Putting the Alexa to work on Fairhaven

Project: Fairhaven Director: Tom O’Brien

DP: Peter Simonite

DIT: David Kruta

This past Monday we rolled on Fairhaven, a feature film about three old friends with glory days well behind them who are reunited in their hometown of Fairhaven, MA for a weekend of booze, girls and an old-fashioned fisherman's wake.

The film stars writer/director Tom O’Brien, Chris Messina (Julie & Julia, Devil), Sarah Paulson (The Spirit, Serenity) and Rich Sommer (Mad Men).

I was hired as DIT to back up Director of Photography Peter Simonite and 1st AC Rob Bullard. For all of us, this was our first shoot with the Alexa, so we did a fair amount of testing to understand how it functions and how best to shoot with it.


We rented a basic camera package from Rule Camera in Boston, consisting of little more than the body, lenses, a small onboard monitor and batteries. Due to budget restrictions, we were only able to get the essentials, but so far, the camera’s capabilities have far exceeded our expectations.

Immediately we were impressed with the dynamic range. Advertised as 14 stops, you don’t really believe it until you see it, and when we did, we were blown away. Several times we shot what would normally be silhouette situations, with actors in front of the sun, and we would have good exposure on the background and their faces. Several shots involved an actor entering a house, and we did not need an iris rack or lighting inside to handle the scenario. This isn’t to say you should shoot without any light modification, but it does create an interesting environment in which it’s much easier to work with available light, and I believe the time savings can often offset the somewhat steep price of the camera.


My impression is that it’s very hard to underexpose or overexpose this camera. I like to keep the exposure around 1/2 to 1 stop over what it would look like finished, assuming we don’t clip any highlights. From my very unscientific standpoint, this seems to keep noise at a minimum. That being said, when it is dark, the noise is still acceptable. Several nighttime exteriors were lit with very little light, and we still managed enough exposure to sell the scene without getting much noise. We found that you actually see more into the blacks with ASA 1600, so we would use that when shooting nighttime. The most important piece of gear, in my opinion, is a good waveform monitor. Your eyes and a light meter will only get you so far, and a proper waveform can let you know that you’re getting the data you need.


Lastly, there is one thing that one should be very careful with when shooting on this camera: IR contamination. Since the native ASA is a very sensitive 800, stacking NDs is not uncommon. In fact, on a few outdoor shots, we had the equivalent of ND 2.1. Without a proper IR filter, or in our case, a ND .9 IR, your blacks will turn a muddy hue of purple and brown, and at such a high ND level, your greens and skintones will be affected. I’d suggest that at ND .9 or higher, you have an IR filter.


Overall, my first impression is that it’s hard to not make a nice image with the Alexa, and is perfect for almost any situation we found ourselves in, whether it’s huge differences from light to dark within a scene, shooting in low light or even going looser with handheld.

Of course, a pretty picture is no substitute for a great story, director and DP, but with the Alexa, it finally feels like the camera is getting out of the way and letting everyone’s best shine through.