Filmmaker Stories

Using KODAK 35mm filmstocks, DP Robbie Ryan ISC BSC serves up vibrant visuals for Yorgos Lanthimos's colorfully absurd 'Kinds of Kindness'

June 19, 2024

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Emma Stone and Joe Alwyn in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Shooting on KODAK color and B&W 35mm filmstocks, DP Robbie Ryan ISC BSC created a vibrant look for Yorgos Lanthimos's anthology feature Kinds of Kindness – a trio of loosely-connected satires about power, subservience and free will, each with their own thought-provoking twists where things are never quite what they seem.

Described as a 'triptych fable', the first story, entitled 'The Death of R.M.F,' follows an office worker seeking to regain control of his destiny from a tyrannical boss. The second, 'R.M.F. is Flying,' depicts a police officer with suspicions that his spouse, recently returned after being reported missing, is actually an imposter. The final segment, 'R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich,' revolves around two cult members in search of a woman who can resurrect the dead.

Kinds of Kindness stars Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, Mamoudou Athie and Hunter Schafer, and had its world premiere at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, where Plemons won the award for Best Actor and the film garnered glowing critical reviews. The production, filmed in 4-perf widescreen, represents Ryan's third cinematographic collaboration with Lanthimos, the pair having worked together previously on the 35mm film-originated The Favourite (2018) and Poor Things (2023), the latter earning four Oscars, plus a Best Cinematography nomination for Ryan.

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Behind the scenes on the set of KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima.

Speaking about the positive reception for Kinds of Kindness, Ryan says, "Each of the three stories in Kinds of Kindness contains a lot of rich subject matter, and the film is an experience that keeps you on your toes. It's the kind of cinema that gives food for thought afterwards too. Personally, I love films that you need to think about, and Yorgos's features always do that."

Ryan laughs when he recalls he first learned about Kinds of Kindness from Lanthimos in a Parisian brothel, by which he means one of the dramatic settings in Poor Things.

"I was immediately intrigued. The initial script I read had the three separate stories running concurrently, but when a subsequent draft came over a few months later, the format had changed to being three separate, individual stories with different aspects about the power-plays in relationships clearly defined in each.

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Behind the scenes on the set of KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima.

"That said, Yorgos and I don't typically talk much about story and themes. It's more about technical matters and how we're going to shoot. Kinds of Kindness was going to be quite a change in visual style from The Favourite and Poor Things. For example, he was keen to shoot in widescreen Anamorphic, without the extreme wides we've incorporated before, but to still be close-up on the characters."

As for visual references, Ryan says Lanthimos loves still photography and always proffers images to contemplate aesthetically during prep, such as the work of street and portrait photographer Judith Shieh Krasinski, who is known for capturing split-second moments that reveal hidden stories and strange beauty in everyday scenarios. He also says films by Japanese filmmakers, like Shôhei Imamura, which question the illusion of human reality, were among the reckoning, but adds, "These were really the basis for conversations about where the camera might be positioned and how it might move according to the moment in a particular scene. Yorgos wanted to depict real-world situations, where things look like the norm but where something else is bubbling that's not necessarily the norm."

Filming on Kinds of Kindness took place at locations around New Orleans from September to December 2022, where the three stories in the triptych were filmed back-to-back.

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Behind the scenes on the set of KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima.

"New Orleans is a very interesting town with a lot of great locations that make it a fantastic place to shoot a film. Yorgos wanted color and contrast, and the city has all of that in abundance," Ryan says.

"We only had two-and-a-half weeks to shoot each story, and that meant we approached things with a pretty simple shooting style – one camera and very few lights – to suit the fast pace of the schedule. It was fun and refreshing to work this way because, unlike Poor Things, we didn't have to work in a studio and employ hundreds of lights to create environments that required Yorgos having to tick every single item in the world building. We found really nice locations and everything that was in front of the camera was a lot quicker to set up and shoot."

Kinds of Kindness was filmed in widescreen Anamorphic aspect ratio, with Ryan operating using ARRICAM ST cameras mounted mainly with Panavision Primo and Panavision C-Series optics, supplemented with Atlas Orion Anamorphic and Cooke Anamorphic glass. The camera and lenses were supplied by Panavision Los Angeles, with the production serviced out of Panavision New Orleans.

"We shot single-camera, and I went with the ARRICAM ST as you can top-mount the film magazine, which makes it much easier to shoot in small or confined spaces, where I often find myself squashed into a corner," Ryan reveals.

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Margaret Qualley, Jesse Plemons and Willem Dafoe in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

"We covered one of the stunt scenes, involving a car crash, with four cameras – two ARRICAM STs, an ARRICAM LT, plus a ARRIFLEX 235 35mm camera to shoot slow motion. We also used a low-slung Biscuit Rig to film the high-speed car driving sequences, so that Emma would be safe while delivering her performance. But other than that, this was a single-camera shoot, done old-school-style on the dolly, tracks or sticks, with no cranes or other camera moving gear, which helped us remain efficient between setups."

Explaining the change in style from their previous collaborations, Ryan says, "Yorgos always likes to try something new, and wanted to step away from the super-wide angles and tighter aspect ratios that we had on The Favourite, which was 1.85:1 and Poor Things, which we shot in 1.66:1.

"He hadn't done an Anamorphic feature for a while, not since Dog Tooth (2009, DP Thimios Bakatakis GSC). As this film was set in America, he felt it needed the cinematic aesthetic that Anamorphic brings – although it would be inward-looking, with lots of close-up camera work on individuals in rooms, rather than it being about landscapes and scenes with multiple characters."

Consequently, Ryan undertook substantial tests with a wide range of Anamorphic lenses to observe the differences in how they resolve the images, especially their clarity and focus.

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Hong Chau and Jesse Plemons in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

"With a lot of Anamorphic lenses there is an issue with the top and bottom of frame going out of focus, which Yorgos does not like. The Panavision Primo Anamorphic lenses were the most suitable as we did not have this problem. They offer close focus to about two-and-a-half feet with negligible distortion around the edges, plus they have high contrast and are fast – T2.0 across the range.

"I filled a few gaps in the lens package with the addition of Panavision C-series Anamorphics, which were adjusted quite magically to give close focus of 17-inches by Dan Sasaki and the lens team at Panavision Woodland Hills. For the occasions when Yorgos wanted to go wider and tighter than the Panavision optics would allow, we went with either an Atlas Orion 21mm or a Cooke 25mm Anamorphic lens."

For the mainstay of the narrative storytelling Ryan shot Kinds of Kindness using a trio of KODAK VISION3 35mm color negative film stocks – namely 50D 5203, 250D 5207 and 500T 5219 – with EASTMAN DOUBLE-X 5222 B&W for the film's dream sequences. Film processing and 4K scans were done at FotoKem in Los Angeles, with final color grading by senior colorist Greg Fisher at Company3 in London. A number of 35mm film prints were later made at Cinelab, UK.

"Yorgos does not do digital, as he feels it doesn't do anything for his films. So like The Favourite and Poor Things, this was always going to be shot on film," says Ryan. "He loves color and contrast, and the 50D delivers color and contrast in abundance, so what's not to like? Obviously, it's a slow stock, but as we were filming in New Orleans we had consistently bright or sunny exteriors and could shoot without a problem. And the results on 50D look luscious.

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Willem Dafoe and Margaret Qualley in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

"I went with 250D for lower-light exteriors and some of the day-interior car work and used the 500T for pretty much every other interior/exterior day/night situation, as it's a proper workhorse, just so versatile, and matches well to the daylight stocks."

Speaking about the B&W dream sequence that feature in the film, Ryan says, "Yorgos adores black and white, and I would not be at all surprised if he makes a feature completely on black-and-white 35mm film one day. The DOUBLE-X 5222 was a gorgeous and atmospheric choice for the film's dream sequences, as it never disappoints in its superb scale of tonal contrast and texture."

During production, Olga Abramson and Benedict Baldauff assisted Ryan respectively as 1st and 2nd ACs, with Billy Holman working as film loader. Peter Zuccarini filmed the movie's underwater sequences. Sean Devine led the grip team, with Sergio Villegas as gaffer.

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Mamoudou Athie in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

"We were constantly on the move and, for the sake of speed, we used natural daylight as much as we could along with the practicals that were at each location," says Ryan. "The lighting package was small, with 6K and 9K HMIs, plus Rosco DMG SL1 Switch's, which are a great LED alternative to traditional fluorescent tubes. I also used Rosco DMG Dash LED lights with the Dot round diffuser, as they are very good for creating glinting eye lights."

Looking back on the production, Ryan remarks, "Yorgos makes great cinema, and it is always enjoyable to work with him. There's never a strict plan to the shooting day, it's more about spontaneity and being able to react to what he wants to do. Every day was a different location, so we didn't have so much room for experimentation, but we all liked working that way and it was fun.

"I am so happy for Kodak and the many filmmakers they support, that so many features at Cannes 2024 that were shot on film, including Kinds of Kindness and the Palme D'Or winner Anora (dir. Sean Baker, DP Drew Daniels). Film always looks better, and in my mind, features shot on film are generally a better experience to watch too!"

In US theaters June 21 & UK cinemas June 28.