American Cinematographer - July 2018 - 24

SHORT TAKES

I

Big for Small
By Aaron Hunt

Rain batters the canopy of an old man's umbrella and bathes
a gravestone. Did he lose a lover? A child? We're never told. Regardless, the man copes alone, passing time in the company of TV dinners
and books that hardly spare his grieving soul. But soon enough, with
nothing more than scraps in the garage and sheer grit, the lonely
man brings a robot boy to life at his workbench. "Papa!" the robot
boy immediately declares his inventor upon waking. Hence the title,
Papa, for this sensitive tale of tragedy and healing.
The days quickly start looking better for Papa. Warm light fills
his home through the window curtains, in welcome contrast to the
light that had soaked it blue in more somber times. The robot boy
provides Papa with a purpose and joy - for a time. The maturing
young automaton yearns to set foot in the outside world, leading
Papa to realize that he can't coddle his creation forever.
This one-actor, one-puppet short movie was shot by Logan
Schneider, known for Season 5 of Drunk History and the documentary CodeGirl. Though Papa feels appropriately small, considering the
tools the cinematographer employed to tell this intimate tale, you
might have guessed at something more grandiose. The production
was shot with Arri's Alexa LF with LPL-mount Signature Primes - the
company's new large-format camera system featuring a larger-thanfull-frame 36.70x25.54mm sensor.
Though Papa serves as an apt sampling of the new system's
capabilities, the production wasn't developed to serve this purpose.
Going big, Schneider assures, was always part of his and writer/director Douglas Petrie's plan, long before they had access to the LF rig.
24

July 2018

The two filmmakers - introduced via Papa producer Janina
Gavankar - had in fact been considering shooting anamorphic. The
production's robot puppet had been completed at the fabrication
shop Thingergy in Burbank, Calif.; Frank Langley (Team America:
World Police) was enlisted as puppeteer; and Clancy Brown was
locked in as the short's human star when ASC associate and Arri vice
president of strategic business development and technical marketing
Stephan Ukas-Bradley offered access to a prototype LF system.
"When I was prepping Papa, I designed three visual arcs,"
Schneider says. "One [each] for composition, color and luminous
contrast." For the compositional arc, Schneider aimed to insulate
Papa as he grappled with loss and seclusion. With the LF system, the
production was able to shoot 4.5K ArriRaw in the camera's 2.39:1
sensor mode - recording to Codex SXR Capture Drives - with the
larger aspect ratio helping Schneider shrink his protagonist in wider
frames. He boxed Papa in within doorframes and windows to
amplify the effect, and the big sensor's small depth of field pushed
it further. In addition, Schneider notes, "You can isolate something
with depth of field more than you can on a smaller format, especially
for wide shots. We always [shot for a wide-open look] when possible, and I usually [employed] at least a 0.6 if not a 1.2 ND to get
there - so it wasn't for lack of light. We wanted to be wide open
to stress that isolation with focus."
The Signature Primes helped Schneider sustain the wideopen feel he needed, with the lenses' curved iris blades ensuring this
desired look even as the lenses were stopped down, in spite of the
additional depth of field. "With most lenses, the difference between
wide open and a 5.6 is a real [difference in] contrast, edge-sharpness, etc.," Schneider notes. "But the Signature Primes are remark-

American Cinematographer

Photos by Chase Hagen and Logan Schneider. All images courtesy of the filmmakers.

A lonely man (Clancy Brown) brings a robot boy to life in the short Papa.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - July 2018

Contents
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American Cinematographer - July 2018 - 1
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