Behind the Lens

Creating the Look of ENIGMA with Leica Summicron-C Lenses

Creating the Look of ENIGMA with Leica Summicron-C Lenses

ENIGMA is a short drama about a successful book publisher in her 40s and a young, up-and-coming photographer. The film comes from School of Visual Arts student and first-time director Claudine Eriksson—who co-wrote the script with Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Oscar-winning screenwriter of Birdman.

ENIGMA was shot over four days in New York using an ARRI ALEXA and Leica Summicron-C lenses. Having wrapped principal photography, Eriksson, producer Gregory Horoupian, and DP Jordan T. Parrott sat down to talk about their experience.

The Brooklyn waterfront scene from Enigma.

A scene on the Brooklyn waterfront from Enigma.

Gregory Horoupian: Claudine, you and I worked a lot on the script and overall tone of the film. But once we found Jordan, the two of you really went into the visual details and came up with the shooting approach.

Claudine Eriksson: I grew up in Sweden and wanted to bring some of that minimal, simple, cold and airy feel into the film. Enigma is about human connection, both its beauty and its imperfections. Most of my inspiration came from still photography, design, and non-narrative film. One example is a short about a marble quarry called “Il Capo” which has an interesting palette, pacing, and compositions.

GH: Why the Summicron-Cs?

Jordan T. Parrott: There’s a quality that’s almost like still lenses, but they’re cine lenses. A lot of classic Leica lenses in still photography have that nice falloff between the subject and background.

CE: The overlap of those two things—still and motion—I liked that, since we were making a film about people who work with photography.

GH: I’d heard a lot about the Summicron-Cs. I’ve worked with different lenses on different shoots—including Leica photo lenses—but it was my first time with these.

JTP: This was my second time using them. I’d done a narrative film with the Summicron-Cs before and I was going for a much different look, more (David) Fincher, and they served that need as well.

CE: Jordan explained the possibilities and showed me examples. They had that sharpness but kept that airy quality. Like the way you can see dust particles in sunlight. It gives you a sense of actually being in there.

GH: We had the full set: 18, 25, 35, 50, 75, and 100 for this.

JTP: Yes, we had an idea of which ones we’d use before going into the shoot—

CE: Based on the psychology of the characters in the scenes…

Cinematographer Jordan T. Parrott operating the ARRI Alexa camera with Leica Summicron-C lens during production.

Cinematographer Jordan T. Parrott operating the ARRI Alexa camera with Leica Summicron-C lens during production.

JTP: Exactly, but this changed on the day. What I ended up doing is that for the first half of the script, the close-ups were at 35mm and 50mm. Later on, we progress to the 75mm to tighten the image and create a forced perspective because we’d already introduced the characters. At that stage it was safe to isolate them.

CE: The look is sharp, and that’s what I was drawn to. The image has a clear, crisp feel without losing that “film” quality, which is what we were going for. A dreamlike reality.

JTP: I stayed at ISO 800 throughout and then used softening filters, including an Ultra Contrast, to smooth out that sharpness and give it more of that filmic feel. The lenses also give a really quick falloff from subject to background. I knew that would help a lot with the office because we had so many photos decorating that set and we didn’t want those to be the focus of the image.

GH: And that beautiful bokeh…

JTP: Yes.

GH: We’re in post and the footage looks great. They performed beautifully, the look is all there.

JTP: Yeah, mechanically too. Really rugged exterior, with smooth focus and aperture wheels. Matt Cutola, my 1st AC, loved them and called them a great “go-to” set of lenses.

Cilda Shaur in Enigma

Cilda Shaur is captivated in the short film Enigma.


ENIGMA will screen on May 21 at the School of Visual Arts Theater in New York as part of the Written in Stone short film series and at festivals in the fall. Tickets and details for the May 21st screening are available here.

See more about the journey of making ENIGMA on the film’s Facebook page and director Claudine Eriksson’s production journal.

CW Sonderoptic