Frame by Frame – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

Year2018
Decade2010s
CinematographerBruno Delbonnel (imdb link)
DirectorThe Coen Brothers
Aspect Ratio1.85
DistributorNetflix
GenreWestern
Format – Digital
Camera
Arri Alexa Studio XT and Arri Alexa Mini (shot in 3.4K Open Gate ArriRaw)
LensesArri/Zeiss Master Primes and Arri Alura zooms (15.5-45mm, 30-80mm)

Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel on his preferred focal lengths…
“I’m a big fan of wide lenses – I don’t like long lenses so for me a 32mm or 40mm is a long lens already. On Inside Llewyn Davis we shot almost everything with a 27mm. And the same here on Buster Scruggs – 70% of it is with a 27mm.” – from Variety

Categories
Clink on any link to see similar frames from other films.
Wide Shots
Breaking the Fourth Wall
Close-Ups
Western Showdown
Vanishing Point Perspective
Color – Blue
Three Shot
Dusk
Day Exteriors
Stagecoach

The Movie

“I don’t hate my fellow man, even when he’s tiresome, surly, and tries to cheat at poker. I figure that’s just the human material. And him that finds in it cause for anger and dismay is just a fool for expecting better.” – the titular gunslinger Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson) on his wanted poster nickname “The Misanthrope”

The Coen Brothers check off a pair of milestones – their first film shot digitally and their first intended primarily as a streaming experience – with this six part Western anthology that twists familiar genre archetypes including the wagon train, the bank robber, the prospector, and the gunslinger. The Coen’s subtext is often inscrutable and you’ll never catch them directly talking about the meaning of their work – even the film’s production designer says he wasn’t sure if the stagecoach passengers in the film’s final chapter are alive or dead. But mortality seems to be the brothers’ primary preoccupation here. One of the stagecoach passengers in the final segment – half of a bounty hunting duo – describes his role as distracting his targets with stories before his partner thumps them. Perhaps that’s the Coen’s way of defining their own role as storytellers – life can be cruel and its sense of humor ironic and all we can do is distract ourselves with tales until the reaper thumps us.

Joel Coen on his first streaming-centric release…
“We came into the business at a time when ancillary markets, which were essentially home video markets, were really responsible for the fact that we were able to get our movies financed. Sometimes, that was the principle way our movies were seen. So if you look at The Big Lebowski, it did a reasonable amount of box office but it did a phenomenal amount of DVDs. People primarily saw that movie on their television sets. For us to get too precious about it would be a little bit strange.”from the Washington Post

The Coen Brothers on shooting digitally for the first time…
“There’s so much latitude in what you’re capturing, you can make it look like pretty much anything later in terms of contrast, in terms of color, in terms of pretty much everything…You’re sort of deferring decisions about how it’s going to look until later because when you capture it on film, it’s actually in the grain of the negative…And when you’re capturing it digitally, you’re just sort of recording pixels, all of which are negotiable later.”from NPR


Framing Device

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Full Coverage – Western showdown

Here’s a look at all the camera set-ups from one of Buster Scruggs’ classic Western showdowns.

Near Algodones

Production designer Jess Gonchor on this segment’s hanging tree location…
“We found this cottonwood tree in the middle of the desert, and it had the right character. We had to cut down the tree into 25 parts and transport it 50 miles to another part of New Mexico, and then bolt it together. It looked a little bit alive and a lot dead. We also had to build some give into it, because it was very windy there. We cemented it 16 feet deep into the ground. It was quite an engineering feat.” – from the LA Times

Meal Ticket

All Gold Canyon

The Gal Who Got Rattled

The Mortal Remains

Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel on shooting this segment as a series of long takes…
“The whole (Mortal Remains) scene was 20 minutes long and took three days to shoot, and we shot every take all the way through, which would’ve been impossible on film. It was wonderful for the actors, and for that purpose, digital was fantastic.” – from IndieWire


Quotes

Bruno Delbonnel on how he selected his camera and lenses for Buster Scruggs…
“I was trying to keep things as simple as possible since it was the first time Joel and Ethan Coen were using a digital camera. I’ve never been interested in the new technologies, I always tried to keep thing very simple. Light and framing are more important than the new toys. For years I was using the same package: a set of Cooke S4 lenses, an Arricam and Kodak 5219. For this project, the closest to this set on digital was the Alexa studio and its optical finder and a set of Master Primes because of the extra stop I would need on remote locations with a very limited access to big generators.” – From IndieWire

Production designer Jess Gonchor on Buster Scruggs’ influences…
“The first story, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” is the most color-saturated one, which looks like a grand Hollywood western. We were thinking of the films of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, and the “Singing Cowboy” era (B-movies of the 1930s and ’40s). “Near Algodones,” which stars James Franco and Stephen Root, was more of a “High Plains Drifter,” a Clint Eastwood western set in a dusty prairie town, monochromatic and wind-swept. “All Gold Canyon” is really its own thing, based on a Jack London story. John Wayne’s “The Big Trail” inspired us for “The Gal Who Got Rattled.” We had to build those huge wagons from scratch, because nothing that big really exists. “The Mortal Remains” featured a higher-altitude gypsy wagon, theatrical show, something like “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” set in a damp, high-altitude Colorado town.”from the LA Times


Behind the Scenes images

The before-and-after effects shots are from The Art of VFX.

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