A trip down Tinsel Town lane


South African director of photography (DOP) Mandla Dube recently spent two months
in Los Angeles reconnecting with former classmates and lecturers from his alma
mater, the American Film Institute (AFI). During his visit Dube followed an exclusive
diet of film and digital cinematography talk.

On arriving in Los Angeles Mandla Dube immediately contacted the Mole-Richardson
company, a family-owned motion picture lighting manufacturer operated by Larry
Mole Parker.

“Mole-Richardson invented the Baby Junior 2K fresnel light, which has become a
trademark of many cinematographers. While there I came across James Plannette
who used to give lighting workshops when I was at AFI. James was gaffer on a
number of Hollywood productions such as recent Best Film Oscar winner, The Artist,
as well as the Ocean’s 11 franchise, Syriana, Magnolia and Traffic, among many

“He was presenting a high definition (HD) workshop at Mole-Richardson despite the
fact that he is a huge fan of film and like many other old-schoolers, does not believe
it will ever die out. The Artist was shot on film so maybe its phenomenal success will
revive the film format. Part of the reason for the workshop being done on HD is the
cost implication of doing it on film. Deluxe Lab is no longer in the Hollywood area,
they’ve moved to San Fernando Valley, and Kodak no longer donates stock.

“When we were at AFI we got free stock from Kodak and free processing with
Deluxe, Technicolor or Foto-Kem. It is great to come from the film discipline and
transition into HD which means you treat the digital camera as a particular “film
stock’ and rate it at a specific ASA and then use your light meter to set the T or F
stop on the lens. You must still light digital carefully as it’s essentially like reversal

“James and I inevitably got into a heavy discussion about where film was going. A
few weeks later we heard that Kodak had filed for bankruptcy, which is another sign
that film is dying. Personally, I think it will still be a long time before the Hollywood
studios phase out film altogether.’

Dube points out that because film stock is made from plastic it can last for between
100 to 200 years but is bulky and cumbersome to store. “We don’t really know yet
how long digital lasts and of course it needs loads of storage capacity. But digital is
exciting and if you don’t embrace it, you will be left behind.’

In Los Angeles Dube happened to go to a cinema to see Martin Scorcese’s Hugo,
shot on the Arri Alexa Plus, and bumped into a dolly grip, Dave Pearlberg, who he’d
worked with on The Italian Job.

“He has worked on major films such as the upcoming Batman and Inception with
cinematographer Wally Pfister ASC. When we finished The Italian Job Dave came to
dolly grip for me on a short film, Sunset Tuxedo.

“I also met up with screenwriter George Walczak who wrote a script called Zulu
Wave for National Geographic Films. This project was meant to shoot in South Africa
but is now on hold. In fact George was the scripwriting mentor on my AFI thesis film,
Badger. We have since become close and are collaborating on a project.’

New camera

Dube visited Technicolor on Sunset Boulevard only to find that the company has
downsized its film division, which will soon be shut down. However, they showed him
some rushes of Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe’s new film, The Gangster
Squad, which was shot on the Alexa Plus.

“At the time I had already invested in this very camera. It is a film-style motion
picture digital camera with a 35mm-size 3.7k pixel sensor with 800ASA sensitivity,
onboard HD recording and can shoot speeds of up to 120fps.

“The Alexa Plus is a 3.7K camera. Although the human eye can’t see beyond 2.5K, by
shooting at 3.7K it brings out images that have close to no grain at all. The tighter
the grain on images, the more that you can do with visual effects (VFX) in post-
production. Another advantage of the camera is its very wide colour gamut.’

Following his return to South Africa earlier this year, Dube immersed himself in the
Alexa Plus system, which his company Pambilimedia, has lodged with Media Film
Service for rental.

At the time of writing Dube was conducting exhaustive tests in preparation for a
four-part drama series, Kalushi – The Story of Solomon Mahlangu. Teddy Mattera
(Max and Mona) is the co-writer and director and Leon Otto is script editor.

Pambilimedia has partnered with Mahlangu’s family and the Mpumalanga Province to
explore what Dube calls Cinema Tourisma, a concept loosely based on Heritage
Toursim. Cinema Tourisma aims to promote heritage sites, icons of a country or even
legends using all multimedia platforms to boost tourism. An example is the city of
Cape Town as a character in Denzel Washington’s Safe House.

“We are trying to raise the bar with this production,’ continues Dube. “It’s a licence
agreement with SABC1 and the project went through a 14 month script development
process with SABC’s Content Hub. Kalushi is a psychological drama written as an
introspective journey into Solomon Mahlangu’s mind and his meditation on death at
the hands of the apartheid regime. He was executed on 6 April 1979.

“Our theme is the responsibility that comes with leadership. Here is a guy 19 years
old and says these last words to the executioner: “My blood will nourish the tree that
will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people I love them and they must continue
the fight’. I doubt if anyone of the leaders we follow today would be willing to
sacrifice their lives to better all.’

Last year Dube and his cousin Mickey Dube shot the high profile docu-drama
Sobukwe – A Great Soul on a Sony EX-3. The film won the Humanitarian Award at
the 2011 Durban International Film Festival.

By Joanna Sterkowicz

Screen Africa magazine – May 2012


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