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  • Writer's pictureJohn Christian Rosenlund

Black and White for Allan Gray in SA

Updated: May 16, 2018

To get the opportunity to shoot in pure B&W is seldom. The commercial "FATHER’S SHARE", beautifully directed by Peter Pohorsky did it all the way. "Fathers´s share" is the story of a quiet man who leaves his family with a legacy far greater than just money"

This is my experience with the rare and unique ARRI Black and White camera without Bayer mask, a 6 day shoot with the most excellent crew in and around Johannesburg.

The vision

Peter´s vision for the project was inspired by Scandinavian cinematographers and natural lighting. We wanted a soft low contrast look - not the hard deep blacks as you often find in a typical B&W commercial and found references in Persona by Bergman (shot by Sven Nyqvist) and still-images from from Jürgen Schadeberg and Ernest Cole.

a frame from the digital negative

Contrast, Shape and Texture

Black and White cinematography is heavily connected to Contrast, Shape and Texture. We wanted to achieve a look with great dynamic range, with as many shades of grey as possible. Production design was (as always) very important. But in difference from what we normally do, B&W depend more on contrast, Shape and Texture, than color. Color is important, but in a different way. For-instance, purple crocus against a green lawn - generally don't work well in black and white. This is because the two colors will end up looking similar in tone when converted.

Shooting digital like B&W film.

The rather complicated logistic around development, specially B&W, made shooting on film not an option. I suggested to shoot on a modified ALEV III ALEXA, a pure digital B&W camera. This camera would give the project a stronger focus and the camera I had in mind, would give us better dynamic range and more than 1 1/2 stop more of light than the standard Arri Alexa.

Thank to Ben Kaufman, the brilliant producer at Plank Film, Florian Rettich and Aljoscha Mix at Arri Rental, we got hold of one of the handful Black and White cameras available.

So what is this camera about?

Some few years ago , Arri made some very few digital Black and White cameras, based on a modified ALEV III ALEXA sensor. The unique thing about the camera is the lack of a Bayer mask, optical low-pass filter (OLPF) and IR block filter, allowing each photosite to capture the full spectrum of visible light increasing spatial resolution and contrast. The result is a high contrast monochromatic images with increased spatial resolution and around 15 stops of dynamic range.

In this mode the camera's look is very much like a 35 mm camera loaded with panchromatic film – the classic black-and-white look.The camera is also more sensitive than a regular ALEXA XT Plus, with a native sensitivity of around EI 2000.

Selfie with Arri Alexa B&W and Focuspuller Houston Hadden

After all this years of shooting, I very seldom get exited by a camera. But this one was completely new. It was nice to feel a bit scared again :-)

Together with the one and only focus Puller Houston Hadden and the very talented DIT Richard Muller from Digital Plumbing, we did some extensive tests with the camera and created a soft film looking LUT for monitor, Dailies and Off-line.

We used DRYLAB ( for on set and remote metadata tagged Dailies.


I went for two sets of lenses. ZEISS HIGH SPEED PRIMES T1.3 as our "modern" lenses and

KOWA CINE PROMINAR (rented from in Oslo Norway) for close ups and shots, "optical errors" and bokeh.


Riccardo Pugliese did an amazing job, re-creating downtown Johannesburg from the 50´s and 70´s , in Soweto and builded a beautiful farm and a shop at Sterkfontein outside Joburg.

It’s rare and unique to get in touch with a commercial project with a goal to portraits the South African history and culture on a large scale with a purely dramatic and cinematic approach.

I am honored to have been a part of this wonderful project !

a lovely memory !

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