Michael Latham Shoots Casting Jonbenet With ARRI ALEXA Mini

When cinematographer Michael Latham got the opportunity to again work with Sundance award-winning director, Kitty Green, he jumped at the chance. When he realised the size and scope of the documentary she was planning he also knew his ALEXA Mini would be perfect for the shoot.

Latham explained, “The first major shoot I used the ALEXA Mini on was the feature hybrid documentary Casting JonBenet about the death of JonBenét Ramsey, directed by Kitty Green. She is an exciting director who I have collaborated with over the last few years. The feature film is based on a similar style to Kitty’s short documentary The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul which won Sundance in 2015. That film was a very low budget project, very contained, shot in two days with help from some friends. Casting JonBenet was a very different animal, with a much larger budget, hundreds of interviews, large cinematic scenes, full crews and eight months of work. During this time we were lucky to have the guidance of our producers Scott Macaulay and James Schamus who are amazing at what they do and between them have created some wonderful films including Jullian Donkey Boy, Gummo, Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

The size and scope of the shoot combined with some challenging logistics created some early hurdles for Latham which he and the crew had to work quickly to overcome.

He continued, “When the project started I didn’t have my ALEXA Mini so a lot of the interview were shot on multiple Blackmagic 4K cameras which are OK under controlled studio environments but quite difficult to use in the real world. We shot in two blocks and the second block was much more like a full narrative shoot with a full cast and crew. For these scenes we wanted to it to feel as cinematic as possible so it would feel like a film and not a documentary so the Mini was perfect. We had always the planned to shoot the narrative scenes on an ALEXA as I feel like it produces the most filmic images.”

The shoot consisted of everything from studio scenes with set builds to real life locations, day and night interiors and exteriors, car rigging, VFX scenes, drone aerials and vista landscapes and some extreme weather.

Latham added, “We were shooting in the middle of winter so some days were minus-ten degrees with heavy snow which always makes for fun times. I used Zeiss Superspeeds for more of a vintage look along with Hollywood Blackmagic filters. My camera kit is as small and lightweight and as free and wireless as possible as I think being nimble is important in making your day. The ALEXA Mini is great if you need to scale up as it is very easy to do so. I like that it is very capable as an A-Camera on everything from documentary content to large-scale features and commercials. You can also break it down to fit it into tight spaces with no trouble and yet you can build it up to fit every accessory you can think of. I have customised my Mini with the accessories I prefer and so it’s tailored to my needs but as those needs change it’s very easy to add or takeaway whatever is required for the job.”

Latham, the director and the producers, were all extremely happy with the images and results he got shooting Casting JonBenet with his ALEXA Mini so for him his decision to purchase one was validated in the best possible way.

He concluded, saying, “The great thing about owning a camera is having access to being able to test anything you are unsure about – everything from lenses, exposures and lighting to paint colours and fabrics. If someone asks you a question the answer is ten minutes away. Ultimately for me owning an ALEXA Mini wasn’t a money-making decision but it was about investing in myself and my career. It was definitely a big investment for me but it is worth it as it gives me access to, in my opinion, the best image out there.”

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