How 'The Hateful Eight' Cinematographer Revived Lenses From the 1960s
"I was told [they] no longer existed," says Robert Richardson, who captured the film's super-widescreen images with Ultra Panavision 70 lenses that hadn't been used since 1966's 'Khartoum.'
This story first appeared in the Jan. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
In a backroom at Panavision's Woodland Hills offices, Robert Richardson stumbled upon a Holy Grail of sorts. Quentin Tarantino had turned to the Oscar-winning cinematographer to figure out how to fulfill his dream of releasing The Hateful Eight as a 70mm movie. Richardson discovered a set of classic Ultra Panavision 70 lenses, last used for 1966’s Khartoum, that would allow him to shoot in superwide 2:76:1 ratio.
“I was told those lenses no longer existed,” says Richardson, explaining that it was while he was at Panavision to meet with the company’s optical engineering vp Dan Sasaki that he discovered “these very funky-looking lenses.” Adds the cinematographer: “Quentin was extraordinarily happy because he wanted the widest format possible.” First, though, those vintage lenses required some refurbishing. “The problem was these lenses hadn’t been used since the ’60s, so none of them would work on a modern film camera,” explains Sasaki. “So I offered these to Robert not knowing I’d get the whole company involved in supporting the project.” In the end, Panavision retrofitted 15 of the lenses with varying focal lengths in just a few months.
Since Tarantino and Richardson wanted long takes for the movie’s dialogue-heavy sequences, Panavision also developed larger magazines for the film cameras while Kodak made longer 1,800-foot film rolls (as opposed to the usual 1,000-foot rolls) of 65mm Kodak Vision3 5219 film. That allowed for takes as long as 16 minutes, filming at 24 frames per second, compared with the slightly less than nine minutes that would have been available on 1,000-foot reels. The wide format also allowed Richardson to include many of the film’s characters in the same frame at once, capturing their reactions to one another. “That’s what Quentin loved most — to be able to include as many characters as possible within the shot without having to single them out,” says Richardson. “Having them all there, especially as the tension rises, makes it more of a thriller. You have visual evidence of their whereabouts in almost every shot.”
It was an arduous shoot, much of it shot on location in the snow near Telluride. “We were above 10,000 feet. Usually when we arrived on set, it was between minus-10 and minus-20 degrees,” says production sound mixer Mark Ulano. “Most of the physical locations are not something you drove to — you were on a snowmobile to a drop-off point, where you then might hike another quarter-mile in sub-zero temperatures.”
On the other hand, for shots where the production needed to remove walls to fit the camera gear, the interior of Minnie’s was additionally built on a stage at Red Studios in Hollywood, Richardson notes that to get the actors’ breath to show onscreen, “Quentin got a fleet of air conditioners; it was colder on stage than on location. It was also so moist, because to get the breath, you needed the right dewpoint. We had blankets on the camera.”