Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

The Chrosziel interview with Ben Gervais, Production Systems Supervisor & Engineer at “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”

Chrosziel is proud being part of one of the newest milestones in cinematography: the movie “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (German title: “Die irre Heldentour des Billy Lynn”). It was shot at 120fps, native 3D in 4K with Sony F65 Cine Alta cameras. Thus provides a particularly singular cinematic experience.

The movie tells the story of the 19-year-old Billy Lynn. He was brought home for a victory tour after a harrowing Iraq battle. Through flashbacks the film shows what really happened to his squad. Contrasting the realities of war with America’s perceptions.

To draw the audience directly into the scenes, director Ang Lee let speak the actors directly into the camera lens as soon as they are playing opposite of Billy Lynn. Also, Lee let move the camera very close to the characters, so that the face filled up the frame completely. That leads to a entirely new way of reality.

Chrosziel had the chance to interview Ben Gervais, Production Systems Supervisor & Engineer. He was responsible for the whole technical set up:

Chrosziel: “Ben, thank you very much for your time. We really appreciate it. What is your motivation to work in the movies?”

Ben: “This industry is in a state of evolution right now where people like me can adapt some astounding technology for use by some of the greatest filmmakers of all time. It’s very exciting, and it’s a great challenge.”

Chrosziel: “’Exciting’ and ‘challenge’ are very good prompts to describe ‘Billy Lynn’. So, what is the ‘big thing’ about the movie?”

Ben: “The technical challenge of creating the world’s first 3D feature film at 120fps and in 4K was daunting. But it was a challenge we lived up to. Every crewmember, vendor, and piece of equipment proved itself on Billy Lynn. Finally, we got a great product.”

John Toll DoP at the set of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walkt

Camera, Director of Photography John Toll, 1st AD Richard Styles.

Chrosziel: “Why do you came to the decision to make this movie in 4K?”

Ben: “We were initially mandated by Sony to use a 4K camera. Something that we weren’t necessarily completely confident with. However, once we saw 3D imagery in 4K and 120 fps, it was a pretty big difference when compared with 2K 3D, and we were converted instantly.”

Chrosziel: “So, 2K was not ‘good’ enough?”

Ben: “In 2D, I’m not convinced that the difference between 2K and 4K is worth that much… but in 3D it was an entirely different story.”

John Toll and Kim Marks at Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Director of Photography John Toll and A Camera Operator Kim Marks.

Chrosziel: “Awesome. Let’s switch a bit deeper into technology. Which Chrosziel products did you use on set?”

Ben: “Of course, the film was in 3D, so we used the Aladin MKII system, with both Aladin and MagNum hand controls. My colleague Timo Andert then custom built the system into a special fiber-optic box.“

Chrosziel: “Why did you decide to choose Chrosziel? Which criteria have been important to you?”

Ben: “Our Line producer Brian Bell and Associate Producer Frank Murray were the key producers involved with the mechanics of making the film. But it was my decision as the productions Technical Supervisor to use the Aladin MKII system. Chrosziel was important to us because it enabled us to make use of all the axes of the Stereotec 3D rig: Interaxial, Convergence, Tilt, Height, and Roll as well as Focus x2, Iris x2 and Zoom x2.

Because it is a compact, self-contained system, we could swap it out quickly if there were any problems. The Chrosziel system has proved reliable and enabled us to wirelessly control the 3D rig. The system allowed us to control the 3D settings via a laptop interface, which sped up 3D alignments. Furthermore the use of presets for routing meant that control of the rig was back in the AC and Stereograph’s hands very quickly and without mistakes. It performed well, and I would use it again.”

Chrosziel: “In how far Chrosziel helped you to facilitate the movie production?”

Ben: “The best thing about the system was that we commissioned Chrosziel to add specific features that catered to our workflow. With other vendors in the past this has been an issue, so we were very happy to have a company that stands behind its products, no matter how few users a particular feature has.

Chrosziel worked closely with us to make everything work. It included developing an interface that allowed our camera assistants to use their Preston hand units, so they could use the tools they were already comfortable with, as well as implementing the computer/laptop control system I previously mentioned.  We had three of these systems running on set, and all used a variety hand units (A Magnum for 3D IA/Convergence, Preston for focus and Iris, and Aladin for the other axes of the 3D rig, plus the control laptops). This gave us a great deal of flexibility in how we operated and allowed us to work quickly.”

Chrosziel: “Generally spoken. With what kind of challenges at the set did you have to deal with during the production of Billy Lynn?”

Ben: “A main challenge was cooling and cleanliness when we were shooting the film in the desert in Morocco. The Aladin MKII and MagNum systems performed excellently and needed little to no maintenance. As well, we used the systems in some high-vibration environments (hard-mounted in Humvees) where the system enabled us to wirelessly control the 3D rig from a chase vehicle.”

Chrosziel: “What does this mean for the equipment?”

Ben: “We found the shock resistance and dust sealing of the systems to be excellent and we had no problems related to dust, water, or impact over the course of filming.”

Shooting in a pips at the set of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Chrosziel: “Thank you for this interview, Ben. Was a great pleasure speaking with you and good luck for your further projects.

Ben Gervais started his career in broadcast engineering and went onto film sets when digital started to penetrate the industry.

He is specialized in 3D, slow motion and high frame rate as well as setting up custom dailies and post production workflows.

More information in Ben at IMDb