Video from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wedding served as a reference for the single-take opening sequence of Leos Carax’s new film “Annette,” reveals cinematographer Caroline Champetier.
Bowing Aug. 6, “Annette” centers on Henry (Adam Driver), a standup comedian who falls in love with Ann (Marion Cotillard), a world-renowned opera singer. It’s a rock opera of sorts, with Russell and Ron Mael of Sparks writing not only the music but the lyrics (Carax also contributes to the latter) and the original screenplay.
The number “So May We Start” serves as a preface to the movie. A close-up of drums cuts to a guitar before settling in on a tight shot of Russell Mael. As the camera zooms out to include a recording studio, we see singers moving down the connecting hallway, where they are joined by Driver and Cotillard — outside their roles in the film. Champetier explains that Carax showed her a home video of Miranda’s 2010 wedding to Vanessa Nadal. At the reception, Miranda re-created “To Life,” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” with his bride’s family and bridal party. “Leos wanted the scene have the same energy as that, and be a preamble to everything,” the DP says.
Champetier had the camera stay ahead of the actors in a continuous tracking shot that follows the ensemble from studio to street. Shooting at night, she didn’t have the luxury of a big budget to set up much lighting, so she relied on dimly lit streets and a few additional crew lights to capture the scene. She used the Sony Venice camera with Zeiss Supreme Prime and Angenieux Optimo lenses, and processed in RAW to produce big files that allowed for greater color.
“It was challenging because I was fighting with black,” she explains. “I had to add color wherever I could.” The actors’ costumes were dark, but Champetier followed Carax’s chromatic scheme, keeping consistency by lighting Driver in green and Cotillard in yellow and maintaining those themes throughout.
Despite the length of the opening shot, it wasn’t Champetier’s most challenging. That came later in the film as the blossoming relationship between Henry and Ann turns sour. A boat trip to salvage their marriage becomes stormy — literally — as the two get into an argument at sea, fighting against a torrential downpour in a thunderstorm.
Champetier proposed filming the storm inside a studio. Carax was amenable, but he didn’t want it to be backgrounded against a green screen, which he felt was stylistically artificial. A projector screen was OK, but this created another problem: Without the green screen, the filmmakers could show B-roll of the stormy sea or the sky, but not both.
So Champetier created a puppet version of the set against the projected background to determine her lighting and the coloring of the sea. The miniature helped her visualize for Carax an alternative solution — projecting only the waves but lit at an attention-grabbing 25,000 lumens.
Champetier placed her camera and dolly on a 65-foot-long, nine-foot-high platform outside the boat and adjusted the zoom to create the desired effect. “I wanted to give audiences that feeling of being on the boat amid a storm,” she says, “and create that sense of danger.”
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