-speed shots. Panavision’s “cage” for these cameras is brilliant, allowing for all of the additional power needs and accessory attachments of today’s studio cameras.
Camera and lens package: How many cameras? What lenses?
We carried two F55s and one F65. Our lens package consisted of Panavision’s PVintage lenses, which were just coming on line last summer. These lenses use the glass from the older Ultra Speed Primes, but are re-packaged in more user-friendly housings. So our set included a combination of re-housed PVintage lenses and some older Ultra Primes. Additionally we carried a set of Panavision Flare Lenses in what they refer to as the medium grade, the coatings of which had been altered to offer more extreme flares, some reduced contrast and just have incredibly unique aberrations. The general philosophy was that I’d always start with one of the Flare Lenses. If things got a little over the edge, then I would pull back to the PVintage. And then maybe I would add a glass diffusion filter to get them more in line with what the Flare Lenses looked like. Additionally, we carried an 11:1 Primo that had the coating removed by Guy McVicker at Panavision Hollywood. That was a fantastic tool to have and I was very, very thankful to him for going through the trouble to do that by hand.
Removing the coating is an expensive, one-way ticket.
It was Guy’s idea and I wasn’t going to say no. I just ran with it and was happy I did because in terms of sharpness, contrast and color, removing that coating definitely brought it in line with the prime package that we chose. The sharper that these digital cameras get, I feel like many cinematographers are looking to the glass to find that organic nature to the images that were intrinsic with film exposure, whether it’s anamorphic, older lenses or a combination of everything out there.
We’re down to the equivalent of just 7 film stocks: Sony, Canon, ARRI, RED, Blackmagic, AJA, Phantom. Maybe a few more.
Digital cameras are getting sharper and sharper with higher resolutions and extended latitudes and I’d guess that’s also why there has been this trend in the market for anamorphic lenses. Take the Panavision C, E and G series…. they have such specific characteristics unique to not only each set, but to each lens. You’ll get an aberration in the upper right corner here, you’ll get a variation in where focus falls off there. They have such a personality to them. I think that as digital acquisition gets sharper, we sort of lose some of the personality the image capture used to have. Or at least that’s been my experience.
It’s ironic that here we are using new 4K+ cameras with old lenses—and they often look better on the new, high resolution digital cameras than they probably ever did on film.
I recently used a set of old ZEISS Super Speeds and had tremendous luck seeing flares come back that I hadn’t seen in 15 years. It was exciting to see how well these lenses looked, complete with nice bokehs. I do think that 4K acquisition is opening up a whole new door to older lenses.
Lots of lens experts agree with what you’re saying. They’re discovering things that they didn’t even imagine with these old “analog-days” lenses in the 4K world.
Tell me more about the Panavision Flare Lenses on the F55.
Panavision has a number of sets of Flare Lenses: in grades of light, medium and heavy. They basically removed or altered the coating on them to varying degrees. The heavy grades of Flare Lenses can completely wash out the entire image, but used with the right light sources and angles, they create very interesting effects. Like the ping off of the chrome on a car or a point of light in the background. I had luck using them with flashlights in some situations and in other instances, where the backlights were hard or too close to the camera lens, then I dropped back to the PVintage. The PVintage also have some very unique flares. What I really enjoyed about both sets was that I could find these happy accidents – as Conrad Hall said some years ago – some things you can’t really plan for.
You don’t really know what you’re going to get until you see it and you try it or something accidental happens on set and you think, “Oh wow, that’s fantastic.” Sometimes it’ll happen and you’ll go “Oh!, we can’t do that again–let’s change the lens.” But many times it turns out to be wonderful and exciting.
How did the choice of these lenses affect the overall look of the show in relation to the visual style? A vintage look or a flarey look? How did you describe it when you and the Director were discussing the idea?
It’s not a vintage, period or flarey look. What we were going for was a look that was both real and terrifying and I think the lens choice added to this as well as the camera’s low light capabilities. There are times where the darkness is actually accentuated by a lens flare from a flashlight. We felt that flares within darkness sometimes can feel even more threatening…we have a dark area and then if something else is flared out, you essentially have another area where you don’t know what’s behind there.
What effect do you think you had that you wouldn’t have gotten from glass filters in front of the lens?
I guess I find that these beautiful distortions are more unique or unpredictable when they are produced by layers of curved glass. It’s apples and oranges and sometimes you want both, sometimes you don’t. Additionally, composition plays a role differently with lenses vs filters.
But it was controllable? Could you see when you were going too far with the monitors?
Exactly. With the newer OLED monitors I’m able to push something to the edge where it goes too far and then pull back. We were playing with levels of darkness accentuated with flares and I wanted to discover where the edge was.
How did you decide which camera to use?
Basically through testing. The combination of the Panavision lenses and the Sony F55 produced the look that we were searching for. When both the Director and I walked out of the screening of the tests, there was no hesitation at all about which direction that we wanted to go. We were thrilled with the image quality and the F55’s ability to dig into the shadows and the soft quality of the lenses. At the same time it maintained a contrast that we both liked without getting washed out on the low end. Additionally, the ergonomics of the F55 worked for what we wanted to do because we were planning a good amount of handheld work, a bit of Steadicam, and we were in rather tight spaces. It was a location-based shoot in basements and places where the ceilings were less than six feet high at times.
What ISO did you rate the cameras?
1250, 800, 640…depending on the situation.
You recorded 4K to the onboard R5. Did you record simultaneously to SxS cards inside it as well?
Yes. And then it went to Dan Sheats, the loader / data manager, to double-check and make a backup copy, and then everything was sent to Colorworks in New York.
On set, how did you determine your look and how did you save the LUTs?
DI colorist Trent Johnson worked with me initially to set up the LUTs. I think he built fifteen preset LUTs. I looked at those and based on where I thought we were going to take the direction of the film, I gave notes and he altered the LUTs accordingly. After that the LUTs were preloaded into a Truelight cart that we kept on set and I was able to toggle between the different preset LUTs. We would indicate whatever LUT we were using on the slate and then when they did the dailies they would apply that same LUT. In the end, I found that I just really used one LUT for the entire film. I wanted to treat the LUTs more like film stocks. From my experience, the only way that I’m able to learn from shot to shot, scene to scene, is if there’s a consistency in the LUT. If I’m tweaking constantly then I lose my frame of reference.
How would you describe this look or LUT?
We called it a bleach bypass LUT. It was higher contrast, a bit desaturated and skewed toward cyan.
And then on the camera itself you recorded in S-Log. What monitors were you viewing on set?
They were 20-inch Sony OLEDs.
Where did you do the DI?
We did that with Trent Johnson at Colorworks. Trent, who is an encyclopedia of knowledge about the color space of the cameras, was an asset to have during both the prep and the DI.
On the F55, how many stops of dynamic range do you think you were getting out of it?
I’d say 14+ stops of exposure latitude. One thing I liked about the F55 and F65 is how you can program one of the function buttons to give you a high range and a low range. So if you’re looking at a LUT on the monitor, you can push the high range button and it’ll bring everything down so you can see areas that were clipped in the Rec709 image, but may be perfectly fine in the RAW data. And the same on the low end. You can see if something is totally black or if there is any detail there at all. It helped me appreciate camera’s latitude.
How did you deal with focus?
There were a number of checks on that. The operator was able to see in the eyepiece. Julian Delacruz, the key First AC had a 17-inch monitor with cranked up sharpness to double-check on his side. And then I’m back at the 20-inch looking at focus as well. I am consistently impressed by how these guys that can actually pull focus off of the monitors because that was something I was always skeptical of over the years. But the guys that have mastered it are really phenomenal.
Who was your operator? And gaffer?
John “Buzz” Moyer was the “A” Camera / Steadicam Operator. Scott Ramsey was the Gaffer.
What cameras have you used on your previous jobs?
RED Epic, One; ARRI Alexa, Arricam, 535, 435, 235, BL4, 35-3, SR16; Sony F35, F3, F900; Panavision Genesis, XL, Platinum, Gold.
I’ll ask you a leading question. If you wanted to soften the image, why would you shoot in 4K rather than a lower resolution?
I think there are a couple of reasons. Certainly, one is archiving, in the same way that studios archived films in the past. Secondly, sometimes you want to start at a higher res because if you and then soften in the post workflow – that’s a look. However, there are always exceptions. We shot a flash-back sequence in Super 8. One idea might be to shoot it 4K and then bring it down to the Super 8 look in VFX and post, but there is much more that goes into the look of Super 8 because you’re dealing with not only the grain and the resolution, but you’re dealing with the size of the gate or sensor and how that size affects focus fall off. And, also, you’re dealing with the physicality of the camera. The way you move a 3-pound Super 8 camera is very different from the way that you’re able to move a 20-pound studio camera. So sometimes shooting in a lower resolution is the best solution to creating the desired look.
Was this film released in 4K?
A lot of it is night exterior New York. How did you handle the lighting?
It varied. There wasn’t one philosophy or one technique that we used throughout because they’re different sequences. There’s a sequence at the Bronx Zoo where the power’s out and so that is done with Airstar lighting balloons just for a soft ambience. I think “murkiness” is a better word for what I was talking about when I referred to the look as kind of washed out and under-exposed. That technique was used in the zoo sequence.
The other night exteriors we probably could have used a great deal of ambient light, but we wanted to stay away from sodium vapor. Any sodium vapor light that we encountered, we would gel down to neutral and by the time we got that neutralized, there really was nothing left. So in those sequences, more street sequences, it would vary–sometimes we used a gaggle of Source Four PARs, to create pools of streetlight. There was some backlight for the exteriors. For the interiors there were some sequences that we did entirely with a flashlight. Eric Bana would have a flashlight and then I would have a flashlight and a bounce board. Or I would put muslin around anywhere that wasn’t in the frame. Eric would work with me extremely well in helping me to add a little more light or take it away. But there are at least three sequences in the film that are entirely lit by flashlight.
What gels did you use on the streetlights?
To remove the sodium vapor, I used one and half blue plus half green. That’s why we had barely any ambient street light left.
Did you consider anamorphic at all?
We did consider anamorphic. At the time, the availability of lenses made it out of the question. In the end it was a good thing because it forced us to explore spherical options.
Back to the Sony F55, is there anything that you would like to see improved for their next model, for the next edition?
More frame rates, although that’s already been addressed so I guess I’m good with that. I do think that operators and focus pullers might have more suggestions and ideas.
In general I feel like the digital cameras are focusing more on the sensors than on the cameras themselves. I would like to see advances that are driven by what film cameras used to do – speed ramping in camera, changing shutter angle within a shot and compensating with aperture and a hand crank option
How about a 4×3 sensor to use all those anamorphic lenses that aren’t available?
Definitely. It would be nice. I can’t imagine that not coming.
Anything else about the cameras?
You know, oddly enough, it sort of comes more from the broadcast background that Sony has– but I like the behind-the-lens ND filter wheel. If you need to knock something down fast, that’s a nice feature to have.
Where did you learn about filmmaking and how did you gety started?
I guess it started when I was 10 and given a Nikon FG-20. After that, my interest in photography was solidified. I continued by experimenting with short video projects throughout high school, then studied film at UT in Austin and eventually focused on cinematography at AFI. All the while, working on sets and watching everything around me. And in truth, I’m still learning.