Focus On Film

Creating Dreams for Arcade Fire’s “Afterlife”

Scenes from “Afterlife.” (Photo by Emily Kai Block.)
Cinematographer Evan Prosofsky (Photo by Emily Kai Block.)
Scenes from “Afterlife.” (Photo by Emily Kai Block.)
Behind the scenes on “Afterlife.” (Photo by David Mobi Olaoniye.)
Scenes from “Afterlife.” (Photo by Emily Kai Block.)

Cinematographer Evan Prosofsky and director Emily Kai Bock talked at length about dreams while in prep for Arcade Fire’s wildly popular music video “Afterlife.”

“We kind of resented the thought that dreams have to be sepia-toned and Gaussian-blurred,” says Prosofsky.

The two have previously partnered on multiple music videos for artists such as Grizzly Bear and Grimes. When Arcade Fire approached Bock with their single, “Afterlife,” she discussed her script with Prosofsky, which follows a widowed father and his two young sons throughout a night. In the span of almost eight minutes, with a lead-up of only dialogue, Bock and Prosofsky manage to bring nightmares, lost lovers, and familial bonds together for one hauntingly beautiful short film.

“In the end,” says Prosofsky, “we loved the idea that we could blur dreaming and waking worlds together by making each character’s dreams appear just as sharp, if not sharper, than their reality.”

Instead of going with the traditional ‘dreamlike’ state of visually represented dreams, Prosofsky accentuated the feeling of falling asleep and how real dreams sometimes feel. To do so, he photographed certain moments on a PANAVISION 65mm HR lightweight camera with the fastest 65mm lenses available — a 50mm and 75mm PANAVISION PRIMO Prime T/2 shot wide open.

“I found that with the size of the negative and the shallow depth of field at T/2 I could get closeups that had this exciting conflation of brutally sharp facial detail and incredibly soft backgrounds,” he explains. “This helped me to isolate each character inside their dream state and create a more impressionistic image set apart from the 35mm scenes.”

When Arcade Fire approached Bock to direct their new music video as part of their 2013 album release for Reflektor, their one stipulation was that they wanted the imagery to feel iconic. Prosofsky admits that was a fairly stressful request to hear as a DP, but also incredibly exciting. “What better way to create lasting imagery than shoot on 65mm film?” he exclaims.

Dealing with a small budget, Prosofsky and Bock allocated 20 minutes of 65mm, shooting master shots and important moments with it to heighten the visual impact. For the scenes of the father, they decided to shoot 35mm black-and-white EASTMAN DOUBLE-X Negative Film 5222 with ZEISS Super Speeds. Prosofsky used an ARRI 435 for handheld scenes, and an ARRICAM LT for the STEADICAM.

“I wanted something softer to complement the 65mm and help make those moments pop,” says the Canadian-born shooter. “Using 35mm was a nice midway point for us in terms of grain and sharpness. For the scenes of the boys, I chose KODAK VISION3 [500T Color Negative Film] 5219 and used ZEISS Super Speeds.”

Prosofsky pulled the 5219 Film two stops to further soften and lower the contrast the lenses were already creating.

The rest of the 35mm footage was scanned HDR at Cinelicious, with 65mm selects processed at FotoKem under their supervision.

Final color timing was done by Robert Curreri in Cinelicious’ 4K theater. “[The final film] wouldn’t have been possible without their time, generosity, and commitment to Emily’s vision. People with a passion like that are so essential to Emily and me, especially when we are dealing with a small budget,” notes Prosofsky.

“It’s refreshing to see Evan and Emily start with a creative vision, and make the workflow and budget bend in that direction rather than resigning themselves to ‘it’s good enough,’” says Paul Korver, Cinelicious founder and film fanatic. “In our opinion, 65mm scanned at high resolution straight from the negative is unrivaled by any camera system, period. At Cinelicious we are actively seeking ways to innovate around the 65mm imaging chain, opening up this gorgeous film format to more DPs and filmmakers.

“And for the 35mm we used our Scanity 4K scanner, which is one of the few scanners capable of capturing the full D-min/D-max dynamic range on KODAK VISION3 Film stocks. Everyone was blown away by the results.”

About 70 percent of the finished product is 35mm with punctuated 65mm moments like the intro where the father is selling flowers on street corners of Los Angeles, the closeups of each character sleeping, landscapes, and master shots. But the most challenging moment for Prosofsky was deciding to shoot 5222 Film for the father’s dream sequence inside a rock quarry in Simi Valley.

“On the tech scout,” he recalls, “my meter was reading three stops underexposed, but I knew that if we could make it work, the 5222 would bring such a beautiful texture to the environment that I just couldn’t get on color negative. I had underexposed it previously on a Raffertie music video directed by Vincent Haycock, so I told myself it would all be okay.”

Bock and production designer Hannah Hurney designed a sequence that involved a tipped streetlamp that looks as if it’s suspended in the air. In the script, the father is on the fringes of the quarry and enters an alley where rocks have piled up so high they’ve crushed over rows and rows of streetlamps.

“I think Hannah found a really elegant solution that fit our budget and ended up looking beautiful,” says Prosofsky. “I had my gaffer rig the lamps with dimmable 500-watt bulbs. I lit the scene mostly with the natural light at the location, and occasionally with the edges of Par cans highlighting the architecture. It was a really happy moment for Emily and I to see — the way the highlights glowed and made the machinery come to life. I think it added a dimension to the scene we could not have gotten any other way. There was so much detail in the shadows we had to bring the blacks down even further in post. It was inspiring for me to see that a decades-old stock could be pushed so far.”