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Director George Clooney and DP Martin Ruhe ASC bring best-selling novel ‘The Boys in the Boat’ to the big screen

Victoria Graham, SONY CINE

December 27, 2023

Developing the look of 'The Boys in the Boat'

Clooney and Ruhe have collaborated many times over the years on projects like The Midnight Sky (2020) and The Tender Bar (2021). The two filmmakers have a great working relationship, so when Clooney asked Ruhe to shoot his latest project, he didn’t hesitate to accept. Shot on location in England, The Boys in the Boat would have a unique look of its own to capture the historical era.

“When we create Seattle in the Great Depression era, we have limited sets and limited worlds we can create. You want to give the impression that the whole world was suffering - and these boys were - the reason the main hero starts to row is because his parents left him behind and he's on his own.”

To create the look of the film, Ruhe likes to come into a film without any preconceived looks but instead approach the look organically. He explains, “When you start a project with an open mind, you discover things that lead you to other things and you can form something new. I like it when it surprises me and takes me somewhere I didn't think of before. This inspiration can come from locations and conversations had with the director or production designer.”

In terms of film references, Ruhe looked at photographs from that time, but color photography was practically non-existent in that era. To reimagine this look, he worked with Stefan Sonnenfeld, Senior Colorist at Company 3. Sonnenfeld, who has worked on hits including Top Gun: Maverick, Maestro, and The White Lotus series, sent some options for LUTs based on sample references and, through a series of camera tests, they found a LUT that was right for daylight scenes. “That's what we took on board and that's how our dailies looked. The dailies are not so far from what we ended up with in the film. And then we like the texture of them, and I don't like it to look too digital, but that's why we have added a bit of film grain later. We wanted to be a modern version, but yet not a digital version of that historic story.”

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