In 2009, The Messenger brought home two Oscar® nominations, including one for Best Original Screenplay, shared by Alessandro Camon and director Oren Moverman. The film earned plaudits throughout the festival circuit and was recognized as Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. Moverman’s latest project, Rampart, reunited him with several members of The Messenger cast: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster and Steve Buscemi. Also back for round two was Bobby Bukowski, a cinematographer with impeccable indie cred (The Ledge, The Hawk Is Dying). Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Ice Cube, Ned Beatty and Anne Heche also play important roles.

The script, adapted from a James Ellroy story, follows an intense, hard-edged cop (Harrelson) who works in L.A.’s Rampart division. Dave Brown is an embittered, arrogant veteran whose life is spinning out of control.

Woody Harrelson

In their early conversation about the look of the movie, Moverman also explained that for day exteriors, he wanted light with an "almost assaultive or corrosive" quality. He showed Bukowski a single photograph of a nighttime street scene in Los Angeles. The photo had heavy contrast and saturated colors.

"Oren told me that this was what our film should feel like," says Bukowski. "He also suggested that Woody’s character should begin to physically break up and disintegrate on the screen, as a visual representation of what’s happening to his persona in the story. That’s the kind of thing that’s very interesting and engaging for a cinematographer to hear."

During prep, Bukowski did extensive testing, and with the help of FotoKem, found a way to achieve these images using photographic and DI techniques in combination. Otto Nemenz provided some older, uncoated, flare-prone lenses, including Cooke Panchros. Bukowski had photographed The Messenger on 35mm film, but for Rampart, Moverman favored a digital format. After testing, they chose the ARRI ALEXA.

"Based on the photographs Oren showed me, I said, ‘Let’s make an available-light film,’" says Bukowski. "The ALEXA was the right tool. It allowed us to walk onto a properly chosen night street and have very little to do in terms of creating the right atmosphere."

Bukowski and Moverman devised an approach to shooting that depended on available light, extensive handheld work and an "on-the-fly" approach with little blocking and rehearsal. The look featured deep blacks, sometimes with no information, and often unforgiving light with extremely hot, peaking highlights. The aspect ratio is widescreen 2.35:1.

"With Oren, if we’re in a house, virtually the entire house is fair game in terms of action area," Bukowski says. "The thought of being cabled and hooked to yet another device was prohibitive to us. The tests showed us that shooting ProRes 4:4:4 with SxS cards could give us exactly what we needed, without compromise."

FotoKem’s DI suite