Political thriller 'Official Secrets' shot on Sony Venice

DOP of upcoming political thriller 'Official Secrets', Florian Hoffmeister, chose Sony’s flagship large format camera VENICE to create an intimate, yet natural aesthetic
‘Official Secrets’ made its debut at Sundance Film Festival on 28th January 2019
‘Official Secrets’ made its debut at Sundance Film Festival on 28th January 2019


Sony’s large format cinematic camera VENICE is becoming the camera of choice for major filmmakers and DoPs since its release last year. Following the recent release of firmware Version 3.0 and the upcoming launch of its Extension System (CBK-3610XS), which was developed in collaboration with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment, the Venice is currently being used to shoot the AVATAR sequels. The unique extension system enables the camera body to be detached and tethered to the image sensor block.

The latest major film release to use the Sony VENICE for principal photography is the new political thriller ‘Official Secrets’, directed by Gavin Hood, and produced by Ged Doherty, Elizabeth Fowler, and Melissa Zuo. Boasting an impressive cast including Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes and Matt Smith, and captured by cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister BSC, the feature made its debut at Sundance Film Festival.

‘Official Secrets’ is based on the true story of Katharine Gun, a former translator at GCHQ, who leaked top-secret information to press concerning a joint US-UK illegal spying operation against UN Security Council members, in their push for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Gun was later arrested under the Official Secrets Act 1989 and her story commanded attention on a global scale.

Designed exclusively for high-end cinematography and to push the boundaries of large format image capture, VENICE’s full frame sensor can capture stunning images with a resolution of up to 6048 x 4032 in almost any format, and offers flexibility to match a filmmaker’s shooting requirements – from aspect ratios, bokeh, to lenses. The camera's ability to record wide latitude and gamut also significantly expands freedom in grading. 

Sony's recent firmware Version 3.0 update for VENICE, added High Frame Rate (HFR) shooting, advanced remote-control functionalities and extended metadata support for the Cooke/i3 and Zeiss lenses. Notably, the new optional HFR license allows VENICE to shoot at speed of up to 120fps at 4K, and 60fps at 6K, as well as up to 110fps at 4K and 75fps at 4K with anamorphic lenses. All HFR support X-OCN recording including X-OCN XT  and HFR up to 60fps supports XAVC 4K and ProRes recording.

“I think that large format cinematography has become a great asset of digital filmmaking, and the Sony VENICE represents a huge step forward in that field,” explains DOP, Florian Hoffmeister BSC. “We immediately knew we wanted to trial the camera and after a test shoot, through Movietech, all of my expectations were met when it came to colour and contrast. The camera has an incredible ability to deliver a natural richness in colour, which - in my experience - means a huge development in digital. With any camera, I try to find the ‘sweet spot’ where the image itself comes alive - through the way it communicates with the lenses and depicts the colour and light. The VENICE kept its promise every time we lit a scene.” 

Filmed in the narrow streets and highways of Britain, VENICE’s dual base ISO enables exceptional low light performance and dynamic range with accurate colour reproduction, helping to capture maximum shadow details. Thanks to VENICE’s ability to shoot in 4:3 and 6:5 aspect ratios at 4K resolution, ‘Official Secrets’ was completely shot in widescreen to achieve immediacy and capture beautiful colours.

Using two of Sony’s VENICE camera systems for principal photography, the production team avoided the use of anamorphic lenses, effectively adding additional layers of glass, in order to maintain a natural aesthetic for the movie.

Hoffmeister says, “As a true story, the agenda of ‘Official Secrets’ was to tell the narrative in the most sensitive and accurate way and the VENICE strongly fits with the cinematic, yet natural aesthetic we wished to achieve. We wanted to bring this vision to reality and with Keira coming on-set completely natural, with very little make-up and styled hair, we needed a camera that produced atmospheric and distinguished images to translate the vulnerability of each take onto the screen. The richness of colour, the naturalness of contrast and the immediacy of large-format with VENICE allowed us to translate the story’s agenda  perfectly.”

Sebastian Leske, Product Marketing Manager, Cinematography, Sony Professional Solutions Europe, commented on the use of the camera in major motion picture productions: “VENICE was born from the voice of cinematographers and seeing it being used on big name feature films, such as ‘Official Secrets’, pays testament to the power the camera has to capture emotion in every frame. VENICE is increasingly becoming an enabler of creativity with DOPs setting new standards for large format shooting.” 

Camera lens and grip specialist Movietech (with initial supply from accredited VENICE reseller Top-Teks) supported the ‘Official Secrets’ production team with a camera and lens package based around the VENICE.

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