"Taken" [2007]

 

   


MICHEL ABRAMOWICZ   AFC

 

Born: 24 January 1950, Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine, France.

Education: Université Paris Diderot - Paris 7 [History]; ÉNSLL [1974-78].

Career: Started as 2nd c.asst and focus puller with Jean Boffety. Worked with Gerry Fisher [on commercials], Pasqualino De Santis, a.o.

Ph numerous commercials dir by Louis-Pascal Couvelaire [for Corona Beer], Daniel Gruener [for Coca-Cola], a.o. Ph music videos, e.g. 'Love Profusion' [2003; d: Luc Besson; a: Madonna].

Is co-president of the AFC [2012].

Website: Michel Abramowicz


'Taken' [2007]: ''Taken' tells the story of a man alone who is searching for a family member in a third world country whose language he doesn't speak,' says Michel Abramowicz. ' What I like is the linearity in which this story is told. It goes from point A to point Z in a completely unrelenting way. 'Taken' resembles one of the true 1950s B movies from RKO. Liam Neeson is determined to find his daughter at any price and my objective with this film is to be effective to the same degree as his character.' But how does one define an implacable approach with light and how can the lighting complement or match the relentless perspective of the story? 'In my interpretation,' continues Abramowicz, 'it translates to a very dark and harsh rendering of light. We must immediately feel how much this former spy is plunging into a terrible milieu. The image treatment must resemble hard cement which, if you brush your hand over its surface, you can feel its roughness. Working on something this raw pushes me further into using low contrast with periods when nothing is lit... except the actors to whom I must give greater emphasis. Not seeing the eyes of actors bothers me quite a lot. I can choose to leave an actor in deliberate obscurity, but as soon as I see him I must distinguish his eyes. It is more so with someone like Liam Neeson. Certain things only take place in his eyes and I must capture them. When faced with such recurring adversity, his character's only solution is to move forward and, as a cameraman, I am obliged to follow a similar path in determining the unique lighting solution for each frame and setting.' Abramowicz chose two parallel but strikingly different images for 'Taken'. The first 20 minutes of the film, which is set in Los Angeles, has an 'American rendering'; the rest of the story has an 'European rendering'. Abramowicz explains: 'While everyone uses the same cameras and the same film today, there is a curious difference that is lost between the American image and the European image. In order to separate the two worlds of 'Taken', I researched and found the American look by working quite classically in the United States, saturating the colors, polarizing and illuminating the characters like stars with lots of light. On the other hand, when the hero arrives in France, I quite abruptly take the camera from his feet and shoot him almost constantly at shoulder height. Even the Steadicam shots deliberately become somewhat bumpy. The constant is my use of diffused light because I don't want to obtain a video texture after digital post-production. It may seem a bit contradictory to my desire to achieve the relentless image I have just described, but I don't care. Above all I want to preserve the film's cinematic imaging.' The process to which Abramowicz refers is all the more significant in 'Taken' because, towards the end of the film, there was a requirement for him to light nearly two miles of a lengthy pursuit between a car and a boat along the banks of the river Seine in Paris. 'The electrical requirements for filming in 35mm were impressive,' he continues. 'Because I had a portable digital video camera at my disposal I ended up using HD. Only the large frames of Liam Neeson remained on traditional film. My good fortune in achieving a texture in these circumstances stemmed from the fact that the sequence was shot at night. It's different during daylight as HD generally retains an image knockout and one inevitably resorts to an electronic image. With quite a lot of filtering and Kodak VISION Premier Color Print Film 2393 for the final shoot, the image texture was close to that of film.' At one point Abramowicz thought of using KODAK VISION2 Expression 500T 5229, but it seemed to him that it would be a little too soft for this type of film. Instead he settled on KODAK VISION2 500T 5218. '5218 provided me with a unity of texture,' he remarks. 'With a beautiful subject and a beautiful actor, I no longer wanted to trademark the light as my own. I had to feel the ambiance and ensure it matched the film. I can only aid the audience's experiences with light, for example the anguish of a character. Apart from using 5kW or 10kW Fresnel lenses for contrast in a room or to create night time effects, all my electrical foundations are in fluorescent light. It mixes in the eye and allows me to illuminate an actor without a particular light source being discerned. This kind of light is sufficiently diffuse to make the whole scene iridescent without emphasizing it; I don't know of any other light sources capable of achieving the same result. The story of 'Taken' truly implies this kind of sober lighting style.' [From KODAK 'Focus on Film'.]


 

Michel Abramowicz: 'A Trip to Remember' [2013]: 'Having to work with only one lens pushed us into discovering everything that the lens could do, which was really the purpose of the exercise. We decided to shoot Steadicam quite a lot, as that enabled us to get both wide shots and close-ups. The idea of the movie is to show off the anamorphic format as a fantastic one for cinema; for me it is the format for cinema. When you work in anamorphic you need the right locations and you need to build your frame carefully. For people of my generation, who worked for so long with film negative, leaving behind the texture of film grain is quite painful, but if we can carry the anamorphic format into the digital revolution then we retain something really cinematic. We decided to work a lot at T1.9 to keep the background out of focus and keep a shallow depth of field. With ALEXA's sensitivity it would have been easy to work at T4 or T5.6, but we really wanted to restrict the depth of field. I was very happy with how the Master Anamorphic performed at T1.9 because there was no distortion and no loss of the color structure, the colors remained completely stable. Zeiss obviously worked very hard on this lens because it gives a very nice quality of picture. The flaring is nice but not too strong. We were trying to maximize the out-of-focus backgrounds and highlights, and we loved the effect. When you focus on something specific in the frame then you are really telling your story; with the Master Anamorphic there is a graduation as the focus falls away that is very nice. I do notice that a lot of films shot digitally can look the same, but with anamorphic you have the possibility - if you have a good focus puller - of creating a truly cinematic picture and getting back to a feeling of real cinema. For the nice skin tones I think it was a combination of four elements: the most important is the lens; then the ALEXA; then the lighting; and finally the make-up girl! When we showed the film on a big screen at Micro Salon a lot of people asked me if I had actually lit it, because there is a misconception that shooting digitally at 800 ASA or higher means you don't need to light anything, but it's not true. Cinematographers need to adapt to digital but we also need to continue to light the image - this is fundamental. However, it is true that this lens helps a lot with getting a very nice skin texture and color; in fact these were the nicest skin tones I have ever seen on digital. The film looked fantastic at Micro Salon with a 4K projector, it was just incredible.' [From the ARRI NEWS website.]


 

 FILMS & TELEVISION

1981

La saisie [Yves-Noël François] 16mm/c; short/10m

1984

L'anniversaire de Georges [Patrick Traon] c; short/13m

1984

Epitaphe [Jean-Claude Robert] c; short/14m

1984

Ça n'arrive qu'à moi [Francis Perrin] c; delta-plane ph; ph: Didier Tarot

1985

Kubyre [Pierre-Henri Salfati] c; short/24m

1985

Le bonheur a encore frappé [Jean-Luc Trotignon] c

1986

D'après Maria [Jean-Claude Robert] c; short/30m

1988

Tolérance [Pierre-Henri Salfati] c

1989

La fille des collines [Robin Davis] c

1990

Annabelle partagée [Francesca Comencini] c

1991

Vent d'est/East Wind [Robert Enrico] c

1992

Une journée chez ma mère/Part-time Parents [Dominique Cheminal] c

1994

Red Shoe Diaries [ep #27 'Like Father, Like Son' dir by Rafael Eisenman] 65-part tv-series, 1992-96; 3rd season, 1994

1994

L'échappée belle [Jérôme Enrico] tvm

1994

État des lieux/Inner City [Jean-François Richet] s16/b&w; cph: Pierre Boffety & Valérie Le Gurun

1996

La ballade de Titus [Vincent De Brus] c

1999

Capitães de Abril/April Captains/Capitaines d'avril [Maria de Medeiros] c

2001

Sueurs/Sweat [Louis-Pascal Couvelaire] scope/c; 2uc: Charlet Recors; aph: James Swanson

2002

Michel Vaillant [Louis-Pascal Couvelaire] s35/c; 2uc: Dominique De Wever; filmed 2002-03

2004

L'empire des loups/Empire of the Wolves [Chris Nahon] p/c; 2uc: Vincent Muller; filmed February-May & October (in Turkey)

2006

Ha-Sodot/The Secrets/Emeth [Avi Nesher] c

 

With actor Liam Neeson [left] - "Taken"

Photo by Stéphanie Branchu [courtesy of Michel Abramowicz]

 

2007

Taken [Pierre Morel] s35+HD (Genesis)-to-35mm scope/c; 2uc: Gil Pannetier; see above

2007

Sagan [Diane Kurys] 16mm (+ 35bu)/b&w-c; prod as 2-part tvm (#1 'Un charmant petit monstre' & #2 'Des bleus à l'âme'; 2x 90m; 16mm); theatrical version (117m; 35bu)

2008

From Paris with Love [Pierre Morel] s35 (+ D-Cinema)/c; 2uc: Gil Pannetier

 

[Middle] - "Once I Was" - photo by Eldad Rafaeli [courtesy of Michel Abramowicz]

 

2009

Paam Hayiti/Once I Was/The Matchmaker/Love Lesson [Avi Nesher] scope/c

2010

The Thing [Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.] p (+ D-Cinema)/c; 2uc: David Franco; aph: Hans Bjerno & Mark Hryma; reshoots January 2011; prequel to film by John Carpenter (1981)

2010

Wave [María Ripoll] scheduled to start shooting in August; status unknown

2010

Racing Patriots [Eric Stoltz] announced; status unknown

2011

Stars 80/Stars des années 80 (Frédéric Forestier (replaced Pascal Bourdiaux)] HD (ARRI ALEXA Plus)-to-35mm scope (+ D-Cinema)/c; addph: Jean-Paul Agostini; ph Los Angeles: Sandra Valde-Hansen; aph: Steven Desbrow

2011

Wireless [Jerry Ciccoritti] announced

2012

Pla'ot/The Wonders [Avi Nesher] HD/c; 2uc: Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov

2013

A Trip to Remember [Roberto de Angelis] HD (ARRI ALEXA Plus/4:3 & Studio/Master Scope)/c; short/8m24s; test film for the ARRI/ZEISS Master Anamorphic 50mm (MA50) lens; shot in January (3 days); see above

2015

Lady Bloodfight [Chris Nahon] HD/c

2015

Passion [Arthur Vernon] scope/c; short/15m; cph: Vincent Jeannot

2015

Past Life/Hahataim/Ha'khata'im [Avi Nesher] HD scope/c

2016

Love Locks [Martin Wood] tvm/HD (ARRI ALEXA); co-'b' camera; ph: Richard Ciupka; ep #359 of 'Hallmark Hall of Fame'-series (2017)

 

 FILMS AS CAMERA ASSISTANT/OPERATOR

1978

The Cousteau Odyssey [ep (48m) 'Time Bomb at Fifty Fathoms'; tv-series] co-c.asst; ph: various

1978

Une histoire simple/A Simple Story [Claude Sautet] c.op 'b' cam; ph: Jean Boffety

1978

Comme les anges déchus de la planète Saint-Michel [Jean Schmidt; doc] co-c.asst (as M. Abramovicz); ph: Roland Bernard

1978

It Rained All Night the Day I Left [Nicolas Gessner] c.asst; ph: Richard Ciupka

1979

Dizengoff 99/99 Dizengoff Street [Avi Nesher] 1st c.asst; ph: Jean Boffety

1979

The Hostage Tower [Claudio Guzmán; tvm] co-c.asst; ph: Jean Boffety

1980

Un mauvais fils [Claude Sautet] 1st c.asst; ph: Jean Boffety

1980

Les uns et les autres/Bolero [: Dance of Life] [Claude Lelouch] co-c.asst; ph: Jean Boffety

1981

Condorman [Charles Jarrott] 2nd c.asst 'b' cam; ph: Charles F. Wheeler

1981

Staline est mort [Yves Ciampi; tvm] 1st c.asst; ph: Jacques Renoir

1981

Malesherbes, avocat du roi [Yves-André Hubert; tvm] 1st c.asst; ph: Jacques Renoir

1982

Le gendarme et les gendarmettes [Jean Girault] c.op 'b' cam; ph: Jean Boffety

1982

L'argent [Robert Bresson] 1st c.asst; ph: Pasqualino De Santis & Emmanuel Machuel

1983

Carmen/Bizet's Carmen [Francesco Rosi] 1st c.asst; ph: Pasqualino De Santis