We at INDIEShooter.com absolutely love stories about first-time filmmakers taking their ideas and passion and producing their project, especially when the project gets picked up by a major studio or network. That’s exactly what happened with cinematographer Krzysztof Sieniawski and his team who produced, “Born For The Sabre” for the History Channel.Set during the first half of the seventeenth century, the epic documentary-drama tells the story of a young noble growing up in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The documentary part of the movie is a cinematic journey through history and art of the mystique of high-end crafting of the Polish saber, which to date is considered to be one of the best melee weapons on the globe. World-class experts demonstrate the saber fighting and forging this extraordinary weapon.
Check out the in-depth interview with cinematographer Krzysztof Sieniawski explain to Rodney Charters ASC below:
Cinematographer Krzysztof Sieniawski explains how they delivered amazing images to screen by harnessing the Atomos Ninja Inferno 4K HDR monitor-recorder, Panasonic GH5 and old Nikkor lenses with anamorphic adapters. They discuss the motivation behind the movie and why he believes it is the right time for this sort of historical action drama.
In this episode, Sieniawski talks about how his team’s background in stunt work proved invaluable in making exciting action sequences. The art of the saber fighting required careful choreography and lots of training. Working with the smaller, more agile, camera setups also helped to create an exciting feel.
In this third and final episode, Sieniawski talks about the importance of lighting. Much of the film’s budget was spent on lighting the sets and the results speak for themselves.
INDIEShooter.com had a chance to talk to Sieniawski who explains the film’s origins, how they shot production, how the success of this production has elevated their careers and how the Atomos Ninja Infernos helped to make it happen.
You mentioned in your interview with Rodney Charters you used Panasonic GH5s because you had them. Did you use digital recorders with your GH5s in the past, and why did you decide you needed them?
It was our first time with digital recorders. We haven’t used them before. We decided to go with the Atomos Ninja Inferno because that was the only way to get 4k 60p in ProRes from the Panasonic GH5. The quality was the main reason for making that decision.
You guys started out as stunt performers. Talk about that evolution. Was it tough to get people to take you seriously because maybe they only saw you as stunt performers and not film producers? Have things changed now that you have this project under your belt?
I’m very grateful for this experience. Having a chance to work on big productions with professional filmmakers. Watching how they work from the backstage and what kind of decisions they make in the process is something priceless. This experience was extremely important and helpful when we approached this production. I don’t remember any unkind situations with people from the industry. We had the luck of working with wonderful openminded and creative people full of goodwill. The fact that we did that movie and having it under my belt actually gave me confidence and awareness about being a producer. The organization of another production would be way easier next time without a doubt.
Coming from the stunt background, were you also shooting on the side, because you and your team shot the entire production, right? Or did you use full-time camera operators?
We have been working as a team on the cinematography of this production. Aleksander Leydo, Karol Kosakowski, Bartosz Sieniawski and I. The DOP leader shirt goes to Aleksander because of mastering the lighting but we all were extremely engaged in operating the cameras, planning shots and telling the story with images. What is funny I think is that we were the less experienced guys surrounded by professionals during the production. It was a great school but I have no idea how we managed to survive that crazy time.
Did you and your team make the film with History Channel in mind or were they producers on the project or did you produce this project on your own and sell it to them?
We produced the movie on our own with no expectation for distribution or any kind of selling deal. All we wanted to achieve was to tell this story in the most realistic and attractive way. It was born in our hearts at the beginning of 2018. Before that, for over a decade my family has been working on scientific research on the reconstruction of the Polish art of cross-cutting (Polish saber fighting system invented and developed in 16th century Poland). We brought to life knowledge that was forgotten for over 200 years. The results of our work we have been sharing and posting on the internet through the Facebook fan page and YouTube channel which has gained over a million views. That was some kind of impulse to share this historical fighting knowledge and find a way to tell that incredible story.
Since we had some serious experience with the film industry working as a swordsman, stunts and choreographers for the biggest historical movies in the country (With Fire and Sword dir. Jerzy Hoffman, Battle of Warsaw1920 DOP Slawomir Idziak) we decided to use a film as a tool to get people familiar with our forgotten national tradition and the story of Polish saber. The goal was to promote part of European martial art in a cinematic way and put some spotlight on our heritage. We gathered professional filmmakers and actors, got founds and created something unique. Something that might be interesting and inspiring for people who love historical movies, cold steel and martial arts with all their diversity.
Did you and your team develop and write the script yourselves? Again was anyone from History Channel involved at this point?
My father, Janusz Sieniawski, wrote the first edit of the script and then we started to work in a team to develop and create the final version of the story adding some dialog, scenes, characters and additional elements. It was a long term process that evolved during the production from something simple to something that we were all happy with. History was not involved in that stage.
How many cameras did you use and was each outfitted with an Atomos recorder and which model of Atomos did you use?
We have used two GH5s. Each outfitted with Atomos ninja inferno recorder with NPF batteries and 1tb SSDs. The first camera was always on the gimbal and the second on the shoulder rig, tripod, slider or crane.
What flavor or ProRes did you record to and why?
We recorded to ProRes 422. The answer is very simple. We knew that we had a limited amount of storage. We also didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of the image that much. The only reasonable decision was to go with ProRes 422 which is very efficient. It preserves the high quality and keeps the amount of data under control. It also works very fluently with editing software, especially in an Apple environment.
What NLE did you use to cut with and did it work well with the files the Atomos creates?
We edited the whole movie with Adobe Premiere. We are used to this software and we didn’t consider anything else. We put the material on 24p timeline. MOV files from the recorders were working very smoothly with no delay or cutting during the edit. I need to add that we were working on source files of 4k60p and there were no problems at all.
Talk about your lenses. Did I understand you correctly when you said you made your own lenses? Can you explain in more detail?
We really wanted to go wide on this project and achieve that cinemascope look. We couldn’t afford to rent anamorphic lenses so we had to figure out is it possible to go around and have anamorphic without spending thousands of dollars. Hopefully, there was some DIY solution that I heard about before. Anamorphic projection lenses. The old piece of glass from the 50s and 60s that was used on the cinema projectors to disguise image captured with anamorphic cinema lenses. The disadvantage is that they are useless without matching them with some taking lens and single focus solution. I did my research and we found all the parts on eBay. We bought two Nikkor AiS lenses (50mm 1.8 and 85mm 1.4) matched them with Kowa Anamorphic 35 adapters and Rectilux single focus. We fixed everything together and that’s how we manage to get two fully functional anamorphic lenses.
How difficult would it have been to produce this project had you not had Atomos recorders?
I think that the work on the set would have been much more difficult. Because of the little budget that we were working with it would be impossible to have this size monitors, recorders and directors monitors in one. We needed something accessible, affordable and reliable and Atomos fulfilled those expectations. I also used one of the monitors in post-production to check the correctness of color grading that we did on that 4k 60p 10bit material. These are the reasons why I would use them for our next production.
This project is now airing on History Channel. Has this success opened new doors for you and your team? Are you plotting something in the near future?
Being asked to do an interview is a great example! I can’t even compare the situation from two years ago to what I know right now. From a production perspective, it’s like moving to another dimension in terms of experience, connections, and possibilities. That is also a reason why we have already started to work on another historical movie.
As someone who has now produced a feature for network television, how likely are you to use Atomos products on your next project?
Working with the hybrid cameras and Atomos recorders became in some way our filming style. I’m very satisfied with the quality that we achieved and the system of shooting we worked out in our team. The feedback that we received after the premiere is extremely good. It seems like we did a good movie hahaha. I’m sure we will stick to this gear on another production maybe in a bit different configuration… I’m really looking forward to putting my hands on Panasonic S1H and some new high Atomos recorders.
For more information about all the great products from Atomos, go to their website at www.atomos.com