<I>The Requin</I>: Cinematographer Matt S. Bell
Issue: January/February 2022

The Requin: Cinematographer Matt S. Bell

Directed by Le-Van Kiet, The Requin is a new thriller set in a remote seaside villa in Vietnam, where Jaelyn (Alicia Silverstone) and Kyle (James Tupper) have planned a romantic getaway. A torrential storm, however, descends on the region, reducing the villa to a small raft that is swept out to sea, where the couple is threatened by a school of great white sharks. 
Matt S. Bell (www.mattsbell.com) shot the feature, which is being distributed by Saban Films. The film debuted on January 28th and is seeing both theatrical and online release. Bell recently shared his experience working on the film with Post.

How did you get involve with working on The Requin?

“I just wrapped a three-picture deal in Louisiana when I got a call from my producer friend Aaron Koontz. Aaron told me about his two-character water survival film staring Alicia Silverstone and James Tupper. After a two-hour call with director Le-Van Kiet, I packed up my house and traveled down to Orlando with only one month of prep before principal production. We had a lot to figure out in a very short period of time.”

What was the overall look and feel director Le-Van Kiet wanted to convey?

“Kiet referenced a variety of English and Vietnamese films, but really focused on The Rider (Chloé Zhao) and Furie (Kiet’s previous film) – mostly for action sequences. Of course, we looked into some of the practical magic of films like Jaws and The Reef. Kiet wanted the film to be presented through the eyes of Jaelyn. That was a big definer of lenses for me, sticking with the wider-mid range and getting physically closer to Alicia. This puts the audience in the front seat with Jaelyn as this intense storm takes over her life.”

Photo: Matt S. Bell

How much of the film was storyboarded?

“Kiet did storyboard most of the major action and shark sequences before I came on board. Once together, we started to refine those boards and draw out the rest. I believe we had the entire film storyboarded by the time we hit day one of filming. Additionally, we shot video storyboards in our conference room using Artemis and stand-ins for those more heavily-covered scenes – mostly the main storm surge sequence. Sticking close to our previs was very helpful in getting us through the bigger action days.”
What camera did you choose and do you have a preference?

“I am always open to any combinations of photography tools to properly support and compliment the story, the performances and the director’s vision for the film. This process is generally accompanied by weeks of camera tests and considerations during development and preproduction. 

“Regarding this film, we landed on the (Arri) Alexa Mini LF with Signature prime lenses as our primary camera for more logistical reasons. This film is so heavily influenced by VFX elements that I wanted to make sure post production had as much detail as they could for their work. I generally lean towards this set up when I need something incredibly clean and distortion free.” 

What were some of the challenges you faced during production?

“The biggest challenge was overcoming the water element of the film. We went back and forth on how to approach most of the film, which takes place in the middle of the South China Sea. Budgetary restraints keep us out of the stage and on a hydraulic set, which is what we needed. Instead, we had to fight the elements on a lake side outdoor pool set. This method did give a lot of realism to the look of the film, however it was nearly impossible to maintain that look shot-by-shot. 

“Another huge challenge was the VFX workflow. Our VFX team was in Vietnam and would Zoom in to watch our camera’s live feed while shooting, which just made for a slower process than we would have liked. At the end of the day, we used these challenges as a way to push the film in a defined direction, which is great!”
Can you talk about the lenses you selected?

“We landed on the Signature primes to go along with the Alexa Mini LF. This was primarily to make the VFX post process a little more streamlined. We also used a special 90-degree mount that allowed the lens (to be) perpendicular to the sensor. This allowed me to get as close to the water as possible without going under. This was used for one shot of Alicia in the birthing tub. Since the birth tub sequences play as a flashback, it made sense to have a different feeling lens and camera setup for that work.”

Most of The Requin takes place at sea. Can you talk about lighting this type of film?

“There were a million different ways to approach this challenge. In a perfect world, we would have had a dry, hydraulic set built on stage. This would have allowed us to contain and control every element of the shoot. Unfortunately, budget must be considered, and this would have been very restrictive.

“Ultimately, we chose to go more naturalistic and film on ‘open water.’ This open-water set was a lake-side pool that allowed us to work with the sun as our primary lighting source for most of the water work. The beauty and the challenge of having every shot be a VFX background replacement is that I could rotate the set so that the sun was always where in needed to be relative to the talent and the set. It did make continuity a struggle with the weather adjusting every couple of minutes.”

Can you talk about how working on a film with VFX affects you as a cinematographer? 

“In other cases, I would have selected a camera/lens combination that best told the story visually. I would have also had LUTs created to follow us around production in ordered to better achieve that final look. For this film, my goal was to give editorial and VFX as many options as possible. This is exactly why I chose the tools I did for this shoot. We were able to bring in this pristine image quality and properly texturize it for the final look Keit and the rest of the team was going for.”

Do you have a favorite shot or scene?

“I’m happy with the film overall, knowing the extent of our challenges. I really enjoyed the main storm-surge sequence in the villa. It was dynamic camera work, hectic practical effects, high-flying stunts and intricate lighting effects. It was like a frantic dance with multiple critical elements that all needed to come together. On top of all that, it still leaned so heavily on the VFX, so I was pleasantly entertained when viewing the final storm sequence from the studio.”