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Supporting analog 16 mm as a creative choice

Director Ferdinand Feldmann and DP Tobias Blickle discuss format and influences on their artisti short film "The Mysteriou Opacity of Other Beings."

ARRI Rental Munich supported director Ferdinand Feldmann and cinematographer Tobias Blickle with a 16 mm analog camera kit comprising an ARRIFLEX 416 and Ultra 16 lenses for their short film, "The Mysterious Opacity of Other Beings," in addition to grip and lighting gear. The filmmakers speak here about their rationale for shooting on celluloid and how the pandemic forced a change of location that brought its own benefits.

Where did the idea of shooting this short film on an analog format come from? 

Tobias Blickle: Having worked with film on previous projects together, it just made sense to both of us. Ferdinand and I both like the qualities and colors that film can bring to a production. Creating a sense of dreamy, heightened reality felt right for this project.

Ferdinand Feldmann: We drew our primary inspiration from still film photography, in particular photographers that we both admire, like Philip-Lorca Dicorcia and Lars Tunbjörk.

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Does working with analog change your approach to filmmaking in any way?

TB: It's a different workflow on a technical level for sure, but I don't think that the filmmaking process is fundamentally different from working with a digital camera. I was fortunate enough to gain experience with 16 mm and 35 mm in film school, so I still feel most confident working with film.

Which camera, lenses, and film stocks did you choose?

TB: We had an ARRIFLEX 416 with ARRI/Zeiss Ultra 16 prime lenses, and Kodak Vision3 250D and 500T stock. The processing and scanning was done at Cinegrell in Zurich. Wolfgang and Markus at ARRI Rental Munich gave us a lot of their time and support in preproduction.

Even though the film conveys a very calm atmosphere, it is full of camera movement. What was your general visual concept?

TB: The juxtaposition of free camera movement and static characters in more precisely framed shots was important to us. Likewise, we wanted to convey a state alternating between real and dream-like, so we tried to move the camera in different ways depending on the mood.

FF: We had a precise plan for most scenes but were able to give ourselves enough freedom to come up with some shots on the spot, which I like doing.
 

Photo credit Barton Kirchmann

Can you tell us about your collaboration with Felix Lang for the Steadicam shots and with Thomas Roim and Stephan Fischl from Movie Cars?

TB: I was happy to work with our Steadicam operator, Felix, as he brings ideas to every project we collaborate on. We were very fortunate to have Thomas and Stephan driving and operating the Russian Arm for us. We went in with a very precise idea of the shot we wanted to achieve, but quickly came to realize that lots of variables were uncontrollable. Synchronizing the running dog to the camera on the stabilized head did not work out at all, so we had to react and improvise. There was a 30-minute window during which the light was right, so it all had to fall into place quite quickly. We got very lucky.

The film has a natural, almost organic feel; did you shoot a lot with available light?

TB: We kept lighting to a minimum wherever we could do so, only augmenting practical lights and using negative fill when possible.

FF: We both like working like this, keeping it simple.
 

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The film was originally supposed to be shot in Kiev; why did it turn out differently?

FF: We started preproduction in March 2020, when a certain virus was on the brink of becoming a global pandemic. Once it became clear that it wasn't safe to travel any more, we rescheduled and stayed in Germany.

TB: I think it actually helped us to focus on what we wanted to accomplish. Travelling to a foreign place and trying to make a film there can be quite overwhelming.

Did you already have a lot of settings planned in Kiev, and was it difficult to re-imagine them for Munich?

TB: Our idea with filming in a place unknown to us was to further emphasize the alienation of our character Thilo from his surroundings. When we realized that we would not be able to do this for quite some time, we decided that we could make it work in Germany. This gave us the advantage of having the support of our friends, for which we are very thankful.
 

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You shot on Olafur Eliasson's Infinite Staircase and covered the action there with a single shot. Was that always the intention?

TB: Yes, we had planned out the shot beforehand. But of course we did other shots on the day for safety.

FF: In the edit it made sense to stick to it and only show this location once in the montage sequence. We also shot at other locations with a similar metaphorical meaning but decided not to use them in the montage because it would have made it less clear.

The American photographer Richard Misrach has a book with the same title as your film; was that a major reference for you?

FF: I draw a lot of visual inspiration from photo books and that one in particular I could not stop thinking about ever since I first looked at it. It's a weirdly oversized coffee table book full of bird's-eye view pictures of people floating alone on water. That in combination with the title connected very much with my thoughts at the time and with the motifs of our short film. So I guess you can call it an homage to the great Richard Misrach.
 

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The film unites the works of many artists, from Olafur Eliasson and Monty Richthofen to the composers Mozart and György Ligeti. Are they all important influences for you?

FF: It is all an influence for sure, and very present for me. At the time I started to play with the idea of making a short film I was visiting my good friend Monty Richthofen in Berlin. We went through his boxes of all the scribblings and fleeting thoughts he constantly writes down. We compiled our findings and with that laid out the groundwork for the film.

TB: There is definitely an obsession with self-reference in filmmaking. I hope we've managed to make something that gives viewers new images to project themselves onto.

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