Apr. 5, 2023

ALFA lenses on "John Wick: Chapter 4"

Cinematographer Dan Laustsen ASC, DFF combines ARRI Rental ALFA anamorphics with ALEXA Mini LF on the latest installment of the John Wick franchise.

Apr. 5, 2023

Dan Laustsen, ASC, DFF says that his goal with "John Wick: Chapter 4" was to boost the energy level in every way, seeking a look that was "bigger, crazier, and more beautiful." That philosophy led him to the ARRI ALEXA Mini LF and ALFA anamorphic lenses. ARRI Rental developed the ALFA large-format lenses in collaboration with filmmakers including Greig Fraser ASC, ACS, using ARRI Master Anamorphics as a starting point.

"We had used Master Anamorphics on the previous John Wick films," says Laustsen. "I'm a big fan. But for "John Wick: Chapter 4" we found that the ALFAs and the Mini LF were a fantastic combination. The color balance and depth of field are amazing. There's very little bending in the wide angles. We wanted crisp, bold colors and deep blacks. You can shoot very wide angle, and see details in all the colors."


Director Chad Stahelski (right) paces out a scene with lead actor Keanu Reeves.

The shallow depth of field offered by the larger LF sensor is another important aspect of the new film's look. "The way the depth of field falls off is really beautiful, even with the wider angles," says Laustsen. "Of course, that's partly because the sensor is big. It's not like everything is either super sharp or soft. The focus is where you're putting it. Normally, I'm shooting at the same stop of T3.5 -- a T2.8/T4 split. I'm doing that indoors or outdoors, and I'm lighting up and down for that T-stop. The sets are so nice at that stop, and it helps concentrate the depth of field where it should be. When you get into close-ups, it's the way the eyes are in focus, with the fall-off at the chin and the ears. It gives very sharp attention to the performance."

Laustsen earned Academy Award nominations for his stylized work with director Guillermo del Toro on "The Shape of Water" and "Nightmare Alley." For director Chad Stahelski, Laustsen lensed the second and third films in the John Wick series, as well as "John Wick: Chapter 4."

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Cinematographer Dan Laustsen ASC, DFF (in glasses) has shot the last three John Wick movies.

With the ALFA lenses, Laustsen didn't feel the need for black filtration, which he had used on some previous projects to avoid excessive sharpness. "It doesn't really make sense to put a $500 filter in front of an extremely expensive, high-quality lens," he says. "With the ALFAs, I could keep the lens clean and avoid filter flare, which flattens everything. The skin tones are soft, but very real in terms of color, and shooting without the filter helps keep the blacks very black. For me, that's a big thing."

When it comes to exposure, Laustsen calls himself old-school. "We generally keep exposure right on," he says. "You don't have time to manipulate exposure on the set. With my DIT, maybe I add a bit of color and boost the blacks slightly. With Chad and Kevin [production designer Kevin Kavanaugh], what we are shooting on the day will be very close to the final movie. The dailies and the timed DI are very much one-to-one.

"Of course, during post, there are some power windows in certain situations," he continues. "It's a very colorful movie. Sometimes when Keanu comes into a big fight sequence, he's a little too pink, for example, so you have to take that out. But the ALEXA camera, the resolution, and the larger format make that very easy."


Following the action with a two-camera setup.

DIT Stephan Schöbel worked the majority of the Berlin-based production, and Canadian 1st AC Doug Lavender pulled focus -- a daunting task given the shallow depth of field and the surfeit of action. The main gaffer was Helmut Prein, joined by Jeff Ferrero for some of the shoot.

"I'm not a technical guy, so I depend on my team," says Laustsen. "In addition to being a great focus puller, Doug is the head of the camera department. He pulls everything together for me. The beauty of being a cinematographer is that you have so many people helping you every day. Without the whole crew, you're lost. What I love about moviemaking is telling a story with a lot of highly skilled people who are doing a very good job. It's a pleasure."


Actor Rina Sawayama, who plays Akira, prepares for a take.

The team includes ARRI Rental's Lynn "Gus" Gustafson. Laustsen's relationship with Gus and ARRI Rental in New York began six years ago on "John Wick: Chapter 2." On that project, Matt Kolze (Head of Optical Design for ARRI Rental in the US) devised a way to add controlled flares by placing cobalt blue copper wire behind the lens.

"Since then, we've had a great working relationship," says Laustsen "They worked with ARRI Rental in Berlin to come up with the ALFAs and help me move to the larger format. ARRI is always supporting me and my team. They're there for us when we have a problem. That dependability is what you need from a rental house. You have enough problems when you're shooting a movie, even a small one. It's complicated. And when it comes to devising new techniques, they're very sharp-minded. As a cinematographer, it helps to get some fresh new ideas, and that's what I love about them."


The telephoto ALFA 145 mm anamorphic lens captures a close-up.