American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 22

Production Slate

I

Reflections on a Marriage
By David E. Williams

In the 1970s-set romantic drama By the Sea, a despondent,
retired dancer named Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt) and her writer'sblock-afflicted novelist husband, Roland (Brad Pitt), retreat to a
remote, sun-blasted Mediterranean hotel while he seeks inspiration.
Their marriage in tatters, and divided by a mysterious trauma, the
pair discover a strange sense of unity in a shared fascination with the
attractive, vivacious newlyweds occupying an adjoining room
(Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud).
Jolie Pitt also wrote and directed the feature, and in seeking
a visual collaborator, she reached out to cinematographer Christian
Berger, AAC, BVK. She had discovered the Austrian cinematographer's work through watching the video A River of Light on YouTube;
Berger, in turn, was immediately attracted to her script, which arrived
with no writer or director's name attached. "That was a bit of a
mystery at the time," he remembers with a laugh, "but I was immediately taken with this story of interesting people and very human
issues. That's what always draws me to a project."
Envisioning a style reminiscent of classic 70s European cinema
for the film, Jolie Pitt "was incredibly well-prepared and focused,"
says Berger. "Angelina and Brad wanted to make a non-commercial
film. It was an opportunity for all of us to experiment and explore as
artists - to create something delicate and special."
In a document she prepared for the film's cast and crew, Jolie
Pitt notes, "There is a freedom in not making a commercial film. You
can be bolder and experiment. It is emotionally more challenging
and creative. As an artist you want to be able to try things, and to
22

December 2015

avoid safe choices sometimes."
Berger suggested Jolie Pitt shoot By the Sea in 2.39:1
widescreen, in part to take advantage of the story's coastal settings,
horizons and landscapes. Berger elected to use Alexa XT Plus
cameras, recording in ArriRaw to internal Codex XR Capture Drives,
paired with Arri/Zeiss Master Primes plus an Arri/Fujinon Alura 45250mm (T2.6) zoom.
The cinematographer has used Arri Alexa models on many of
his past projects. "I was initially drawn to the camera because I could
transfer my long experience with film cameras, and the image quality of the Alexa is also quite pleasing," he says.
For By the Sea, Berger says he chose not to work at higher
ISO settings than the standard 800 ASA, because he can sense the
electronic "amplification of the image." He also feels one of the
greatest limitations of digital cine cameras is their lack of lower-sensitivity settings. "I would switch to 400 for bright daylight, but that still
meant using thick ND filters. What is the point of the incredible quality of lenses we have today if we are forced to do that? Here the film
negative still has its advantages."
For the film's interiors, though, the Alexa's higher sensitivity
facilitated the relatively low-light, naturalistic approach Berger
employs via his Cine Reflect Lighting System, which grew out of his
painterly observations about the behavior of natural light. "In the
natural world, all light comes from a single source - the sun -
which generates a multitude of reflections, creating all the complex
textures, tones and colors we see," says Berger, whose father was a
painter.
Frustrated with the equipment of the time, Berger began to
experiment with what would become the CRLS while shooting

American Cinematographer

By the Sea photos by Merrick Morton, SMPSP and Christian Berger, AAC, BVK, courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Married couple Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt) and Roland (Brad Pitt) grapple with their troubled relationship in the feature By the Sea.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - December 2015

Contents
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 1
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 2
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - Contents
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 4
American Cinematographer - December 2015 - 5
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