Leica Summilux-C and RED Epic: Cinematography of WAY OF THE WARRIOR


WAY OF THE WARRIOR is the story of a man who lives by the Bushido code. This man is a welder. He is also blind.

It’s a paradoxical premise for a commercial that puts a new spin on the classic slogan “impossible is nothing”. I served as the director and cinematographer on WAY OF THE WARRIOR which was photographed and finished in the new center of the world, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

As the DP, I was able to make express use of the Leica Summilux-C lenses and RED Epic camera generously provided by Asif Limbada at LFP. I had actually used the same combination of lenses and camera before—for a Volkswagen Middle East campaign—but in this particular instance, it was possible to push things to new extremes. After all, it’s not everyday that you get to shoot with the most sought-after cinema lenses in the world, your camera of choice and total creative freedom! (When was the last time you heard the music of John Cage in a TV commercial?) 

Cinematography Notes
For WARRIOR, I was interested in using extreme low-light and practicals as much as possible. The RED Epic performs very well in low-light conditions, and I rated the camera at its native ISO800. The Summilux-C lenses open to a T/1.4 and everything you see in the commercial was shot “wide open”. There were a couple of reasons for this decision: 1) The story demanded a visual “intimacy”, and for our hero to be isolated from the background;  2) I wanted to stress-test the lenses for their contrast which I found to be excellent; and 3) having used the Summilux-C’s on previous shoots, I had realized shooting wide-open at T/1.4 did something beautiful to the image…the specular highlights and out-of-focus elements in combination with the shallow depth-of-field created a very painterly, impressionistic look.

Eye on Tube

(If you’re the technical type and are interested to read more about the characteristics of the Summilux-C lenses, I highly recommend the SALT III High Speed Lens Shootout that my friend and director/cinematographer Matt Hayslett did in Los Angeles earlier this year.  Actually, stop reading this and go read that instead!)

Lighting wise, I kept things as minimal as I could because I had already asked for florescent fixtures (with consumer-grade, low CRI tubes) to be installed in the workshop, our shooting location. I left the practical fluorescent tubes uncorrected to retain the green spike. We also arranged for regular work lights to create pools of warm/garish light, wherever I needed to put them. Other than that, we used nothing more than a 4×4 Kino Flo kit, one Barger 3-Lite V2 and a couple of Dedos. I am a big fan of color and diffusion gels, so putting Plus Green, CTS, CTB and Opal Frost was a regular occurrence. Except IRNDs, I did not use any camera diffusion filters because I wanted to retain the perceived sharpness in the image. I was also purposely underexposing, sometimes by two and one-third stops (for some shots), in order to add some ‘texture’ to the image. (You will hopefully notice this when the Warrior returns to his daily routine in the workshop towards the end of the commercial. I really like the roughness in the image, the feeling of “immediacy” and “reality”).

We captured at 5K with a 5:1 compression. I composed and framed for a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. I also remember shooting at least one scene at 100fps and another at 210 degrees shutter (being extra careful with flicker since we were shooting in a 50hz country!). For exposure metering, I kept an eye on the histograms and goal posts on the RED Epic, but generally trusted my Sekonic light meter.

That’s about it. I think.

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