A Unique Format for a Unique Tale
Hawk V‑Lite 2x anamorphic lenses and the Red Monstro VistaVision 8K sensor recently combined for distinctive visuals on The Spy, a six-episode Netflix/Canal+ miniseries based on the true story of Eli Cohen, a Mossad agent whose intelligence ensured Israel’s success in the Six-Day War.
Director of photography Itai Ne’eman and director Gideon Raff arrived at the unusual approach after testing revealed its unique flavor.
“We knew we wanted to shoot in a 2:1 aspect ratio in the anamorphic format,” says Ne’eman. “With Netflix, you need 4K. During testing, we tried the Sony Venice camera and the Arri Alexa LF, but I liked the combination of Hawk V‑Lites and the Red Monstro. So we shot 8K 5x6 on the big VistaVision-gauge sensor and reframed to 2:1, resulting in 4.3K resolution. That’s unusual because of the height, but we found that somehow the V‑Lites held the height better. The Open Gate image of the Monstro is about 21 millimeters, instead of 18 mm, so you see more of the vertical dimension of the lens, which gives you a very cool look.
“You have to watch your frame,” he says. “But we sometimes used the vignette to our advantage, mostly on wide shots from high vantage points, where you feel almost a tilt-and-shift look. We saw many movies about that era, and we wanted to give ours a slightly modernistic look. The spy aspect is a great story, but we also have the emotional story of the character and his family.”
The 2:1 frame uses the entire chip from top to bottom, but also includes all the anamorphic flavor of the lens in the horizontal dimension. “I like anamorphic lenses not because of the flares,” he says. “I prefer them because of the three-dimensional feel, and the way the focus behaves. For me, it feels more 3D, because the lens has two nodal points, and when you see movement, it reacts more than the way the eye interprets a scene. And of course, the bokeh of the V‑Lites is amazing. Those lenses are just unbelievable.”
To portray Cohen, Raff made the audacious choice of Sacha Baron Cohen, best known for his comedic roles like Ali G and Borat.
The production involved cross-shooting all six episodes, and was slated for five months in Morocco and one month in Budapest. Raff and Ne’eman, who had previously worked together on Prisoners of War, Homeland, Tyrant and Dig, agreed that the story required precise, elegant camera movement, so the cameras were usually in studio mode and mounted on a dolly.
Ne’eman had used Hawk glass on a previous project, but this was his first endeavor with Vantage’s support as a rental house.
“Vantage Brussels was really amazing, starting with the tests,” he says. “It was tough shooting in Morocco, where you’re far away from everything. Vantage was very helpful, even building the DIT carts and coming to visit us in Morocco to make sure everything was smooth.
“The Spy is an unusual project, and I’m happy with how it turned out – it’s beautiful,” says Ne’eman. “Once you see it, I think you’ll agree that it’s unique.”
Watch the official trailer here
Images: Vantage®, IMDB/David Lukacs - © 2019 - Netflix, Itai Ne’eman (Set Images), Netflix