Shooting World War 2 action/drama “Under the Jericho Sun” on the Alexa Mini.
I'm thankful for the opportunity to work on this film which was due to two industry colleagues, stunt co-ordinator, Joe Golby, and actor Oliver Park. Both of whom let me know of the project that they were both already attached to, and was in need of a DP to lens it. It was war, drama, action, what's not to like? So I threw my hat in the ring and Director Marc Pearce kindly offered me the job.
"Under the Jericho Sun" was written by Steve Langridge and tells the story of a pair of soldiers (Sam Harrison and Oliver Park) and a mysterious spy (Eleni Skarpari) who fight for survival in the North African Desert against a deadly Stuka dive-bomber.
Whilst on the run from the German army, they become stranded on an exposed ridge in the middle of nowhere. With time and options running out, they must fight to survive as Stuka planes and local wildlife close in around them. The film was shot over three days and each day offered something special to be photographed whether it was a moving jeep, a stunt, or having creepy crawlies on set like scorpions and snakes!
This was my first time shooting on the Arri Alexa Mini and in 4K. Well, just under 4K as the mini records to 3424 x 1926. I love the simplicity of the Alexas; changing any settings is only a button push away, the images are stunning, and they are so easy to set up. My camera crew consisted of 1st AC, Pascale Neuschafer, 2nd AC, Emily Tait and James Holloway on grip duties. Lens wise we had a kit of CP2s, with an 18mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm, and an 85mm. I also had an Angenieux zoom 30mm – 80mm (T2.8) which proved very useful during the action scenes if I had to alter the frame on the fly. I always like to have a zoom when shooting action. I feel you have to be ready to change things at any moment and zooms allow you that flexibility. I always stock a set of Black Pro-Mist filters for a little diffusion and they felt more appropriate on this film being a period movie. The 1/4 BPM made the images a little bit softer and offered a more romantic feel. Other filters included some Tiffen soft edge ND graduated filters to help exposure on the skies.
Doubling for the African desert was a salt quarry in Norfolk. It offered 360° scenic views that could play as Africa perfectly. The film opens with the soldiers and their spy escaping from the pursuing Germans in a old jeep that breaks down on a ridge leaving them exposed. The first minute of screen time was all staged inside the moving jeep which meant rigging a car mount that was no easy task for key grip, James Holloway. The lack of panels and door frames normally found on modern day vehicles forced James to improvise, but he managed it. (see pic below right)
The German Stuka plane that finds them and proceeds to fire at them was originally planned to be a 6ft model, and this was exciting to me as I had not shot models before. I researched photographing miniatures in my Industrial Light and Magic special effects book as in there they give the formula for shooting speeds when photographing models depending on the size of the model itself. I knew in the back of my mind though that a few background plates for possible CG work would surely be needed too. Come the shooting day, the owner of the model pulled out due to high winds at the location so we immediately defaulted to a CG plane which I was more than happy to go with. There was already going to be some visual effects work with a few sky replacements so it wasn't too much of stretch to shoot plates for the plane action too. Al Tabrett was on visual effects duties taking care of planes flying, explosions, bullet hits, and sky replacements.
One particular sequence featured actor Oliver Park running from an incoming Stuka plane firing at him causing him to throw himself over the edge of a ridge and fall down to the bottom and break his ankle. Stunt man, Neil Chapelhow (doubling for actor Oliver Park), and stunt coordinator, Joe Golby, staged the stunt which was captured from various angles; once from the high angle crane, another from opposite the ridge to capture the full height of the fall, and a low angle from the bottom of the ridge so that Neil would come crashing towards camera. Once at the bottom of the ridge actor, Oliver Park, would come rolling into frame and the illusion was complete. I tip my hat to Neil for performing that stunt a few times as there was lots of rocks and jagged edges to hit on the way down.
Lighting for the most part on the film consisted of using a 12x12 Ultra bounce, a 12x12 silk for diffusion, as well as a 2.5k HMI + ½ CTS for back light and edge when the sun was in. We were very lucky with the weather which offered us lovely orange desert sun, even though we were only in a quarry in Norfolk!
Grade was carried out over two days by Onsight, London, who were very good and flexible to work with. A de-saturation of the colours was applied to help sell that period look as well as a slight vignette. Although we had great weather on the shoot (apart from a 30 minute downpour on the last day) there were a few instances where we had to add some blue in to the sky to help matching.
Big thanks to producer Fleur De Henrie and Richard Wade on producing duties for keeping things running smoothly on set.
Overall, Jericho was a fun shoot with a great crew. Lots of fond memories to take away especially coming home at the end of each day to the Travel Lodge hotel when you could easily identify which rooms our crew were staying in thanks to the trail of white footprints of sand and salt leading up to their door! We weren't the manager's favourite customers that weekend I don't think.
You can find out more about the film on the film's Facebook page here:
Picture credits: Laura Radford.