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Cooke Anamorphic lenses help cinematographer Nathalie Pitters capture her and director Caleb Femi’s passion project Giraffe.

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By: Joe Woolley  |   2 min de lectura

Caleb Femi, the director, and I, have worked together on quite a few things.. I can’t remember where we got the funding for “Giraffe” or how it happened, but we met I think in 2017. He’s a poet and he had shot a dance film that I really loved. So, I messaged him and said I’d love to connect. When we met he told me he had an idea for a little short film called “Giraffe”. It mutated & evolved over the years, but that was how the idea started.

The original concept was that someone buries a time capsule, and then years later its dug up and we see the story of this discovery unravel in three different time spaces. I asked Caleb, “why did you choose the name giraffe?” And he said, “because it’s such a hard thing to describe, how do you describe a giraffe? You can’t.”. He wanted to go for something that was an intangible concept. It was the very first project we discussed, but back then there wasn’t any funding. Then over the years we made a couple of other short films, passion projects, art films, things like that, based off his poems and we would always discuss ideas on a bunch of other things. Sometimes I would see a photo, drawing or video installation and I would just send it to him and say, “we need to do something based on this”. We would then brainstorm some ideas, and he would do the same with me.  He’s my soul director, you know, we’re very connected. I can’t remember how and when the funding came about but one day he called me and let me know that “Giraffe” was a go, and sent over the script. It was set in the near future and the premise is that government surveillance is rife, especially for young underprivileged black teens. At a certain age they are forced to have an operation that removes a part of their brain, turning them into subservient, compliant, lobotomised zombie-like shells of people.

Girrafe Image square
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What was your thought process or reason for deciding on Cooke Anamorphic.

We wanted to have all the public exteriors feel very CCTV-ish and all the interiors to feel a lot more restrained but knowing this Big Brother presence is still always watching you. So that’s why I went for the zoom option in the exteriors and used primes for the interiors. I wanted to go with anamorphic because I felt that it suited the story and exterior and interior locations in a 2.35 aspect ratio. Honestly, whenever I go with anamorphic, my instinct is always to Cooke because you can still get that anamorphic look but it’s not completely bonkers. It’s not like those vintage anamorphic lenses that are warped and you need to really test them so you don’t get any unexpected surprises on set.

With the Cooke Anamorphic/i series, I know where I am with them so I don’t need to worry. I can trust the consistency and reliability of them so that’s why it was my first choice to go with Cooke. There are certain lenses that are really, really sharp everywhere and they resolve perfectly throughout the whole image. You’ve got that spectrum from super, super clean everywhere to really jazzy everywhere. With Cookes, they somehow capture and deliver a very human quality. I don’t know how to describe it. But whenever I’ve chosen a Cooke lens, be it spherical, be it anamorphic, it’s because of something humanistic.

Nathalie Pitters | Director of Photography

It’s soft but it’s not mushy. It just falls away left to right and in front of the subject and behind it and it’s that quality, relevant to the T-stop, where you set that focus combined with the kind of lighting I want to create. That’s what gives me the look I’m after. Obviously, it’s project specific.


How do you combine that optical choice with your lighting ideas?


On “Giraffe” I used a combination of hard and soft light. Unless it’s January in England, I feel you generally get a mix of soft ambient light of certain colours, maybe some of it will be coming through the trees and some will reflect off a brick building. Then, you’ll get some hard sun light bouncing off some office windows or from a passing bus and the reflected light is a bit warped. There’s this kind of beautiful mix. I like to try and light like that whenever I can, whenever I have time! When I do that on Cookes there’s a quality about the lenses that feels as if I’m looking at the subject through my own eyes. I’m not trying to infuse anything else. There are some lenses that I use because of their weird characteristics for a specific reason and that’s all very well and good. But when I use a Cooke it’s because I don’t want to draw attention to anything other than the story. I want it to feel like what’s happening is real life, because the story, the script resonates in me like that. I think my first experiences of using Cookes was when I became a bit addicted to the Cooke Speed Panchros, and especially the way the 75 mm is slightly warmer. There are certain short films that I’ve done where I’ve said I need the Cookes because I need that 75mm or I need a 40mm. I think the 40mm is the perfect lens for close-ups. With a 40mm spherical, it’s not too long to be too shallow or too wide where you feel you’re in the actor’s face. It’s a perfect field of view. It’s like a polite social distance, where you feel like you’re familiar with whom you’re watching, but you’re not in their face. Especially when it comes to the Cooke 40mm Anamorphic/i lens. It’s also one of the reasons why I didn’t need to test the lenses before we started. I know exactly where I am with them and there’s that sort of human look I wanted with “Giraffe”. The anamorphic bokeh and the way those lens render faces, and the environment all go together to produce a naturalistic look.

When you say the exterior shoots had a CCTV Big-Brother-is-watching you aesthetic, was that the physical use of a zoom lens coupled with a different lowered resolution look? Or was it to emphasise exteriors vs interiors? For the exteriors I tried to reference “The Conversation” where it starts off with that very long zoom from the top of a tower and it’s zooming in and as you zoom in more closely you start to hear snippets of conversations, almost like phone lines. That’s the kind of feeling that we wanted to convey. At the start of the film there’s a shot of a lady who has had the operation. We zoom in on her and then we sort of zoom in/tilt up/pan around at the same time, before zooming into a house. Then once we entered the interior house space we switched to primes.  I used it as a technique to draw you in. Whenever I use zooms in my commercial work it’s usually because the director wants a crash zoom and a whip pan, or something very energetic in the camera movement. That’s not really where my heart goes with zooms. My heart usually goes for something slower and more deliberate. In “Giraffe” when I was zooming in, I wanted it to feel more CCTVish or something akin to Robocop. It targets you and then locks onto the target and zooms in for a closer look. That’s the kind of feeling we wanted to capture.

Girraffe Cooke Lenses
Giraffe Cooke

What is it that drives you to commit and pursue a passion project?

In my day job I mostly shoot commercials and music videos and lately since September until now I’ve been working on a couple of TV shows. With those, often the style of shoot or the coverage needed are pre-determined, some more so than others, by the clients, musicians, channels, or production companies. When you do a short film it’s just all you, no one is saying you need to get GVs, or you need to get close-ups for coverage. It’s all about the visual language you want to use, you shoot it exactly how you want. That experience, in my opinion, leads to a more creative collaboration on set. There’s no one telling you, you can’t do that, or you have to do this. Obviously, discussion take place on set but ideas seem to flow more positively. When I go on commercials, often it’s storyboarded before they’ve even hired me. So when I do short films, I choose them very carefully because it has to be something that I want to do, that I’m going to get something out of creatively. You’re never getting money out of it. So, you’ve got to get something else. For me, I’ve always been very selective with the short films that I shoot. I want it to be either with someone I love and respect or a project I love and respect, or ideally, it’s both. And in this case, it was very much both. I really loved our producer Kareem and Caleb, our director, in fact our whole team. It was just lovely.

I guess it’s like if you’re a photographer and then you go on holiday and you still take some snaps. There was no real pressure. It just felt really lovely. It felt like I was more involved in creating something and creating a world with Caleb, I wasn’t just fulfilling someone’s brief of what they wanted from me. Plus being able to choose the lens that I wanted and being able to get them is also quite rare sometimes, you know. How often do I put in a kit list and it comes back that oh this or that is unavailable or that’s out of your price range. On this project everything sort of slotted into place  I hope that energy comes across in the work. Maybe, in some way, that all contributed to it being selected for Sundance.