behind the scenes
documentary, drama, history
2.39 : 1
Arri Alexa Classic
Arri Alexa Mini
Phantom Flex 4K
Lomo spherical lenses
Arri Alura Zoom 45-200mm
Who were the last pagans of Europe? We were on a mission to find more. We had to create an interpretation, a historical reality based on the accuracy of todays historical sciences. "Baltu ciltis" is a unique trip into the textures of the past and into the unknown lands of the Baltic tribes. The story takes place in early 13th century in the midst of Northern Crusades. Protagonist merchant Lars comes from the lands who have long adopted Christianity and travels through the last pagan populated areas in Europe to trade and is being drawn in a series of unexpected events.
Visual objective of the film was to create a mood, a feeling and an environment for a spectator to immerse oneself. As the whole story is narrated from the Lars point of view and there isn't any single dialogue in the whole movie the entire project was set to be shot at 33 fps, which gives just that barely-slow-motion look to lend the action a poetic style and more timeless quality to the image. We chose the wide aspect ratio of 2.39 : 1 for additional negative space that allowed us to create more dramatic framing and helped to portray the wild landscapes of the period.
Vintage Lomo (The Leningrad Optical-Mechanical Association) lenses made back in the USSR were chosen. They soften the image, are less contrastive and a shining lights create a unique flare and reflection. Pairing the LOMO vintage lenses with high-resolution Arri Alexas sensor gave us the special look for this period film. Smoke for atmosphere on set and diffusion filters were used to further keep the image from looking too digital. Halation of Tiffen Pro Mist 1/8, 1/4 filters in highlights added to the look. For standalone scenes we paired Pro Mists with Schneider Blue Streaks just to add a different sort of texture. We often worked with 2 cameras - one for the main mise-en-scene, second for capturing details and unscripted, documental turns. Recording format was ProRes 4:4:4:4 at 2048 x 1152 resolution.
We built interiors with idea that we would have a direct sunlight at certain times of the day. Interior light was provided mostly by bi-color DMG Lumiere SL1 switch and Mini Switch, Arri 150, 300, 650 tungsten fixtures and Dedolight kit. For selected scenes HMI 4K was brought in. We focused to have the lightning motivated and looking natural. For example for a flame, we mixed flame bars and candles with artificial sources.
For exteriors, all except the opening night scene were shot in a natural, sometimes low-light conditions. There was a night we doubled the sensitivity. At ISO 1600 Alexa Mini is still relatively clean. We were in era when, sun, moon, stars and fire, would have been only possible light sources, so to achieve that naturalistic look the concept was to shoot with available natural light. That allowed us to shoot faster but made the job more complex as in winter the natural window to shoot was shorter, we had to chase the exposure and also chase continuity of depth of field between takes. There was a rush of changing of ND filters in order to have a depth of field that matched the previuos take. Beyond natural light we used fires and candles for illumination, a collection of bounces, diffusion and negatives.
While being on a quest for historical accuracy we travalled 400km to Northern part of Poland just to capture Prussian households at enthnographic museum so a week later at the location we could place our actors in front of two 20' x 20' greenscreens that were set up at the adequate sun angle to make room for 13th century traditional Prussian household composition magic.
Super-slow-motion scenes were shot using Phantom Flex 4K. We shot them at various frame rates including 938 frames per second, the maximum fps available at 4K resolution. Working in super slow-mo often times you're dealing with the unpredictable. So, repeatable actions that are easy to set up are ideal. We tried to set as many "dry" rehearsals as possible in order to be ready for the big moment. We were lucky enough to have actors willing to repeat actions dozen of times as only repeatable actions can truely guarantee the perfect shot.
Principal photography was done in 25 days over period of 15 months. Filming took place in several locations in Latvia - Āraišu ezerpils, Lielā Ellīte, Kazu grava, Ķūķu klints, Sigulda, Kemeri National Park, Cinevilla to name a few. When creating a screen version at locations historically accurate details were applied.
When cameras were not locked down on a tripod they were following the action handheld or mounted on DJI Ronin.
We used Cine Rail slider and Super Panther III dolly for selected shots.
Cable Cam was the camera accessory to capture unique film angles. Cable cam is the tool that allows your camera to travel safely over crowds and between spaces that are a no go zone for drones. It can deliver repeatable camera movements at constant speeds. Though we learned to be careful and pay attention so not to stress the horses, who were not used to the sliding technical advancements.
Our priority is always about doing the best possible work and that the best possible result is put out there.
On our mission to tell the history through the medium of film, by using minimum resources, the language of cinematography and historical staging was used.
It looks like medieval history continues to resonate with modern audiences. I am thankfull to all the crew - the entire crew performed as true filmmakers - a band of collaborators on their own adventure.