This experimental short film takes the audience on a metaphorical journey into movement: "Allow me to introduce myself. I am movement. And this is my film. With me is life. But what is without me? What is my essence? I try to comprehend what I am. Dancing. I show and observe myself at various locations. I wake up in water, explore boundaries in the chaos of the city. I recognize my inevitability, and yet I lose myself on the path to my freedom. Music accompanies my excursion into the world, through five chapters in different scenarios." In this liaison of film and dance, the camera itself becomes the protagonist's expression – and it dances.
ARRI Rental Munich provided the Hydroflex underwater housing, the Zeiss Zoom LWZ 15.5.-45mm T2.6, and other equipment for the shoot. DP Mateusz Smolka, a graduate of Munich's HFF film school, answered some questions about this extraordinary graduation project by Elisa Maria Nadal (screenplay and director) for ARRI Rental.
ARRI Rental (AR): Can you describe for us the background to the project, and your role in it?
Mateusz Smolka (MS): “Prisoners of the Body” is the final school project of director Elisa Maria Nadal at the HFF Munich (Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München). I was the cinematographer on this project. It is an experimental dance film in which movement – spoken by a narrator – goes through a series of stages. Each of the six episodes is illustrated through dance. The underwater scene we are talking about here is the film's first episode and symbolize the birth of movement.
AR: Did you already have experience with underwater filming that you could fall back on for this shoot?
MS: I gathered some experience a few years ago shooting a fashion commercial that played entirely underwater. But I only shot that with a DSLR camera and a small underwater case. “Prisoners of the Body” was my first truly professional underwater shoot.
AR: How much did the underwater aspect change how you approached the project?
MS: The underwater shoot brought with it a lot of work on technical issues and involved a lot of time. The biggest challenge in this episode was to create an environment for our lead role, the dancer, in which he felt comfortable and safe.
AR: How did you prepare specifically for the underwater scenes?
MS: First of all, we created a precise set mock-up with the aid of a 3D program, which meant I could try out and determine many of the settings in advance. In close collaboration with our underwater operator Daniel Reger and the dancer Gonzalo Cruzinha we went through the entire sequence and decided the order for shooting the scenes. The biggest challenge was time. Our dancer couldn't stay 7 meters down for more than 30 - 90 seconds without taking a breath, and yet we had to film a four-minute choreography in one day.
AR: What films did you watch in advance that were also shot underwater?
MS: THE SHAPE OF WATER by Guillermo del Toro and AMA by Julie Gautier.
AR: Which camera and lenses did you use, and why?
MS: We filmed the entire project with the ARRI ALEXA Mini. It was the perfect size for our needs. This film demanded a wide variety of camera movements, and we shot most of the scenes with a gimbal and camera robot. For the underwater scene the camera was mounted in a Hydroflex submersible housing, which came from ARRI Rental, as did the Zoom lens. The housing enabled us to operate the camera entirely out of the water, which gave us control over the focus, zoom, aperture and all other settings, and it meant we had a good video picture above water.
We shot the entire underwater scene with a Zeiss LWZ 15.5 – 45mm T2.6 Zoom. This lens fits perfectly into the Hydroflex housing and the Zoom's range was big enough for the entire scene, so we saved a lot of time not having to change lenses.
AR: Were you happy with the equipment and support you received from ARRI Rental?
MS: We were extremely pleased with ARRI Rental's support. It gave us great advice and helped us put together a perfect set for our requirements. The shoot wouldn't have been possible without the Hydroflex submersible housing. In particular the team from Movienaut and our Dry Technician Sascha Mieke, who has a lot of experience shooting under water, gave us excellent tips and made us feel a lot more confident about what we were doing.