Off-Road To Redemption

Following the huge success of Dallas Buyers Club?, director Jean-Marc Vallée tackled an adaptation of author Cheryl Strayed’s popular and bestselling memoir Wild. The tale recounts Cheryl’s (producer Reese Witherspoon) 1,000-mile-plus hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, an odyssey that followed the death of her mother (Laura Dern) and a long period of seemingly crazed, self-destructive behavior that triggers the end of her marriage.

The film was a Dallas Buyers reunion of sorts, with veterans of that shoot that included production designer John Paino, VFX supervisor Marc Cote, colorist Marc Boucrot and Vallée’s director of photography, Yves Bélanger, CSC.

"Reese saw the first cut of Dallas and immediately asked Jean-Marc if he wanted to make this film with her," Bélanger relates. "We relied upon a small crew, which let us adapt to shooting changes very quickly, a plus, given how Jean-Marc wanted the freedom to shoot 360 degrees."

THE WILD WEST

The 35-day, single-camera shoot took place primarily in Oregon, with additional scenes in a California desert, as the filmmakers re-created much of the author’s actual trek toward Portland. Digital capture was accomplished via the ARRI ALEXA XT.

"I hear about cameras with 6K or 8K resolution, but unless you’re shooting some huge movie with effects, I don’t see the point," the cinematographer admits. "35mm film was already so sharp that we had to use tricks like nets and diffusion in front of and behind the lens, and digital can be even more unforgiving. There are actors in Québec who call HD ‘high demotion’ because you look 10 years older than you really are. I find the ALEXA is better than most when handling over- and underexposure. Plus, I like the way it adds subtleties in the faces when you don’t light; skin takes from the walls and surroundings in interesting ways, and the actual set and landscape are reflected in the actor’s eyes instead of movie lights."

Reese Witherspoon portrays Cheryl Strayed, which is based on her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Framing for 2.45:1, Bélanger used ARRI Master Primes for all of the "now" scenes and Zeiss Super Speeds for flashbacks.

"Choosing lenses is now as important as being able to choose the stock once was when shooting film," he states. "Master Primes let the environments look very sharp, and of the many modern lenses, they’re best for skin tones, less artificial and digital-looking. We shot with them nearly wide open—not fully open since that would look like a Soft/FX filter—but at around 2, which softened things a bit since we were often photographing Reese without makeup [except for dirt and sweat effects]. When I see actresses come in early in the morning, they look better than after going through makeup, so this was a blessing, in a way. Dallas was an instance where we used old Zeiss lenses and shot wide open, creating a look that resembled an old grainy film effect, so we used those again this time, specifically on scenes of her earlier life."