“Whenever I’m concentrating on a shot, to be honest, I don’t feel anything else. I don’t feel cold. I don’t feel hot. I don’t feel the weight.” – The Matrix Resurrections cinematographer and Steadicam op Daniele Massaccesi on melting Red cameras, actors leaping off 500-foot buildings, and growing up on the sets of his father, cult Italian filmmaker Aristide Massaccesi (aka Joe D’Amato). Here’s my interview with Massaccesi for Filmmaker Magazine.

The film was shot on Red Ranger Monstro cameras, with a few Red Komodos used for action coverage and crash cams. Lenses were a mixture of Panaspeeds and Arri zooms.

Filmmaker: You shot most of the movie on Red Ranger Monstro cameras, but you were able to get your hands on a very early version of the Red Komodo. What did you use those for?

Massaccesi: We got the first one when we were still shooting in San Francisco. It was so small that it was like, “Wow, we can put this anywhere.” We used it mostly as a crash camera and actually we melted one. (laughs) At the end of the motorcycle chase scene there’s a big explosion after a car flips and we had one of those cameras a bit too close and it melted. We were able to save the footage, though.

Filmmaker: Were you using one of your Panaspeeds on that shot and did that get melted too?

Massaccesi: No, we put a little crash camera lens on that because we knew that camera might get into trouble. We just used some cheaper stills lenses and created a PL mount for them.

Here’s Massaccesi on his unique method of operating the Steadicam when working with The Matrix Resurrections director Lana Wachowski, where she moves in tandem with him and gives notes and adjustments on the fly while rolling.

Massaccesi: All she has to do is whisper in my ear if she changes her mind or even put a bit more pressure on one side so I know to go in that direction. Often we are communicating without words and it makes things very efficient.

Filmmaker: In the picture above, are the iPads on the back of your Steadicam vest Lana’s monitor for your shot?

Massaccesi: No, that shows her the B Camera shot. She sees what I’m shooting on [the monitor attached to my Steadicam]. And that little [wheel] on my right shoulder is the zoom control so she can zoom in the middle of a take.

Filmmaker: Does that change the balance of the Steadicam? 

Massaccesi: There is a little bit of shifting weight, but I can handle it. The process of putting the camera down and changing the lens just kills the whole momentum of the scene. Even sometimes just grabbing the lens [to zoom manually] will lose the energy. Having that zoom control, Lana can just quickly zoom in and it’s very quiet with no messing around.

And, finally, here’s Massaccesi on the unique rig used for the fast/slow motion combination shots in the film.

Massaccesi: Originally, we were going to try to have 100 Red Helium cameras to recreate the famous bullet time shots [from the original Matrix trilogy]. [SPOILERS FOLLOW] We were going to use it for a scene where The Analyst [played by Neil Patrick Harris] fires a gun at Trinity [Carrie-Anne Moss. The Analyst would move at normal speed and everything else would move at slow speed. But when we were discussing it, the visual effects team said, “It’s going to take a whole day to set up this one shot.” The scene involved so much dialogue and so much emotion that Lana didn’t want to spend one day just to get that one shot. So we said, “Well, how can we do it differently?” I said, “Well, if one actor is moving at slow speed and another actor is moving at fast speed, why don’t we get a stereo rig [similar to what would be used to shoot 3D]?” When you shoot 3D, the cameras are slightly off, but we aligned them so that we had two cameras that could get the same shot. One camera shot eight frames a second and the other camera shot 120 frames per second.

Filmmaker: How did you handle lighting for a scene with two cameras shooting at such different frame rates? You want to use the same aperture, because you’re going to combine the shots and you want the depth of field to be similar. But the high frame rate camera is going to need a lot more light than the undercranked one.

Massaccesi: We did try to do as much as we could at the same stop so we’d have the same depth of field. We put ND on the eight frames per second camera so the cameras could shoot [at the same stop]. We didn’t actually end up using the rest of that rig in that photo—the part with all the Helium cameras”for that scene. We used that later for the scene at [the coffee shop] Simulate where Trinity wakes up and screams [and you see all these different versions of her branch off around her].

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