Director Nico Hudak of Counter Film had already produced several projects for Sony Classical when he was offered the opportunity to make a film about one of the most talented pianists in the world today. Mao Fujita started learning piano at the age of three and has won numerous awards, including the Rosario Marciano International Piano Competition in Vienna (2013), Zhuhai International Mozart Competition for Young Musicians (2015), and the Gina Bachauer International Young Artists Piano Competition (2016). Nico’s film for Sony Classical follows Mao for six months as he travels and performs around the world.
Although the film follows Mao on his globe-spanning journey, key parts of the film were shot in a studio and Nico wanted a really distinctive look.
“We wanted something that said ‘Hollywood’, we wanted something that said like – ‘cinema,’ but to just take it a step further,” Nico says. “The VENICE 2 is really the only option.”
For the studio shoot Nico wanted to portray Mao as both an extreme technician but also an artist. To allow the camera to float and fly around Mao as he played a piano placed on a turntable the camera was mounted on a jib arm. This would give a very observational style.
The camera they chose was a Sony VENICE 2 camera, but to help make the image look very organic they used it with a vintage lens and to further maintain the simplicity of the shots a single light was placed high above the piano.
After sending the footage to post-production, Nico received a call from the editor who wanted to know what it had been shot with. At the time, VENICE 2 was very new and the editor hadn’t seen footage like it before.
The studio shots needed very little grading. Nico took advantage of the VENICE 2’s ability to shoot at 8K to allow him to reframe or move around within the footage in post-production. He was able to add slow zooms or extract two slightly different shots from a single take.
Nico feels that there is something about the VENICE 2’s 8K footage that can make it look almost “more real” than real life. One of his favourite moments in the piece is where the piano is revolving, and the camera is moving in the opposite direction, everything looks very fluid. He feels it looks almost beyond what we know to be reality.
“We didn’t shoot an 8K because we wanted to deliver in 8K or because we needed some big resolution format,” he says. “But what’s really cool: I can move around in the footage so much, I can zoom in and get two shots out of one take, I can move in on his face or in on his hands or details in the piano. And it’s just lovely to have that kind of flexibility in post. But it also has this other thing, which is kind of hard to put your finger on, and it’s almost hyperreal. It almost looks like “more real” than real.”
One of his favourite moments in the piece is where the piano is revolving, and the camera is moving in the opposite direction, everything looks very fluid.
“You could really shoot a whole documentary, studio footage, run and gun footage on this one camera and a couple of lenses,” Nico says, “and get a film that looks like it’s made for the big screen.”