BRAVERMAN BEHIND-THE-SCENES FOR BOTTLE ROCKET

Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave and Luke Wilson on the set of the cult classic Bottle Rocket.

Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave and Luke Wilson on the set of the cult classic Bottle Rocket.

by Brian Cali

Cinematographer Barry Braverman, the Director of Photography for the original, 13-minute black-and-white Bottle Rocket short that was the basis for filmmaker Wes Anderson’s 1996 cult classic, recently shot The Making of Bottle Rocket for the Blu-ray release (Criterion Collection) of the feature with the Panasonic VariCam 2700 P2 HD VariCam. The original behind-the-scenes documentary features interviews with Anderson, producer James L. Brooks, actors James Caan and Luke and Owen Wilson, among others, and revisits the Texas locations where the film was shot.

Bottle Rocket is a lovingly detailed, visually witty and warm portrait of three young misfits, best friends Anthony (Luke Wilson), Dignan (Owen Wilson), and Bob (Robert Musgrave). The trio stage a wildly complex, mildly successful robbery of a small bookstore, then go “on the lam,” where they befriend a real thief, Mr. Henry (Caan). Martin Scorsese has called Bottle Rocket, the film that put Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) and the Wilson brothers on the map, “a picture without a trace of cynicism, that obviously grew out of its directorís affection for his characters in particular and for people in general… a rarity.”

Braverman, who had previously worked with the AJ-HPX2700 VariCam on wildlife shoots and indie projects, calls it the “ultimate non-fiction camera.” “I never considered anything but a top-end camera for this project,” Braverman said. “I was dealing with A-list talent who had no time for do-overs. It makes sense to have a camera like HPX2700 when you’re working at this level. Essentially, you’re paying for peace of mind and the confidence that the camera can handle and survive an unpredicted event.”

The gang in yellow jump suits executes the imperfect robbery inside Hinckley Cold Storage.

The gang in yellow jump suits executes the imperfect robbery inside Hinckley Cold Storage.

And The Making of Bottle Rocket was not without sudden changes of plans. “I was shooting the Jim Brooks’ (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Broadcast News, The Simpsons) interview on the Fox lot, and had 90 minutes scheduled with him,” Braverman recounted. “I had a ground-level office rigged out with full-bore HMI lighting. The famously reticent Brooks walked in and asked me to turn off the lights and start shooting in five minutes.”

“I had to wing it with available daylight through a window, and a hodge-podge of messy office lighting, but the HPX2700 could pull it out,” he continued. “The HPX2700 is clearly a craft-driven and performance-oriented tool that can excel when things change at the last second. It’s not about some potential resolution numbers. The P2 VariCam offers resolution appropriate for professionals earning a living: it’s not about imagers the size of a battleship.”

“The HPX2700 produces very flattering images when working with talent, courtesy of the VariCam cinematic look and the camcorderís 10-bit capture,” Braverman noted. “Flesh tones appear organic with well-modulated shadow details. The image processing is extremely sophisticated for capturing the skin tones of celebrities, who are understandably focused on every nook and cranny of theircomplexions. This was especially true in this case, given the Blu-ray release.”

“The HPX2700 creates a distinguished look that can’t be reproduced in a lowerclass of camera,” he added. “I don’t confuse increased resolution with superior images. There are times you donít necessarily want to see maximum resolution; with portraits and close-ups, for instance, you actually want less resolution, not more. The VariCam 2700, in short, is effective as a tool for a working filmmaker at a level far beyond the number of pixels in the imager. After all, I canít remember the last production I worked on about a test chart!”

Designed as a premium-quality, workhorse HD cinematography camcorder, the VariCam 2700 combines VariCamís renowned filmic look with key functions including variable frame rates, wide dynamic range and advanced master-quality, 10-bit 4:2:2 AVCIntra recording.

Braverman said he makes judicious use of the HPX2700’s full range of variable frame rates (from 1 fps to 60 fps in 720p mode). “I tend to use off-speed in ways that are subtle,” he noted. “Shooting at 25 or 26fps can lend a certain gravitas to actors’ reactions, especially if you’re working with non-professionals on an indie project. And when I’m shooting with a long lens on a wildlife doc, you have to shoot overcranked. The HPX2700 does off-speed with the most versatility and most robust colormatrix of any camera out there.”

“I grew up with film cameras, and I used to feel that I was attached at the hip to my Arri,” the DP said. “I never had that kind of visceral attachment to any digital camera prior to working with the HPX2700.”

“I consider it Panasonic’s best camera,” Braverman added. “I do a lot of wildlife work, and you can slap the HPX2700 up to your eye, and shoot quickly and efficiently. Itís wellbalanced, and you can walk up trails with the camcorder shoved under your arm. It’s not a power hog. It has excellent metadata support, and the workflow is really, really good.”

Actor James Caan recalls his role as the flamboyant con man Mr. Henry.

Actor James Caan recalls his role as the flamboyant con man Mr. Henry.

Braverman shot the 20-minute The Making of Bottle Rocket in 720/24p in AVCIntra 100, using 32GB cards. He had the HPX2700 fully loaded with five cards, but offloaded only once a week, never using up more than three cards.

“AVC-Intra 100 was a huge advantage as I could be assured of smooth gradients in thefacial shadows of the various featured celebs and movie stars,” Braverman said. “The 10-bit workflow also allowed precise color correction in post, another source of confidence when working with image-conscious talent.

“The 10-bit AVC-Intra workflow adds no additional data load or storage requirement compared to shooting 8-bit DVCPRO HD or XDCAM HD/EX, further reinforcing the efficiency of AVC-Intra recording, especially in higher-end applications.”

Braverman outfitted the HPX2700 with the Fujinon HA23×7.6BE HDTV ENG-style lens with 23X magnification. He edited the behind-the-scenes doc in Final Cut Pro, and Criterion finished the piece.

“Criterion couldn’t believe how good it looked,” he said.

Braverman has also used the HPX2700 for time-lapse, night shooting in Los Angeles. “This is a very serious camera,” he said. “On the one hand, it achieves very subtle shadows and flesh tones. On the other, it’s terrific for very low light, effects-type shooting. With the HPX2700, you get reliability, absolute precision, 10-bit captureóa combination of features that really makes sense for professional filmmakers.”

The Criterion two-disc Blu-ray issue of Bottle Rocket is a restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by Anderson and director of photography Robert Yeoman. The many extras include the The Making of documentary as well as Murita Cycles, a 1978 short film by Braverman that Anderson credits as an inspiration for The Royal Tenenbaums.  

Barry Braverman is a veteran cinematographer and digital media expert with over thirty years experience in television documentaries and feature films. Credits include long-form programs for National Geographic, ABC News, HBO, Discovery and The History Channel. Recent projects include A One Track Mind: The Darjeeling Limited (2008), Café Lebowitz (2007) and music videos for Tangerine Dream, Stevie Wonder and Yanni. Braverman writes regularly on camera and craft-related issues. His latest book Video Shooter 2nd Edition (2009) from Focal Press explores the art of visual storytelling with the latest-generation HD cameras.

b y B r i a n C a l i
Cinematographer Barry Braverman, the Director of Photography for the original, 13-minute
black-and-white Bottle Rocket short that was the basis for filmmaker Wes Andersonís
1996 cult classic, recently shot The Making of Bottle Rocket for the Blu-ray release
(Criterion Collection) of the feature with the Panasonic VariCam 2700 P2 HD VariCam. The
original behind-the-scenes documentary features interviews with Anderson, producer James L.
Brooks, actors James Caan and Luke and Owen Wilson, among others, and revisits the Texas
locations where the film was shot.
Bottle Rocket is a lovingly detailed, visually witty and warm portrait of three young misfits,
best friends Anthony (Luke Wilson), Dignan (Owen Wilson), and Bob (Robert Musgrave).
The trio stage a wildly complex, mildly successful robbery of a small bookstore, then go ìon
the lam,î where they befriend a real thief, Mr. Henry (Caan). Martin Scorsese has called Bottle
Rocket, the film that put Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) and the Wilson brothers
on the map, ìa picture without a trace of cynicism, that obviously grew out of its directorís
affection for his characters in particular and for people in generalÖ. a rarity.î
Braverman, who had previously worked with the AJ-HPX2700 VariCam on wildlife shoots
and indie projects, calls it the ìultimate non-fiction camera.î ìI never considered anything but
a top-end camera for this project,î Braverman said. ìI was dealing with A-list talent who had no
time for do-overs. It makes sense to have a camera like HPX2700 when youíre working at thislevel. Essentially, youíre paying for peace of
mind and the confidence that the camera can
handle and survive an unpredicted event.î
And The Making of Bottle Rocket was
not without sudden changes of plans. ìI was
shooting the Jim Brooksí (The Mary Tyler
Moore Show, Broadcast News, The Simpsons)
interview on the Fox lot, and had 90 minutes
scheduled with him,î Braverman recounted.
ìI had a ground-level office rigged out with
full-bore HMI lighting. The famously reticent
Brooks walked in and asked me to turn off the
lights and start shooting in five minutes.î
ìI had to wing it with available daylight
through a window, and a hodge-podge of
messy office lighting, but the HPX2700 could
pull it out,î he continued. ìThe HPX2700 is
clearly a craft-driven and performance-oriented
tool that can excel when things change at
the last second. Itís not about some potential
resolution numbers. The P2 VariCam offers
resolution appropriate for professionals earning
a living: itís not about imagers the size of
a battleship.î
ìThe HPX2700 produces very flattering
images when working with talent, courtesy of
the VariCam cinematic look and the camcorderís
10-bit capture,î Braverman noted. ìFlesh
tones appear organic with well-modulated
shadow details. The image processing is
extremely sophisticated for capturing the skin
tones of celebrities, who are understandably
focused on every nook and cranny of theircomplexions. This was especially true in this
case, given the Blu-ray release.î
ìThe HPX2700 creates a distinguished
look that canít be reproduced in a lowerclass
of camera,î he added. ìI donít confuse
increased resolution with superior images.
There are times you donít necessarily want to
see maximum resolution; with portraits and
close-ups, for instance, you actually want less
resolution, not more. The VariCam 2700, in
short, is effective as a tool for a working filmmaker
at a level far beyond the number of
pixels in the imager. After all, I canít remember
the last production I worked on about a
test chart!î
Designed as a premium-quality, workhorse
HD cinematography camcorder, the
VariCam 2700 combines VariCamís renowned
filmic look with key functions including variable
frame rates, wide dynamic range and
advanced master-quality, 10-bit 4:2:2 AVCIntra
recording.
Braverman said he makes judicious use
of the HPX2700ís full range of variable frame
rates (from 1 fps to 60 fps in 720p mode). ìI
tend to use off-speed in ways that are subtle,î
he noted. ìShooting at 25 or 26fps can lend a
certain gravitas to actorsí reactions, especially
if youíre working with non-professionals on an
indie project. And when Iím shooting with a
long lens on a wildlife doc, you have to shoot
overcranked. The HPX2700 does off-speed
with the most versatility and most robust colormatrix of any camera out there.î
ìI grew up with film cameras, and I used
to feel that I was attached at the hip to my
Arri,î the DP said. ìI never had that kind of
visceral attachment to any digital camera
prior to working with the HPX2700.î
ìI consider it Panasonicís best camera,î
Braverman added. ìI do a lot of wildlife work,
and you can slap the HPX2700 up to your
eye, and shoot quickly and efficiently. Itís wellbalanced,
and you can walk up trails with the
camcorder shoved under your arm. Itís not
a power hog. It has excellent metadata support,
and the workflow is really, really good.î
Braverman shot the 20-minute The
Making of Bottle Rocket in 720/24p in AVCIntra
100, using 32GB cards. He had the
HPX2700 fully loaded with five cards, but
offloaded only once a week, never using up
more than three cards.
ìAVC-Intra 100 was a huge advantage as
I could be assured of smooth gradients in thefacial shadows of the various featured celebs
and movie stars,î Braverman said. ìThe 10-bit
workflow also allowed precise color correction
in post, another source of confidence when
working with image-conscious talent.
ìThe 10-bit AVC-Intra workflow adds no
additional data load or storage requirement
compared to shooting 8-bit DVCPRO HD or
XDCAM HD/EX, further reinforcing the efficiency
of AVC-Intra recording, especially in
higher-end applications.î
Braverman outfitted the HPX2700 with
the Fujinon HA23×7.6BE HDTV ENG-style lens
with 23X magnification. He edited the behindthe-
scenes doc in Final Cut Pro, and Criterion
finished the piece.
ìCriterion couldnít believe how good it
looked,î he said.
Braverman has also used the HPX2700
for time-lapse, night shooting in Los Angeles.
ìThis is a very serious camera,î he said. ìOn
the one hand, it achieves very subtle shadows
and flesh tones. On the other, itís terrific for
very low light, effects-type shooting. With the
HPX2700, you get reliability, absolute precision,
10-bit captureóa combination of features
that really makes sense for professional
filmmakers.î
The Criterion two-disc Blu-ray issue of
Bottle Rocket is a restored high-definition
digital transfer, supervised and approved
by Anderson and director of photography
Robert Yeoman. The many extras include the
The Making of documentary as well as Murita
Cycles, a 1978 short film by Braverman that
Anderson credits as an inspiration for The
Royal Tenenbaums. HD
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