Interview with cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne, AFC, SBC, about the film "On Tour" by Mathieu Amalric

In competition at Cannes 2010

par Christophe Beaucarne

[ English ] [ français ]

For the past twenty years, Christophe Beaucarne has been working on features steadily, collaborating with many directors, including Bruno Podalydès, Cedric Klapish, Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu, Jaco Van Dormael... So it was fitting to see his cinematography credit on not one but two films at Cannes this year : Outside the Law, by Rachid Bouchareb and On Tour, by Mathieu Amalric.

On Tour features five American cabaret dancers, and follows the trials and tribulations of five strong-willed women and their producer, played by Amalric. Shot with bright and colorful lighting, it’s a great spectacle !
It is with great pleasure that I caught up with Christophe, with whom I worked on a few films when we were assistants (including films by Yves Robert, which dates us a little !)…

On Tour plunges us into a world that seems very realistic, almost documentary. Tell us how you followed this tour.

Christophe Beaucarne : The film crew was itself on tour, since we adopted the hectic pace of the dancers. There was not much difference between shooting days and "real" life. We were all "glued" together for seven weeks. For me it was an evolving film, made impulsively, in the moment. Mathieu actually wrote the scenes each morning, and dialogues were not really written.

The final scene, for example, was completely improvised. There is no "cheating", the nights are real nights, cabaret sequences were played one time only, live with a real audience. It was a truly collaborative effort ; Mathieu, playing the lead, was really listening to my advice, and that of the script supervisor, and the AD. There were no power games, and it was really quite pleasant.

Autour du combo avec Mathieu Amalric et Christophe Beaucarne - © Photo Nicolas Guérin
Autour du combo avec Mathieu Amalric et Christophe Beaucarne
© Photo Nicolas Guérin

Mathieu Amalric and Christophe Beaucarne near the monitor

You said earlier that it is a 100% organic film ?

CB : Yes, except for the champagne, which was always real champagne. The prop van was full of bottles ! No way you could make them drink Canada Dry ! Just kidding…

It’s 100% traditional photochemical : 4 perf, color timing, print ... I did lots of tests shooting streets without any light source, testing all the sensitive film stocks. I was looking for one that would give the best rendition with mixed colors and sensitivity, because I knew that in the nightclubs, I wouldn’t have much additional light.

I chose Kodak 5219, which was in fact the most sensitive stock. I found it a bit saturated in color, but Mathieu said he liked it because the movie is a bit... It’s not always super joyful, so the color brought a little spice. I chose the Master Primes, because they are really amazing ! When my meter was saying "error", I still had a fair amount on the negative.

We did a lot of handheld shots, which is the reason I used the Arricam Lite. The first tests were shot in the Déjazet Theatre in Paris to select the format, with some of the girls — in fact they appear in separate shows, and it was Mathieu’s idea to gather them together. We quickly realized that scope was not appropriate, they were alone on stage, and there was no point in shooting scope : in a close-up it was a difficult to get the breasts in ! So we shot in 1.85.

Christophe n'en perd pas une miette ! - © Photo Nicolas Guérin
Christophe n’en perd pas une miette !
© Photo Nicolas Guérin

Nothing was lost on Christophe !
© Nicolas Guerin

You must have had a lot of prep because Mathieu is in almost every shot...

CB : Working with him on Wimbledon Stadium, I realized we had the same photographic sense. When we shot in unappealing locations, like the hall of the Hotel Mercure, we said that instead of adding light to try to make it pretty, it was better to forget that and to do something else...

The hall light was on a timer and I used that. I just put a Kinoflo bouncing on the ground, and I placed the actors so that they were illuminated by the light from the corridor. When the light goes out, you get an intimacy and suddenly it says something ...
Everything was a bit like that : if we saw a location that was better than the one previously chosen, we would change location at the last moment for the one which seemed better.

The most important thing for Mathieu was to keep his viewpoint. For the shows, we are always with a three-quarter back shot of him, we play with the depth of field, focus on him and follow his movements. A second camera filmed everything from the front, but it wasn’t used much in the editing… sometimes very wide shots to see the theater.

Christophe propose un cadre - © Photo Nicolas Guérin
Christophe propose un cadre
© Photo Nicolas Guérin
Complicité avec Jean-Pierre Lacroix - © Photo Nicolas Guérin
Complicité avec Jean-Pierre Lacroix
© Photo Nicolas Guérin

Christophe proposes a shot
Photo © Nicolas Guerin

Working with Jean-Pierre Lacroix
Photo © Nicolas Guerin

The image is really bright and contrasty, but not hard. What’s your recipe ?

CB : Actually, with this ISO 500 stock and the Master Primes, even at T1.3, we had the right ingredients ! I think in particular that you really gain brilliance by doing everything traditionally, with no scan or film-out.

Making a film like this brings us back to the days when we had to manage things on the set. For example, in an interior with end of day light entering through the windows at 5500 Kelvin and a lamp with lampshade at 2600, you just screw in a blue bulb instead, dim it down and you’re at 3500 Kelvin... I do that when I’m working in film. In digital, I don’t care, I know I will simply lower the reds in DI.
For On Tour, the color timers told me they had nothing to do ! I was very careful with the colors, especially for skin. I always tried to be at zero, often using a color temperature meter. It makes you want to make films in pure photochemical. In addition, film stocks have evolved a lot and that’s great !

(Interview by Brigitte Barbier for AFC)

Image team
First AC : Luc Pallet
Gaffer : Jean-Pierre Lacroix
Key Grip : Julien Covens

Capture de l'écran HD de l'étalonneur
Capture de l’écran HD de l’étalonneur
Capture de l'écran HD de l'étalonneur
Capture de l’écran HD de l’étalonneur
Capture de l'écran HD de l'étalonneur
Capture de l’écran HD de l’étalonneur

HD screen capture from the timer

HD screen capture from the timer

HD screen capture from the timer

During our conversation, Christophe also evoked his recent experiences.
Christophe explained that, on his recent film with Cedric Klapish, he experimented with the Canon 1D still camera, which he mixed with 35mm. He shot the final scene with almost no lighting, and the result is that we see the levee from Dunkirk to Belgium (cool, for a Belgian !).

He added that you can go up to 1500 ASA without grain. He adapted Master Primes so as to put them on the Canon. He stressed that this is only interesting for some images, and demonstrated with a gesture that the dynamic range is not so great, by putting his elbow on the table, arm straight up and hand bent at the wrist. The toe of the curve was his elbow, and the shoulder his horizontal hand.

"There is a very handy side to the Canon, but you have to always diffuse the sources, or you will sense them. Even strong natural light can feel like a sitcom ! You can break that with the Lustre, but hey…” The electricians worked hard as Christophe had them bring out big diffusions and set them up in front of each street lamp, 4 or 5 meters up… "Film absorbs light whereas the still camera sees everything. To erase wrinkles is complicated because as soon as you overexpose it gets ugly. The camera format should serve the location and the scene."

We ended the interview by admitting that the ideal would be to have a few different format cameras in the truck !

(Translated from French by Benjamin B)