Scene from Ephraim’s Rescue © Remember Films/used by permission
T.C. Christensen, ASC has made close to 40 feature films and countless shorts and documentaries over the last four decades. The cinematographer-director has been following his passion for filmmaking since high school, when he started shooting with a 16mm Bolex camera, and fostered that ambition with an “opportunity meets preparation” attitude.
Most recently, Christensen finished a labor of love called Ephraim’s Rescue, which tells the true story of Ephraim Hanks, who like most teenage boys, only cares about himself, but finds his way in life, and eventually provides relief and rescue to the suffering Martin Handcart Company pioneers who were caught in Wyoming’s early winter storms in the fall of 1856.
“I’ve done two films up in those mountains now and I’m pretty sure the crew wishes we could do a story about pioneers in the Bahamas,” Christensen jokes. “We had the usual challenges of trying to do more in a day than you have time for, but we also had the added challenge of shooting half the film in the summer and half in winter. When you split up units and have to get everyone back four months later, that’s certainly worrisome.”
For the winter shoot, they were up in the mountains in Utha at night in December and January, and it was extremely cold. But despite that, Christensen says the cameras and film performed flawlessly.
“Part of the reason I chose to shoot on film is that it’s such a fast medium,” says Christensen, “and especially with a Super 16 camera like the ARRI SR3. You set the sticks, the lens (Zeiss Superspeeds), the exposure, and you’re rolling.”
The other reason Christensen chose film was because of its timeless believability. To do a period story, he believes it’s easier to get the audience to believe it’s 1856 with film.
“There’s something about the romance of film and the texture of it where viewers don’t have to sit there for very long before they get the idea that this is the old west,” Christensen offers. “I feel like trying to do that in the digital form would be one more hurdle to get the viewers over.”
Based on Christensen’s many years of experience with film and having shot many period pieces, he chose KODAK VISION3 50D Color Negative Film 7203 and 200T 7213. About 10 percent of the movie was filmed on an ARRI 435 mounted with Zeiss Superspeed lenses and KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 and 200T 5213 in the camera for high-speed work and wide shots where Christensen needed details in the distance. The 16mm was used for interiors and night exteriors.
The director/DP has found a particular lighting style for his period films where all a character has is daylight, fire, or a candle to light a room. “I feel like shooting the lower speed stocks give me the edge I want. That 50D is extraordinary – that teeny little negative produces such fine grain and sharp images.”
Christensen had the film processed at Filmworkers Club in Dallas, with the final color grade done at The Color Mill in Salt Lake City with colorist Russ Lasson. Christensen notes that he shipped film each night via FedEx from Salt Lake City to Dallas without any problems.
“We’ve had two screenings of our film on 60-foot screens or bigger,” explains Christensen, “and I sit there in awe at an image that started as small as my fingernail and is now spread across 60 feet looking just terrific.”
Fifteen years ago, Christensen feels that Super 16 on a 60-foot screen would have been a very different animal. With the advances in film technology and film scanners, the ability to color correct and the digital tools available today, “very few people can believe that Ephraim’s Rescue is not all 35mm. I’m so pleased that my intentions come across in the visuals.”
Ephraim’s Rescue has played in limited release with plans to expand to more cinemas.