The shooting schedule for Doug Liman’s sniper-centered thriller The Wall was very short—14 days—and the location and conditions were not very forgiving, to say the least.
We shot in Lancaster, California—the Mojave Desert—right before the Sand Fire wildfire of July 2016. It was hot and windy every day, and all of our shots were exteriors, daylight.
When I first read the script, I thought that the grainy look of Super-16 would be fantastic for it. The images that came to me were very tight shots, combined with super wide ones of the desert, smoke, sandstorms. The wide lens and grainy look of Super-16 would evoke a combat photography feel.
It was the same as my experience shooting David Ayer’s film Fury: In hard conditions, using multiple cameras and trying to achieve the most realistic, believable look, film is still the best option—because it captures reality as our eyes see it. There is something deeply right about film in terms of how the set reacts to it, how actors respond to it. We are so lucky to live in an age when we can choose the most appropriate format for any given project.
When I shoot film, I rely on my light meter. I don’t have any other people around me—no Digital Imaging Technicians, no big monitors. On The Wall we didn’t have any playback. The camera crew sometimes looked at my board monitor; that was it. And what I loved about it was that it brought the documentary spirit of the 1960s or 1970s onto the set.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s soldier character looks through the scope of a rifle often, and through that we see when he is getting fatigued or losing consciousness. For this microphotography, I used a snorkeling lens, with low-angle prisms and some diopters to create an effect of blurry double exposure.
My main goal was to give Aaron as much freedom as possible. That is why we used natural, available light. But because we also had to reflect his point of view in the camerawork, and because he would be behind a small wall for almost the entire movie, we wanted to shoot as many angles as possible so the audience would be engaged. If a whole movie takes place in one place, and coverage is minimal, it can create a claustrophobic feeling—not what we wanted. We wanted his character to get lost in a gigantic desert; just him and his enemy. We wanted everything to connect Aaron with the scope of his rifle. It was always about blocking, seeing what Aaron did as an actor and then shooting with different angles to accommodate his behavior. His instincts are incredible. He feels all the beats of a performance.
I am a big believer that any camerawork has to be motivated by what’s happening with character. I am not a big fan of “let’s go hand-held to shoot more footage.” At the start of The Wall, the camera is static, but as soon as the drama starts building, we shift to more of a hand-held, kinetic look, with looser frames. Later, when Aaron’s character stays alone by the wall, everything comes down again. When he runs, the camera runs with him. The camera serves the character’s behavior. It’s not fancy, in-your-face camerawork—the audience hopefully doesn’t even notice it. If we’re successful they only notice the character. MM
Camera: Arriflex 416
Lenses: Hawk V-Lite16 anamorphics
Film: Kodak Vision3 50D 7203
Lighting: Natural light
Processing: Pull processing
Color Grading: DaVinci Resolve, colorist Joe Gawler
The Wall opens in theaters May 12, 2017, courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions. Photographs by David James / Courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions.