Steven Soderbergh and Geurrilla Film making

Steven Soderbergh is always an interesting commentator on contemporary trends in film making and has been instrumental in the growing legitimacy of digital video  through his early adoption of it and his advocacy of  the development of RED camera system. In his last few films before his self imposed retirement from film making Soderbergh seems to have explored some of the impact of DV for his films.

The particular example which brings this to mind is a chase sequence at the beginning of Soderbergh’s Haywire (US 2010). This takes place on foot through the Gothic quarter of Barcelona (at 14 minutes 54 seconds). Apart from the time I spent location spotting in this area of Barcelona, I was really  impressed with the dynamism of this sequence, and the wondered about how they overcame the technical difficulties it would have presented the cast and crew.
It seems pretty self evident that digital video was used for the Barcelona sequence as Antonio Banderas explains about his first scene;

“The scene takes place with Gina on the patio of Les Quinze Nits Cafe in the Plaza Real in Barcelona,” explains Banderas. “We shot it using only the beautiful late afternoon light.” 

(Site name – Emanuel Levy Cinema 24/7 [http://emanuellevy.com/comment/haywire-location-shooting/] article Haywire: Location Shooting cited 31/01/2014)

The fact that these shots were possible at all is testimony to the ease and flexibility of digital video technology and its facility for shooting in most light conditions, where film would need careful selection of film stock and a great deal of time and skill to mimic the lighting and atmospheric conditions of the Plaza Rael in the late afternoon.

Anyhow, back to the chase sequence. This sequence cuts between a hugely dynamic one shot of Mallory (Gina Carano) the protagonist, and an unnamed target. The camera is reverse tracking (backwards) at exactly the same speed as Mallory sprinting through the dark narrow streets of the gothic quarter, quite a technical feat. Firstly the streets there are far too narrow for a conventional mobile rig to even enter this location, Secondly, these streets are pretty gloomy at most times of day (an advantage there before air conn), so lighting rigs would have been necessary to ensure consistency with the sequences shot in the Plaza Rael
Shooting in this kind of location could only have occurred using lightweight video camera which is most likely to have been mounted on a steadicam. But, then we have the problem of the stedicam operator having to sprint backwards as fast as Mallory, I guess the stedicam could have been mounted on her/his back whie they sprinted at the same pace as Mallory, but the results may have been unreliable, and even for a stedicam this would be at the limited of its capabilities. 

I think that Soderbergh’s cinematography team would have had to improvise, and arrived at a solution similar to Sam Raimi’s extraordinary tracking shot through the forest and cabin in The Evil dead (Raimi 1981 US) where Raimi mounted his 16 MM camera on to a bicycle and ran through the woods and the cabin pushing it before him. Soderbergh’s film it’s most likely that he had his camera operator either standing or sitting on a trolley while grips pulled this sprinting through the streets just ahead of Mallory, not so different from something which students like yourselves could accomplish, with a borrowed super market trolley or bicycle as an inventive geurrilla film maker like Rainmi was in the early 1980’s would use. So, over to you why not try something like this for yourselves, just borrow a supermarket trolley.

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