Mayday

It’s been quite a while since Oscar®-winning director Robert Zemeckis, who has focused his energy on animated projects over the past decade, has made a live-action film. So this month’s release of Flight, a drama starring Denzel Washington as an airline pilot who avoids a crash, marks a welcome return to live action by the Forrest Gump and Cast Away auteur. It also marks a fresh collaboration with famed DP Don Burgess, ASC, who shot both of those hit films and whose credits also include such films as Spider-Man and The Muppets.

"Bob finally found a live-action script he really liked and wanted to make," reveals Burgess, "which was great for me as it’s been 10 years since we worked together. I’ve always really admired Bob as a director and loved working with him, so I was very excited about doing this project with him."


Director Robert Zemeckis (seated) and cinematographer Don Burgess, ASC, check the frame. Flight marks Zemeckis’ first live-action film since 2000’s  Cast Away, and was shot on RED EPIC cameras. It also was Zemeckis’ first digitally shot film.

But 10 years is a lifetime in Hollywood, and the digital revolution has completely changed the cinematic landscape, as Burgess notes. "Once we began discussing it, the first big decision was do we shoot it on film or digital?" The DP quickly came down on the side of digital and suggested going with RED EPICs, having used RED cameras on his last three features to great effect.

"The Book of Eli was the first digital one I shot, with the RED ONE, and then I used it on about 20% of Source Code—the rest was on film," he reports. "Then I shot The Muppets with the RED ONE and also used a little bit of the EPIC, which wasn’t even on the market yet."

Because of the film’s subject matter and because a lot of the shoot took place inside an airplane, the size of the cameras was also a crucial part of the decision. "The great thing about the EPIC is that you can really strip it down and get in very small in situations when you need to," notes Burgess. "So that really helped in the shot design and what we wanted to do—it just seemed like the perfect camera for the job."

It also helped that the DP was so familiar with the director’s style of shooting. "I know what he likes to do and what would be necessary for this film, and Bob was game to try out whatever I suggested would be right for the project," explains Burgess. "In the end, he was very happy with the camera—the way it worked, its small size, its dependability and the great shots we were able to get inside the cockpit of the plane. In fact, it was the only way we could have done it, and there’s no other camera on the market today that offers you that kind of high quality in such a small package."

And while the RED EPIC was new to Zemeckis, the DP says, "He’s always pushed the envelope in terms of technology to tell his stories, so he was very excited to come back to live action now that the digital camera has finally come of age. That’s only happened in the last five years, so technology has slowly caught up with Bob and his ideas."

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