- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Ben Gervais, the man who helped director Ang Lee realize his high frame rate vision for 2016’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, was called up by the Academy Award winning director to help him once again make strides in a new technology. As Technical Supervisor, Gervais boarded Gemini Man to help tell the story of a trained government assassin, Will Smith, who faces his greatest threat, a younger version of himself. The film would demand advances in visual effects to render a version of the box office star as 30 years younger. The film, a dramatic action thriller, would also be more demanding with high-speed action sequences and close-quarter fights requiring advances in the size and weight of the cameras used to film the production (in 3D as well!)
Gervais, who has worked on several high-profile pictures supporting the native 3D filming processes, including Pacific Rim, Hugo, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, was up for the challenge. The results of the high frame rate process can be seen for the first time in the home theater with the 4K UHD version offering the film in 60FPS (120FPS is not presently capable outside of specially equipped movie theaters).
Gemini Man is now available now from Paramount Home Entertainment on Blu-Ray, Ultra-HD and Digital
HTF: You worked with Ang Lee in developing ways to help him realize his artistic vision for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. You blazed a trail in doing something that was technologically new for that film. What did you learn on Billy Lynn's production that you found invaluable to you on Gemini Man, and what was substantially different between your first rodeo and this film?
“We've got to do all these things that people in our industry are used to doing [with] a camera that's less than half the size with the weight of our crazy, big 3D camera. So, there was a lot of technology challenges…”
Ben Gervais: Like a lot of first tries at something, you learn a lot more about what you shouldn't do than what you should. So that was definitely a lot of the pressure I was under anyways. We made a few mistakes [on Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk,] and we learned from those mistakes. But we didn't necessarily know what the right answer was. We just knew what didn't work. And a lot of the process of Gemini Man was trying to figure out what didn't work. I think we were pretty successful in that. The studio was very generous. They gave us a lot of time to just test. We spent close to four months just trying things before we shot anything that would actually make it into the film. And that really allowed us to iterate and try a whole bunch of different things and look at them and go, "Oh, okay. This is what we need to do to make that work. Let's have more of this. And let's move the camera this way. And let's try these things."
So in terms of the filmmaking project, it was a lot of small things and big things in terms of how do we move the camera, how do we have the actors' performances-- do we need to make them more complex, give the actors more to think about. All those sorts of things. We were able to spend more time on sort of refining what the art of that was. And then on the technology side, it was a lot of proving that making a movie this way was possible. [And] it was an action movie, so we've got to move the camera. We've got to put the camera on a motorcycle. We've got to do handheld. We've got to do all these things that people in our industry are used to doing [with] a camera that's less than half the size with the weight of our crazy, big 3D camera. So, there was a lot of technology challenges just trying to make smaller equipment, and trying to make it lighter, and faster, and easier to use for the technicians on set. So, there was a lot that we learned between the two [films]. It was really a lot of iteration and sort of almost a lifetime of experience, it feels like, between then and now.
HTF: I'm glad you mentioned the motorbike sequence, because there are moments in Gemini Man, the motorbike sequence in particular, where that heightened sense, or the ultra-real sense the higher frame rate gives you really makes a scene like that feel different. I watched the film with my wife because I wanted to get a second opinion on how high frame rate would look on TV at home and we both agreed that can pull you into a sequence like that because it almost feels like you're seeing something that's real, like it actually took place, and not the construct within the fictional narrative of a film. At the start of production, when you're looking at what the film's going to ask for, did that sequence in particular either excite you or make you nervous because of the challenge of mounting the necessary equipment on something that's going to be zipping through cars at 50 miles an hour? Was it exciting or daunting?
“In the case with the big long shot, where we run through all the alleys in the 45-second single take, that individual shot took months of planning.”
Ben Gervais: Both [chuckles]. We're talking about a huge amount of very heavy technology that is very expensive. Now, we're a big builder. We've got money. But we don't want to hurt anybody. This is not a life or death thing, and we don't want it to be, so it's an amazing challenge to have someone like Ang sort of put this on my plate and say, "Figure out how to shoot this." And it's daunting. It's like, "Oh, okay. Well, that's exciting for him to say that, but then how do I actually pull this off?" In the case with the big long shot, where we run through all the alleys in the 45-second single take, that individual shot took months of planning. We mocked it up in Savannah, where we started shooting the movie, with a racetrack. We had a motorcycle up there and we put cardboard boxes down in the same configuration as the walls and the corners so that we [could] basically reproduce that shot from a technical standpoint of, "How do we get the motorcycles around here? And how do we have the stunt character there?” And then trying all this wireless technology, we had to develop and make sure it worked in all these different elements. Doing shots like that we really had to test, and then go back to the drawing board, and test again, and go back to the drawing board. It was a really iterative process. And then even the day [we shot that take], that was the only shot we did that day. It took us most of the day to get a take that worked. And time is money, and you've only got so much time to shoot all the shots for a movie. So, the pressure's definitely on, but once you see it and you've got it, then it's like, "Oh, my God. That's amazing." It makes the months of pain and suffering worth it once you actually see it, and it's like, "Yes. This is everything we thought it could be and more."
HTF: I've been reading opinions on high frame rate. There are people who loved it when they saw Peter Jackson do with 48 frames per second (FPS) with the Hobbit movies and adored the 120 frames per second. And then some people just can't get used to it. I recently saw it phrased interestingly, saying “high frame rate can lack the reassuring artistic distance that 24 frames per second film creates.” I also read that Ang had talked about how digital film that doesn't want to be film. It wants to be its own thing. And I think that Gemini Man is his expression of that theory. Where do you see high frame rate fitting in the cinematic landscape from here?
“Maybe what we should do is use this technology and actually see what the aesthetic of digital cinema is. And that could be its own thing. And it could be different than regular filmmaking.”
Ben Gervais: Well, I'm inclined to agree with Ang. I think that celluloid and 24 frame filmmaking is still available to any filmmaker that wants to use it. And it's created this giant body of beautiful art that we all love. But instead of using all this cool, new technology to just mimic what celluloid did, all we're ever going to achieve from that is something as good as celluloid, because all that's what we're trying to mimic. Maybe what we should do is use this technology and actually see what the aesthetic of digital cinema is. And that could be its own thing. And it could be different than regular filmmaking. In terms of audience taste, some people are going to always want to listen to their vinyl, and some people are going to listen to CDs. Or some people are going to like classical music, and some people are going to like rock and roll. They're both legitimate art forms, it's just, especially when something is new, people can get a little bit defensive sometimes about how it looks. And also, maybe it's not for them. A lot of the people who like the higher frame rate tend to be younger. They grew up with video games. Maybe they've tried VR a few times. And so, it's a different aesthetic, and it's a different tool. And all it does is just add to the power that filmmakers can use to tell a story. In the case of Ang, he really believes that we can find a different sort of compelling way to see and tell a story that you couldn't necessarily tell with standard 24 frame, 2D cinema.
HTF: Let me wrap up with this question. You worked with Martin Scorsese on his 3d masterpiece, Hugo. I reviewed that for Home Theater Forum and gave the highest rating. I was ecstatic about how the 3D worked in that film and what it offered the viewer. I have been disappointed to see 3D fall out of favor, at least in the home theater realm. They don't offer 3D TVs anymore. Do you lament how the 3D revolution that sort of started with Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf, and then, of course, Cameron and his Avatar seemed to give it a huge boost. But it's fallen by the wayside. I think largely because of movies not filming native 3D and doing cheap conversions on some films. And I'll call out Clash of the Titans for how terrible that 3D conversion was. But do you lament that 3D’s fate, and do you think high frame rate, in conjunction with 3D, could help it see a resurgence?
“…there was this sort of gold rush-type of dynamic that happened with 3D, where, in a lot of cases, a 3D sticker was hastily slapped on a product that was not envisioned to be in 3D. The audience sees that.”
Ben Gervais: Yeah. I think it's very disappointing that the experience isn't even available to home viewers anymore. I think that's something I wish was different. Obviously, I'm in agreement. I think that, unfortunately, there was this sort of gold rush-type of dynamic that happened with 3D, where, in a lot of cases, a 3D sticker was hastily slapped on a product that was not envisioned to be in 3D. The audience sees that. Consumers are smart people for the most part and they know when they're being sold a bill goods. And in a lot of cases they were which is unfortunate because it detracts from the art that stereo filmmaking can be in the case of Hugo or some of the other films that we and other people legitimately made in 3D for 3D. And Ang very much considers himself a 3D filmmaker now. I think he watched Billy Lynn in 2D once. I think he watched Gemini Man in 2D once just as a QC pass for its new version. But he really thinks of himself as a 3D filmmaker. He wants to make these films in 3D for a 3D audience. So, maybe the pendulum has kind of swung back the other way a little bit too much. And now, it's really the people who want to stick with the format do it. And it's not such a money grab anymore. Hopefully, now, we can sort of have a slow build of just people who are really sort of passionate about it.
HTF: Thank you so much, Ben. It was great talking to you today.
Ben Gervais: Thanks, Neil.