Collision Course

As thrilling and challenging as it is for any cinematographer to shoot Jaguars racing down the Autobahn highway system in Germany or capturing BMWs flipping over multiple times, cinematographer Ed Wild was also tasked with creating very different and distinct lighting palettes for scenes in the action thriller/love story Collide.

Written and directed by Eran Creevy, the film stars Nicholas Hoult, Felicity Jones, Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley. Wild had 48 days to capture footage, with only 10 days dedicated to shooting car chases and motor mayhem on the Autobahn.

“We wanted to capture the film in a way that felt effortless and contemporary,” notes Wild of the shoot. “There was an Instagram-type theme for the club scenes, then the action scenes were shot in both day and night. It was incredible fun working with so many emotional rhythms and lighting styles.”

Collide marks Wild and Creevy’s third collaboration, and this time they wanted the film to have a more chaotic look. They stayed away from the constructed feel of their last collaboration (Welcome to the Punch), instead going for more responsive, intuitive camerawork that pops with action and colors. To that end, Wild tested the ARRI ALEXA, the RED EPIC DRAGON and the RED EPIC MX before deciding on the latter.

“I think the EPIC enjoys color a bit more than the ALEXA,” overviews Wild. “In an action film that you’re shooting at 5K, where the director wants to push in a little, you’re not sweating bullets in the DI because the EPIC still has room to give.”

Wild used Tiffen Classic Softs for filtration on Cooke S4 lenses and liked what they did with the highlights, allowing the light to flow more easily, making skin detail softer while not softening the image overall.

Because Wild and Creevy wanted to revel in color, the balance of hues within scenes was considered carefully with production designer Joel Collins and costume designer Sharon Gilham. As a result, although the film feels free and naturalistic, no colors outweigh any others. This helped to keep the grade simple and rich.

“That richness in the grade comes together so well in the club scene where Casey [Hoult] meets his employer Geran [Kingsley], and then Juliette [Jones] meets Casey for the first time,” explains Wild. “Eran spent his youth MC-ing, so was adamant that the club scene felt authentic. He knew without people having a real party it would feel fake, especially on the scale of the shoot.”

Working with club promoters to set up a real club night at an existing outdoor venue, Wild shot wide shots with a crowd of 700 people one night followed by an interior and a smaller exterior bar set the following night. He felt the location would look best if they used more old-school rock ‘n’ roll lighting rather than standard electronic moving lights.

“It just reflected the industrial textures and scale of the location much better,” explains Wild. “My gaffer Jochen [Kratzheller] placed lots of big broad lighting units high up on cherry pickers together with some Par cans. This all went back to a dimmer and allowed us to adapt quickly to any angle we wanted to shoot.”

The real fun for Wild came when he shot dialogue between Casey and Juliette the very first time they meet from within the crowd. It was so loud with the actual club-goers and music that the crew was struggling to hear each other, never mind capturing the dialogue. But that didn’t stop Wild from seeing through the lens to eye the chemistry afoot between the two actors. Creevy had always wanted this film to be a love story with action surrounding it, so that chemistry was essential to his vision.

Wild was a natural choice for Creevy. The pair met while he was directing music videos, and a bond between the two was immediately cast when Wild gave multiple options on how to tackle any given scene.

“You need that as a director, someone who has your back because you don’t always have all the answers,” says Creevy. “I’m very bombastic and often describe what I want in a series of colorful and energetic onomatopoeias. Ed has the skill to interpret that energy and channel it into a structured, rigid game plan to give me exactly what I asked for.”

For Collide, Creevy wanted to infuse the film with a sense of realism and energy throughout, particularly during the action sequences. As Wild explains it, “well-thought-out, interestingly choreographed action that could then be captured in an immediate way.”

As a result, the team tried to stay away from big balletic action sequences that would require VFX or greenscreen, instead keeping the whole experience believable and visceral.

“The tensions, dilemmas and crises of Casey throughout the film have to feel raw,” says Wild. “We had the camera react to action and dialogue, and not be waiting for it. Casey is running, stumbling at full speed with no plan, toward the end of the story, and the camera does the same thing, discovering things as Casey does. Conversely, Eran likes to get strong frames even when they’re captured reactively, so there’s a lot of pressure to get all the cameras in the right place to get him those frames for what often was one take.”

Collide is an action thriller/love story set in Germany, starring Nicholas Hoult as a backpacker who gets involved with drug smugglers, with Felicity Jones, Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley. Writer-director Eran Creevy tasked cinematographer Ed Wild with creating the film’s realistic, yet rich look. Shot on the RED EPIC and Cooke S4s, lighting challenges ranged from an outdoor club scene with a crowd of 700 to frenetic car chases on the Autobahn.

For tracking during the car chase scenes, a gyro-stabilized Russian Arm system was used, while crane shots allowed the capture of specific sequences so the audience doesn’t get lost in a flurry of fast cars and action.

Wild’s favorite tool was a BMW M3, outfitted with hard mounts to the chassis front and back with a VariZoom head. “We all loved how much lower this could get us to the ground compared to the Russian Arm,” notes Wild. “For the big Autobahn shoot days, we combined our main unit and second unit so that [second unit director] Stuart Howell and I could share duties operating the BMW camera and the Russian Arm. Some of the best shots came from him instinctively reacting as things unfurled.”

Wild shot a lot of Casey’s action in the car using a stunt pod car—a unit attached to the car roof controlled by stunt drivers inside and then digitally removed in post—for as much of the driving as possible, shaping shots that connected Casey to the action around him. Making sure they could see it was Casey from the outside of the car was essential, so the crew needed to build up the interior light level. Gaffer Kratzheller arrived on the team’s first test day with the perfect tool, a new lamp called a Creamsource, a battery-powered LED with high output.

“I loved this light,” Wild explains. “We were able to put it low in the passenger seat to hit Casey’s face, and to add roundness to the light, we made blankets of LED strips inside of them. The Maier Bros. lighting company helped put these strips on wireless dimming, using orange LED strips to mimic daylight. We could warm the fill light easily as we started to shoot toward the approaching sunset. These worked so well that we started to find more uses for them all the way through the shoot.”

For parts of a sequence where Casey drives along a roadside trench, Hoult actually did his own stunts, as it was too rough for a pod to be mounted on the top of the car. Stunt Supervisor Carl Stück felt it was safe enough since there were no other vehicles involved.

“We got some great shots of Nick really fighting to control the car,” recalls Wild. “It’s hard to fake that sort of thing.”

Wild knew they would need a certain amount of greenscreen shots, so background plates needed to be filmed as the action unfolded. To achieve this, a Porcupine car was built on top of a Volkswagen Golf, with enough Blackmagic 2K cameras attached using 12mm lenses bolted onto the sides at various angles to create a 180º sphere of images. This allowed them to stitch together background plates for greenscreen sequences.

The car was rigged by Action Concept, the production company in Cologne, Germany, where the film was shot (they also worked on all the SFX and stunt work), so the stunt driver could drive the VW through the sequences as an exact repeat, minus the actual impact stunts.

In addition to a gyro-stabilized Russian Arm, one of Wild’s favorite tools to shoot the Autobahn sequences was a BMW M3, outfitted with hard mounts to the chassis front and back with a VariZoom head. Notes the DP, “We all loved how much lower this could get us to the ground compared to the Russian Arm. For the big Autobahn shoot days, we combined our main unit and second unit so…Stuart Howell and I could share duties operating the BMW camera and the Russian Arm.”

For trickier stunt sequences where they wanted Casey driving, they would hard-mount cameras to the pod car without Hoult in it and then shoot him in greenscreen. This allowed the DP and crew to maintain the blurred line between the real and greenscreen shots in order to keep the audience feeling they were immersed in a real situation.

“It all tied together with the idea of always keeping Casey’s character fully immersed and present in the sequences,” says Wild. “This was complemented by choreographed developing shots of Casey as the action and story moved forward. We punctuated these relatively longer developing action shots with some crash cameras, where we used Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras that are small enough to be hidden, so we even used them simultaneously with the main cameras.”

All of the action shots are done in direct contrast to the look and feel of the story where flashbacks reveal Casey and Juliette falling in love. For those scenes, Wild had a closer, more intimate camera style using fractured light that rolled into soft shadows.

“We wanted this film to have a real heart and soul,” Wild concludes. “That led us to create a look that feels real, yet rich, and nuanced to the different emotional rhythms of the diverse scenarios within the original script.”

Collide is slated for release on August 19 and will be distributed by Open Road Films (openroadfilms.com) in the U.S.

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