INTO THE WOODS: THE MUSICAL GENRE GETS PANAVISED

After the big-budget, time-looping, science-fiction spectacle Edge of Tomorrow was finally behind him, Dion Beebe, ASC, ACS stepped right into the smaller-scale musical fantasy of Into the Woods, and brought Panavision London along with him.

“Though Edge of Tomorrow was a bigger film, I got as much from Panavision on Into the Woods as I did on Edge of Tomorrow,” Beebe relates. “They know me and they make sure I have what I need to make a film no matter the budget. When I promise something to my director or producers about what we want to achieve, I don't worry that I won't be able to deliver when I have Panavision backing me up.”

Into the Woods reunited Beebe with director Rob Marshall, for whom he had shot the musicals Chicago and Nine, as well as Memoirs of a Geisha, which garnered Beebe an Academy Award®. They also collaborated on the television special Tony Bennett: An American Classic. Into the Woods boasts a stellar cast, including Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, and others. The story was different compared to their previous musical entries in that there were no big dance routines or theatrical changeovers. Instead the dialogue itself was routinely sung. “These were immediate transitions mid-sentence where you want to hang on every word that's being sung because they are very specifically related to plot,” says Beebe. “Essentially the opening number goes on for about 15 minutes, powering through the first reel almost, and introduces all our characters.”

And these characters are quite familiar: Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Jack of beanstalk fame. But a witch (Streep) sees to it that there are no fairytale endings in these magical woods. It's a scary place, and these well-known characters must be careful what they wish for because their desires could lead to the destruction of the woods.

Sporting dual Panavised ARRI Alexa XT cameras, Panavision G-series anamorphic lenses, and the occasional faster C-series lens from time to time, Beebe shot these magical woods in the ARRIRAW 2K format inside the cavernous Stage H at Shepperton Studios. Beebe opted to shoot on a digital format because of his choice of lights. To get a large, directional–and believable–emulation of the sun and moonlight, he had about 40 to 50 remote-controllable Vari-Lites mounted up in the grid and wired to a dimmer console. “I could fine tune the single shafts of light through the woods for every shot, and they feel like they are coming from one source from far away,” he explains. “However, during testing of these Vari-Lite units, I couldn't quite get the punch out of them on film. The digital sensitivity of the sensor allowed me to scale back and utilize these theatrical units.”

Panavision also provided the camera support, including 30- and 50-foot Technocranes. “With the uneven dirt groundscape, we used Technocranes to telescope in and navigate between trees,” Beebe says. “There's a shot at the end of the movie where we crane out of a close-up, pull back and rise above the tree line of our stage that seamlessly ties into a drone shot that takes us over the top of the tree canopy of the devastated woods. We had to carve a path through the wood with bulldozers to get the 50-foot Technocrane in there and dig out the dirt for a flat footing. That was a feat unto itself because of the trees and tree trunks.”

The complex musical was shot on a brisk 50-day schedule. “What I really benefit from is that everything works, but if something does go down, Panavision's response is very quick,” Beebe says. “Often, we are carrying emergency gear courtesy of Panavision to ensure that we are never held up due to equipment. When I've got Meryl Streep, who has been up since 4 a.m. and sitting for three hours of makeup and wigs, I can't turn to her and say I need an hour while I fix this. With the help of Panavision, I can ensure that doesn't happen on my set.”