Naturalistic cinematography offers a new dimension to the depiction of well-known Bible stories.
Cinematographer Akis Konstantakopoulos, GSC mixed natural lighting, handheld camera work and Cooke Panchro/i Classic Prime lenses to bring a natural and informal dimension to The Chosen, a multi-season TV show charting the life of Jesus Christ.
“If you normally find Bible projects boring or unrelatable, like I do, this will feel different. And I like to think that the look of it has contributed to it being such an international hit,” said Konstantakopoulos. “The look from the outset has been natural and raw. The writer/director, Dallas Jenkins, and I strived for realism in every scene – we wanted to move away from the formal nature of previous Bible shows/movies.”
Konstantakopoulos, GSC shot The Chosen with two ARRI ALEXA Mini cameras, with the B camera used for multiple purposes including additional coverage and B-roll as well as Steadicam and crane work. “Given the requirement for realism and informality, most of the work was done handheld,” he said. “A good portion is ‘messy’ Steadicam, as we like to call it, and just a few select shots were done on a crane with a remote head. We also embraced imperfections in lighting and framing, as long as they were in line with our end goal.”
Konstantakopoulos had used Cooke S4/i, 5/i and Anamorphic/i lenses previously on multiple feature films and commercials. “I love the filmic look that Cooke lenses convey to the picture, I find it extremely pleasing to the eye,” he said. “They manage to combine sharp characteristics with a smooth rendering. I also really appreciate the dimensionality and inherent contrast of the Cooke lenses.”
With a desire for a vintage look, Konstantakopoulos first tested some original Cooke Speed Panchros. “I loved their look but the problem I encountered was the inconsistency from lens to lens – both contrast and colour-wise. I knew that I wouldn’t have the time in the DI to fix that. We were also shooting two cameras, which only enhanced the problem in my mind,” he recalled. “In addition, my AC team was concerned about their compatibility with some of our accessories. I knew that we would not have the luxury of time on set; we needed efficiency and speed.
“Joe Lomba from Alternative Rental introduced me to the Panchro/i Classics. Upon testing them it was clear that these were the right lenses for the project. They not only offered the perfect vintage look, they were also rugged and uniformly manufactured, and they colour-matched flawlessly. My ACs and myself were finally both happy! They are also quite lightweight, which helped with our handheld approach.”
The production offered up some challenging lighting situations, and Konstantakopoulos’ desire to rely on available light as far as possible meant working at opposite ends of the spectrum – either in harsh broad daylight or very dark, candlelit interiors with lots of shadows.
“The Panchro/i Classics performed beautifully in both scenarios: rendering warm, soft skin tones even in the harshest lighting conditions and also digging into the shadows, providing a soft contrast, when dealing with underexposure,” said Konstantakopoulos. “The transition from blacks to highlights is a very subtle and smooth ride – it’s almost like having an additional diffusion filter. This quality is especially useful nowadays when filming with digital sensors. I also loved how the Cookes handled light sources and flares. I knew that I would be photographing candles and fires almost in every shot, sometimes hundreds of candles in the same frame. I was pleasantly surprised once again! I was able to shoot right into the sun, into backlight or use candles in the foreground without any concern for flares. The flare is there but without being distracting or impossible to control.”
The choice of Panchro/i Classics proved the right one in so many ways for Konstantakopoulos. “The goal for this project was to be as realistic and natural, as possible, without sacrificing our wish for a vintage feel. The Panchro/i Classics were able to do just that. They looked extremely natural, very close to what the human eye sees, yet felt very cinematic and unique. I was also dealing with a lot of varying skin tones and I knew I could rely on the Cooke lenses to render all the skin tones faithfully and beautifully.”
Finally, on a practical level they were extremely robust and performed flawlessly during our tough weather conditions whether it was cold, raining hard or blowing sand.”
The Chosen can be seen on The Chosen app available for free in the App store and Google Play – currently counting over 65 million views. Production for Season 2 is currently underway with a 2021 release planned.