Joe Collins Gets a Feel for the Millennium DXL on Instinct

The dapper, bookish Dr. Dylan Reinhart is a professor these days, but it's his former life as a CIA operative specializing in criminal behavior that interests the NYPD. Streetwise detective Lizzie Needham coaxes him out of retirement, hoping the professor's instincts will help her track a serial killer on the loose in New York. Alan Cumming and Bojana Novakovic star in the CBS mid-season series Instinct, which is based on the James Patterson bestseller formerly known as Murder Games.

Creator and executive producer Michael Rauch brought cinematographer Joe Collins on board to shoot the show after the duo had worked together on the series Royal Pains. Collins wasn't available to shoot the Instinct pilot―DP Jimmy Lindsey deftly handled that―but came on for the balance of the 12-episode series.

“One of the tricky aspects of Alan Cumming's character Dylan is that he's able to take in a ton of facts, process them and put all the pieces of the puzzle together,” says Collins. “How do you film someone's thoughts, the cognitive process?”

The producers found inspiration in the visuals of BBC television series Sherlock, which tackled the same conceit, and they wanted to weave the tricks of that show into a shallow depth-of-field aesthetic for Instinct. Collins, a Panavision loyalist, turned to Panavision New York to help him test and find the right tools to achieve what the producers were after―the ability to focus in on specific things in the frame. “I knew Panavision had the new 8K Panavision Millennium DXL, and there was only one available,” Collins recalls. “Terra Bliss [VP and GM, Panavision NY] was instrumental in getting that one camera to us, because for Dylan's 'eureka' moments I could shoot at 8K to get the most information in a frame to allow the storytellers as much latitude as possible later in post to zoom into frames to pick out pieces, like a button on a sleeve or an earring on an ear.”

Large-format Primo 70 lenses were mated to the DXL. “Another reason we went with this format was because of their shallow depth of field,” he says. “Primo 70s are incredibly sharp but have a really nice bokeh. John Reeves and Eric Robinson did a great job in terms of keeping things in focus because it was tough.” Collins had his set customized meaning they were softened somewhat, adding to the focus challenge, but maintained true blacks. For the eureka moments, Collins also added an anamorphic adapter and a Schneider Blue True-Streak filter to the Primo 70. “We would get that blue anamorphic flare to make those shots stand out from the normal photography of the show,” he says.

These eureka shots were recorded at 8192 x 4320 (8K) resolution using an 8:1 REDCODE compression. For the more normal photography, Collins dropped the DXL to its 6K resolution setting of 6144 x 3160 and a REDCODE compression of 7:1. Because the DXL imager is based on RED sensor technology, the cinematographer selected Panavised RED WEAPON camera bodies as B and C/Steadicam units to round out the camera stable for operators John MacDonald, Edgar Colón and Ted Chu. 

Panavision has always managed to put together whatever I need for whatever shoot, no matter the budget.

The eureka shots also were recorded at 48 frames per second to provide additional shot manipulation. “It allowed for speed ramps in post, where everything slows down as Dylan pieces things together,” Collins explains. “If it happened on stage or in an interior, we would have a daylight-balanced Leko or backlight while shooting at a 3200K setting, so that as we move into the shot, the surrounding lights dim and the hot, blue backlight flares. When it happened on location outside, we would position to where the sun glared in the background or some street light at night.”

Collins, who worked for Panavision in the 1980s, had comfort knowing he had that familiar support behind him on his first foray into large-format cinematography. “To be able to shoot 8K with 70mm primes on the DXL was a great new way to see things,” he remarks. “It was a good experience creatively, and everyone was really happy with what we did. Sal Giarratano, Chris Konash and the other folks at Panavision were fantastic. They taught us about the camera and helped us figure out exactly what would work for us. Panavision has always managed to put together whatever I need for whatever shoot, no matter the budget.”