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Dead Ringers: Capturing the Surreal and Shadowy World of ‘Enemy’

When mild-mannered professor Adam Bell discovers he has an exact double, small-time movie actor Anthony St. Claire (both portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal), he becomes obsessed with his doppelgänger and the significance his existence might have on his own life. Enemy, from director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) and based on the novel The Double by Portuguese author José Saramago, unfolds in an ominous, unpredictable world, but one designed ultimately to feel real, not fantastic. Cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc, CSC, explains that he and the director wanted the film to parallel the claustrophobic feeling of the book, with everything from the architecture to the air itself feeling strange and dangerous.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Melanie Laurent in



In addition to cinematography duties, Bolduc operated the ARRI Alexa, recording to SxS cards in ProRes 4444. The camera was outfitted with various Hawk 16:9-to-anamorphic zooms. For his work on Enemy, Bolduc was influenced in part by the 1970s political paranoia thrillers, primarily The Parallax View, and he wanted to include the occasional zoom within a take to suggest the look cinematographer Gordon Willis, ASC, created in that film.

While Villeneuve and Bolduc both come from Montreal, Enemy was the first project either had shot in Toronto. They wanted to give the frequently filmed city a unique look to underscore the tone of the action. They agreed that the location should be something “New World-ish,” and came up with São Paulo, Brazil, as a touchstone for the purposes of their discussions without ever actually declaring it in the story. “We wanted something dirtyish,” Bolduc elaborates, “with dust in the air … very warm. Not what we think of as North American at all. We wanted the audience to feel the dust, humidity and pollution.”

Keeping to the dictum of a traditional kind of filmmaking, the cinematographer set out to get at least “90 percent of the look in the camera,” he says, “rather than doing it in post.” He sandwiched straw and chocolate filters in front of the lens to create the brownish look that permeates the film. “I didn’t want to be able to go back to another look later,” he elaborates. “I wanted to shoot it and then: this is it! This is what it looks like!”

For night scenes, Bolduc pulled the filters and gelled the lights—placing doubled-up Rosco Cinegel Tough MT2 over hard tungsten units—to create a very orange streetlamp effect.

Nicolas Bolduc (behind camera) and director Denis Villeneuve on the set of



“We wanted to do everything as simply and as realistically as possible,” he says. “We wanted it to feel on set like what it really would feel like in the situation. So if someone is in a dark room, it was dark on set. “People would be bumping into things and saying, ‘When the hell are you guys going to light?’ And I’d say, ‘It’s lit!’

“I don’t like spending a lot of time doing things that could be done very simply,” Bolduc adds. “That’s why Patrice [Vermette, production designer] lights into the interior sets and essentially just used those [practicals] to create the light. Actors and directors hate to wait. They love having time to be able to try different ways of doing the scene, and I feel the same.

“I’m not there to make my demo. I’m there to make films.”

For building exteriors, production designer Patrice Vermette sought out examples of the Brutalist movement in architecture popular in the mid-20th century. The look went hand-in-hand with the “New World-ish” concept and the ’70s-era thrillers that infused every aspect of the filmmakers’ approach.

Much of the action takes place inside the two characters’ homes. Both Adam and Anthony live in apartments within giant complexes and both have views of similarly imposing buildings. The production built the two apartments on soundstages in Toronto to maintain control of the sets and avoid the attention they’d likely get bringing Gyllenhaal to real apartments. Vermette designed the practicals into the rooms, and the views out the windows were actually Translights. The filmmakers felt the actual translucent backdrop offered a more low-tech feel than they’d have gotten by shooting greenscreen out the windows and compositing the view in later.

The apartment sets had walls that could fly but the ceilings were bolted in place. “I wanted to limit the possibility of trying lighting that wouldn’t look like it was shot in a real apartment,” he says. “I never want to put that little backlight in that doesn’t feel natural. The less manipulated it feels, the more you believe what you’re seeing.”

A tennis ball stands in for the doppelganger character also played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

The trickiest scenes technically were those in which Adam and Anthony share the frame. Here it was important to maintain the traditional and fluid style of camera work, with a lot of subtle pans and dolly moves and not a lot of handheld work.

For these scenes, Bolduc relied on the Mo-Sys motion control system, which included a small dolly, tripod and head with fully repeatable moves. Gyllenhaal would do a scene as Adam, for example, and Bolduc and a dolly grip would move the camera. Then the Mo-Sys rig was reset and the motion control dolly and head would repeat the same moves while Gyllenhaal played through the scene as Anthony. Montreal-based Rodeo Effects would handle compositing of the two elements.

Bolduc explains that they first tried these scenes with stand-ins for Gyllenhaal to play to but that he ultimately preferred to play to a tennis ball on a stick, which the cinematographer controlled for Gyllenhaal’s eyeline. “I understood the process and I knew exactly where he needed to look, so it was simpler than working with the stand-in,” Bolduc says, “but it meant the whole time he was playing these emotional scenes to a tennis ball!”

Bolduc sums up his and Villeneuve’s approach to the entire shoot: “We always wanted to put ourselves in danger.”