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Director of photography Yves Belanger recalled a great experience working with actress Reese Witherspoon as they shot Wild.
“I was handheld, and my Arri Alexa camera weighed close to what Reese was carrying in her backpack,” he said with a chuckle, adding that after a long take, “She’d say, ‘Are you OK?’ — and she was carrying even more. She was thinking of me, maybe because I was older.”
The film is based on Cheryl Strayed‘s memoir about how Strayed (played by Witherspoon) healed from personal loss and destructive behavior by hiking more than 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. Wild, which reteamed director Jean-Marc Vallee and Belanger after their Dallas Buyers Club collaboration — was filmed using available light, on location, mostly in Portland, Ore. — on a brisk 35-day production schedule (which Belanger called a “luxury” after having just 23 days for Dallas Buyers Club).
“We shot with available light, but we controlled the light by choosing where and when and which angles,” Belanger explained, noting that the shooting schedule was therefore dictated by the position of the sun. “We thought, in the morning, we are going to shoot in this direction because the sun is there, but sometimes if the light was nicer somewhere else, we’d just move the actor and the camera. That was the benefit of having such a small crew. It would take like 20 seconds. We were a little like the old movies in the ’60s and ’70s, like Easy Rider. We were so small that we could improvise on the spot.”
He added that lighting was only used in a few instances where it was required, such as when he filmed a night scene in a forest.
To get to the locations, the crew — often just seven to 14 people — were driven. But the shoot also involved a lot of walking. Belanger estimates he probably logged about 50 miles during production. Locations included Crater Lake and the Bridge of the Gods (the cantilever bridge that crosses the Columbia River from Oregon into Washington state), as well as more remote settings, such as a cliff.
Wild, which opens this week, was filmed with an Arri Alexa camera in Arriraw mode. The “present” setting, including the trail, was shot with Arri Master Prime lenses, while older Zeiss lenses were used to give a different look to flashbacks.
Belanger has since lensed Vallee’s next film, Demolition.
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