To Boldly Go To A New Level: A Few Minutes With Ben Gervais as we talk ‘Gemini Man’ and shooting at 120 Frames Per Second

Posted in Blu-Ray/DVD, Interviews, Movies by - January 23, 2020
To Boldly Go To A New Level: A Few Minutes With Ben Gervais as we talk ‘Gemini Man’ and shooting at 120 Frames Per Second

It’s important to try and innovate and push boundaries…

Now on DVD, Blu-Ray, 4K, Digital Download and On Demand from all major providers,  Gemini Man is a full bore action movie from director Ang Lee where Will Smith plays an assassin confronted with the reality of his younger self trying to kill him.

It’s also unique as it is one of the few films to ever be released in the theatres at 120 Frames Per Second in 3D (traditional 2D films are projected at 24 FPS) as Ang Lee and his team actively push the boundaries of what film as a medium can do.

In advance of this release we got the unique please to sit down and talk with Technical Supervisor Ben Gervais on the challenges of shooting in 120 FPS and how Ang Lee and his team are getting the unique creative opportunity to write the rules on filmmaking in a way that has simply never been done before.

Dave Voigt: Obviously congratulations on the film, but I’m really curious to know if working in 120 fps inherently changes your job at on a movie or is just business as usual?

Ben Gervais: It really changes EVERY BODIES job which as I’m sure you can imagine can cause some difficulties, especially when you’re working with someone of the pedigree of an Ang Lee because obviously he’s not hiring film students, he’s hiring the best people that he can find.  Lots of those people already have Oscars and have been doing their jobs for 20, 30 years plus and it’s a situation where you have to say to those people that everything you knew when it comes to doing your job really doesn’t apply any more.  The very first meeting we all had together, Ang basically said “You all think you’re pretty good; and that’s why we hired you…but you’re not good enough for this format”.  Obviously he’s not trying to be dismissive when he says something like that but he’s trying to get the message across that we really need to pay attention to what we see on the screen, more so then we ever have before because it’s kind of like going back to film school in many ways and the old tricks that we all learned over the years, just won’t work here like they have in the past.  It’s all about finding a new way to do your respective jobs; and that applies to the actors all the way to the art department, the camera guys and the visual effects teams.

Does shooting action compound these issues even more?  I can imagine the complexities of something like the motorcycle chase in Gemini Man versus the more straight ahead drama that we see in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk are night and day.

Oh absolutely, I mean to make these truly dynamic genre action movie type shots we had to spend a lot of time.  We had to make so much of the equipment light and faster to be able to get the shots we needed out of the equipment, sometimes we went to the manufacturer to make adjustments, sometimes we had to do it ourselves.  When we talked to the guy operating the motorcycle and the camera for the chase and he first saw the camera he just said there was actually no way we’d be able to get this done, because these 3D 120FPS cameras were just too darn big.  We basically had to turn ourselves into a racing/Formula One type of team and had to shave weight wherever it was human possible on the rig in order to get the shot done.  It really would come down to little things like “Do we really need to have four screws on this?  Or can we get by with three?” (Laughs) It was all that exacting.

I can imagine that a good portion of your job really does come down to troubleshooting and reinventing the wheel as it were on a daily (if not hourly) basis.  Is this where the ultimate pleasure of it all comes from for you?

For sure, it’s an incredibly enjoyable challenge, especially considering my background as an engineer and in many ways we get to reinvent the way that movies are made.  In the past as a community the phrase that always got bandied about was “How did they do it?” but we never say that here because on this shoot we knew that when we pulled something off, it was the very first time that it was being done.  We HAVE to find our own way to do something, and very obviously we may not get it right on the first pass but because there are so few people with experience in 120 fps shooting that we can draw on it creates this really kind of freeing experience because in many ways we’re writing the rule book ourselves.

Do you think that shooting 120fps & in 3D could work on something where you have more of a constricted budget or will it be reserved for larger, event scale genre type stuff?

Absolutely, I think that obviously it’s ‘easier’ to shoot like this when you have a bigger budget to work with and while a smaller budget does introduce a certain level of constraint, I think that someone will ultimately do it at some point.  I mean between us and Peter Jackson’s team; we’re really the only ones to have ever released high frame rate movies.  There will be a trickledown effect at some point, partly because of the equipment but also because of the craft with people having more and more experience shooting like this.  The biggest hurdle really is a mental one, once people see it done then they can extrapolate and change it as needed for whatever the project requires of it in a lower budget scenario.  The technology and the process are still in their infancy so we’re really at a stage where we’re actively aware of what public perception might be and actively trying to show them that once you get into the meat of it all, you just have to make a slight change to how you view the entire filming process.

Everything that has been released in High Frame Rate has also been released in 3D.  Can HFR work in 2D?

I think it can, but I also think it’s more of an adjustment for the viewer though.   We’re conditioned to seeing 2D movies at 24fps, it’s just how it’s been done and we instinctively get that warm fuzzy feeling when we see that.  It’s funny because in the cinematography world there is this decades old rule book that tells you if you are using ‘X’ type of lens you can only shoot a certain way in order to avoid motion jitter due to frame rate.  However when the audience got more sophisticated we just didn’t have to pay attention to those rules anymore and the audience became accustom to a little bit of jitter as a part of the watching experience.  However in 3D the issue comes down to our brains because it thinks that we want to watch a movie in 2D and the process breaks that wall and makes it real.  Part of the reason why people get nauseous because the brain is seeing it in 24 fps and it’s fooling your brain into thinking you’re sick.  We use 3D as more of problem solving technique to trick the viewer’s brain into believing what it’s seeing rather than just forcing on you like standard 3D does, you could do HFR in 2D but it would ultimately be more of a creative choice than anything.

Gemini Man is on DVD, Blu-Ray, 4K, Digital Download and On Demand from all major suppliers now.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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