Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. © 2012 - The Weinstein Company
Mihai Malaimare Jr. burst onto the international cinematography scene in 2005 with Youth Without Youth, which he shot for Francis Ford Coppola. Malaimare caught Coppola’s eye while shooting screen tests in the cameraman’s native Romania. They went on to make two more features together, 2008’s Tetro, a noirish black and white, and 2010’s Twixt Now and Sunrise. Malaimare latest collaboration The Master, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson is now hitting cinema screens in 70mm glory.
The Master has some parallels in real life, but Anderson uses the story of a charismatic healer (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his damaged acolyte (Joaquin Phoenix) to delve into the human condition rather than to chronicle historical events. The story begins in the period following World War II. Locations included the San Francisco Bay area as well as a few locales in Hawaii and in southern California. Amy Adams and Laura Dern also star.
The Master was photographed on 65mm film, which results in significantly greater image area and a palpable bump in depth, clarity and emotional impact on the screen. The decision to go with the larger format was made after a long testing period. “I’m in love with still photography,” says Malaimare in explanation. “Freddie, Joaquin’s character, is working in a portrait studio. Paul had the idea to try a larger format, partly because when you think of iconic still photography from this period, you think of really shallow depth of field, the result of large format negatives, like the classic images taken with Speed Graphic 4X5 cameras. We tested VistaVision, but there were some limitations there.”
The 65 and 70mm film formats have been around since before 1900, but got underway seriously as a capture and exhibition format in the 1950s, when theaters were under siege from television. In 1955, Todd-AO used a 65mm negative and 70mm-wide prints to deliver enhanced visuals (and audio) on pictures like Oklahoma! Landmarks in cinematography history like Lawrence of Arabia, The Sound of Music, and Ryan’s Daughter used later 65mm formats. Lately, the 65mm gauge has enjoyed a renaissance, as filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister, ASC, BSC have used it to boost visual impact in narrative features including Inception, triggering upgrades in the supporting technology along the way. Ron Fricke’s latest visual poem, Samsara, was also filmed around the world using 65mm film.
Anderson and Malaimare initially planned to shoot mainly portraits with 65 mm, about 20% of the movie. Even in situations where audiences are not seeing a 70mm print, the 65mm-originated scenes deliver breathtaking images that draw viewers into the story.
“As we were looking at dailies, we saw that every 65mm shot was so amazing,” says Malaimare. “After a week or two of shooting, we switched, and ended up shooting something like 85% of the movie on 5-perf 65mm.”
The 35mm cameras – Panavision Millennium XL2s – were brought out for handheld scenes, or other shots that required a dirtier look. “When your eyes are accustomed to what 65mm looks like in terms of grain and depth of field, with these amazing landscapes, switching over to a smaller negative area, you perceive the difference immediately,” says Malaimare.
To augment the “crispy” Speed Graphic look, “Panavized” Hasselblad and Schneider lenses were used with the Panavision System 65 and 65 HR film cameras. To smooth the transition between 65mm and 35mm, Malaimare used a Swiss Jena still lens converted by Panavision for use with 35mm. Dan Sasaki at Panavision also found a complete 35mm set of Zeiss Jena glass. A set of Ultra Speeds was also used with the 35mm format, depending on the situation.
The aspect ratio of the movie is 1.85:1. 65mm’s native aspect ratio is 2.20:1, although 65 mm-originated images are often projected at 2.40:1. Here, Malaimare and Anderson framed for 1.85:1 in both 65mm and 35mm, sacrificing some image area on the negative but gaining a consistent frame throughout the movie.
Much of The Master was filmed with KODAK VISION3 50D Color Negative Film 5203 and KODAK VISION3 200T Color Negative Film 5213. A few scenes were also done with KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207 and KODAK VISION3 500T 5219 as well. In keeping with the desire for maximum image quality, the postproduction workflow was completely photochemical, with no digital intermediate process. The 35mm material was handled at Deluxe Labs and the 65mm material was processed at FotoKem in Burbank, which is set up to handle optical reduction to 35mm for dailies and workprints.
“Paul really believes in the photochemical process,” says Malaimare. “It delivers better quality. If you scan a 65mm negative, it will give you at least 8K resolution for the DI, but that is definitely expensive. Maybe it’s a matter of respect for the format. It’s about the approach you take. If you know from the beginning that you don’t want to scan, you’re more careful with the lighting and everything. With a DI, you tend to be sloppier because you know you can fix and hide things later. By using the large, low speed negative, not using any filters in from of the lens, and using these very sharp lenses, you get extremely high image quality – and you don’t want to ruin that with a scanner.”
Growing up in Bucharest, Malaimare was the son of a theater actor and director. The theater’s lighting grid was the teenaged Malaimare’s playground. At age 15, he was given a camera, and his future became clear. Soon he had a darkroom and was taking photography classes after his regular studies.
Today, Malaimare is focused on the cinematography of his films, because he doesn’t want to dwell on the unlikely path he’s followed to success. “I do believe things happen for a reason,” he says. “In Romania, the film school is really film training. We shot everything on film. We have two black and white film labs at the school, and very intense still photography courses. For some reason, a few months before meeting Paul, I bought a Crown Graphic 4X5 camera, one of 12 still cameras I own. We ended up using that camera as a prop on The Master. I also used it to shoot The Master’s portrait with 4X5 black-and-white negative. When you have that type of training and background, and you get the opportunity to apply things you already know, maybe it is better not to think too much. It’s better to just relate to things you know and go forward.”