‘Marvel’s Inhumans': Director Roel Reine and Cinematographer Jeff Jur on Filming in IMAX
One of the big reasons I’m excited to see the first two hours of Marvel’s Inhumans is the production shot the pilot using IMAX cameras. As a huge fan of the format, I can’t wait to see the action come to life on their massive screen.
Back when the show was filming earlier this year in Hawaii, I was able to visit the set with a few other reporters where we did a group interview with director Roel Reine and cinematographer Jeff Jur during a break in filming. They talked about if they had any extra challenges filming in IMAX, what Reine did to prepare for the shoot, what was Reine’s vision for the project, if they were preparing any differently because it was TV and not a movie, the post-production plans, Easter eggs to the greater MCU, and a lot more.
If you’re not familiar with the series, based on the Marvel comic, it’s doing something incredibly cool and unusual. The first two episodes will premiere globally in IMAX theatres for a limited two-week period, beginning September 1, 2017, and then ABC will air the entire eight-episode series beginning September 29th. It’s an incredibly ambitious idea, but one I can’t wait to see.
Finally, before getting to the interview, check out the trailer followed by the official synopsis:
“Marvel’s Inhumans” explores the never-before-told epic adventure of the royal family including Black Bolt, the enigmatic, commanding King of the Inhumans, with a voice so powerful that the slightest whisper can destroy a city. After the Royal Family of Inhumans is splintered by a military coup, they barely escape to Hawaii where they are greeted with surprising interactions with the lush world and humanity around them. Now they must find a way to reunite with each other and return to their home before their way of life is destroyed forever.
“Marvel’s Inhumans” stars Anson Mount as Black Bolt, Iwan Rheon as Maximus, Serinda Swan as Medusa, Eme Ikwuakor as Gorgon, Isabelle Cornish as Crystal, Ken Leung as Karnak, Ellen Woglom as an undisclosed character, Sonya Balmores as Auran and Mike Moh as Triton.
The series is executive produced by Scott Buck, along with Marvel’s Jeph Loeb and Jim Chory with Buck serving as showrunner. Roel Reiné directed the first two episodes. This series is a Marvel and IMAX project and is co-produced by Marvel Television and ABC Studios.
Question: What excited you as a director to really do this movie, that is different from regular films you direct?
Were there any specific challenges that you did not foresee?
REINE: On the IMAX part or in general?
Doing it with the IMAX camera.
REINE: I think the IMAX camera; it is much easier than I thought. And it is also because of how the IMAX people were helping us. And from day one I was invited by them, became part of the family, they showed me a lot of footage in the IMAX theaters, I could play with the camera, and just throw it around handheld, and I was operating myself, feeling this thing. Because you always thing that IMAX is this big clunky film thing, and it was of course a few years ago, it was like a minivan, right, so, like a mini cooper – as big. But with this ALEXA 65 it is a different ball game, but you have to set your mind to it, so, a lot of things that I would do normally, I would not do now, and moving the camera – I now move a camera in a different way, or frame in a different way. But I still try to push the envelope, I was, for example, very intrigued in the process that we were working together, and they showed me a lot of footage, and we had meeting about it, I also was with one of your technical people, I went to see the ten minutes of Dunkirk, and I asked them – the IMAX – for a list of all the lenses that Chris Nolan used, so I could understand the lens length, and what it was doing. And also I was very afraid of handhelds in the IMAX format, but when I saw the thing and we talked about how they shot Dunkirk [with] handhelds, and how they did it, than I also implemented it to our show. And so, be a little bit more bold than you would normally do when you shoot IMAX. But it has never limited me, it more has inspired me to do cool shots, and to do… pick the locations that have a lot of headroom. For example, there is this one location, where we had a shot of this building in Hawaii. I chose the angle, but it had a lot of overgrowing trees, so when you see the shot, it has all this headroom that is beautifully framed in the cameras. So, it inspired me, it never limited me.
Can you talk about the difference between the ALEXA and IMAX and the lenses.
REINE: No, I do not think that technically I see a difference, because the cameras are really looking like a bigger version of an ALEXA. So they are just a little bit bigger, and it says IMAX on the side. I do not think they understand the difference that we experience. You know, for me big difference is that a 24mm lens on IMAX is not the [same] 24 as I am shooting for the last 20 years. You know, a 24 becomes now like a 12. So, and a 100 is like a 50. So, for us technically I had to change kind of my mind in how I would use the lenses, but for the actors it is a… I do not think they feel any difference. I think they feel responsibility, which is good, you know. And they will feel that we are really digging around with lots about details in hair, details in a background, because you are going to see every little schmutzy thing on the outfit. So they will feel that, but I do not think it limits them or… no.
What was your vision for the Inhumans that made you the right guy for this project?
REINE: Oh, you have to ask Marvel that. I always told them that I want to make it very grounded, very based in reality. Because we are talking about super humans, we are talking about a really big dog that is really as big as a mini cooper as well as big as an IMAX camera, as an old IMAX camera. I always pitched them a grounded, a very grounded TV show, that everything will feel very real even within this in-real world. And also I talked about sculpt. You know, all my movies that I have done, I was able for not a lot of money to make it look really big. And the way I achieved that is by… I do not know, being smart maybe, I do not know. Good prep. Good angles choosing, locations. What are you doing with the camera. And also in my past I also DP my movies and operate the camera, so I know a lot about what a camera will do in an environment. So, in that regard I pitched them a very epic big sculpt thing even on a TV budget or in a TV schedule. Because we are doing these two episodes in like twenty days, what is… kind of in the sculpt that we are doing, and the SG we have, and the big sets, and battles – is unheard of. And that is kind of my specialty, maybe.
And also in this vein, you know, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, right? You have Marvel, and they are protecting their brand and their characters. You have ABC, they want a TV show with a lot of drama and emotion. We have IMAX, they want a spectacle, and a big sculpt. And I want everything. So, it is also the managing of all these important parties, and fighting… you know, when you are with this party and fighting for this party, and when I am with that party and fighting for that party. That was also a big challenge for me, and I liked that, you know, because you want to give everybody and every party on the table what they really want and looking for and find the balance.
We were talking earlier about the blurring lines between TV and film, and both of you have worked extensively with both TV and film. Do you approach those projects differently? And when you place something like this, does it matter to you if it TV or film?
REINE: I really… I think the way we are preparing, the way we are shooting, the way we are using the cameras, we really do a film version, we really do a film style of shooting. Plus, I am getting an additional TV coverage. But I really think all the choices, and prep, and locations we chose, and the lenses we were using, and the steady cams, and all the technical stuff, we are shooting a movie, big movie, plus, we are doing TV coverage for the scene, so we can have the drama and the close-ups. But in the cuts, that we are going to do we are going to do two different edits. We are going to do an IMAX edit of the two first episodes, and we are going to make a TV version. And a lot of times when we are doing shots, I know, okay, these are the takes that we are going to use for IMAX, and these are the shots we are going to use for TV, because if you are going to do a big close-up like this in IMAX, it is kind of [grumbles], you better have something important to say. And then I would definitely going to put it in the IMAX version, but in TV we are expecting this a lot, because you want to go in this character, you want to feel this character, that is why TV is cool – you spend 12 hours with the character instead of 2 hours in a feature. So, you also need that coverage. So, that is the only difference for me.
JEFF JUR: I think it is about scale. You know, we go into locations and sets and everything with the idea that there is going to be a lot of details that we are going to see a lot in the IMAX screen, which is exciting, it is thrilling. So, the amount of details is maybe a little finer, we always try to be aware of that. With television, you can get away, everybody has big screens now, so, you really cannot say it is going to disappear, but there is a fine line between those two, and, you know, doing this like a feature is really the approach for sure.
You said you’re gonna be cutting up two different versions. Does that mean that technically speaking it’s gonna be two versions – the one in IMAX and the one on TV – with slightly different performances?
REINE: Yes, we’ll use different takes. Because in the IMAX version we’re gonna have hopefully the same performance. Because the actors are really good and solid. Yes, we are gonna use a little wider take for the IMAX version and we’re gonna use a little tighter takes for the TV version. Yes, we’re definitely gonna do that. And also going into a scene, coming out of a scene, also in TV you have acts right. You end an act with a specific shot. Those shots will not be used in IMAX because the story has to continue. So I will use different transitions in the IMAX cut.
I also wanna say something about to add with what you said. In the choosing of the visual effects house – because Jeff was talking about details right – when we were talking about Lockjaw, that is one of the characters that made us all very nervous because it needs to be really good. So we really fought in the prep to get the best house to do this and Double Negative is the best house to do creatures. So they are making Lockjaw for us. But it was a really big deal for me to get the best house to do this thing, because it needs to be 6k, IMAX quality, big scope thing and it’s huge you know. If you do a creature that is flying in the distance or is very small it’s different than this big sized dog on the side of our characters. So there is detail very very important.
You’re creating a large size of scale using these IMAX cameras. What advantages do you have in shooting a more intimate scene of walk and talk scene?
REINE: You still can be really close, our longest lens is a 300mm and in IMAX is 150 and 35 – if that says anything to you guys. So you can still be very intimate with these people absolutely with IMAX and we’re doing that as well. I think we’re gonna do more closer things than I’ve seen in any IMAX movie before, but also I’m presenting them big wider shots that we’ve never seen on TV before. So it kind of like you try to balance both sides.
Do you have a special treatment for IMAX in the editing and post-production? Is it longer?
REINE: For me, for example from the first three days we took a lot of different shots, that have different flavors, different lenses, different locations, different characters and we mixed them together in kind of a test and we’re gonna see them on IMAX on an IMAX screen now in this process, because we constantly need to monitor is that what we are doing right and does it work? But in the post process yes, it’s a longer process.
GREG FOSTER: It’s definitely a longer process. One of the advantages again something that the Marvel. ABC and IMAX groups talked about was that Roel was gonna spend the 20 days and then move onto another project. I don’t wanna speak for you, but I know what the answer is. He’s locked into doing this. He’s not just shooting it and giving it to someone else. This is something that he’s devoted a big chunk of time to and sort of put his career outside of this project on hold until he delivers it properly. That was a big plus for us. Because post is gonna be different. It always is different. We are the world’s largest cinematic magnifying glass. If you don’t design it for IMAX and deliver it for IMAX, there’s gonna be a series of problems that our fans aren’t gonna like. There is no doubt that it’s gonna take a little longer, and that’s why having the director for a longer period of time exclusively devoted to this project was so critical to all of us.
We’ve spoken about what IMAX has given you both to be able to play with. From what you’ve shot so far has there been anything that you’ve taken away from it to hand back to IMAX to go this would be good for us to work with in the future whether it’s lenses or scope or just a functionality and that kind of thing?
JUR: The lenses are a little tricky right now at this stage. They are a little slower than what we are used to work with. But I’m an old film guy so I’m used to lighting to a certain level, so I don’t shoot wide open. I don’t shoot dark sets. I tend to light up. So I’m okay with the way they are now. But I think if there are faster lenses that would be a big plus for certain situations.
So it’s a very sort of symbiotic kind of relationship?
JUR: Yeah, I mean these classic lenses are beautiful. Supersharp. They’re not quite as up to date as maybe some of the modern lenses, but they’re still spectacular. And just to have that format and the lack of depth of field – it sounds like a negative, but it’s actually a positive thing to be able to control how much is in focus in the background which the IMAX cameras give you – is spectacular. Every DP loves to have that kind of control.
And is that something you’re just finding yourself or is it something you’ve seen from other people using it in their films as well and you’re kinda combining?
JUR: Yeah, I mean I used to shoot large format still cameras and stuff so I understand how that works. It’s a tool that’s been always been there, but with 35, super 35, etc you don’t have that. With a large format it comes to you and it’s amazing. It’s fantastic to have it.
REINE:And also the thing is I wanted to go really wide. Wide wide, wide wide. And we are still in contained spaced. We had a scene inside a bus and we are inside a little apartment building. So my first meeting with IMAX was: “What is the widest lense you guys have?” And it was a 24, and for me that wasn’t wide enough, so
FOSTER: I remember the e-mail. (everybody laughs)
REINE: So IMAX called around the world and they found something, I think in London or something, and they rebuild this lens what is now a 14 mil lens, which is basically a 7 in IMAX. And it’s kinda wide. Beautifully distorted and we shot a few shots with them and they are very pretty. Something we’ve never seen before in IMAX. So wide.
FOSTER: What we do is we went out and we got large format still lens and basically bought the glass and tried to convert it back into a lens for our film cameras for our digital cameras. If we were just sort of a company that just clocked in and clocked out, but having guys like David Keighley and having some of these people who are just treat things a little bit differently than you know than if it’s at the department of motor vehicles that’s kind of what I think we bring to the party. But at the same time Jeff you’re right if we want to do more of this we need to have more of an allotment. And I think we have the camera, we need more lenses. I think that’s correct. More of a variety of lenses.
Roel, you’ve seen 51 IMAX screens. Do you have a favorite spot to sit in a venue and experience the IMAX?
REINE: Yes! I’m like to sit one seat before the middle in IMAX. For me it’s also because of my glasses. I want to have my glasses filled with the screen. Nobody is sitting there. Everybody sits in the bloody back. When I came to Pathé IMAX theatres, you guys put me on the best spot in the house and it was one row behind it.
Are you gonna make references and connections to the Marvel universe?
REINE: Oh yes, and I’m fighting on a daily basis with Marvel about it. Because I love Easter eggs. I’m a big Easter egg guy. I love blogs about people are blogging about it. They always tell me not to look at the blogs, to stay away from this world, but I think you know there is a big audience and you make this project for that audience, for myself, but also for that audience, so I tried to put a lot of Easter eggs in and a lot of Marvel things in. And one of the things I’m really proud of is that the The Kree created the Inhumans. The Kree is kind of the Gods of the Marvel universe for a lot of characters. And The Kree have a special language. A special style of language. So I had the art director and you will see it when you see the other sets. I had the art director build The Kree language in like an hieroglyphe way. Like it’s been there for ages, before the humans were created. So we build them in the sets. There was a monolith. We had to cover something we had to shoot in Honolulu where we were shooting. So we put a monolith over a statue that we could not see. We put hieroglyphs in there. We have like for example for the Tower of Genesis thing we have this box but it’s like ancient old. But also here we have The Kree kind of language on it. What I’m really proud of. And a lot of fans will love it. And I already saw a blog. Somebody illegally photographed the set like a week ago or two weeks ago and they photographed the monolith in front of the set we were filming and they already talk about it. “Oh, it’s The Kree language.” “Oh, it’s so cool.” I love that stuff.
When did using IMAX cameras stopped being a plus or gimmick or trick and really become such a big part of cinematography?
JUR: Actually on this project. For sure. I became aware that it was available to us on this scale you didn’t need the 150 million dollar budget to do a format like this. So basically we’re standing up against the big Marvel project and the small ones. Both of them which are amazing and we’re sort of in the middle now, because we’re doing film, but for television with a lower budget and a smaller schedule, but trying to stand up to that. I put us up against any of the movies. So it’ll be interesting to see how it comes across to the fans.