Daniel Pearl, ASC

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Daniel Pearl, ASC

Super 16 Anamorphic Frames Ed Sheeran Clip in Elegant Widescreen

In October 2014, the music video promoting Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” single was released to the world. Within sixteen hours, the clip had been viewed more than two million times on YouTube. Taylor Swift declared it a masterpiece, and the single catapulted to the top of the charts around the world.

The team behind the smash video was led by director Emil Nava and cinematographer Daniel Pearl, ASC. Nava’s credits include clips for up-and-coming stars like Jesse J, Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding and Rita Ora, as well as spots for MasterCard and L’Oreal. Pearl, a chameleon known for his keen eye and unique sensibility, shoots cutting-edge imagery in an amazing array of styles, depending on the material and the concept.

Music video cinematography relies on the striking image, the lyrical movement and the bold composition. But Nava wanted imagery that stood out from the crowd, and envisioned a more classic and formal approach. The clip was designed as a dance piece with refined choreography by Nappytabs, who coached Sheeran and the woman cast as his partner, Brittany Cherry. The location was a sumptuous ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. A widescreen, 2.40:1 letterboxed aspect ratio would set the pas de deux in an elegant frame. And Nava wanted the clip to be shot on 16 mm film.

“The minute Nava mentioned letterbox and Super 16, the Hawk 1.3x Anamorphic Lenses came to mind,” says Pearl. “Instead of throwing away a quarter of the negative area to achieve the wider frame by cropping, I’d be using the whole negative, and that’s of huge benefit when working in 16mm.”

The Hawk V‑Lite 1.3x Anamorphic Lenses, made by Vantage Film in Weiden, Germany, squeeze a widescreen 2.40:1 image almost perfectly into a 1.78 Super 16 film frame. The squeeze is more gentle, with less distortion, than that of traditional 35 mm anamorphic lenses, which apply a 2:1 squeeze ratio.

Pearl’s approach to lighting, composition, color and camera movement bring the piece to life. The camera glides gracefully with the dancers. A half-dozen levels of lights were subtly manipulated during the course of each take. When a fixture was about to became a front-light due to camera movement, it was dimmed down while back- and side-light was brought up. Certain props like a chandelier or an end table appear in the foreground at the edges of the frame, lending the images depth and perspective.

The “Thinking Out Loud” video was produced in a single shoot day. One continuous, complete take was done at the start, and then a couple more times at the end of the day. Shorter segments, roughly 45 to 60 seconds long and calibrated with editing in mind, were shot multiple times through the middle of the day.

The cameras were loaded with KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 7219. Pearl shot the entire spot at 48 frames per second to allow for slow motion, which would be useful for cutting around any rough spots, a capability that in the end was not necessary due to the excellent performance of Sheeran and Cherry.

“For 48 fps, I had to shoot almost wide open on the lenses with the faster stock,” says Pearl. “I was happy to have the shallow depth of field, and the faster stock introduces a bit more grain. Emil wanted a film look, and so he embraced the grain and actually accentuated it a bit in post.”

Pearl also credits Steadicam operator Chris Cunningham with major contributions. At times, the camera was also mounted on a 32-foot crane arm, which he operated himself. “I’m very proud of how the dance is covered,” he says. “We never missed any moves. Each step is photographed from a strong angle. I encouraged the participation of the choreographers in the design of the coverage. When everyone’s contributing and advancing each other’s thoughts, that’s the union of the two worlds. We started spinning off each other, which is what you hope for in filmmaking. That’s as good as it gets.”

Pearl says that 15 minutes after the scout, where he greatly impressed Nava with his proposal to use the Hawk 1.3x anamorphics, he got a call from Nava’s producer, Danyi Deats, asking to hire him for the next job. Since the Ed Sheeran shoot, he has photographed five more high-end music videos with Nava, including shoots using Hawk V‑Lite 2x anamorphic glass and another 16 mm project done with the Hawk 1.3x V‑Lites.

“I think it’s a very good piece,” says Pearl of the finished “Thinking Out Loud” clip. “Ed does a great job. The fact that it’s on film gives it a look. And the Hawk lenses certainly are a big part of the look. There’s no filter in there – that blue streak from the spotlights is the true classic anamorphic flare.

“The people at Vantage are some of the most forward-thinking motion picture equipment designers and inventors of our time,” says Pearl. “Throughout my career, I’ve always sought out ways to do what has never been done with motion imaging, and they are constantly coming up with brilliant ideas and tools that help us do that.”

See the Ed Sheeran “Thinking Out Loud” music video here.

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