The American Society of Cinematographers

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King of Ping Pong
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King of Ping Pong

Cinematographer:

Askild Vik Edvardsen, FSF, FNF

Director:

Jens Jonsson



King of Ping Pong frame grab courtesy of Bob Film Sweden.

Edvardsen photo courtesy of the cinematographer. 


With its pale, icy palette and symmetrical framing, King of Ping Pong was one of the most visually distinctive films at Sundance this year. Having collaborated on 10 shorts and one TV miniseries over the past decade, Swedish director Jens Jonsson and Norwegian cinematographer Askild Vik Edvardsen, FSF, FNF, consciously set about creating a new stylistic challenge for themselves with their first feature. The director explains, “We wanted to do the whitest film ever made! We thought it should look like a glass of milk.” The result netted Sundance’s prize for Best Cinematography in the category of World Cinema-Dramatic, as well as the Jury Prize in the same category.  

Described by the director as a “Norrland Buddhist tragicomic family drama,” King of Ping Pong tells the story of two young brothers. Rille (Jerry Johansson) is a pudgy, unpopular 16-year-old who is typically either bullied or ignored — except in the community center’s table-tennis room, where he rules. By contrast, his younger brother, Erik (Hampus Johansson), is cute and hangs with the cool kids. During winter break, their absentee father, a hopeless drunk and ladies’ man, turns up, and tensions mount when the boys learn that he is father to only one of them; the other was sired by the town loser. A rift builds between the brothers, and resentment explodes at a teen dance. Ultimately, Rille finds peace of mind when he learns to forgive and accepts his destiny as an underdog.   

Inspired by individuals he met while researching another script in the northern reaches of Sweden, Jonsson knew King of Ping Pong needed to be filmed in that area. Locations included the remote mining town of Gällivare, close to the border with Norway, and Luleå, a town on the Baltic Sea. (Interiors were shot in a Stockholm studio.) The snowy terrain inspired the filmmakers’ white-as-milk idea, and the fact that this approach would be a challenge was an added bonus. Ever since they met at the Swedish National Film School, Jonsson and Edvardsen have set stylistic challenges for themselves with each new project; one short film consisted entirely of two fixed-camera close-ups, and another was shot in black-and-white at 1.33:1 with an emphasis on square compositions and framing the actors’ eyes at dead center.  

To facilitate King of Ping Pong’s look, production designer Josefin Åsberg sought out white houses, white cars and pastel interiors. Meanwhile, Edvardsen and Jonsson devised a plan for the cinematography that entailed a traditional approach from start to finish. “Because everything would be white, we chose to shoot anamorphic [2.40:1] and use 50-ASA film when we could to get as much information as possible,” says Edvardsen. He shot exteriors on Kodak Vision2 50D 5201 and interiors on 500T 5218. “The grain is so good now even the 50 and the 500 cut together really well,” he notes.  

During production, Edvard-sen softened the image further by using smoke in almost every scene, and during post, the filmmakers chose to cut negative, finish photochemically and print on Fuji F-CP-3510 — all in an effort to maintain images that were rich in detail, delicacy and nuance within that upper range of whiteness.  

Edvardsen operated an Arricam Lite equipped with Hawk V-Series anamorphic lenses. He mainly used the 30mm, 50mm and 75mm focal lengths, relying most heavily on the 50mm. (He also used a Hawk 46-230mm zoom.) “I wanted to give the actors a bit of head space in the frame,” he says. Also, Jonsson wanted a slightly distanced perspective to show Rille interacting with other characters in a social context.  

A number of key scenes were filmed as single takes, including a scene in which the boys’ father jumps into a hole cut into ice and stays underwater for a long stretch of time. “[Filming the action in one take] is a complicated technical solution to making the scene work,” says Jonsson. “You create suspense; if the guy is underwater for 20 seconds and there are no cuts, you know it’s real.”  

In another instance, Rille gets roughed up by bullies while he and his brother are sitting with two girls at a picnic table near the community center. As the sequence begins, Rille is shown talking as the camera dollies around the table from profile to straight-on view; over Rille’s shoulder, we see the town bullies arriving on scooters and cars. Their leader orders them to beat up Rille, who is rolled around and kicked in the snow. “That was a five-minute take,” says Edvardsen. “The camera’s slowly moving, and the scooters and cars had to come in at the right time. In theory, it sounds fantastic, but the first time you try it, it looks like shit! But that’s the great thing about Jens — he expects this and stays calm, and we try again. After a bit of rehearsing, everybody suddenly falls into the same rhythm, it works, and you’ve just shot three pages of script.”  

The bully scene was a night exterior, so Edvardsen had to light the actors and create fill in the surrounding woods. “When you’re trying to achieve such a soft image, you can’t let anything be pitch black,” he notes. “You have to get the luminance up.” A 10K softbox on a crane provided ambient lighting and Kino Flos were positioned around the grounds. “Because we were shooting so wide, it was always a challenge to hide lamps,” says Edvardsen. “When it wasn’t windy, we were trying to fill the area with smoke to give it a magical atmosphere. It sounds strange, but it’s so cold there that this phenomenon happens naturally — you can drive by a frozen lake and see steam rising from it. It has to do with the different temperatures of the water and air.”  

Given that temperatures often plummeted to -22ºF, the production stored its cameras and film stock in a large refrigerator to mitigate problems caused by temperature swings. “Everything worked well,” Edvardsen recalls, “but sometimes we had to shoot something inside and then go outside, and we’d have to wait an hour for the equipment to chill down!”  

When the time came to discuss post, Jonsson and Edvardsen proposed timing the film photochemically rather than doing a digital intermediate (DI). “When you’re working at the top of the negative, you need all the color information you can get,” says Edvardsen, who worked with color timer Sten Lindberg at Nordisk Film Post. “Jens and I wanted to cut the negative and do a direct print to get all that color information out of the negative.” In the end, the filmmakers did a 2K scan to create versions for TV and DVD, and during that process, “we found in the telecine that if we really pushed the digital file to make it bright and soft, there were no colors left,” says the cinematographer. “We had to fill in with colors that weren’t really there, and suddenly, we were struggling with strange, invented colors. But the photochemical timing was a dream.”  

Noting that King of Ping Pong was projected on 35mm at Sundance, Edvardsen concludes, “There are no plans to make digital prints of our movie as long as theaters are projecting film.”

  

 

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