The Jazz Age

The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prescient 1925 portrayal of an America transitioning from humble agrarian roots to a rapacious capitalism. The book, often called the central fable of America, has been brought to the screen many times. In 1926, a film version appeared before the novel had sold 25,000 copies—a number it now achieves weekly, almost a century later. In 1949, Alan Ladd played Gatsby in a version shot by Golden Age cinematographer John F. Seitz, ASC. In 1974, in the version best known to contemporary audiences, Robert Redford played the wealthy businessman with a shady past, and Sam Waterston played Nick Carraway who, like Gatsby, is a dreamer from the Midwest. The cinematographer was Douglas Slocombe, BSC.

DP Simon Duggan shot The Great Gatsby with RED EPICs and 3ality 3D rigs. For shooting, Duggan liked the small size of the EPICs and that they were able to deliver a 5K image.

Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version of The Great Gatsby will be the opening film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The presentation will mark the second time a 3D film has opened Cannes (the first was Up in 2009). The cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, Tobey Maguire as Carraway and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan. Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!, Australia) brought on Simon Duggan, ACS, to serve as director of photography (I, Robot, Live Free or Die Hard, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Killer Elite).

Duggan says that Luhrmann was convinced that 3D was right for the project after seeing a number of 3D films, especially Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. Duggan points to Wim Wenders’ documentary Pina as a 3D film in which the medium works well. "The action of the cast, the layers of architecture and other elements create depth and dimension, and create volume within the frame," he says.

The Gatsby story provided a wide range of photographic subjects, including glamorous and decadent parties in the lushly landscaped mansions of Long Island, the glittering couture of the partiers, the barren "Valley of Ashes" between Long Island and New York City, and the city itself in the Roaring Twenties.

The filmmakers also studied films from the 1920s and noted the Academy® 4:3 aspect ratio and how it emphasized vertical architectural grandeur. They briefly considered a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but eventually settled on the "more cinematic" 2.35:1 widescreen frame. The cameras were RED EPICs.

"We spent time looking at different 3D equipment, and decided to go with 3ality for their lightweight and automated/motorized rigs," says Duggan. "In New York, with the actors, we tested focal lengths and camera movement, and familiarized ourselves with the adjustment of 3D volume and the use of depth cues such as the placement of foreground, midground and background layers. The RED cameras were physically the smallest, and they gave us a ‘5K’ image, which meant that Baz could get close-ups out of medium shots. Also, at that time, it was the only camera that we could shoot at 120 frames per second at 2.35 in 5K. I had used the RED EPICs previously and was happy with the look and image quality."