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How Phedon Papamichael, ASC shot Alexander Payne's NEBRASKA

Nebraska is a 2013 black-and-white drama film starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. It is directed by Alexander Payne and lensed by Phedon Papamichael, ASC. Nebraska premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Palme d'Or Award and Bruce Dern won the Best Actor Award.

On January 16, 2014 Phedon Papamichael earned his 1st OSCAR Award Nomination for Best Achievement in Cinematography. On January 8, 2014 Phedon also earned his 1st BAFTA Award Nomination for Best Cinematography and at the same day he was nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography.

For his work in Nebraska Phedon also received nominations for Best Cinematography by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Phoenix Film Critics Society, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Critics' Choice Movie Awards. On November 10, 2013 The Hamilton Behind the Camera 2013 Awards recognized Phedon Papamichael with a Lifetime Achievement in Cinematography. Phedon's luminous black-and-white cinematography is gorgeous and evocative. This is how he shot Nebraska:

Camera Choice

Phedon shot Nebraska on ARRI ALEXA M. He did comparison tests between ARRI ALEXA, RED EPIC, Eastman Double-X Negative Film 5222 and KODAK VISION3 500T 5219 Color Negative Film with the color drained in post. He chose to shoot ALEXA M because of the camera's low-light sensitivity as well as flexibility (separate camera head and body). Phedon shot at speeds as high as 1200 ASA.

Codec Choice

Nebraska was captured on ARRIRAW. Convergent Design Gemini 4:4:4 Recorders were used to capture the ARRIRAW data at 2880×2160 resolution with simultaneous recording to in-camera SxS cards at 2048×1536 ProRes 4444 Log C. Alex and Phedon saw black and white on the set but the ALEXA/Gemini rig captured full color.

Lens Choice

Phedon used Panavision C-Series Anamorphic Lenses. An estimated 80% of the movie was done on the wider end of the range. Since the late 1960s the C-Series line has been the lens of choice for productions in need of a compact and lightweight anamorphic lens.

Grain Choice

Avatar Colorist Skip Kimball (who joined Technicolor on July 2012), was the Digital Intermediate Colorist Guru of Nebraska. Skip put Phedon's 5222 test footage through a digital intermediate and he identified an ideal contrast level. Phedon and Skip corrected the ALEXA M footage to match the Eastman Double-X Negative Film 5222 in terms of contrast, but preferred the grain signature of the old 5248 stock.


Nebraska was cut on AVID Media Composer (5.5) by Alexander Payne's longtime editor Kevin Tent, ACE. The color files coming out of the ALEXA M were converted on set by Lonny Danler (DIT), so they were editing fully in black-and-white.

How Phedon Papamichael, ASC shot Alexander Payne's NEBRASKA

The November 2013 issue of ICG (International Cinematographer Magazine) features a great article on how Phedon shot Nebraska. Below is an excerpt from the insightful article by David Heuring:

Papamichael says the choice to shoot the film in black and white – a rare animal indeed these days for a Hollywood release – was an instinctual, not intellectual, decision. "Alexander always envisioned [Nebraska] in black and white, going back to our earliest conversations, before we made Sideways," he explains. "Although the story and the landscapes lend themselves to black and white, we never know what to say when people ask why. When I’m working on stills at home, some of them are better in monochrome. It just seems to feel right." Continue by reading the full ICG article written by David Heuring.