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Through the lens of A Star Is Born

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique discusses the Cooke Anamorphic/i SF ‘Special Flair’ lenses

Matthew Libatique, ASC, who has already won the 2018 Hollywood Film Award for Cinematographer of the Year for his work on Warner Bros. Pictures’ A Star Is Born, reveals that he used Cooke Anamorphic/i SF ‘Special Flair’ lenses to help him move the story from the main superstar character Jack (Bradley Cooper – who also directed) to the newcomer Ally (Lady Gaga) in a way that would be believable to today’s audience.

A Star Is Born was also Cooper’s directorial debut, which brought about a more ‘open’ workflow on set. “We had discussions early on,” said Libatique. “You’re working with one person tasked with many hats: acting, directing, music. It made everyone on set responsible for a lot more than they normally would be – especially me – watching for things we don’t normally watch out for. How things look, how they sound, how a scene is going that Bradley’s acting in. We weren’t just responsible for our regular craft.”

With Cooper set on shooting anamorphic, Libatique had to find the right lens. “I’ve used the Cooke S4/i spherical for a long time, plus the old Panchro glass, but I needed an anamorphic with character and personality that could perform flawlessly in a variety of settings with the right amount of light hits and flares. The Cooke Anamorphic/i SF primes were those lenses.”

Libatique had a range of seven Anamorphic/i SF primes: 25/32/40/50/65 Macro 75/100mm which he used for 85-90 per cent of the film, with the 40, 50, 65 Macro and 75 being used the most.

“The 65mm Macro is a game changer,” said Libatique. “It’s an anamorphic that lets you get up close to the actors just like a spherical. I didn’t have to be three feet away, but one foot away, giving A Star Is Born its most dramatic shots. It’s a spectacular lens. At Jack and Ally’s wedding, I got such a great close-up of Lady Gaga’s face using the 65mm Macro. The proximity of the lens is beyond what an anamorphic should do.”

The Cooke 65mm Macro Anamorphic/i SF 2X Prime lens is ideal for close-ups, with a 4.1:1 magnification ratio with close focus of 5.5 inches from front of lens. The specially developed ‘Special Flair’ coating adds more flare, while retaining the oval bokeh and other aberrations that are synonymous with the anamorphic look. This brings a new level of creativity and artistry to cinematographers, ranging from those working on major theatrical films to national commercials.

“One of the other great things about the Cooke Anamorphic/i SF lenses are how inexplicably good they really look,” added Libatique. “At the beginning of the film, there’s a bathroom stall shot where Ally screams “Men!!!” but I couldn’t get wide enough on the 32. My first AC suggested the 25. I was initially hesitant, but it was completely flat! Usually, you get some bend on anything wider than a 40, but the 25 was absolutely perfect. And when we used the 32 for a very wide upstage shot of Lady Gaga at The Shrine Auditorium [an homage to the earlier 1954 version starring Judy Garland, which also shot segments at the Shrine], there was very little focus falloff around the lens.”

Not wanting to have too many distractions on set, an ARRI ALEXA Mini was used handheld, with a Movi (except for the larger Cooke 65mm Macro prime lens) on an anti-gravity stabiliser rig, as Cooper and Gaga find their characters within their relationship. “The ALEXA Mini has a great form factor for mobility combined with a great sensor,” said Libatique. “I knew the camera would be mobile the entire time.”

For Libatique, the Cooke Anamorphic/i SF primes delivered everything he needed. “The modularity and optical quality rivals – if not surpasses – anything else out there in anamorphic lenses.” In fact, the Cooke Anamorphic/i primes performed so well, that Libatique also used them on his very next film, Venom.

“It’s very rare that I’ll use the same lenses from one project to the next,” said Libatique. “I usually try to mix it up. But not this time.”

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