Due to the style of the film, the director, Edward Zwick, and Eduardo Serra, the DP, decided the cameras should be hand held, with varying shutter speeds and openings and to work in various burnt out exposures. So tracking the environments into those shots or stabilizing them enough to be able to work with turned out to be one of Okun’s biggest technical challenges, and to do anything less would have hurt the telling of the story, taking the immediacy of it away. The goal in ‘Blood Diamond’ was to put the viewer in the scene, which created a list of challenges. In the battle sequences for example, cameras had to be handheld and shot POV, and the violence that was actually shown was mild compared to what really happened. Okun was under a pretty strict edict to do this. Sorius Somura, the movie’s consultant and one who lived with the RUF and made the documentary film “Cry Freetown” had risked so much to bring the truth to the public, and the crew felt bound to produce a film up to his expectations. “That’s why I felt that I couldn’t limit the camera movement to make my life easier and Ed’s budget a bit smaller. It was always ‘we’re going to do this with an ARRI camera on this guy’s shoulder and he’s going to run really fast. Can you deal with that?’ and I would tell them, ‘Absolutely, no problem’, and then I would turn to VFX producer Tom Boland, and say, ‘boy, I hope we have money in the budget for this.’”
One of the tricks Okun used, was to replace the LIDAR with a GPS. “Because we couldn’t go in and gather laser measurements to generate a topographical map of our set environment, we had a fellow walk around with this giant GPS pack on his back and we’d reconstruct a topographical map from that. The place where we were shooting was so remote it would be an extraordinary effort to get anybody else there.” Okun also used a 360-degree lens on a Nikon still camera designed for realtors. “You point it straight up in the air and it gives you a 360-degree view with a 110-degree vertical view,” Okun explains. “You stand where the actor is and you bracket 12 stops, and you get your high dynamic range images as well, and that replaces your silver ball and gray ball pass and allows for two major things. The first major thing is it gives you a view of the set, where everything is, and the second thing is it allows you to recreate the set in true 3D at a later time.”
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The poverty level in Africa is staggering. “I wound up shooting about 15,000 still photos trying to capture the feel and the look and the smell and the sensory overload in a kids face,” Okun explains. “If you can’t smell it and you can leave at your free will, it’s just not the same as being stuck there with no choice. I could never capture that in the photos, as hard as I tried.” In one village, he was nearly forced to marry because he took a picture of a woman’s toddler. He learned the hard way that when a white person comes through and takes pictures of the children, the kids generally disappear in the next few days never to be seen again. Still, he felt there was nothing like it. “Until you are stuck there, and you are watching people who have nothing- and I mean nothing- and they are inviting you into their yards, … because they don’t have a house. Then they try to feed you something… It’s outrageous.” Okun would soon go out on shoots in his rented Rover, and would come across even poorer areas where they were living in mud huts. “I had my digital camera and I’d take a picture, asking permission first. I’d show them the picture on the back of the camera, and they would go berserk with joy, so I always printed up the pictures and made sure they got copies.”
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They started out with only 79 shots but where prepared to handle much more, thanks to Okun’s original breakdown of as many as 450 shots. The producer, Kevin De La Noy, was aware of this, so any time someone came in under budget he would slide some excess funds Okun’s way. The final count was just over 325 shots, and actually came in just under budget.
The biggest CG environment was done by Syd Dutton and Illusion Arts. The challenge was creating the Refugee Camp, which was supposed to depict the second largest refugee camp in all of Africa, with over a million people. The thing is we only had a 100 people when we shot it. In the movie, Jennifer Connelly says, as she’s introducing the camp to Djimon Hounsou and Leonardo diCaprio, saying, “This is what a million people look like.” I did a little still and doctored it up and showed it to them to make sure we were all on the same page. Ed felt, if it didn’t work, that since we were so deep into the story at this point the audience would forgive it. But in the end it worked really well.
During the shoot, when there was nothing on the schedule for Visual FX, Okun would head to the helicopter to gather environmental shots. Staying in touch over cell phones, Okun gained access to places that he normally wouldn’t have been able to reach. There are not really a lot of CG environments in ‘Blood Diamond’, but it’s the use of CG to enhance the environments he shot photographically. Having the helicopters available for 6-8 weeks helped to add a tremendous amount of realism to the film.
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On the first day of training, the local stunt and extras all showed up with their own AK-47’s, fully loaded. “We had to convince them that we would supply them with movie guns, that we didn’t want any real guns on the set, we didn’t want anyone to be killed.”
The consultants on the film had personal knowledge of the horrors inflicted. Sorious Samura, who made a documentary called ‘Cry Free Town’, lived with the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) for two years and filmed them doing unspeakable things. He escaped when it
|occurred to both him and the RUF that he and his footage held too much evidence and that he needed to be killed. He fled with the footage. Okun asked Samura if ‘Blood Diamond’ was accurate. “He would start to tell what it was really like, and you would have to stop him. You knew it was true, but you didn’t want to believe it.” Okun’s voice was shaking when he told me, “ ‘Blood Diamond’ is kids play compared to what really went on. When he would go into the detail, I literally had to walk away, I had to ask him to stop.”||Okun hung out with Samura and several mercenaries who served in the Angola situation, all acting as consultants. Okun found that when a mercenary is asked if they have killed, they usually do not answer the question. But when one was presented with a book on mercenaries in Africa, he went through the photos on the pages, pointing out all of his friends “telling us how each one of them died. Some heads were on a fence post, and he’d go, ‘oh, that was my best friend, and this was another friend.”|
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