"Exacting pre-planning and choosing the right tools."
The 3rd season of the Netflix series Das Boot caught DoP Armin Franzen smack dab in the middle of a technical revolution. "I’m from a generation that never had a lot of time on set. All the big streamers want cinema quality, in a ‘soap opera schedule,’" he explains. His solution is exacting pre-planning and choosing the right tools.
The mandate was 8K, so the series adopted RED Monstro cameras for season 3 and although vintage glass was tempting, the demanding production schedule of a pandemic-crazed streaming audience called for the standardized sizes and comfortable compatibility of modern glass. To cover large format, Zeiss Supreme Primes integrated much of that vintage look with the brand's hallmark precision—and oh how nicely the lenses slipped in and out of the matteboxes, ready for the next setup.
Unlike the epic 1998 film by the same name, the 21st century "Das Boot" series offers diverse interior locations, many outside the flagship submarine. That's where DoP Armin Franzen' s haunting images (A second Chance, New Commands, The Tide is Turning, War by other Means, In Depth) reveal the stories of what's in the character's hearts. And Franzen's epic lighting really put the range of DoPchoice light directing tools to work.
The award-winning cinematographer is no stranger to historical dramas. In fact he scored a German TV Academy nomination for Berlin 1, set in the 1920's. Rather than going by the book he evaluates each script with a new eye. "Every period has kind of a an aesthetic cliche,” he explains. "And I don't want to get manipulated by this cliche. Working on a project, I try to be free and I ask myself 'what is important for the series, for the story?'"
That's what led to his conscious decision to alter the visual pallet in the third season of Das Boot. "Things changed," he explains. "There's a lot of ironic desire. There's a longing for the end of the war. And there's a kind of romantic feeling, which is very important in that season." Because there was a rise of questioning the morality of war, he felt it was relevant to have more color contrast and saturation, to get more emotional contrast. Unlike a typical World War II drama that's desaturated, Franzen adds, "Sometimes you have to use your tools in a contrary way... I think in this case it's more tragic if you have colors, if you have more saturation, and if the characters have rich skin tones."
To get his trademark saturated look, Franzen likes using top light. "To light rich and dark, but detailed, means in a series-schedule, that you have to be very fast," he says. "The top light is always very important for that kind of general rim feel—it's very, very delicate." His method of lighting from above varies depending on the set construction. "Sometimes I would just put a 4x8 filter frame on the ceiling with some Asteras to have a top light." Other times he arranged a series of Skypanels, or Carpetlights, and in front of them used 12x12 or 20x20 filter frames and the DoPchoice Butterfly Grid. "I use a lot of filter frames with DoPchoice," he explains. By skewing and overlapping the frost frames he can precisely control the shape and density of light he's after. "It's a very good system for adjusting the light. You can do crazy things. At one point it's about modeling the light on the face to get this really soft, but high contrast, and sometimes it's about the background. "
For night exteriors, he says: "I use 20x12 or 12x12 DoPchoice Butterfly Grids to get a soft fill light. It can be a frontal or a side light...most cases it's not the key light." For the key light he might use a SkyPanel 60, Carpetlights or LiteMats for the illumination which he pushes through the filter frame fronted by the DoPchoice Butterfly grid.
He is big on using battery-operated Asteras, adding, "I always have SNAPGRIDS® on the Asteras." It’s a go-to package ready to put big light into overheads or tight spaces like automobile interiors which can be seen throughout the episodes.
After successfully completing the Season 3 episodes which are currently screening on Sky / Wow, Franzen immediately dove into production on a feature film called “A Whole Life”, this time shooting in the mountains. Whether shooting in studio, the tight confines of the submarine set, or a clifftop exterior he has DoPchoice light refining tools in his kit to help create his "look".