Steve Fierberg, ASC has been on a roll of late. Among his recent credits are a Showtime pilot called The Affair with director Mark Mylod, a period feature called Dear Eleanor with director Kevin Connolly, another feature titled You’re Not You with George C. Wolfe, and a third feature, El cielo es azul, which was directed by his brother, a veteran producer making his directorial debut.
El cielo es azul and Dear Eleanor were done on compressed schedules.
“I was amazed by how quickly we could shoot a one-camera movie,” says Steven. “We could do it well and inexpensively. Both films were made with the director standing right next to the camera. You’re not wasting time with the video village, with the director away from the camera. We’re all within five feet of each other. The actors do the performance, he likes the performance, I say it looks good, and we move on — next shot. The set-up time with two cameras is longer, that’s all there is to it. I’m trying to light for two angles, and we’re set dressing for two angles. Of course for certain shots, and for certain movies, using two cameras is an asset and the right way to work. But it was eye-opening. I’d forgotten just how quick it can be with a single camera. It’s a very focused, elegant, quiet, yet fast way to work.”
El cielo es azul is a comedy about two wealthy Mexicans who encounter stereotypes while vacationing in New York. Although they are rich, they end up running from the law.
Panavision helped with El cielo es azul, and the cameras were sometimes loaded with outdated stock and other times with 500T 5219. The lenses were Primos and the 4:1 and 11:1 zooms. The schedule was set for 20 days, but they were finished in 19. The format was 3-perf 35mm.
“I hadn’t shot film in maybe a year and a half,” says Steve. “The first day of dailies, I was like, ‘Oh, my god.’ I’d really forgotten how good and beautiful it can be. We were shooting in New York City, and we did some driving shots in some situations that were quite dark. I couldn’t light anything except the foreground, and in the background, you saw all the detail you’d ever want to see. I was shocked. It was 5219 pushed one stop, which made it 800 ASA. And I wasn’t even shooting with prime lenses — it was the 4:1 zoom.
“People complain that you can’t shoot film on a $3 million budget, but that's not always true — this was under $500,000,” he says. “I was a little worried about working with my brother. Would we revert to childhood roles and start fighting over the craft service food? Seriously, I’d worked a little bit with him in a producer role, but this was just great, creatively and otherwise — one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. It was just a great, great life opportunity to be able to work with my brother. It was just a very small scale picture, but it’s one of the best looking things I’ve done in a long time.”
Dear Eleanor reunited Steven with Kevin Connolly and others from the Entourage gang. In the story, two teenaged girls travel across the United States in 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, in search of Eleanor Roosevelt.
This time, Steve shot Arri Alexa in the ProRes 2K format. The aspect ratio was 2.4:1, and the lenses on Dear Eleanor were older Ultra Speeds that had yet to be remounted to become Panavision’s PVintage models.
“We compared the ProRes 2K with ArriRaw, and we couldn’t believe how close it was,” he says. “It’s cheaper and more convenient, and it was remarkably good even if you wanted to find a detail outside a bright window. We tested 2-perf film, but the 5219 looked pretty grainy in 2-perf. Alexa seemed superior to me for this film. I had a great collaboration with Kevin Connolly, and I’m really happy with the way we photographed it.”
You’re Not You had a bigger budget and a cast led by Hilary Swank. “I think film is kinder to women in general,” says Steve. “Not that she needs any help! But the grain gives it texture and the flesh tones are lusher. This was a year ago, and since then we’ve seen some stuff shot on Alexa that is pretty great, but I think a lot of the best stuff is still on film.”
The director of You’re Not You, George C. Wolfe, brings a strong theater background to his work. “I have a fairly good background in art and theater, so that was a good connection for us,” says Steve. “I’m not an expert, and I don’t see as much theater as I used to, but if you have something like that in common, it helps you communicate and come up with ideas. George is an intelligent, artistic, talented man who is always saying smart, funny things, so I made a little red book of his quotations, put a Photoshopped picture of him as Chairman Mao on the cover, and gave it to him as a wrap gift.”
Regarding his hitting streak, Steve says, “I guess I would just say that I’ve been really lucky in the last two years, because I’ve been able to work with really great directors. They’re also friends of mine, in some way. Kevin Connolly and Mark Mylod are from my Entourage family, and of course, my brother is from my actual family. There’s a lot to be said for that magical collaboration. Maybe I’m a better collaborator now than I was. What makes it great is the collaboration between me and the director. And when it works, it’s deeply satisfying – it’s just paradise. I’m really grateful for that.”