Andrij Parekh Bets on Mississippi Grind

  • March 18, 2015
Photo: Electric City Entertainment

When Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck – the pair that made waves with their first feature Half Nelson in 2006 – approached cinematographer Andrij Parekh with the script for Mississippi Grind, he was instantly drawn to the material. And as it was to be their fourth collaboration, the trio were on the same page when it came to the look.

“They showed me a lot of 1970s films,” says Parekh, an NYU Tisch graduate. “From that, the inspiration for Mississippi Grind was clear. They were attracted to Robert Altman films like California Split, John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, and Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. All films I love. That’s the style and feeling we tried to give to this film – long, slow zooms mixed with handheld.”

Mississippi Grind, which premiered at Sundance, stars Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn as two down-and-out, lost souls traveling across the American Midwest in search of fortune and better days. Parekh wanted it to feel like a ‘70s road movie, and to give it the texture of those films – “a sense of timelessness of another era,” he explains. “The film is a journey, and we tried to capture the feeling of the Midwest and the South with all the decay, the timelessness, and the nostalgia.”

For Parekh’s goals of matching the image to the patina of an America past its prime, he used KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 and KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207, underexposed 2/3 of a stop, and processed normally. “I wanted the blacks slightly milky with some desaturation, and underexposure helps me achieve that slightly worn look.”

Early on in prep, the discussion inevitably came up regarding format. They were on a tight budget and Parekh didn't want to add more pressure to that, but based on all of the creative discussions they’d had, it seemed that film was the way to go.

Parekh proposed shooting 2-perf 35mm on an ARRICAM Lite Camera, which he had recently used on Sophie Barthes’ Madame Bovary. “I think it saves 50 percent on stock and processing. A 400-foot magazine is eight minutes, and you can roll 22 minutes on a 1,000-foot mag, so time on the camera is not as much of an issue.

“Coupled with sharp lenses – we used the LEICA SUMMILUX-C and an ANGENIEUX OPTIMO 24-290 for our ‘Altman’ zooms for this film – the resolution and grain structure looks more like 3-perf. It’s the magic bullet combination, in my humble opinion. And of course, the native aspect ratio of 2-perf is 2.39:1, perfect for a road movie full of landscape and cityscapes.”

The aesthetic look of a film is always where Parekh begins, then he decides how to best arrive at the end practically. “All the references pointed toward film.” The trio of filmmakers, who first met in New York in 2004, have always shot on film, and it’s how they know how to work together.

“I believe shooting on film creates a different energy on set than shooting digital,” adds Parekh. “People respect it. I’m not bashing digital in any way. It's no longer oils versus acrylic, as the digital image can be quite beautiful. Shooting digitally can be liberating because there are no constraints, but as a result, no one rehearses, crew and director run in and out of the frame, and it's because they can. There is no incentive not to. But I think the main reason to shoot film, outside of aesthetic reasons, is for the performance. Many great actors often deliver a performance on take one or two. I wanted everyone to be ready for Ben and Ryan to do that, and shooting film ensured that. We rehearsed, and we were prepared for them to deliver.”