Podcast: How Joel Coen’s Movie ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ Was Filmed in BLACK AND WHITE

Podcast: How Joel Coen’s Movie ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ Was Filmed in BLACK AND WHITE

Joel Cohen’s new Macbeth movie was filmed in black and white. Did he choose film stock or digital processes for the movie? I’ll answer the question in this episode.

Full episode transcript:

In this episode, how Joel Coen’s new film The Tragedy of Macbeth was shot in black and white

Hey everybody welcome back to another episode of the fine art photography podcast. In this episode, a brief discussion of Joel Coen’s new film, The Tragedy of Macbeth, which was produced in black and white. As a photographer who specializes in black and white, I always perk up my ears to learn what I can about the artistic and technical decisions made to create a movie in black and white. 

When the movie The Lighthouse was released a few years ago, there was a lot of information about the lengths the filmmakers went to to get a certain kind of raw, gritty look. 

On the NPR radio program Fresh Air, actor Rob Pattinson briefly described the process of shooting The Lighthouse on black and white film using antique 1930s lenses. He said in order to use those old lenses, an exorbitant amount of light was needed, it was so bright that some of the crew members got sunburn. And he said the cinematographer used a red filter to bring out details in the actors’ faces.

Hearing Pattinson’s interview made me curious so I googled the topic and found a couple of interviews online with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke. On Deadline, Blaschke he said the film was shot on black and white 35 mm film using vintage 1930s Bausch & Lomb Baltar lenses in square aspect ratio. Blaschke reiterated what Rob Pattinson said about the need for light, saying the black and white film had a light sensitivity 1/10th of modern digital filmmaking cameras.

But in another interview on the Musicbed blog Blaschke goes into a lot of detail. He’s quoted there as saying “Black and white film has much less latitude than the color film— Kodak Double-X* came out in 1959. As far as I’m aware, Kodak hasn’t touched it since. It’s pretty old technology. Instead of having six stops of shadow latitude, you have about four and a half.”

Blaschke also said in the MusicBed interview that color film used in movies has an ISO of 400, modern digital alternatives support 800 ISO, but they shot the Lighthouse at 80 IS0, which meant even though the set looks dark in the movie, it was flooded with blinding light. Blaschke explains that they wanted an authentic black and white look, unlike the usual method of shooting in color and desaturating the final print. 

By the way, Kodak Double-X is the same film stock that Mel Brooks used to shoot Young Frankenstein in 1974.

It’s being reported that in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Coen was going for a dramatic chiaroscuro look — with the mood and style of German Expressionist films. In the trailer, there’s a lot of contrast — black silhouettes walking through white fog … a lot of backlit scenes.

So, what film stock did Macbeth cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel use to get the dramatic look?

According to IMDB, The Tragedy of Macbeth was shot on an Arri Alexa XT camera using Zeiss Ultra Prime Lenses. The cinematographic process was ARRIRAW (3.4K) (source format) and digital intermediate (4K) for the master format. The printed film format was D-Cinema. The aspect ratio is 1.33:1. So, in other words, The Tragedy of Macbeth was shot digitally.

Well, I hope you find this interesting. That’s all I’ve got for this episode. I’ll talk to you again real soon.

*According to one online source, Kodak Eastman Double-X is a high-speed, general-use panchromatic black and white negative film for both outdoor and studio use. It’s rated at 250 in daylight and 200 under tungsten lighting. It offers very high sharpness, fine grain structure, and a broad tonal range. Processes in D-96 or other standard black and white photo chemistry. It has sprocket perforations on both edges.

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