Widmer: Well, because of the natural lighting in this movie, we wanted to be careful to capture contrast. In this case, the tree that falls is Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer whose piety and morals were put to the ultimate test when his country was annexed during World War II. It didn’t really matter if the best takes had the actors’ lines or not, they were added in voiceover. When the quiet hero does speak, it’s sometimes in English, and often in German—un-subtitled. "He wanted to show a hero who you normally would not have heard of—a guy who will not end up in the history books because his story seems to be meaningless for the world.". It was more moments. We used the ARRI Master Primes 12mm as the main lens, 16mm as our long lens., and sometimes the Ultraprime 8R. We used two RED Epics. And you know if you don’t follow it, this take is not going to end up in the movie. It's about finding all these signs and images that tell the story as well as a close-up of an actor or a line of dialogue. Pachner: It’s more like you sort of walk through the storyline. It was helpful to have it at the beginning, but later on we didn’t use it so much anymore. Widmer: We've known each other for quite a while, so we developed this approach over a couple of movies with Chivo [Emmanuel Lubezki]. When we shot some tests Terry was quite convinced digital would work and for good reason, it looked good. For example, the touching of hands, maybe the wind in the trees, or the river flowing. (Widmer joked that they sent their longest lens, a 35mm, home the first week of production on “The Tree of Life.”) Yet early in shooting “A Hidden Life,” the cinematographer and director settled on going even wider – relying heavily on a 12mm lens, and never going longer than a 16mm lens. You did an excellent job of translating those ideas to the screen. If there are amazing clouds in the sky, sometimes that imagery tells you more about the character's mood [than listening to him speak]. We had a very small crew of people following with white boards, or with black duvetyne. This was just the first time an entire Malick movie was shot digitally. The rule was to stay in the so-called z-axis, so you have movement which is always towards the sun, or away from the sun, and the actors move on this path, and there’s some restrictions for them. NFS: How, specifically, did you increase your latitude in shooting with natural light in dark spaces? "This is Terry's way of shooting movies: rather than sticking to the script too closely, he lets the actors do their thing.". The camera followed the actor with mostly Steadicam, handheld, and sometimes with a slider when it was for the wider shot. This was still a little bit the case on “A Hidden Life” because it gives you such a flow in the camera movement, but this time we moved more freely. How do you shoot these long single takes? It was also very important to be involved in post-production in a way that I wasn't before. The filming location of A Hidden Life (credits: Studio Babelsberg, Iris Productions, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg) Filming locations A Hidden Life (2019) Want to know where A Hidden Life (2019) was filmed? We had to change the rules a little bit because nothing is as predictable as the Texas sun, so you had to find solutions, including, when absolutely necessary, adding a little bit of lighting. His process is also one that has evolved over the years. NFS: What is specifically different about Malick's approach to cinematography, and your approach by extension, as compared to other filmmakers? It was more the guideline. What helped was you have all these outer things like the farm, the actual farm work, you have the kids. August Diehl, the main actor, embraced this way of shooting from the beginning. Widmer: Well, the DIT was involved in shooting the film with us. Diehl: Most of the time it was more or less clear which phase of the story we were filming. NFS: This was the first time Terry had shot digital. The scenes just happen in between. We had a Steadicam. Already, this approach is amazing; I knew there was something here. What was it like making that transition with him? Since we shot digital, you can do these long takes. The long takes give you an opportunity to get a performance that you may not get otherwise. It was really hard work, but it also helped. This was not the case here. To shoot in the film's many dark spaces, we had a low-light camera set up. No Film School caught up with Widmer to discuss... No Film School: You were a camera operator on several of Malick's earlier films. We were always looking for these images when we were not shooting actors. Pachner: Once Terry found and cast August, then that was it — we saw each other again during the shoot. “A Hidden Life” cinematographer Jorg Widmer. The following observations, excerpted from separate interviews with Widmer and the film’s stars, have been condensed and edited. NFS: Going back to Terry's improvisational style and the long takes, how did the actors adapt to this method? Pachner: That was really such an important part of the film — the physicality of it, which was intense. If something happens and you have to pan, then this is now an option. NFS: The film has a lot of really big ideas, many of which are metaphysical. Joerg and Go Creative Show host, Ben Consoli, discuss working with director Terrence Malick, the challenges of shooting ONLY on wide angle lenses, going from camera operator to cinematographer, and more! Subscribe to receive the free PDF! And the rest was up to the color grader. This is challenging because you [encounter] things that you are not prepared for. Widmer: Well, actually, it was not the first time he shot digitally. Then you do it 20 times over again. We tested it, and we showed it to him, and then he was quite convinced to take the step. Using this two-camera system, we shot indoors with a low light filter, an OLPF [Optical Low Pass Filter], which gives you so much in the darkness and a little bit less in sky resolution or definition. It was nicely written, I remember, but it was also thin. It’s about harvesting, it’s about interacting with the kids, it’s about interacting with the people and also in the prison scenes – the scene could go on forever as you wait for the moment when it happens. It was very easy with a flexible crew. What you will learn in this episode The camera and lens packages for A … “A Hidden LIfe” Terrence Malick has one of the most intriguing — and influential — approaches to cinematic storytelling of any director working today. The high light [camera] gives you more latitude in the skies and the low light [camera] gives you more definition in the dark. That’s the rhetorical maxim that Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life explores. On the other hand, sometimes we shot in dark spaces, like farmhouses in the mountains with little windows. Diehl: Terry has a certain thing: He likes when people are moving. Widmer: Physically, well... a soccer player has to play 90 minutes, you know? It made you forget about acting. That was kind of amazing. Since we didn't have too much equipment—which meant no trucks in the way—we were free to go and scout and just shoot wherever we found it suitable. Just things happened, some dialogue scenes happened. It starts to become an exciting process—you see things happening in front of the camera that weren't in the script. NFS: There was a single take that lasted almost 45 minutes. A Hidden Life was also shot entirely digital—a first in Malick's career—and with mostly natural light.