Cinematographer Lubomir Bakchev, AFC, speaks about his work on "2 Days in New York", a film by Julie Delpy

par Lubomir Bakchev

I went to meet Julie in New York a month and a half after finishing shooting Skylab with her. We shot one film right after the other and wanted to keep the same HD filming and data archival procedures.
Julie Delpy and Lubomir Bakchev at the camera

For Skylab, we used a Sony F 800 camera that saves the data on ProDiscs, which allowed us to do pre-assembly on location.
For 2 Days in New York, I had already heard that Arri’s Alexa camera might be available for rent (August 2010). After I saw sample images at Studio L’Equipe in Brussels with producer Christophe Mazodier, we agreed that we would use this camera for our film. The data saving function didn’t work yet at that time, but I didn’t mind because I had planned to save on a Nanoflash at 280 Mb 4:2:2 if there wasn’t any other solution.
Shooting began two weeks late, which allowed Arri time to make the feature work, and we used ProRes in 4:4:4:4.
The samples we saw at Studio l’Equipe showed a black actor seated inside a café and a white actor outside against a sun-bathed wall. There wasn’t a single blocked or burnt element on either of their faces. I was stupefied. Julie has really white skin unlike Chris Rock, her co-star in the movie. I said to myself that a little bit more latitude would mak everyone’s life easier.

Today, I am a little less fascinated by the latitude with a 13 or 14 aperture. We did the calibration (with Peter Bernard) using the Rec 709 and we only had to look for the Log C for one shot. I even think that beautiful contrast in a film comes from a 4.5 or 5 aperture, which is the latitude on a positive. Of course, I am referring to the final copy.
The choice of the Alexa for this film seemed like a good idea to me. Since then, I’ve tried to get the camera for every film I’ve worked on, and I’m waiting for the Aaton Penelope-Delta that just appeared at the Micro Salon.
Filming in another country is never easy, and even less so in the USA. I like filming with the same team because everyone is used to each other and I can concentrate on lighting, staging, and framing. When I had to choose my team in New York, I looked more at the human aspect than the professional side of things. In any case, everyone that I was introduced to over there had incredible CVs. I sort of pretended to be the naïve operator who asked the gaffers and key grips how they made films in America and eliminated all of the candidates who actually explained me how it ought to be done. I kept the two who said that they would do things the way I asked them to. I later learned that the two often worked together.

Julie Delpy dans "2 Days in New York"

The gaffer I chose, Nina, and her team assistants and groupmen (rather, groupwomen) were all girls. There was a female grip, too. They all did exceptional and extremely professional work. I think that in France, we’re far from having achieved equality of the sexes between workers in the film industry !
It was difficult for me to communicate about lighting with the key grip. It took me about two weeks to get used to separating the lighting equipment and the beam cutters. The key grip installed the flags, mamas, cinefoils, and calapaques. At the beginning, I would only talk to Nina, like I would to a gaffer in France, and I didn’t understand why Rob, my key grip, would come and ask for information about lights. But, in the end I thought it wasn’t such a bad idea to separate things that way. There is no formal separation between the gaffer and the key grip like there is here, and they both work on the lighting together. The dolly is driven by the dolly grip, and he does nothing but that. So, I think that during our film he read about three novels !

I discovered Chimera Strips during this shooting, and since then, I’ve used them all the time. I know that they exist in France, but I had never come across them before.
We wondered about whether there would be any sense of unity between the two films (Skylab and 2 Days in Paris), since the former was a really low-budget film, and we had a lot more means at our disposal for the latter.
But, Julie’s universe is so strong that just by reading the screenplay, I knew that there would be unity between the two. Therefore, we did a lot less filming on the shoulder than in 2 Days in Paris, where it was the predominant method.
The slow motion shots were filmed with a Phantom. I also used the Canon 5D MK2 for a shot filmed during the Halloween Parade, and the few outdoors shots in New York were done with a Sony F3 equipped with Leica R photo lenses. With the Alexa, I used a Zeiss Ultra Prime series.

(Translated from French by Alex Raiffe)