"Let's Be Cops" Calls for a Changing Look

For his latest endeavor, Daryn Okada, ASC handled cinematography duties for director Luke Greenfield on Let’s Be Cops, a comedy about a pair of losers who impersonate police on a lark, and end up way over their heads. Okada envisioned a look that evolved as the characters’ situation changes. The filmmakers felt that creating a realistic feeling with the imagery would help the audience identify with the characters.

The first act introduces the characters with naturalistic lighting, and in the second act, they enjoy the newfound respect that comes with their fake police uniforms. The majority of the film takes place at night, and the filmmakers shot in Atlanta, although the film is set in Los Angeles.

“The idea was to intensify the colors in the second act, especially at night,” says Okada. “There’s electronic billboard lighting, along with car headlights, and changing, colored LED lighting to communicate an idealized, Sunset Boulevard look. In the third act, we go more handheld, more stylized and contrasty, with the feeling that things have gotten too real for these guys – it’s now a life-and-death situation. At times, we used a 120-degree shutter and slow motion.”

Okada adds, “Also, for this movie to be fun for the audience, we needed to challenge them. If they visually always get what they expect on the screen, that’s like taking half the fun away.”

In addition to a Sony F65, Okada often chose to work with Sony F55 cameras, in part because of ergonomics. “I knew we’d need more portability at times on this film,” he says. “I tested the F55 for image quality, and saw that I could intercut the two cameras if I needed to.”

The F55 had only recently been introduced, and Panavision engineers helped ensure a smooth maiden voyage. “I had heard that Panavision was aggressively working on making a Panavised F55,” Okada notes. “I knew that we would need a rugged Panavision lens mount, follow focus systems and other accessories to make fast changes on this project. The way the camera was being outfitted, I could use it in a studio camera set up as well as on Steadicam. I asked for four fully Panavised cameras in five weeks, and they did it.”

The cameras came directly from Panavision in Woodland Hills to Atlanta. Okada and his crew shared notes on how the systems worked in the field to inform further improvement. One adjustment involved the eyepiece. “When I’m handholding the camera, I’m used to having the eyepiece in line with or just above the lens barrel, so that I feel like I’m looking right at what I’m shooting,” Okada explains. “Most electronic viewfinders are mounted too high, and operators have to look up when they’re shooting straight ahead. So we measured things off, and Panavision made a prototype for me of a pivot point that was lower and pushed the camera further behind the shoulder, while staying out of the way of the focus and iris mechanisms. They made those improvements for us mid-show.”

Okada also asked for a protective cover for the built-in neutral density dial that would prevent accidental adjustments. “It sounds really simple, but when you’re in the midst of shooting, you don’t want to be thinking about these things,” he says. “You want the camera to really be a part of you. And that’s why accessorizing it with a Panavision system worked. Other camera assistants who have never seen this camera before could walk up to it and just start working because, basically, it is set up like a Panavision film camera. That increases the confidence level, and you don’t have to retrain people.”

Also important to Okada was the knowledge that he could use Primo lenses. “That took one variable out of the digital equation,” he adds. “I knew what the Primos would produce, and I knew they were rock-solid dependable, which is what you need when you’re out in the field.”

Okada lit as he would have with film, but he usually exposed at ASA 1200. He lit atmospherically, bringing out texture by scraping surfaces with light whenever possible. “The combination of the Primos and the F55 worked perfectly in those situations,” he says. “The coatings are really nice, so it felt filmic. I never felt that I wanted the images softer and more broken down, because we needed the contrast so that the color saturation in the production design would come through. With other technically ‘state of the art’ lenses, the image might have had less humanity. I want the audience to feel engaged, to feel that it’s a story unfolding in front of them. With the Primos, and the way Panavision built out the F55, everything worked together as a system.”

The images were recorded in the Sony 4K RAW format. Company 3 in Atlanta handled dailies, which Okada saw in ProRes HD 4:2:2. Fox eventually decided to finish in 4K, too.

Okada notes that capturing on 4K and using the S-log 2 exposure latitude and the 16-bit color gamut through an ACES viewing LUT was an important aspect of the process. “We couldn’t have those intense colors coming across as gaudy, or clunking together without enough code values to adjust with precision.”

Okada sees his relationship with Panavision as a partnership. “Larry Hazelwood in Los Angeles and Mindy Bee in Atlanta made the whole system happen the way we needed it,” he says. “They both know how I work and what I’ve used on film shoots for over 20 years. That made things a whole lot easier, even though we were working with a new camera on one of its first feature films.”