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Miranda Set His Sights on Wildfire in ‘No Exit’

Over the past decade, Claudio Miranda, ASC has built up an impressive body of work that includes such visually distinctive and groundbreaking films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, TRON: Legacy, Oblivion, Tomorrowland, and Life of Pi, the latter of which earned him an Oscar for Best Cinematography.

Currently, he is focused on No Exit, the true story of an elite firefighting crew that lost 19 members in a 2013 Arizona wildfire. The director is Joseph Kosinski, Miranda’s collaborator on two previous films. The cast includes Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Ben Hardy, and Jeff Bridges. Given the difficulties of working safely with fire, the budget on No Exit is relatively modest.

When photographing fire, cinematographers usually set exposure to record as much variegation as possible. Blown-out highlights make for less dramatic flames. In testing, Miranda found that the flames could be brighter than the noonday Arizona sun. He knew he would need to be able to change focal length and stop on the fly in order to adapt to rapidly changing conditions, and he chose his toolkit in part with that in mind.

Key components of his package include Sony F65 cameras, Fujinon Premier zooms, and DJI M600 w/X5r and Inspire X5R drones. Miranda knows the Fujinon Premier zooms well, having used them extensively on Oblivion and Tomorrowland.

“I really like these lenses,” says Miranda. “They’re sharp as hell – even sharper than some cine primes, which is amazing. We love the detail that the Fujinons bring to the shoot. And the flexibility in terms of focal length is essential on a job with this one. We’re planning on shooting 4K and also releasing in IMAX, as we did on Tomorrowland, and everyone has been happy with the overall quality and sharpness, as well as the durability. Why go anywhere else? It’s been my basic camera package for the last three movies.”

The production built a 300-square-foot fire set in order to maintain control of the flames, and massive quantities of liquid and regular propane, sometimes mixed with diesel fuel, are being torched. And since the locations are in Arizona, sometimes the air temperature is already 110+ degrees F. before the fires are sparked.

Much of the film, for obvious reasons, takes place in exterior situations, where Miranda must work with natural light. The workhorse lenses are the Fujinon Premier 18-85 mm and the 24-180 mm, and the Premier 25-300 mm model is often on the camera for aerial work.

“When you’re in the helicopter, you want to be able to capture planes dropping water, and to be able to get a wide shot at a moment’s notice,” Miranda says. “You want to be able to go from 25 to 300. We were very happy with the look of Oblivion, and we’ve done well with the combination of F65 and the Fujinon zooms. It works. And the fire looks great. There’s dimensionality in the highlights.

“When we go into the forest, the detail is there,” he says. “The landscapes we’re shooting look great. That’s another reason we keep going back to these lenses. They’re good edge-to-edge, and on the wide end, they’re amazingly distortion-free. You don’t have to worry when putting an actor on the edge – they’re safe there. And they’re beautiful wide open – there’s no need to stay at a 4.5/6 to make them look good. I haven’t found another lens that I like as much.”

No Exit is scheduled for release in September 2017. 

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