Bourne Is Back

All Photos: Jason Boland © Universal Pictures

AN AMNESIAC ASSASSIN PURSUED RELENTLESSLY by his former employers struggles to survive long enough to discover his identity. This was the premise of 2002’s The Bourne Identity, an adaptation of spy novelist Robert Ludlum’s popular series, starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. The initial entry in the Bourne series was directed by Doug Liman and met with a strong response. Director of Photography Oliver Wood returned for two sequels helmed by Paul Greengrass, focusing on Bourne’s past involvement with the CIA’s Operation Treadstone, each film upping the visceral excitement, as well as worldwide box office returns.

The Universal Pictures franchise’s universe expanded further in 2012’s The Bourne Legacy, directed by Tony Gilroy and shot by Robert Elswit, ASC, with Jason Bourne in the form of Jeremy Renner as the world-class killing cog in the Treadstone machine.

A sequel to Legacy, to be directed by Justin Lin, was already in the planning stages, but was placed on hold after Damon and Greengrass announced their intentions to reteam. Greengrass co-wrote Jason Bourne with film editor Christopher Rouse, who also cut this picture, as well as the filmmaker’s two prior Bourne ventures.

New to the world of Bourne comes Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd, BSC (and, since 2014, president of that venerable institution). Ackroyd, who earned a BAFTA for the shot-on-Super16mm The Hurt Locker, was no stranger to Greengrass, having shot the director’s United 93, Green Zone and Captain Phillips.

“I had a working knowledge of the series, but my knowledge from working with Paul was more important,” Ackroyd notes. “What you see in this film is a representation of our mutual thoughts on how this world should look. It wasn’t exactly ‘cut and print’ from our previous experiences, but it came close, both in terms of concept and execution. When Paul took over with the second film, he introduced a 360-degree way of looking around to reveal the world that these characters inhabit.”

Bourne Is Back
Jason Bourne’s globetrotting production rivaled the scope of a 007 film, lensing along the Las Vegas Strip, as well as Spain (standing in for Greece), Berlin, London and Washington, D.C. To achieve “invisible” VFX that didn’t call attention to themselves, the feature drew upon world-renowned VFX vendor Double Negative. Matt Damon reprises his role as Bourne, reuniting the film’s title character with CIA analyst Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), as well as director Paul Greengrass, who helmed the second and third entries in the popular action series.
Photo by Jason Boland © Universal Pictures

Ackroyd, who comes from a documentary background, believes this visual approach is a largely British style, one, he says, that’s “informed by the great documentary shooters from the late ’60s and early ’70s, during the period when Richard Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker freed the camera by placing it on their shoulder. Documentary filmmaker Robert Drew said, ‘Fuck the tripod, fuck the dolly, and fuck the crane; just shoot and shoot and shoot!’ That sums up a lot of what we do, though, obviously, that isn’t to say we forego using equipment to move the camera. Drawing on the work of these artists, along with great and innovative feature work from the ’70s, like the work of Haskell Wexler, we tried to apply some of that enthusiasm for visual exploration to this film.”

The action thriller follows in the globetrotting tradition of the spy film genre, but omits the postcard views one usually associates with such fare. “Location filming is our go-to, as Paul and I both believe you find truth out in the world on locations,” says Ackroyd. “While the film goes city to city and continent to continent, we aren’t interested in presenting a travelogue that would detour from the story’s emotional focus.”

As with any film featuring major action set pieces, previsualization figured heavily during prep. “We do have a heavily storyboarded and worked-out process in place up front for much of the film,” affirms Ackroyd, “but we don’t ever let ourselves feel locked into the animatic. It does its job, confirming for everyone what we’re trying to achieve going in—but none of us would feel that we were really doing our jobs if we limited ourselves to shooting the boards and then going home. For me, with my documentary background, the goal is to reveal something new, and that’s often an interesting struggle to find those elusive elements that surprise.”

Another lesson from the documentary world that Ackroyd carries over to features has to do with shooting the moment rather than staging it. “It’s an important principle to not interfere with the movement of the subjects,” he maintains. “I would never ask somebody to repeat what he or she had done, or tell them to move to another part of the room. In the main, I just want my crew ready to move while remaining focused to shoot whatever winds up in front of them, because it isn’t necessarily ever going to be that same arrangement again, plus you don’t know when the magic is going to happen.

“Having said all that, there was an interesting moment with Matt during the last week of shooting as we did pickups,” he continues. “I saw light coming across his face in an interesting way and asked him to pause in that spot. He turned to me—this is after doing three movies with him—and said, ‘That’s the first time you’ve ever asked me to do anything on set, ever.’”

THE REALITY OF LIGHTING

As in the earlier films, the latest Bourne features a number of scenes within the offices of the CIA. Another element in the mix this time is the hacker world, which ties into the picture’s acknowledged post-Snowden sensibilities.

“Realizing these different aspects are always a collaboration between camera and [production designer Paul Kirby’s] art department, this happens in a very fluid way; we don’t have endless meetings. It’s largely past experience speaking volumes in informing one another, plus providing reference that everybody can evaluate for inclusion.”

The office scenes reflect Ackroyd’s perception of how incongruities contribute to the reality of things. “Being European, whenever I walk through an American-style office—and we have lots of those to represent the CIA in the film—no matter how bright the daylight is outside, there are always lights on inside,” he declares.

“That’s part of the madness of the real world, just like when it’s 72 degrees outside, but the air conditioning remains on. Staying true to this kind of oddity tells part of the story and keeps true to the nature of your location, so we try to balance between that and delivering something pleasing to the eye—retaining the beautiful day outside despite distracting light interfering with the view.”

Bourne Is Back
DP Barry Ackroyd, BSC, opted to establish the same look acquired on earlier films in the Bourne franchise by shooting primarily on Super 35mm using Aaton Penelope cameras, plus Zeiss Ultra Primes and SuperSpeeds. This approach was augmented with Super 16mm, while elaborate night sequences called for the ARRI ALEXA XT and Codex Action Cam. Ackroyd eschewed a high-gloss look, seen widely in conventional spy-adventure films, instead embracing a mostly handheld documentary approach while encouraging his operators to also remain open to inspirational moments during production. Photo by Jason Boland © Universal Pictures

On documentaries, Ackroyd would often find himself shooting without lights, instead using the environment to light and shade the scene. “Instead, the first thing you’d do upon arrival—when you’ve still got the camera in your hand—is go around turning off the lights over the subject’s head,” he explains. “By positioning myself relative to the existing light and the subject, I can create a pleasing view without forcing anything. That’s still part of my philosophy, as well as trying to keep the lighting package small. On location in a high-rise, however, you need to be able to control difficult or extreme lighting situations. Fortunately, gaffer Harry Wiggins is always fully prepared, so if we need to do pickup later, we can match the quality of the light, even if we can’t return to the original room where we shot.”

As is his avowed preference, Ackroyd originated the majority of the shoot on film, capturing in 3-perf Super 35 on Kodak 5219 (500T) and Kodak 5207 (250D) with a trio of Aaton Penelopes. His lenses were Zeiss T1.9 Ultra Primes and T1.3 SuperSpeed prime lenses, plus Fujinon, TLS, Angénieux and Panavision Primo zooms. Like much of Ackroyd’s earlier work, Jason Bourne also includes Super16 footage, shot on Aaton XTR Prods with Canon zooms. Lab-processing duties were handled by i dailies in the UK.

Bourne Is Back
Photo by Jason Boland © Universal Pictures

NIGHT, AND THE DIT

The film’s night sequences represented something of a departure for the cinematographer, with an early decision to shoot digital with the ARRI ALEXA XT, capturing ARRIRAW to Codex. “Since there were two major 2nd unit chases at night in low-light levels, there was a request to not shoot those on film,” Ackroyd relates. “There were as many as 12 cameras involved on some of the more elaborate action [including the new Codex Action Cam], so this was a major step away from our usual methodology, in which Paul and I would shoot nearly all of the action ourselves rather than involve another unit.”

Ackroyd was very clear about his intentions and approach for Bourne’s many action beats in order to maintain a continuity of look. This included several weeks in Las Vegas, during which the old Riviera Casino, slated for 2017 demolition, was refilled with games and slot machines (along with the odd SWAT truck that comes crashing through).

“Some of the 2nd unit guys were from Fast and Furious, which is a completely different look to our film,” Ackroyd explains, “but in the end, we got it all looking as it needed to be.”

These players included Edge Arm DP Greg Baldi and 2nd unit DP Igor Meglic, while 2nd unit was directed by 007 alum Simon Crane. Digital Sputnik provided their DS6 Frames and DS3 LED systems to facilitate lighting for an enormous car chase shot on the Strip. Digital Orchard, which also provided imaging services for Bourne’s large night shoot climax, placed DIT Callum Just on the main unit night shoots.

“Barry was able to treat the digital image like film,” remarks Just on the experience. “He usually went out with his light meter and sometimes lit by eye, only occasionally having to look at the monitor with me. He didn’t want cables in his way all over the sets, so to facilitate we went wireless. After testing Paralinx and Teradek, we chose the Cobham HD high-end wireless system, allowing us to see a very nice image in the tent.”

Just calibrated his Sony OLED PVM-A250 monitors using SpectraCal, applying looks and LUTs before passing the feed onto video operator Zoe Whittaker, who would send it out to everyone, and for pulls.

Bourne Is Back
Although Ackroyd and Greengrass had teamed up previously to make United 93, Green Zone and Captain Phillips, this film marked the cinematographer’s first excursion into the Bourne universe. Ackroyd cites his continuing collaboration with key players, including 1st AC Chris Carreras, editor Christopher Rouse and colorist Rob Pizzey, as the reason for his continued success as a world-class cinematographer. Photo by Jason Boland © Universal Pictures

“I used Pomfort’s LiveGrade with Fujifilm’s IS-Minis to do the grading. Digital Orchard always builds custom rigs to go on set, in this case for six cameras. What worked very well on this shoot was having video set up together with DIT so we could work efficiently and both keep on the radio with our focus pullers.”

Goldcrest Post’s Chief Technology Officer Laurent Treherne assembled an appropriate LUT package. “We had a sort of double-conversion going on,” notes Just. “Laurent’s conversion LUTs took the digital into a film space. From there, we took that film space, with CDLs, into whatever look Barry wanted.”
Ackroyd found the film/digital blend effected at Goldcrest to be a largely successful one. “There were a few tiny giveaways in the white areas, but during the grade, we do our best to smooth that over. If you see a 16-sided star,” he laughs, “you know that’s digital.”

Throughout production, the shoot utilized at least three cameras, one of which would be operated by Ackroyd. “We’re usually handheld and always on the move to find those spots where the light and the subject tell us what we need to know while making a beautiful image,” he explains. “My operators and I can inhabit any position on the compass, and after reset, we’ll modify positions, plus altering where we are on the zoom lens—which gives the VFX people nightmares since they have to keep track of the focal lengths. Double Negative’s Charlie Noble [co-visual effects supervisor with Sean Stranks] and VFX producer Daniel Barrow were on the set nearly every day and, in fact, there’s a massive team sampling, recording, logging and mapping the entire space while we’re shooting, just in case we need a background when doing a pickup.”

Bourne Is Back
Photo by Jason Boland © Universal Pictures

To further facilitate the VFX effort, Ackroyd provided DNeg with color grades early in the process to facilitate fitting their work into an appropriate color space.

With expansive exteriors, Ackroyd didn’t even attempt lighting due to issues of practicality. “We try for control at key points and try to find some essential mood indicator,” he remarks. “I might deliberately introduce tungsten into a predominantly blue location, but there are times when it’s best to let go. That I have the time to execute my plans on set is something I owe to 1st AC Chris Carreras. The man is utterly brilliant, and these films might only be half as good without him in place. He guarantees that things turn out well through incredibly thorough planning, so the essential resources are always at hand when needed and in the proper quantities. He understands script, as well as huge logistical matters—and the small and important elements, too, like when tea and coffee arrive on set.”

“By positioning myself relative to the existing light and the subject, I can create a pleasing view without forcing anything. That’s still part of my philosophy, as well as trying to keep the lighting package small.”

The film’s DI is currently underway at Goldcrest Post (as HDVP goes to press), with Ackroyd in his second week of grading alongside colorist Rob Pizzey.

“We’re sorting things out with Paul’s input and often get editor Christopher Rouse in the room to sit with us,” he reveals. “We’re all collaborating on the look, figuring out which colors should predominate at key points. Christopher’s cutting of our visceral material makes my work serve the plot while keeping the audience on their toes. Colorist Rob Pizzey is also sorting things out with Paul’s input, and we often get Chris to sit in as we continue collaborating on the film’s look, contemplating which colors should predominate at certain points.”

A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

With 4K deliverables rapidly becoming a mandate, the issue of image origination remains a topical and even controversial one. “Technology changes month by month, so for me, it’s about balancing the innovations by retaining those principles that we all began with,” states Ackroyd.

“Several times in the last few years, European cinematographers have been told definitively that 35mm film is out, that it isn’t good enough. And we at the British Society of Cinematographers reply, ‘Stop. It’s still the finest image, and what we need to aspire to.’ I don’t doubt there will be a technically superior format that emerges at some point in the future, but it isn’t here yet; departures like virtual reality and the awful failure that was 3D certainly aren’t the way.

“Seeing an excellent theatrical presentation in the company of a respectful audience allows a viewer to disappear into the experience of seeing a feature film completely,” wraps Ackroyd on the cinematic experience. “It offer everyone the potential for walking away slightly changed by the experience. That’s what drew me to cinema in the first place—it’s a kind of universal language that should remain at the heart of whatever you choose to screen.” 

To learn more about the film, visit jasonbournemovie.com.

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