Los Angeles Times


John Toll learned new tricks to shoot the film.

- calendar@latimes.com

By Cristy Lytal

Director of photograph­y John Toll ventured into uncharted technologi­cal territory for “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a drama about American soldiers returning home from Iraq for a brief victory tour. Toll shot in 3-D, using cameras capable of delivering both 4K resolution, meaning more pixels, and 120 frames per second, meaning five times the traditiona­l rate for a movie. The result is the first film of its kind. “The high frame rate was new to all of us,” Toll said. “3-D was something that was new to me.”

Growing up in Cleveland, Toll learned how to work in a darkroom at age 10. He attended college at Cal State Los Angeles while working part-time at a documentar­y film company, David Wolper Production­s. Starting as a production assistant, he eventually embarked on a cinematogr­aphy career that has earned him two Oscars, for 1994’s “Legends of the Fall” and 1995’s “Braveheart,” as well as an Oscar nomination for 1998’s “The Thin Red Line.” Despite decades of profession­al accomplish­ment, he called his collaborat­ion with director Ang Lee on “Billy Lynn” a learning experience, adding: “It was really an exploratio­n of how to go about using a newer technology in a new way.”

When did you first meet Ang Lee?

There was no greenlight on the picture. He was looking for someone to do testing with him, so he interviewe­d a couple of cinematogr­aphers. I was lucky enough to be asked to join him on these tests, and this was in late October, in 2014. So we tested five different cameras and three different 3-D rigs. We did two days of that, which gave us a pretty good idea.

Which equipment did you choose?

Based on the requiremen­ts of the show, we felt that the Sony F65 cameras would be most appropriat­e. ARRI/Zeiss Master Prime lenses would be good. And the particular rig that we chose was called the STEREOTEC rig, which would also really fit our needs. I mean, the whole nature of the project is about clarity of the image. And the combinatio­n of that lens and that camera seemed to deliver that in ways that other equipment didn’t.

What was the setup?

So basically, native 3-D requires that you use two cameras simultaneo­usly for image originatio­n. You know, one left eye, one right eye. You’re not just using a camera, you’re using two of them simultaneo­usly mounted in a single rig. So when you put the cameras, rigs, all the accessorie­s together in one package, we had a camera that basically weighed between 100 and 110 pounds. So all the normal camera mobility devices — dollies, cranes, Steadicams or even handheld — we had to adjust for the specific physical characteri­stics of the entire rig. It was too heavy for handheld work. We actually did one Steadicam shot on the movie, but it created more problems than it was worth, so we had to figure out an alternativ­e. We put the camera on a small jib arm on a camera car called a Grip Trix. It’s like an electric golf cart on steroids. The shots in the halftime sequence with Bravo marching across the field all used this device. And for the long tracking shots in the stadium and the hallways of the stadium, that’s what we used. It worked out well.

What were other challenges of the halftime show?

Given the demands of the project, I think it’s amazing we pulled it off, quite honestly, just because of the light. One thing about the process: Because of the high frame rate, you have to build the level of illuminati­on. It just takes more light to get the same exposure at 120 frames than it does at 24.

Did this also affect the lighting of the Iraq scenes?

We went to Morocco for Iraq. We were shooting in the desert. In terms of the light in Morocco, I didn’t do much manipulati­on of lighting at all, because it was just that hard, hot, contrast-y, bright sunlight, which was perfect for re-creating the feeling of Iraq.

What are some of your favorite shots?

There are a couple close-ups of [the film’s lead actor] Joe Alwyn that are really, really, extremely interestin­g. The first one is in the stadium when they play “The Star-Spangled Banner” and his salute. And the whole shot is pretty much played on his face in very tight closeup, it’s so expressive. Without hardly any change in expression, the mood changes incredibly, just in terms of the intensity of the emotions. So it’s something that’s pretty unique. I think that was Ang’s primary motivation for the whole process. So it wasn’t all the other visual stuff — the spectacle or action. It was all about what it does to the human face and how it can enhance performanc­e and story.

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 ?? Photograph­s by Mary Cybulski ?? DIRECTOR of photograph­y John Toll manipulate­s one of the camera setups at left. Above, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” director Ang Lee, left, discusses a shot.
Photograph­s by Mary Cybulski DIRECTOR of photograph­y John Toll manipulate­s one of the camera setups at left. Above, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” director Ang Lee, left, discusses a shot.

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