Civil War: Alex Garland Used A ‘Revolutionary’ New Camera To Bring A Human View To His War Drama

Civil War

by Ben Travis |
Published on

How do you effectively place audiences in the middle of a war movie, and have them feel like they’re really there – without presenting anything too glossy that glorifies the combat, but also doesn’t simply present chaos via shaky-cam? That’s a question Alex Garland found himself pondering as he prepared to make Civil War, his future-set film in which a group of journalists traverse the United States as it tears itself apart. As it turned out, the answer came from a new piece of tech – a camera that behaves unlike any other, which became available just as Garland was preparing to shoot.

That camera is the DJI Ronin 4D, and it brought a specific point of view to the film. “It does something incredibly useful. It self-stabilises, to a level that you control — from silky-smooth to vérité shaky-cam,” explains Garland in a feature he wrote exclusively for Empire. “To me, that is revolutionary in the same way that Steadicam was once revolutionary. It’s a beautiful tool. Not right for every movie, but uniquely right for some.” The camera – which only costs around £5000, and delivers imagery suitable for massive IMAX screens – proved an ideal fit for Civil War. “We knew we needed to shoot quickly, and move the camera quickly, and wanted something truthful in the camera behaviour, that would not over-stylise the war imagery,” Garland writes. “All of which push you towards handheld. But we didn’t want it to feel too handheld, because the movie needed at times a dreamlike or lyrical quality, which pushes you towards tracks and dollies.”

Instead, the DJI Ronin 4D offered a distinctly human perspective. It was, writes Garland, “the final part of the filmmaking puzzle — because the small size and self-stabilisation means that the camera behaves weirdly like the human head. It sees ‘like’ us. That gave Rob and I the ability to capture action, combat, and drama in a way that, when needed, gave an extra quality of being there.” Get ready to step into a war movie in an entirely new way.

Empire – May 2024 – Furiosa newsstand cover

Read Alex Garland’s full Civil War feature – writing about the genesis and creation of his latest film as writer-director – in the Furiosa issue, on sale Thursday 14 March. Pre-order a copy here. Civil War comes to UK cinemas from 12 April.

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