ALEXA 65_Prime DNA_ARRI Rental_Joewi Verhoeven_Sino Gem commercial

ALEXA 65 chosen for Chinese TV commercial

Cinematographer Joewi Verhoeven speaks about working with ALEXA 65 and DNA lenses, now available in China, for a jewelry commercial.

The commercial for Sino Gem jewelry, titled "Jewel Box of Life," tells the emotional story of a box of jewels handed down through three generations. It shows a little girl growing up to become a mother, with all the memories and love of family life being symbolized by a box of jewels. Verhoeven met up with ARRI Rental to share his thoughts on 65 mm, DNA lenses, and using larger formats for smaller screens.

Why did you and the director choose ALEXA 65 for this commercial?

From the start we wanted to do a commercial with more narrative and poetic elements, telling a story rather than just showcasing the products. The director was looking for a soft and elegant look, and he liked the idea of very shallow depth of field. Around that time I watched "Joker," which is totally different from our commercial, but I was fascinated by the ALEXA 65 look and felt instinctively that it would match the visual feel we were going for. I was lucky that the director had a lot of creative control and we could actually make it happen; it was a great opportunity and we were maybe the first to shoot a commercial with the ALEXA 65 in China. 

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How would you describe the look of the ALEXA 65?

It's not just about the resolution, although that definitely helps. It was more about the format itself, the fact that I could use longer focal lengths but still retain a relatively wide field of view, with no distortion and razor-thin depth of field. That is a look distinctly different from Super 35 that you can see even when played on your phone. This commercial is not meant for the big screen, but we still wanted to capture the feel of large format on both TV and phone screens.

A benefit of not shooting for the big screen was that I dared to take a little more risk by shooting wide open almost all the time. Kudos to my 1st AC Sun Jian for keeping the focus throughout! I really like to have selective focus, even on wide shots. I was also constantly seeking out foreground elements, to see how they would render in this larger format. It was my first time shooting on 65 mm, so I was very much exploring the possibilities. 

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DP Joewi Verhoeven (center) with members of the ARRI China team

What was your approach to camera movement?

From the start it was clear we wanted slow but free and steady movement, so I knew the relatively large body of the ALEXA 65 wouldn't be a big issue. We shot on Steadicam a bit, but mostly we were on a dolly with a mini jib, which gave us a lot of options to move around while keeping the feel of a floating camera. 

I also did some stuff handheld with an Easyrig, which was easier than we thought it might be. When shooting handheld with Super 35, on longer focal lengths you may feel stronger camera shake, but the ALEXA 65 with that same focal length would be relatively stable, which I welcomed.

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Why did you choose Prime DNA lenses, and what did you think of them?

The Prime DNA lenses were a perfect fit for the tender and poetic image we wanted. They have some characteristics of vintage lenses, with very pleasing bokeh, but at the same time staying sharp in the center. In general I just really like the aesthetics of this collection, to me it combines the best of both worlds, creating that lovely large-format look, while retaining some vintage softness. We shot the bulk of the commercial with the 65 mm Prime DNA, because it can go to T1.6 and--combined with the ALEXA 65 sensor--you really get something unique. 
What was your biggest challenge on the shoot?

Just getting through all our lighting setups within the limited time available. The story encompasses different time periods, with different feels and textures for each period. The director and I really wanted high quality throughout, so it was challenging to make that happen while moving so fast. There is one sequence where the light is moving on our actress, to add a subjective feeling and some visual interest, and this was an idea we got on set, so it wasn't part of the prep.

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What else would you like to do with the ALEXA 65?

I would like to try this camera in a freer way, for example with a lot of handheld work, and not necessarily with a very high-end look, which might be what a lot of people traditionally associate with the ALEXA 65 and large format: epic battlefields and big-budget action. But I think the format might really shine in intimate settings, small spaces, life's little daily dramas, with natural light. Personally I love the look of productions like "Mary Magdalene" and "Euphoria," which employ the ALEXA 65 in a fascinating way and really make use of the format. That is something I look forward to exploring more in future projects.

Right now I'm prepping a new film to be shot on the ALEXA 65, which story-wise is a tragedy, but we want to show it in a comical way. The camera will follow the actors very closely and I look forward to seeing how the 65 mm image can give the audience an immersive feeling.

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