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Independent Filmmakers Discuss How Panavision Supports their Creative Vision: Molly's Game

Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen went all-in on the Oscar®-nominated Molly’s Game by devising two distinct looks for director Aaron Sorkin that were used for scenes in Los Angeles and scenes in New York. The indie feature was shot mostly on sets built at Pinewood Studios in Toronto.

The film is based on the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a young, charismatic Olympic-hopeful skier who was forced to abandon athletics after a devastating injury. Her post-sport career introduces her to a new endeavor: running the world’s most exclusive high-stakes underground poker game.

Christensen understood Sorkin’s vision for the film from their first meeting. “It was like she was reading my mind, but putting it into literal film terms that could be articulated to a camera operator,” Sorkin explains. “I loved everything she was saying, and I don’t see how I could have made the movie without Charlotte. We made it together.”

“Poker is the setting, but we wanted a portrait of Molly,” Christensen elaborates. “It’s about her capacity and her intellect and her ambition. It’s a big job to make a character real and alive, and I could feel that passion in Jessica’s work.”

The film was shot digitally, and Christensen worked with Panavision to find some 1960s anamorphic lenses that provided the necessary depth of field and softness to the background. “Panavision offered tremendous support,” the DP notes. “Having just the right lens was crucial because the sets were small and the city backdrop was too close to the windows. Plus, it was a 10-year-old photo. To make it look good, I relied on the distortion and falloff of the lenses to ‘merge’ the backdrop into the image so it looked real. To be able to achieve that was a major benefit – and it worked!”

Her lens package included Panavision C Series, B Series, E Series, Zooms, and a Primo Prime 27mm. Christensen adds that there was extensive use of close ups of characters with heavy eye makeup to convey the glitz and glamour of the poker games. “The lenses produced a beautiful image that helped to get the makeup to work,” she says.

Christensen frequently chose the 40-80mm and 70-200mm lenses so she could shoot long and then adjust focal length, which was especially helpful when shooting across the poker tables. “For storytelling purposes, we wanted to pull Molly into the games without her actually playing, and we didn’t have to cut to change lenses,” she adds.

Coordinating between Panavision Toronto and the team at Woodland Hills was seamless to Christensen. “I flew to Woodland Hills to prep the lenses with Dan Sasaki, who is one of a kind. That prep was important because we knew after working with Dan that the lenses would do what we needed them to do, especially with the backdrop challenge. We also utilized the prep floor in Toronto. The collaboration between the two facilities was extraordinary.”

The cinematographer has used Panavision for about five-plus films now, and appreciates the attention they give to personalizing her experiences. “I like to operate with my right hand and hold the camera with my left hand, so they include a special handle. With Panavision, I know the tech aspects are covered, giving me the reassurance I need.”