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The Conversation Continues: Richard Linklater Reunites Celine and Jesse in ‘Before Midnight’

Director Richard Linklater’s 1995 feature Before Sunrise was received with incredible enthusiasm for a tiny indie that consisted primarily of conversation between two travellers, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who spend one romantic night together in Vienna. Audiences were so enamored that the three returned nine years later for a second chance encounter in Paris in Before Sunset. Now, another nine years on, we catch up with them again in various sections of Greece in Before Midnight. The characters have matured, and so has motion picture technology. This is the first installment of the Before saga to be shot digitally.

Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine. Photos by Despina Spyrou/Sony Picture Classics

While cinematographer Christos Voudouris would have preferred to shoot 35mm film as Lee Daniel had done for the previous features, Voudouris observes that the ARRI Alexas they used had some advantages over film on this project, made up in great part of extremely long takes. “With two [SxS] cards in the camera, we could shoot for 28 minutes without cutting. This was definitely a plus on this film.”

Voudouris doesn’t want to compare the Alexa to other digital cameras, except to say that, for shooting in Greece, with a lot of very bright highlights, “The Alexa was probably the best camera at the time for handling those conditions while also rendering very nice skin tones.”

The cinematographer shot with Cooke primes and recorded in ProRes 4444 Log C to the SxS cards. While ARRIRAW format would have preserved even more picture information in the very contrasty environment, Voudouris and the producers felt that supplementing the camera with an external recording device would have added unnecessary cost and difficulty to a shoot where operators had to handhold their cameras for some epic walk-and-talks.

Celine and Jesse with their daughter Ella (Jennifer Prior)

Before Midnight was shot over a 16-day period. Unlike the previous films in the series, it’s set in several areas rather than a single city. “Since a great deal takes place outside during the day, we tried to confine shooting as much as possible to morning and late afternoon in order to avoid hard sunlight. So when we were shooting, we were working very quickly,” Voudouris recalls. “My crew was wonderful, and Rick, Ethan and Julie were always prepared.”

The trio wrote the film amid extensive discussions and improvisation before principal photography commenced, and in off hours during production.

In preparing for the film, Linklater and Voudouris discussed the two previous efforts, but the director wanted this look at the now middle-aged couple to suggest a different feel from Lee Daniel’s warm, soft, romantic composition. The director wanted his DP to look at some classic films about mature relationships, particularly Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 drama Scenes from A Marriage, shot in a rather clinical way by Sven Nykvist.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy with director Richard Linklater (on crutches)

“We looked at a number of films, but in the end Rick’s [Richard Linklater] footprint is all over this film,” Voudouris says. “The films are special because Rick and Ethan and Julie are so honest and fearless about these characters. I think audiences can easily find something they identify with because Jesse and Celine feel so real.”

Shooting in the Sun

Cinematographer Christos Voudouris has found that the Alexa’s ISO settings work counterintuitively in that his images react better under very bright, contrasty conditions at higher numbers. “When I shoot exteriors at 1000 or even higher, the highlights look better,” he says. “They have more of a filmic feel.”

Since he likes to shoot close to wide open, he naturally needed a very hefty amount of ND. “It’s never good to pile too many filters in front of the lens, so I try to keep it to only two, with one of them being very heavy, like 2.1 or 2.4—strengths that aren’t always easy to find.”

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