Ridley Scott Used Multiple Cameras While Filming ‘Napoleon’

Scott and Phoenix
Director Ridley Scott and Joaquin Phoenix at the film premiere of Napoleon at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

Director Ridley Scott has revealed that he always uses at least four cameras while making movies and says his technique paid off for his latest historical epic, Napoleon.

Scott likes to work with as many as 11 cameras; something not all cinematographers are pleased about with some claiming that it compromises lighting. While filming Black Hawk Down, for example, he had to convince cinematographer Sławomir Idziak who said he only works with one camera.

Now Scott works with another Polish cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski, who embraces the multi-camera system with no complaints. “My method is to always work with a minimum of four cameras,” Scott tells IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast. “It releases and frees up the actors. If mistakes occur, I never cut. I will keep running because a fortunate mistake can evolve into something magic.”

Scott says that this freedom led to one of the film’s most entertaining moments: a scene where Napoleon (played by Joaquin Phoenix) crawls under the breakfast table and grunts at Josephine (played by Vanessa Kirby).

“Sex can get boring,” Scott says. “Therefore we decided to make all the sensual scenes amusing — though by being amusing, it adds sensuality to them, strangely enough. The scene where he crawls underneath the table at breakfast time was unplanned. He just did that. I put a tablecloth on so I could maximize the shadow of this guy crawling underneath the table grunting like a little pig. So it becomes comical.”

Scott’s technique of making movies means that the actors can try impromptu ideas while the camera is rolling and don’t need to worry about continuity.

“I think they love that, because whatever they’re doing, even if they’re not speaking, they’re on camera. It gives [Joaquin] the freedom to do what he wants,” adds Scott.

Scott says the multi-camera system also allow scenes to be shot a lot faster, “With four cameras every day, it’s four times faster. A scene scheduled to last all day will be finished at 11:00.”

Multi-camera systems have an obvious benefit when filming large battles scenes such as the Austerlitz sequence above, but the incresed speed has an added benefit for the actors too.

“I discovered quite a long time ago that actors do not want 39 takes,” he says. “Any actor you’ve really cast properly will have done his homework. So he’ll have been doing what he thinks he wants to do at home, in front of the mirror, and he’ll arrive locked and loaded. The last thing he wants to do is hear me talk about the meaning of life before every take. He just wants to go. And through that comes a confidence and a partnership.”

According to Y.M. Cienma, Scott used ARRI ALEXA LFs to shoot Napoleon with.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.