Behind the Lens: 'Watermark' Shot Using More Than 20 Formats

Watermark Film Still - H 2013

Watermark Film Still - H 2013

Watermark -- the documentary that screened at TIFF, directed by photographer Edward Burtynsky and filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal -- follows Burtynsky's photographic series of water around the world. Cinematographer and producer Nicholas de Pencier describes it as an “experiential story” about water, not a political message.

The three years of production included trips to India to lens the 30 million who bathe in a river during Hindu pilgrimage Kumbh Mela; to California to photograph the dried-up Colorado River; and to China’s Xiluodu Dam. The film also includes photography of the Gulf of Mexico, Iceland, Greenland and Bangladesh.

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To capture these images, de Pencier said he used more than 20 formats, though mainly he relied on a Canon C300 and Red Epic, using Arri lightweight zooms and the Canon EF 70-200mm. He also used cameras such as GoPro.

De Pencier related that Burtynsky's large prints of landscapes are “all about detail and resolution. We wanted to extend the narrative of the pictures that he takes.”

He explained that he used Red’s 5K format for applications such as wide shots taken from helicopters to get the most detail.

“But on the ground doing interviews or [shooting] in remote places, this didn't make sense,” he commented, adding that for these shots, he used the smaller C300 to create a verite documentary style. He said he chose the Canon camera because it is both portable and also a big chip camera. (De Pencier is making a documentary about Internet security and privacy next and expects to use the Red and Canon cameras again.)

During TIFF, THR talked with many cinematographers about their location shoots as part of its “Behind the Lens” coverage.

Other participants included director of photography Douglas Koch, who lensed Don McKellar’s English language remake of 2003 comedy La Grande Seduction, which was shot on location in Newfoundland, where the story is set. For this production, he selected the Arri Alexa, shooting ProRes, with Cooke S5 lenses.

Koch said he wanted to effectively play “against type” for what one would expect from this coastal setting, which is often portrayed as misty and desaturated. "It's a very colorful landscape," the cinematographer said of Newfoundland, citing as an example the pink in the rocks on the cliffs.

Twitter: @CGinLA