Beirut: DP Björn Charpentier on shooting handheld anamorphic
Björn Charpentier, SBC, shoots handheld anamorphic to capture a covert rescue operation for Brad Anderson's period thriller Beirut.
Lebanon in 1982 was a tinderbox ready to explode, its neighbor Israel on the brink of a controversial, wholesale military invasion meant to wipe out the PLO. This is the historic setting for Beirut, a taut political thriller from director Brad Anderson and cinematographer Björn Charpentier, SBC. Inspired in part by the 1984 kidnapping of CIA station chief William Buckley, the script, written in 1991, was an early one for Tony Gilroy, penned long before the Bourne trilogy, Michael Clayton, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But Middle East politics were too hot to handle then, so the script sat undeveloped—until Argo proved there was an audience for such fare.
Beirut begins with a prologue in 1972, when U.S. diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) sees his wife killed by masked men who invade their home to extract a Palestinian boy the couple had been planning to sponsor. Ten years later, Skiles is working as a contract negotiator in Boston and has fallen deep into the well of alcoholism. One night he gets a message summoning him back to Beirut. The CIA needs a negotiator for the release of an American hostage, a high-value agency veteran—and someone Skiles was once close to. From there, the story speeds along as Skiles faces a negotiation deadline while struggling with his memories and the bottle, not knowing who among his handlers, supposed allies, and foes to trust.
Director Brad Anderson wanted a look that felt real, raw, and in the moment. Something suggesting documentary, but cinematic in composition and optics. He wanted it fast-paced on screen and needed the same on set. “As is usual for my films, there was not a lot of time or money,” says Anderson, who had 34 shooting days—shortened from 37 with no scenes dropped. He intended to use two cameras and available light whenever possible. He wanted a director of photography who was quick on his feet and good with creative solutions, as there would be no shot lists, no rehearsals, no marks. [...]