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When director Roland Emmerich began prepping his action thriller White House Down, one of his first calls was to Anna Foerster, ASC, the director of photography on his last feature, Anonymous (AC Sept. ’11). Emmerich calls Foerster’s work on that period thriller “stunning,” and says he was determined to bring her aboard White House Down. “I told her she could make an action movie like this really good looking, beautiful even,” he says. “The more we talked about it, the more interested she became, and eventually, she committed. And once Anna commits, all you can say is, ‘Wow!’”
“Before Anonymous, I had almost turned my back on camera work [in favor of directing] because I wasn’t sure where I fell as a cinematographer — I had all this second-unit and visual-effects work, but I wanted to do live action, and there was the usual apprehension from producers about taking a leap with someone who was not [an established cinematographer],” says Foerster. “But then Roland asked me to shoot Anonymous, and it was an incredible experience. When we began discussing White House Down, I became intrigued by the possibility of shooting an action movie without serving all the usual visual clichés.”
White House Down details a paramilitary assault on the White House and the efforts of a lone policeman (Channing Tatum) to protect the president (Jamie Foxx) and end the crisis. According to Emmerich, what Foerster brought to the project, among other things, were a methodology for creating realistic exterior light on massive sets built onstage (at Mel’s La Cité du Cinéma in Montreal), a unique approach to solving problems, and an almost obsessive devotion to shooting most of the picture on an ultra-wide lens. “Anna introduced me to the short Arri [LWZ-2 15.5mm-45mm T2.6] zoom on Anonymous, and it has been my favorite lens ever since,” says the director. “We shot almost all of White House Down with it, and it enabled us to show the ceilings and the architecture of the White House sets, which were very elaborate. It can be tricky to light a room so you can shoot that way, but Anna used mirrors and other tricks to make it happen.”
Shooting for a final aspect ratio of 2.40:1, the filmmakers chose to capture digitally with the Arri Alexa Plus because of its modest size, weight and durability on remote heads on a variety of platforms. They used three Pluses during the course of the shoot, recording in ArriRaw to Codex recorders and, as backup, in Log C color space to SxS cards in ProRes 4:4:4. The filmmakers viewed imagery on Sony PVM OLED monitors, relying on a single foundational look-up table created in prep with dailies colorist Trevor White of Technicolor Montreal. The LUT was also applied to all monitors on set through Blackmagic HDLink systems. “In addition to that LUT, we had two backup LUTs that I used occasionally to compensate for bluescreen,” Foerster explains. “So we basically had the same look throughout, and occasionally went just half a stop to 1 stop darker. There was essentially no color tweaking on set.”
The production utilized Technicolor’s Digital Printer Lights on set whenever there were questions about integrity of the Log C signal, according to digital-imaging technician Julie Garceau. “DPL also helped everyone on set who was in the visual-effects chain,” adds Garceau. “The comp system was based on Rec 709 color space, so they could record the comp and the live image together with a grade that was compatible to both signals. Once those looks were established, quality control on set was easy.”
Because the production was headquartered on stages, its digital workflow also included a fiber link with Technicolor to reduce transfer time and maintain extra security by sending image data to separate locations during production. “Reports were generated at every step of the way, and they were all consolidated to cloud storage to give [instant] access to all concerned departments,” explains data wrangler Yann Morgrain. “Images were monitored and QC’d on set, and they were also verified through the data-management process, and again as they arrived in post. We had lots of checks and balances.”
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