A Chat with The Recce’s Jacques Van Tonder and Jacques Le Roux

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The Callsheet chats to Jacques Van Tonder and Jacques Le Roux, Cinematographer and Editor of The Recce, a film by Ferdinand Van Zyl.

On shooting with the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K

Van Tonder: The budget of an independent film is always a major concern. If you compare what the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K does to its cost, it really does punch above its weight. We tested it extensively because, as far as we know, this is the first time this camera has been used to shoot a feature film, in a full production environment. The locations we filmed in were very hectic, from forests to the Karoo, so there were huge temperature variations. The cameras had to deal with all the enemies of electronics, but they didn’t skip a beat. In terms of picture quality, we were never worried because we were very impressed with what we saw during the testing phase.

Le Roux: We wouldn’t have been able to rent an ARRI camera for the amount we paid for two URSA Minis.

Van Tonder: The resolution beats anything else on the market, and the latitude was great. There were some concerns with regard to integration with standard accessories, remote focus units, etc., but we made it work with a few custom cables. The standard PR mount lenses we used on the cameras were great. This camera is an anomaly in terms of what you get for the price. Blackmagic has been a major player in the post production world for years, and they make very popular software, so that integrated with our dailies workflow nicely. The camera that we got was still on early firmware, so we decided we had to shoot RAW because we weren’t quite sure about the compressed formats coming out of the camera. It’s rare to get the RAW option on a camera in that price bracket. It’s insanely flexible in post, using Blackmagic’s software.

Another thing that the Blackmagic cameras offered us was the latitude shooting in RAW to adjust our colour temperatures afterwards. I’m used to working on really big productions where we do live colouring, and we have a very precise hold on things because we have the time and the budget to change things. On an independent film like The Recce, that’s not an option, which is why we chose this camera. It offers so much flexibility. We knew where the hard limits were.

Le Roux: I’ve not seen a single take on this film that isn’t useable.

Van Tonder: I don’t think we even reached the limits of what the camera can do.

On interpreting Ferdinand’s vision, and the challenges of the shoot

Van Tonder: We did extensive recces of the locations, and the script was changing and evolving. Even with all the planning, our limited timeframe meant that we couldn’t always shoot things exactly as we’d envisioned it. We had to be fluid, and let things happen organically. Some scenes in the movie, we were fighting the “good” light to match an earlier scene, rather than waiting for the good light like we normally would! We’d start shooting in the flat light of the day, and then we’d have to carry it through even though the “better” light was available. So, that was a challenge. We were very focused on creating types of movement through the story arc. The camera movement is very controlled even in very chaotic scenes. That’s where my operator and my focus puller were worth their weight in gold. They performed way beyond what was expected. We were so pleased with what we were able to achieve because of the level of professionalism in our crew. We knew this was going to be a tough shoot, so we wanted to work with crew that we knew had what it takes.

For more on the production of The Recce, read Issue 2:

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