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Behind the Lens: The Lone Ranger's Bojan Bazelli

COW Library : ARRI : Bojan Bazelli, ASC : Behind the Lens: The Lone Ranger's Bojan Bazelli
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CreativeCOW presents Behind the Lens: The Lone Ranger's Bojan Bazelli -- ARRI Editorial

Bojan Bazelli, ASCBojan Bazelli, ASC
Behind the Lens

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Bojan Bazelli, ASC, working with Director Gore Verbinski, designed and executed a unique look for The Lone Ranger. With a nod to the much-filmed Western genre, they made a uniquely contemporary film with a much more desaturated color palette and a grittier look to the classic locations.





Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger
Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, ASC most recently shot The Lone Ranger for director Gore Verbinski, with actors Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer. His other credits include the musicals Rock of Ages, Hairspray and Burlesque, the Bruckheimer/Disney feature The Sorcerer's Apprentice; director Doug Liman's Mr. and Mrs. Smith; Verbinski's thriller The Ring and independent films The Rapture, Deep Cover, King of New York, Kalifornia and Dangerous Beauty.

His awards include a 1993 Best Cinematography at the Montreal Film Festival for Kalifornia and Best Cinematography in both 1996 and 1998 from the American Independent Commercial Producers (AICP). He also took home a Gold Clio for Best Cinematography in 1998.

Bazelli attended the FAMU Film School in Prague. Impressed with one of Bazelli's student films, director Abel Ferrara offered him the job of shooting China Girl in New York City. Born and bred in Montenegro (the former Yugoslavia), Bazelli moved to the U.S. to shoot China Girl and has continued to work here on feature films and commercials. He spoke to Creative COW from Florida where he was shooting a NASCAR commercial.


The Lone Ranger is a by-product of Gore Verbinski and my relationship from The Ring. We had a real chemistry and really liked each other's work. Unfortunately we didn't collaborate together on The Pirates of the Caribbean movies but we had a relationship over the years. When I got a phone call from Gore asking me to do the movie, it was an easy interview because we already know each other. It was thrilling for me to get that phone call and know that I would work with Gore on The Lone Ranger.

Initially we had some brief general conversations about the Western genre. We touched base with some of the old Westerns of the past, in particular Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West and movies from John Ford like The Searchers. Gore was particularly interested in these classic Westerns with regard to their storytelling. Watching these movies also made us think about the new look we wanted to create for The Lone Ranger. We threw ideas up in the air and came up with a list of things we didn't like and didn't want to repeat, and then bounced back and forth how to change these things and generate a new look.


Photo by Peter Mountain. (c)Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved.


The main thing on that list that we didn't want to do was the chromatic orange and painterly blue skies, the saturated colors of the classic Western. That didn't engage us. Also, in older Westerns, the film stocks were slow and people had to light quite a bit and they used day-for-night techniques, also things we didn't want to do. We didn't want to make a "pretty" film; we wanted to make it raw and gritty despite the fact that we were going to such beautiful locations. We were paying attention to creating a contemporary style for an older genre.


Photo by Peter Mountain. (c)Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved.


In this world today, where film is being replaced by digital, the cinematographer always gets the question of what he wants to shoot it with. For me, knowing film is on the verge of disappearance, I felt we should shoot film. To shoot this classic genre with digital was a little unfaithful to the genre. We tested Kodak 5203, a daylight balanced tungsten, which was an improvement on the 5201 daylight stock. We liked the quality. We had also decided early on that we wanted to shoot anamorphic, and at the time there weren't any digital cameras on the market that would be able to take the anamorphic lenses anyway. So the film was an obvious choice and I think it was a good call.

We tested many anamorphic lenses. There is no secret about anamorphic; there are the older C series lenses from the 1960s and the newer G series lenses. The newer ones are a little more modern and technically better, but the C series lenses were visually more to our taste, a little softer and more of an older glass that creates the realistic, natural feel. We knew we'd be shooting in bright, contrasty locations with really bright sun, and these older lenses tend to have a slightly more edge to them and paint the contrastsy light in a better way.


Photo by Peter Mountain. (c)Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved


We were the first production to use the ARRI Alexa Studio, which allowed us to use the anamorphic lenses for some of the night scenes as well. The Alexa Studio allowed us to achieve what we were looking for in night scenes with practical lights, mainly flames and torches.

In the early stages of pre-production, we tested different processes for trying to get a less colorful, de-saturated look. In the first three weeks, we were even printing some of it and watching it. The film was graded at Company 3 for dailies work, and we would receive an HD tape and project it for dailies. We shot first on the stage for four weeks, but when we went on the road, it became a little harder to carry all that gear with us. Also, with long days, it got hard to spend three hours each day watching dailies. Instead, we began to rely on stills. My dailies colorist would send me a dozen stills from each scene that represented the look of the movie.


L to R: Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid, Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole and William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish. Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
L to R: Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid, Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole and William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish. Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Because 70 percent of the movie takes place outside in daylight, the landscape and the train were big characters so we paid a lot of attention to it, how to position them. The dramatic landscapes in Monument Valley, Arizona and New Mexico were both challenging and rewarding to shoot. We did pay a price for being there with tremendous heat, wind, snow and rainstorms -- all in one day - but it worked out great. We did plan out all the angles in advance. We knew we would have to be at those locations very early in the day and we wouldn't be able to look for shots when we were there. So we used our time in scouting and pre-production to find the angles that would give Gore what he wanted and was looking for. He and I found the angles based on the direction of the light, which was very important.

It's all about being with a good angle with the sun and being there at the right time of day. We organized that with GPS to determine where the sun would be six months from then and recorded those camera angles in the GPS system so when we came back months later, we knew exactly where the cameras would go and what the shot would give us. It was complicated but very organized maneuvering.

A movie this size is a heavy machine, with lots of trucks and people. They have to park somewhere and not be in the shot. Knowing all these angles in advance really helped everyone to be stashed in places where we knew we wouldn't be shooting. Our main rule was for South-facing locations, so everyone and everything parked on the North side of the location. We were moving very fast during production and didn't have the luxury of waiting for anything.


Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved.


There wasn't anything in the movie that wasn't challenging! Just having all those horses and other animals and all those people and combining it with heavy trains and locomotives that move 35mph was tough. To make it more challenging, a good 70 to 80 percent of what you see in frame was shot in camera to minimize visual effects. Yes, we did have digital painting out of rigs and cables and other devices protecting the actors, but everything else in the frame is in camera. The people running on top of the train are truly doing that, as the train is moving and it's positioned in the light.

We built six miles of train track in New Mexico and a couple of freight cars; the rest were added in VFX. But the main action, whatever happened and however it happened was all in camera, and that presented a challenge. It was hard to do that as well as dangerous and it took time and planning. If we needed to be on the opposite curve, it took lots of planning, especially since we were shooting out of sequence. Every day we spent a good hour or more organizing the train's positioning for the next day's shoot. It was a complex operation that required lots of people and thinking and took us 50 days to shoot, and I think we accomplished it well.


Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc.  All Rights Reserved
Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved


I'm also very proud of the ambush scene where we shot the killing of the rangers, which was done in a typical Western fashion with people falling from horses. Shooting in a deep canyon presented its own problems. We were there in March and the sun angles were very limited; by the time we got sun in the canyon until it disappeared wasn't even six hours so we had a very short window for shooting. We had to be super organized.

It was a hard movie to make and everyone worked really hard and embraced it with blood and sweat. Whatever the movie offered up was something people hadn't seen before in any kind of filmmaking history - the train chasing sequences in particular at the film's beginning and end -- and was accomplished with superb aesthetics.


Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc.  All Rights Reserved
Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved


I grew up in a small sleepy town on the Adriatic coast in Montenegro, which at the time was in Yugoslavia. I started taking pictures with my dad's camera and liked the process of it. I liked shooting pictures and then discovered how to develop photographs, which seemed like a mystery at the time. What started as a hobby grew into a passion. When I realized you could tell a story with photos -- not just a photo of family or friends or moments in life, but that these moments could be positioned to tell stories -- I discovered the potential power of photography. It's almost like I discovered something that had actually been discovered a long time ago. There was a tiny movie theatre in my town that was operational in the winter. Everyone rushed to see the movies, butt it was a small room and there weren't many seats. In summer, we'd all move to a beautiful outside open space theatre on a fortress, overlooking the water.

Bazelli by Douglas Kirkland
Bojan Bazelli by Douglas Kirkland
I tried to get accepted to film school in my country, but it wasn't easy to do without being connected during the Communist era. I didn't give up though. I tried other places and got accepted to FAMU, a prestigious film school in what was then Czechoslovakia. Five years later, I graduated and was ready to go to work.

A very lucky start led me to director Abel Ferrara. Somehow an agent gave him a student film I made, and he offered me China Girl in New York, and it was the start of my career. It's a story you don't hear that often that you go straight from film school to being a cinematographer on a film. I'm so fortunate but I always felt like I missed a bit of that ladder climbing that most aspiring cinematographers do, where you expand your knowledge by working in different professions in this business. I don't regret the way my career has gone but I wonder how it might have been different if I had spent a few years operating or focus pulling.

I have shot quite a number of commercials. At a certain time of my career, part of me was yearning for visual creativity, and shooting commercials were able to give me that. Then I woke up one day and thought, maybe this is something I shouldn't do all the time, maybe I should do movies. Then I was lucky to get an interesting script -- The Ring -- and I changed my direction again. I met Gore on commercials and when he offered me The Ring, it was something I wanted to do, and so I started doing movies again.

I think The Ring was another breakthrough film for me, from the action point of view. It was a bigger movie with bigger action sequences. Next, Mr. and Mrs. Smith was truly an action-adventure movie with stars. I got to explore that genre with stars in it. I also like the feel of doing musicals. Hairspray was a good counter balance to other subject matter I'd been shooting and I liked that movie as well. I've never done science fiction and that would be something I'd like to do. I can't say I like one genre more than the other, as long as there's something about the movie that I find intriguing.

Today what inspires me is such a broad field. I'm in love with paintings and painters. I spend lots of time going through art books and going to exhibits. I think that the profession of cinematographer is, in a unique way, associated with painters. I always feel that there is an amazing hidden power in a painting that can be achieved in cinematography. It's my wishful thinking that there will be a day where, technically and artistically, I can create on the level of the power that paintings have. Photography certainly does in its own way, but to me nothing compares to paintings and what they do.

The sensation of standing in front of a canvas and observing it is so powerful and has yet to be topped by any medium. That keeps me always inspired. If I'm searching for anything, I always do it by opening art books and going through the pages of lovely work. Something about it is always satisfying.






Title graphic, top of page: L to R: Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger and Johnny Depp as Tonto. Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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