'2 Days in New York:' Lubomir Bakchev Captures Julie Delpy’s Eccentric, Romantic Vision
Film critic Roger Ebert has called Julie Delpy “an original, a woman who refuses to be defined or limited.” At first glance, 2 Days in Paris—the 2007 film that Delpy wrote, directed and co-produced—might look like a typical culture-clash comedy, but it turns out to be something subtler and more complex.
Bakchev says that the budget this time around afforded a bit more flexibility. 2 Days in Paris was shot in HD format using a Sony HDW-F750, a camera with a 2/3-inch imaging chip. 2 Days in New York was shot with an ARRI Alexa. “Julie wanted a 35mm look,” says Bakchev. “I thought the Alexa might allow us to shoot digital and achieve a film look. I also felt that the Alexa’s wide latitude would help with the range of skin tones in the movie."
The film was shot over the course of 30 days entirely on practical locations in New York City. Bakchev used existing natural light when possible, though augmentation was sometimes necessary. One important set was Marion’s apartment, which was actually a loft in Brooklyn with high ceilings and tiny windows. “Bringing light in through the windows was difficult, so we hung all the lights from the ceiling, which allowed us to shoot 360 degrees,” says Bakchev. “We had rows of Kino Flos and [K5600] Joker 400 and 800 units, and we’d switch some on and some off depending on the scene. My goal was to make things feel natural.”
The overhead lighting approach also facilitated Delpy’s improvisational directing style. There is a shot list, but it’s not followed slavishly by any means. Bakchev sometimes operated the camera handheld in these situations.
“I always operate my camera,” he says. “I really love to feel the actors and react. It’s more natural for me. It would be very difficult for me to give up the camera and just watch.”
Bakchev usually set the camera for 800 ASA, and he used Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses. “I often shoot with Zeiss,” he says. “I like the sharpness of these lenses. We didn’t need Master Primes because, with 800 ASA, we don’t need the big aperture. Outside in New York, I shot with no additional light at a stop of 2 or 2.8. Because we were shooting digital, I also didn’t need the additional sharpness of Master Primes.”
Focal lengths were generally in the middle range, with the 35mm and 50mm used most. For one funny interchange between Delpy’s character and a pompous art critic, the wider lens and looser composition allowed the audience to read the character’s face while maintaining the context. with artwork visible on the walls in the background.
“With framing a bit wider, it’s more natural and funny, not so intense,” Bakchev says. “When we are too close, it’s more stressful. I like the 35mm lens—if we had only one lens to shoot the movie, I’d choose that one.”
On the set, the DIT applied a preset LUT to the images to give the filmmakers a rough idea of the final image. The color grading was performed in Belgium at Studio l’Equipe, which Bakchev says is “a small lab, but very good.”
Bakchev says that having a monitor on set enables him to better give Delpy what she wants, but he cautions that the monitor can also diminish the cinematographer’s prerogatives. “It’s interesting, because the attitude toward the director of photography can be different with digital,” he says. “When we shoot film, only the DP knows exactly how and what he shoots, and he is a very respected person. When we work with digital, everyone can see exactly what we are doing. People critique the image. The power of the director of photography is less. On the other hand, under the right circumstances creativity can be enhanced because we can speak more specifically with the director.”
2 Days in New York was Bakchev’s first experience shooting in the United States. “In Europe, the entire filmmaking team would be about 30 or 35 people,” he says. “In New York, it was 100 or more. I was very glad to have very professional and very kind people on my crew, including my gaffer, Nina Kuhn, key grip Rob Harlow, and first assistant Rob Koch.”
2 Days in New York premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and opened in theaters in Europe this spring. After a screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film will open theatrically in the United States in August.