Focus On Film

Eduardo Serra, ASC, AFC Delves into the Deathly Hallows

Published on website: November 01, 2010
Categories: 35mm , Feature Films , Focus On Film
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in Warner Bros. Pictures' fantasy adventure "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1", a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk)

For the latest installments of the Harry Potter series of feature films, Eduardo Serra, AFC, ASC was director of photography. Serra joins an august list of cinematographers who have photographed previous chapters, including John Seale, ACS, ASC; Roger Pratt, BSC; Michael Seresin, BSC; Slawomir Idziak, PSC; and Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC.

On the previous installment of the series, Delbonnel and director David Yates conducted an extensive test comparing a range of digital cameras with 35 mm film, and determined that no digital format measured up to film in terms of its ability to capture fine detail, accurate color and pleasing fleshtones. This time around, on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2, according to Serra, the filmmakers never considered a digital format.

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Official Poster for Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows—Part 1, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)
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Eduardo Serra, ASC, AFC
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(Left to right) Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in Warner Bros. Pictures' fantasy adventure Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk)
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(Left to right) Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in Warner Bros. Pictures' fantasy adventure Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk)

“I much prefer working with film,” says Serra. “In almost every situation, film is more technically accurate and dependable. With digital it depends on the situation. It might react one way in a certain situation and differently in another. I can control film 100 percent. Sometimes we are combining elements shot by the main unit, a second unit, and the visual effects unit. You have to know what is being captured – colors, contrast, et cetera – with mathematical precision. With film, I know that exactly what I put on the film will be there.”

Serra earned Academy Award® nominations for The Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Wings of the Dove. His other credits include Unbreakable, Beyond the Sea, The Flower of Evil, Blood Diamond, The Girl Cut in Two, The Bridesmaid and Intimate Strangers. In 2004, for his services to enhance Portuguese culture, he was presented with the prestigious Order of Prince Henry the Navigator, one of the highest honors given by his native Portugal.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is being released November 19 and Part 2 is slated for a July 2011 release. The production designer on both films, as well as all the films in the Harry Potter series, is Stuart Craig. A good portion of the film was photographed on standing sets at Leavesden Film Studios, a filmmaking facility built on the site of a former Rolls-Royce aircraft factory. Additionally, many of the Hogwarts School interiors feature tall, narrow windows and a distinctive design.

“Stuart Craig is a genius,” says Serra. “With his amazing sets, and the story, we can’t stray too far from the look of the previous Harry Potter films. We’ve maintained the short lens approach, which really shows off the sets and environments well. It’s still possible for us to bring something new to the look, underscoring the story, but it’s usually quite subtle.”

Serra often used two ARRI cameras, usually set up from similar angles. The lenses were Cooke S4s, and the stock was KODAK VISION2 500T Color Negative Film 5218. The format was Super 35, resulting in a widescreen 2.4:1 aspect ratio.

“The wide frame is much better for composing a story where two or more characters are interacting,” says Serra. “In this film, Harry has two friends who play important roles, and when they are at the school, there are often scenes with many characters. That, combined with the director’s preference for wide lenses, means we always have plenty happening within the frame. The new lenses are so technically perfect, which isn’t usually my thing but in this situation I think they work well. We are often on the 15 mm – quite a wide lens.”

In many of the larger spaces, Serra and his team, led by gaffer Chuck Finch, would pre-light with as many as 200 fixtures run through a computer-controlled dimmer board. They could rough in the ambience prior to the actual shoot day and fine-tune the lighting depending on the scene and shot.

Serra used the DI mainly for matching. He generally eschews bold color choices unless there’s something specific in the script that calls for them. “I don’t want to build the look in the DI,” he says. “I want to get it on the film. Then later, we can make some final improvements. Of course there are times when we take shortcuts, knowing that we can make a specific correction in post, but only when I have decided why and how I want it done. But I want the look on the film as much as possible.”

Serra notes that both the size and scale of the project were vast. “From the first meeting to the last day of postproduction was about two years,” he says. “It was quite complicated, but I’m pleased with how it turned out.”And fans of Harry Potter should be pleased too!

Serra is currently filming Belle de Seigneur with director Glenio Bonder.