Cooke’s Anamorphic/i lenses thrive in ‘Jungle’
DP Stefan Duscio’s seventh feature film, Jungle, was a dream come true for the cinematographer. Not only would he get to shoot in South America—and have an adventure related to the film’s main character—he would finally get to work with director Greg McLean after years of trying to sync up on a project. And, with the help of Sydney’s digital and film equipment rental house Cinoptix, would get to shoot with Anamorphic/i prime lenses from Cooke.
The film, an Arclight Films production starring Daniel Radcliffe, is based on Yossi Ghinsberg’s memoir “Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival,” recounting his 1982 journey through the Amazon where he ended up alone for three weeks before being found and rescued.
Growing up in Victoria in Australia, Duscio made movies and created comic books as a kid. Later moving to Melbourne where he studied art, he would take every job that came along to help him decide what he wanted to do professionally. Cinematography became his passion, starting as a camera assistant, moving on to shorts and music videos, and then to commercials and features. His camera training included camera assisting on The Lord of the Rings trilogy with the late Australian cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, ACS, ASC.
Production for Jungle was split between Australia’s South East Queensland jungle, and Colombia (substituting for Bolivia) along the rivers, jungles, villages, and towns known for their rugged and bigger landscapes.
Equipped with Cooke Anamorphic/i lenses including a 32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 75mm, 100mm, and the new 65mm Macro—one of the first production models, specially supplied by Cooke—the glass was shared between two ARRI Alexa XT cameras.
“I used the 65mm a lot and loved it,” said Duscio. “It is such a versatile lens that it gave us the freedom to go from mid-shot to extreme close-up without the need for a lens change. The 65mm had a beautiful classic ‘Cooke Look’ to it.”
With some of the most intensive pre-production work he has ever done, exploring jungles and climbing cliffs, Duscio wanted a classic adventure film look, but not something hand-held. “Almost the entire film is composed with elegant compositions with simple dolly moves, practical and pragmatic setups. It was important that the audience be able to watch Jungle effortlessly, with the cinematography not calling attention to itself,” he explains.
Duscio has used Cooke lenses on two feature films and various commercials and thought that, with his desire for big landscapes, Cooke glass would be perfect for the natural landscapes, as well as skin tones and faces.
“There’s a real roundness and classical quality to the lenses—sort of vintage,” Duscio said. “Today’s new lenses are way too sharp. The Cooke Anamorphic/i lenses are a beautiful middle-ground between traditional anamorphic lenses and going too sharp. They’re classic lenses that feel familiar.”
The jungles of Australia, while very production friendly (the cast and crew could drive right up to the location), did present some challenging shooting conditions. “It’s very difficult once you’re under the dense jungle canopy,” said Duscio. “It’s really low light levels and you’re shooting almost wide open every day. At 3 p.m., it starts to get dark with sunset at 5:30 p.m., so by 2:30 in the afternoon, we’re bringing out large HMIs and bouncing them around the forest to lift the light level under the canopy. I always tried to place our biggest HMIs as far away as possible to give Greg and the cast the creative freedom they needed for blocking, and the cameras the light they needed.”
Duscio used all six lenses in his kit with the 32mm and 40mm for wide setup masters and close-ups on the 75mm—as he likes to have the camera a bit closer to the actors—plus the 100mm and the new 65mm.
“We did a few lens tests in the beginning, but I was aiming for the Cookes,” said Duscio. “We tested other anamorphics, but the Cooke Anamorphic/i lenses made the biggest impact. Once Greg saw them, he was totally on board, even though he had never shot with Cookes before.”
One particular scene where the Cooke lenses shined was a bar scene in Columbia when Ghinsberg meets two traveling companions that would join him and the con artist guide in the Amazon.
“It was very low light, very romanticized with candles and lanterns,” reminisces Duscio. “We were shooting almost wide open for that evening, really trying to work the bokeh effect of the out-of-focus areas in the scene. We had all these rich reds and oranges, and that’s just what the Cooke Anamorphic/i lenses are known for—the colors looked so rich, even on the monitors. We went with the longer lengths on the lenses and got great skin tones with the background looking like a painting. Everyone on set was really excited to see what we were capturing.”
While Duscio has been shooting with Cookes for years, it was his last two features where he could really sink his teeth into them. “I love them; it’s as simple as that. They’re not pretentious, just honest looking glass. I can’t wait to use them again.”
Jungle is scheduled for U.S. release in 2017.