Splish Splash

The 2010 fall season saw two new preeminent Emmy®-nominated cable series open with titles that featured under-water cinematography. Both programs, Showtime’s The Big C and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, utilized shots that were captured with RED ONE cameras, protected in splashbags conceived in New York City by Air Sea Land (ASL) Productions, Inc., president and camera operator Anthony S. Lenzo. The housing, known as the T-Bag, proved to be an invaluable tool for acquiring the shots necessary to help convey the style and tone of both programs.

In the opening of The Big C, protagonist Laura Linney jumps into a swimming pool and performs a series of playful underwater gymnastics intercut with point-of-view shots of her gazing at her friends and loved ones from below the surface. To obtain the sequence of underwater images, cinematographer David Griffiths took advantage of the bright summer sun found in a Connecticut backyard, reflecting it into the pool to create a look that was simultaneously natural, yet dreamlike. All the underwater frames were captured with an ARRI 24mm Ultra Prime, while the partially submerged shots called for a 50mm. For Griffiths, the benefit of using the T-Bag to protect the camera was the speed in which the lenses could be changed through the removable lens port, as well as another unique feature of the bag—a built-in filter stage behind the port that allowed Lenzo and me, the 1st AC, the opportunity to quickly add neutral-density filters.

Rotational handles, which enabled Lenzo to oversling the grips for underwater operation and undersling them above the surface for shoulder-mounted shooting, further sped up camera repositioning. The use of the 24mm prime allowed Lenzo the ability to gently float around Linney, creating the gracefully fluid tracking shots and framing Griffiths desired. To send video signals to the director and crew, poolside, Lenzo utilized additional specialty gear of his own design: the ASL Gear RIP (Remote Interface Panel) and RIB (Remote Interface Box). The RIP mounted directly to the side of the RED ONE and allowed all BNC, XLR and start/stop signals to be sent via one DVI cable. Further modification for the shoot included alteration of one of the XLR lines within the RIP to send voltage to a BarTech focus motor within the splashbag, allowing remote focus pulling from above the surface. The benefit of these modifications enabled the splashbag to function fully submerged with only one master cable tethering the camera to the crew on the surface.

Rotational handles allow Lenzo to oversling the grips for underwater operation and undersling them above the surface for shoulder-mounted shooting.

The expressionist opening titles of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire feature star Steve Buscemi standing alone on a beach as a fierce storm rolls in and washes thousands of bottles of bootlegged whiskey to the shore. DP Aaron Phillips captured the images with two RED ONE cameras, both housed in T-Bags to protect them from exposure to water and sand. The T-Bag’s underside ARRI plate gave the DP the flexibility to mount one camera on an OConnor head, while the multiple integrated 3⁄8-16 and 1⁄4-20 threads on the plate allowed quick mounting to one of Lenzo’s jibs. As with The Big C, all start/stop, BNC and XLR signals on the jib were sent to and from the camera utilizing a single DVI cable, while a camera power-supply cable was run through a separate customizable gland, and focus, iris and zoom controls on the Angénieux Optimo 15-40mm lens were controlled out of the water via the wireless signals of an Arri LCS system. In addition to the jib, Lenzo also operated the splashbag for a half-submerged frame of a single whiskey bottle floating. The shot, composed in a shallow, specially built tank, employed the T-Bag’s internal mechanical gear for focus adjustment.