T om Tykwer's Run Lola Run may have been the most aptly titled film in the recent New Directors/New Film series, held this spring at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. What audiences saw there, and have been filling German theatres to witness, are propulsive images of the title character (played by Franka Potente) dashing toward a date with destiny. That there are several options regarding the outcome of her adventure is what expands the movie's singular, 20-minute action to feature-film length (a brief 80 minutes). We see Lola run from her apartment and through the streets of Berlin three times, in identical patterns with varying conclusions.
The job of matching the look during the film's twice-repeated exterior stretches of location shooting fell to director of photography Frank Griebe, working on his sixth collaboration with Tykwer. It was not easy. "It was summer in Berlin, but it was not such a good summer," says Griebe. "We had many, many rainy days. I tried to match, but we had only 30 shooting days, and not much money."
Since camera movement was key to the film's style, Griebe relied mostly on daylight for the running shots, with a complement of soft fill. To keep the light consistent, the DP tested combinations of camera filters, finally settling on a blend of sepia and coral. Beyond this, any variations in the weather or light quality are likely to be obscured by the movie's breathless, headlong rush of a style.
The 35mm camera was often positioned on Griebe's shoulder as he rode a special motorcycle rig. "Franka runs very fast through small places," the cinematographer explains. "At first, we tried a bicycle, but she was too fast. So we took a four-wheeled motorcycle with a seat, I put the camera on my shoulder, and said, 'Franka, run.' " Potente's athletic exertions are viewed from multiple vantage points, with shots of her pumping arms and flopping, dyed red mane seen to particular advantage in front- and right-angle shots. Sometimes to save time, two cameras were set up in a pickup truck, replacing the single-camera motorcycle rig, which required more takes. "Franka is a smoker, and she needs many puffs between every take," adds Griebe.
Handheld was only one of the film's shooting modes. Steadicam was used during a repeated segment when Lola stops by the bank where her father works, and during some running scenes. "We used everything," says Griebe. "We have crane shots and many handheld. We used all kinds of lenses, wide-angle and long lenses, and sometimes the Cooke zoom." The movie is a potpourri of formats, with animation taking over for the image of Lola running down the stairs of her apartment building.
The most noticeable visual break is between scenes that include Lola or the boyfriend she is rushing to rescue, which are shot on film, and all other sequences, which are done in video. When we are privy to the behind-closed-doors behavior of Lola's father and a co-worker, for example, the images have the crude quality of reality TV, but as soon as Lola bursts into the room, the frame shifts to comparatively vibrant 35mm.
"I used a very old video camera, because I liked the look," says Griebe of the non-digital piece of equipment he dug up for these scenes. "The new ones, I think, are too good. With the old camera, the transfer is very bad--I like it." For the filmed sequences, the DP considered using Super 16, but 35mm provided a stronger contrast to the look of the video images. Still, Griebe didn't want too slick a film look; he chose Kodak 5293 stock, and then pushed it two stops. "I wanted it to be not so clear, a little bit grainy," he explains. "The film stock is much too good, I think."
Sets like the bank, which were captured in both film and video, needed some adjustment. "I changed the light to reduce the contrast when we went to video," says Griebe. "But I still mixed Kino Flos and HMIs. Everything had to go fast, and HMIs and Kino Flos are very easy. Kino Flos especially make a nice light in a small location. You can put them anywhere."
One luxury the DP had on Run Lola Run was an extensive preproduction period. "Tom and I started about six weeks before shooting. We talked a lot about ideas, about the look and the colors." It was decided that a crucial pause in the action, when Lola and her boyfriend are seen together in bed, would be shot with heavy red gel on the lamps, for example.
Though Tykwer's script was somewhat technically detailed, the nature of the project meant that storyboards were required. The director and DP collaborated on these, working out the composition, length of shots, and camera format. "After discussing how to make the shots, in handheld or Steadicam or whatever, then I said, 'OK, where can I put my lamps?' " Griebe recalls. "Of course, when you're actually shooting the film, you may start the first day and everything's fine, and then the second day something happens. The weather's bad, but the people are there, and you need new ideas. You just have to change things. I have not made a lot of films, just five for cinema and two for TV, but I learned this."
Griebe spent three years working in a lab before going to film school in Berlin. "I worked as a clapper loader and focus puller, and I met Tom when we were both working as projectionists at a cinema. He said, 'I want to be a director,' and I said, 'I want to work camera,' so we made the first short film." Two shorts followed, including one with some similarity to Run Lola Run. "It was a couple in one room, also three times. First the boy comes late, then the girl comes late, and I don't remember what happened the third time. But it planted the idea for Lola."
Tykwer and Griebe's first full-length film together, the TV drama Deadly Maria, earned the DP several awards, including the Kodak Prize and the German Camera Prize. Their first feature, Winter Sleepers, a romantic thriller shot in Super 35 in the Bavarian Alps, was a considerable challenge for Griebe.
"It was a big film, shot in the mountains with snow and many, many problems. After this, Tom said to me, 'Let's make a film very simply, with a camera on the shoulder, and shoot on the streets of Berlin.' After we finished, we were editing, and we said, 'Oh, nice, nice.' Suddenly, many people were saying, 'Wonderful, this is a new kind of film,' and it was a really big success. It surprised us." Sony Pictures Classics is hoping the movie will have the same effect on American audiences when Run Lola Run is released this summer.
But Griebe is ready to get back to work. "I'm in preproduction with Tom on the next film, a love story. I hope it's not so simple as Run Lola Run--I like it to be complicated."