"Escape" is a dramatic and sensitive journey played through the delicate performance of Sara Tonkin to showcase the new Cine Zooms from ZEISS. Presented for the first time at the ZEISS Cine Lens Day 2013, British DOP Den Lennie demonstrates how ZEISS lenses are first and foremost tools for creativity that deliver the highest quality.
Powerful images grab your attention right from the start of the ZEISS short film “Escape". But quickly you realize that there is more going on here than simply the interplay of light with the imaging performance of ZEISS lenses. “We didn’t want to have just images, but a story,” says Lennie. “The story is a mysterious one. We were very much influenced by David Fincher and one of the recent commercials he did for a fragrance. We had in mind that our main audience actually would be film directors and directors of photography. They should be thinking about the meaning of the film while studying the images.”
Together with director James Tonkin (Hangman Studios, London), with whom he regularly collaborates, Lennie developed the storyboard in just three weeks. “We wanted to create a moving photograph which would allow us to push the lenses very hard, to see how they would perform. We were shooting in 5k and with as much natural light as possible. We didn’t want to light very much. It was important for us to see what the lenses could do. So we didn’t shoot with massive lights. Our biggest was a 400-watt HMI. By limiting the output of the on set lighting we pushed the lenses to do the work. It’s all about going to the limits and letting the optics show their true performance,” Lennie comments. The fascinating part of real cine lenses like the Compact Zoom CZ.2 28-80/T2.9 is what they are capable of: lens breathing or zoom shift don't occur.
The main camera was the RED EPIC with the making of film, shot on the Sony PMW-F5 in combination with the Compact Zoom CZ.2 28-80/T2.9. “For the main shoot we predominantly used the CZ.2 28-80/T2.9, as well as the CZ.2 70-200/T2.9. In addition we used the ARRI/ZEISS Ultra Prime 20/T1.9 and the ARRI/ZEISS Ultra Prime 24/T1.9 and for the macro shots the ARRI/ZEISS Master Macro T2.0/100 for close-ups.”
“Because we wanted the film to be about the lenses, we decided to shoot everything at 100 frames a second instead of the normal 24, so that each image would linger on screen, and the audience could watch the images and study the edge of the frames, the autofocus and the attractive bokeh. The thing that really stuck in our minds with the Compact Zooms was the quality of the lenses, the contrast, the way the colors were rendered, the control of flare. We could shoot a light straight down the lens and get beautiful flare moving across the internal elements. It is a very impressing artistic add-on to the film.”
The Film “Escape” was shot in southern England. The interiors were taken in the Sussex countryside, in an old mansion that today serves as a hotel. The exterior scene was shot were along the Devon coastline. Lennie, Tonkin and their 12-person team had just three days for the entire shoot – very tight considering the size of the project. That was one of the reasons why Lennie decided to use zoom lenses.
“When you’re working with a zoom lens, you can move a lot more quickly because you don’t have to change lenses. During our exterior shots, for example, we had a real challenge with the weather and changing light conditions. So we used the Compact Zoom CZ.2 28-80/T2.9 and a Steadicam Master, and were able to shoot our master shots of the final scene in about an hour. But what impressed me most was that the zooms performed as if you were using Ultra Primes. Moreover, the Compact Zoom matched very well with the Ultra Primes and Master Primes.”
The last scene reveals why “Escape” is so named. In a white wedding dress, and clutching a bouquet of flowers, the young woman runs through high grass. Again, she seems completely lost in thought. In the background are the cliffs, the ocean and the horizon. The destination of her “escape” remains unclear — and Den Lennie wants to keep it that way.
“I don’t like to give an interpretation of the story myself. The interpretation is up to the audience. The girl is getting ready for an event which we think is a wedding. And for some reason there is a challenge, a conflict within this decision. You are there with a character, and she is upset, but you don’t know why. You are beginning to ask yourself some questions: Why is she crying? What has happened? Who is the man? Why is she leaving? And you are left with these questions. The film is a journey, an emotional journey.”
As the audience is left pondering why she is running away one conclusion we can safely draw: that he is satisfied with this piece of work: “As a DOP, the greatest joy you can have is lighting. And to work with light and beautiful glass is the greatest thrill. I am extremely pleased with the outcome of the film.”
About Den Lennie
Den Lennie has stood behind the camera for 20 years and filmed in almost every conceivable genre. He has worked as cameraman, producer, director DOP and editor. When not behind the camera — or in front of it as a sought-after expert — Lennie shares his knowledge at the F-Stop Academy with professionals and anyone else who loves to makes movies.
Tags: Adam de la Cour, cine, Compact Zoom CZ.2 28-80/T2.9, Compact Zoom CZ.2 70-200/T2.9, Den Lennie, James Tonkin, Master Macro T2.0/100, Sara Tonkin, Ultra Prime 20/T1.9, Ultra Prime 24/T1.9, zeiss, ZEISS lenses