More monkey business

Michael Seresin BSC NZSC / War For The Planet OF The Apes

(l-r) Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Andy Serkis and Michael Adamthwaite

More monkey business

Michael Seresin BSC NZSC / War For The Planet OF The Apes

War For The Planet Of The Apes  is the sequel to 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s 2014 feature Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and is the third instalment in the rebooted Planet Of The Apes  franchise.

When Dawn took well-over $700m at the box office worldwide, its director Matt Reeves and screenwriter Mark Bomback were asked to return for the next episode in the franchise. Cinematographer Michael Seresin BSC NZSC, who shot Dawn in native 3D stereo, was lured once more into the fray, with production designer James Chinlund, plus first AD Matthew Dunne, also making a return.

The $245m summer blockbuster, releasing in 2D and 3D stereo, is set two years after Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. Caesar (Andy Serkis), an intelligent common chimpanzee, and his tribe of genetically enhanced apes have been constantly at war against humans. When the apes start suffering heavy losses, and Caesar's wife Cornelia and son Blue Eyes are killed, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts to face the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), the iron-fisted leader of the humans, who is obsessed with wiping out Caesar and his tribe to defend his people from destruction. The impending conflict will determine the fate of both species on the planet.

When Reeves and Bomback initially came on board to helm Dawn, the film already had a release date, which led to an accelerated production schedule. However, with this third instalment, Fox gave the duo plenty of time to write and shoot the film.

Cinematographer Michael Seresin, right, with Director Matt Reeves
Cinematographer Michael Seresin, right, with Director Matt Reeves

Principal photography, including a 50-day stint shooting at night, started in mid-October 2015, in a vast open-air, specially-built location in Lower Mainland near Vancouver, under the working title ‘Hidden Fortress’. The production wrapped around 130 shooting days later in March 2016. Parts of the movie were also shot in the Kananaskis mountain range in the Canadian Rockies, the desert around Las Vegas, and in a cavernous, Fox-owned studio near Vancouver.

“Following the success of Dawn, Matt was signed early-on for this new production, and was given more time and more creative freedom,” says Seresin, who was overseeing the final HDR grade on War at the time of this interview.

“These types of productions are super-complex – working out what’s straight live action, what’s VFX, what’s greenscreen, etc. – and you always welcome more time before you shoot. The same key people who made Dawn were on this film and, although nearly everyone else was new, this high-level continuum – in terms of trust, taste and knowing what to do – was a distinct advantage. We had been here before: we all knew the score.”


Whilst Reeves took inspiration for the relationship between Caesar and the Colonel from classic war films, such as Bridge On The River Kwai, and sought to imbue the new production with Biblical themes and elements from epics such as Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, Seresin says the previous Apes movie was really the visual starting point for their new endeavour.

War is a more sinister and threatening story than Dawn, not so urban, and with more CG apes than humans. Consequently, we chose to make it a darker and more menacing visual experience,” Seresin says. “I like the dark side of images and the dark side of life too. So that aesthetic choice suited me fine.”

Moving the visual experience on aesthetically, Seresin suggested capturing War in large format, using the then officially-unreleased ARRI Alexa 65 camera.

“Historically I have tended to work with ARRI,” he remarks. “I like the rigour of the company: they never do things by halves. I love their film cameras and I love their digital cameras. Although I would have liked to have shot in native 3D again, as I enjoyed it first time around, the plan was to dimensionalise War in post, and I knew I would have a good degree of control over this part of the process. I would not work on a movie if I did not have that. It’s part of my job.”


Read the full interview - ONLY available in the July 2017 Issue (82) of British Cinematographer magazine.

Find out Michael Seresin's views on ARRI Prime 65s, lighting the film's mood, and the rigorous working regime.

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