Two worlds in Limitless

When I read articles related to movies, it happens quite often, that I’ll read something like this:

“We used camera to tell a story…  Sound played a really important role, it helped to tell the story…”

And I always get frustrated, because usually (99% of time) it is not clear what they meant by that. The sentences above leave me asking: It’s nice, but what exactly did you do?

Well, the interview by Debra Kaufman with cinematographer Jo Willems at is one of those rare exceptions, where you’ll learn not only what they did to help telling the story, but most importantly – why.

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a wrecked writer whose life is falling apart. Well, one day he is visited by old friend Vernon (Johnny Whitworth) and he offers him a pill: “You know how they say we can only access 20% of our brain? This lets you access all of it.”  So what this pill does is that it fully unlocks the potential of human brain, in other words, you get access to super human abilities.

Limitless (2011)
Limitless (2011)

When I saw the movie for the first time, I noticed the change in color grading, when he takes the pill – everything is graded towards warm sunny tones (especially yellow and orange),

Limitless (2011)
Limitless (2011)

while when he is not on the pill, there is a lot of cool tones (especially blue), the colors are desaturated, everything seems darker and more contrasty.

Watch the trailer and try to focus only on the tones. I’m sure, that just by looking at the tones/colors you’ll be able to tell, whether he is on the drug or not. But there is more to that, so let’s take a look what else did they do, to differentiate the two worlds:

World 1 – Down and broke (off pill) World 2 – Powerful and charismatic (on pill)
Camera moves hand held dollies, cranes, steadicam
Film stock Fuji Kodak
Lighting uncontrolled (hard and fractured) controlled (softer and diffused)
Lenses longer focal length (tele) shorter focal length (wide)

Ok, the table above sums up, what they (Neil Burger, Jo Willems and others) did, to differentiate the two worlds when he is on/off the pill. But far more interesting is to read why! 🙂


Behind the Lens: DP Jo Willems & Limitless

Watch the trailer and notice the dolly-zoom move at 0:45. You can read more about this technique by clicking here.

Telephoto lens in The Graduate

Lens choice is one of the many creative areas, that the cinematographer is responsible for. Different lenses are used for different purposes. In this example, we’ll explore how Robert Surtees used telephoto lens to heighten the suspense and drama in the final sequence of The Graduate.

Now, because we’ll be talking a lot about lenses, I recommend you to watch a short video by Vincent Laforet and Blake Whitman from the Vimeo Video School. It’s short, informative and funny!

So, what is really important to remember, is that telephoto lenses compress the background and foreground, while wide angle lenses tend to magnify the distance between background and foreground.

Behind the Glass Part 2: Focal Length
Behind the Glass Part 2: Focal Length
Behind the Glass Part 2: Focal Length
Behind the Glass Part 2: Focal Length

Hopefully at this point it, it is clear what is the difference between wide angle lens and telephoto lens, so if you happen to be a cinematographer on a movie, here is how you can use those differences to your advantage and tell a better story.

In the final sequence, Benjamin runs to the church. It’s a race against the clock. He is trying to make it there, before Elaine (his girlfriend) marries Carl (husband chosen by Elaine’s parents).

The scene could have been captured from side using wide angle lens, but much better choice was to use telephoto lens and film the scene, so that Benjamin is running towards the camera.

The Graduate (1967)
The Graduate (1967)

We already know, that telephoto lenses compress the space (background and foreground). The side effect is that when you have a moving object or character in the scene, it appears as if they stay at almost the same place, even if they are moving really fast.

Benjamin is (literally) running out of the time and thanks to the characteristics of telephoto lenses, it looks like he is moving slow, which increases the drama and suspense of the scene. (Will he make it in time?)

Watch the final sequence in the video below: