When Haris Zambarloukos, BSC first read the script for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, he felt it was evocative of the iconic espionage paranoia thrillers of the 1970s like The Parallax View and All the President’s Men. “There’s that internal battle that a character has about what patriotism means, where the fight for being an individual takes over,” he says. “There’s action, but there are interesting dramatic and emotional threads entwined, and that combination was appealing.”
The film is Zambarloukos’ third with director Kenneth Branagh, after Sleuth and Thor. Branagh also acts in the film as the villain, and the cast also includes Chris Pine, Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner.
The filmmakers envisioned a classic approach to Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. “We didn’t want the glam world of Bond or the handheld world of Bourne,” says Zambarloukos. “We wanted something unique, and at the same time, a timeless quality, but with a certain amount of realism. And sunk through all of this, some kind of ‘70s vibe.”
In light of this approach, film seemed an obvious choice. The format was 35mm anamorphic, and the film stock was KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219.
“First of all, film is our preferred medium,” he says. “I handpicked C Series anamorphic lenses that had the quality I’d seen in the films that I remember and love from the 1970s, where the edges are soft and the colors are big.”
Zambarloukos also recalled a graphic quality in the films of Alan Pakula and Gordon Willis, ASC. “One of the aspects of their work, which I love, is that the images seem graphic, but graphic in a way that makes the photography work — placing the person in an environment, and using architecture and structure in the urban landscape to symbolize a certain structure or feeling about society.”
Zambarloukos knew that Pakula and Willis were inspired by Magnum, the influential photography cooperative co-founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
“I thought that if they were referencing images from Magnum in their era, I should have a look at what’s happening right now in photojournalism,” says Zambarloukos. “I looked at the work of too many photographers to mention, but I did find the Magnum website very useful. How are Magnum photographers portraying Afghanistan or Wall Street? It’s quite timeless — using the human face in an urban environment. It tells a story, and you often end up quite graphic. So there is definitely an influence from Pakula and Willis, but I think the similarity might stem from an admiration of photojournalism.”
The anamorphic format provided Zambarloukos with opportunities to use focus. “I often used soft focus and diffused backgrounds to choose how and when the audience sees the environment that the face inhabits,” he says. “In anamorphic, even on wider shots you can control that. You can stay in objective external space, or go into a more subjective, internal space, with the character, so to speak. To give the audience a sense of how he feels — I’m in Moscow, my mind is racing, I need to deal with this problem, and my wife is calling, and she doesn’t know I do this — you need to be aware of your environment, but at the same time, give the audience a way of internalizing all of it. And do it in three seconds and two shots.”
In situations like that, a filmmaker must trust intuition.
“My approach is to do as much research as I can to understand the story, the script and the character, to know the locations intimately and to have an idea of what I’d like to do,” he explains. “But I surround myself with simple, clear tools that let me improvise within these ideas, a way of going one route or another with an immediacy, while maintaining the ability to respond to the actor and the director for a particular moment.”
The majority of the film was made in London and Liverpool, which stood in for Moscow and New York, and as a result, production designer Andrew Laws played a crucial role. The ratio of locations-to-stage work was about 50-50.
In terms of focal length, Zambarloukos says that this film was shot more on the extremes, both wide and long, especially compared to his previous work with Branagh, which tended more toward the middle range.
“I don’t work with a very, very low depth of field anymore,” he says. “I generally shoot around a (T)4, which is a reasonable stop for anamorphic. The backgrounds are not super soft. We weren’t purposefully trying to put flares in, but when they happened, we’d make a creative choice about how much or how little to let it affect the shot. If it seemed natural, we’d let it happen; if it felt distracting, we’d stop it. But I’d say we were generally more likely to allow these things to happen. We were slightly heavier on the rain, haze or mist in rooms, etc. I thought that should play a part. That just makes you feel more viscerally about a location or a situation.”
In the digital intermediate, a similar mind-set applied. “We allowed certain things that we thought were ‘mistakes’ — like bright highlights, areas that were a little too dark, a little too saturated, a little too unsaturated, green in existing fluorescent lights on buildings. We allowed them to find a place in the film and to tell the story. I think when you go through shot by shot to perfection, you can leave out these wonderful nuances and in some way mistakenly eliminate what is in actuality a beautiful characteristic.”
Zambarloukos says that he and Branagh watched printed film dailies as much as possible, and that this makes the DI more efficient. “Our approach is definitely different because we watch film prints,” he says. “I don’t have to fight for it, because the producers and directors I’ve worked with understand the process very well. David Barron, our producer, and Tommy Harper, our executive producer, and Lorenzo di Bonaventura from Paramount are old pros who have had the same beneficial experience from shooting on film and seeing film prints that I have had.”
Zambarloukos and Branagh are currently filming Cinderella on 35mm anamorphic film.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is scheduled for a January 2014 release.