Cinematographer Max von Matthiessen on the filming of the documentary “Into America” using the Canon 5D Mark II and Compact Prime CP.2 lenses.
It’s the 4th of July, the US national holiday. A young Navajo embarks on a 1200-mile journey between two worlds, driving from the business metropolis of Seattle to his rural homeland in Utah, beyond Monument Valley, to visit his family. For their documentary “Into America”, director Nadine Zacharias and cameraman Max von Matthiessen set out for the land of apparently unlimited opportunities. In their luggage was a Canon 5D Mark II and the CP.2 35mm/T2.1 EF and CP.2 85mm/T2.1 EF Compact Prime lenses, as well as a Makro-Planar T* 2/50 ZE. “We wanted to get up close to people and film as unobtrusively as possible in public,” says von Matthiessen, explaining his choice of camera. “The road movie takes place mainly in the car. A compact camera is advantageous here for shooting several different perspectives, both inside and for setups on the hood and the door.”
The two students from the Baden-Württemberg Film Academy made the film at their own expense — which is why just the two of them made the trip. “I had to react quickly to what was happening. For that, the equipment has to be really simple to handle. At dinner with the Navajo family, for example, I was able to resolve the whole setting quickly and effectively with the two CP.2 lenses, using these two specific focal lengths,” recounts von Matthiessen. Having no assistant, he was always ready to film and shot four to six hours of material each day. Depending on the situation, a tripod, shoulder rig, cine saddle or monopod ensured stability.
The high contrasts between the main character inside the car and the daylight outside posed the greatest technical challenge. “This was why we filmed mainly early in the morning and in the evening. The lenses bridged the contrast exceptionally well,” says von Matthiessen, who filmed even in poor light with f-stop 2 and a maximum of 640 ISO. For night shots in the car, special LED torches, bounced on a small reflector, were used. The specific ZEISS bokeh, i.e. the circles of light from the street lighting outside the car, in the out-of-focus range, were also a popular secondary effect.
Along with the easy handling of the lenses, for example when focusing, von Matthiessen was particularly struck by the high picture quality in shots with backlighting. He framed in Cinemascope, so the road movie with its extremely wide format conveys the vastness of the landscape. “I’m impressed by the brilliance of the lenses. Details, focus and depth give the shots a look that’s all their own,” says the cinematographer.
For future filming, von Matthiessen sees the interchangeable mount of the CP.2 lens as particularly helpful: “In a documentary, I often have to work without an assistant. If I have to change cameras, say from an RED to a Canon, I can just change the mount on the lens and carry on.”
Max von Matthiessen is a student at the Baden-Württemberg Film Academy. After his first film experience as a camera assistant in the Babelsberg Studio, he trained at Daylight. Filmproduktion as an image and sound media designer.
More information: www.maxmatt.de