- Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017
Director Ang Lee has no aversion to creative risk taking, which is all the more admirable when he instead could just as easily rest on his laurels. But it’s that curiosity and creative drive that have helped earn him those laurels to begin with as reflected in a body of work which includes such films as Sense and Sensibility; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Brokeback Mountain; and Life of Pi--the latter two earning him Best Director Oscars.
So when he started to explore the potential of faster frame rates, Lee became intrigued over the storytelling possibilities and more committed to trying to realize them, exhibit A being Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Sony/TriStar Pictures) which, adapted from Ben Fountain’s novel, introduces us to a unit of solders who are on a brief victory tour stateside after enduring a traumatic battle in Iraq that resulted in the death of one of their own. Billy Lynn (portrayed by Joe Alwyn) becomes the hero soldier/rock star of the day who is the focus of admiring media and everyday folk as he and his Bravo Squad are saluted during the halftime show of a Thanksgiving Day National Football League game in Texas. The reality of what these service men have been through juxtaposed with the at times garish display of fanfare and not so well veiled hypocrisy they encounter back home makes for a moving story as we see Billy Lynn start to come to terms with his trauma while reaffirming his commitment and love for his comrades in arms.
Director Lee teamed with two-time Oscar winning cinematographer (Braveheart and Legends of the Fall) John Toll, ASC, to shoot the film in 3D, 4K resolution and at 120 frames per second, five times the traditional 24 fps. Lee embraced the higher frame rate to capture the emotional intensity of the story as well as the ravages of war depicted in flashbacks to the battlefield.
Following a screening of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk in Hollywood, Calif., Lee came on stage to talk about higher frame rates and what drew him to that format in order to tell this story. “Technology is inspiring,” he observed, noting that when “doing something for the first time, everything comes to light. I’m nervous, alert...it’s kind of like torture sometimes.” But ultimately he found that the technology served the purpose of drama and expressing humanity.
The higher frame rate makes the movie an immersive experience, particularly in the war scenes which thrust viewers into the heat of battle, providing a taste of the chaos, danger and visceral, emotional impact experienced by Bravo Squad. Lee said he wanted the audience to “feel what these soldiers feel” not only in battle but when back home. He noted that by taking advantage of new technology, the movie provides the perspective of “how our eyes work” in real life, taking in surroundings while also focusing on what’s right in front of us.
Accompanying Lee on stage was one of the film’s producers, Oscar nominee (Bridge of Spies for Best Picture) Marc Platt. Relative to perspective, Platt cited Lee’s filmography which reflects an acumen and affinity for “mixing artform with technology.” Platt said of Lee, “He sees things before the rest of us do.” Platt noted that the immersiveness of high frame rate in closeups enables a character to tell a story with very few words. Actors can say so much with their faces--with “no makeup, no artifice.” While most theaters are not equipped to show the film as it was fully intended, Platt said that audiences should still feel a difference which visually draws them more into the story and characters than a conventionally shot picture.
Lee affirmed, “This is a new medium waiting for us to explore. So much information is put before your eyes, your head would like to keep chasing it.”
Lee will continue that pursuit. He reportedly plans to use the faster fps format in his next project, the boxing movie Thrilla in Manila.
Lee isn’t the only one exploring the possibilities. Peter Jackson deployed 48fps with The Hobbit trilogy and James Cameron is reportedly diving into the faster format in his Avatar sequels.
This is the 11th of a multi-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on SHOOTonline.com, with select installments also in print issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards. The Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.
BASED ON THE NOVEL BY:
Marc Platt, Ang Lee, Rhodri Thomas, Stephen Cornwell
Brian Bell, Jeff Robinov, Guo Guangchang, Ben Waisbren
Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, with Vin Diesel and Steve Martin