11-29-2023 - Case Study
Filmmaker Renan Ozturk Tests the Sony BURANO from the Top of the Empire State Building
By: Oakley Anderson-Moore
Renan Ozturk is no stranger to filming in extreme settings.
He’s filmed free-soloists up slick granite spires. He had a stroke while shooting in the Himalayas for the documentary Meru. He’s been named “Adventurer of the Year” by NatGeo. Recently he got a call from actor Jared Leto about climbing the Empire State Building as part of the kickoff for a tour by his band 30 Seconds to Mars. How hard could it be?
“It was probably one of the more stressful things I'd done,” says Ozturk to Sony Cine.
Why? For starters, there was a very short window to shoot (before the first tourist showed up on the observation deck), they had to deliver footage to The Today Show by eight o’ clock sharp, and they would be high above one of the most populated neighborhoods in North America.
“This was even more serious than the stuff we do in the big mountain,” explains Ozturk. “We just came off a big NatGeo shoot with Alex Honnold in the mountains in Alaska, but this felt even more serious than any of those because you're doing it above the city with all these people.”
Dropping even the tiniest of tools could be fatal to someone walking the crowded sidewalks of New York City below. To start, Ozturk called his longtime AC, Rudy Lehfeldt-Ehlinger.
“Once I heard about what it was, my first question was, is this a good time to try out the BURANO?” says Lehfeldt-Ehlinger
Why Ozturk and Lehfeldt-Ehlinger went in blind with the Sony BURANO
It’s risky for anyone to try out a new camera on a shoot with no second takes, let alone at the top of a 1400-foot building.
“It's always a concern rolling up to a shoot where you've never touched the thing – or even seen one in person,” says Lehfeldt-Ehlinger.
Sure, neither had used a BURANO, but they both knew the VENICE.
“When I first heard about the BURANO, I thought it would be a good choice because of the built-in NDs and the fact that Renan could use the Sony lenses with autofocus, and still get the file formats, color science and all those benefits of the VENICE, with a significantly smaller form factor,” explains Lehfeldt-Ehlinger.
“I'm always thinking about what the camera choice is going to be, trying to balance weight and beauty,” adds Ozturk. “The BURANO seemed like the perfect balance of all those things, but in a smaller package,”
And for this shoot, a small package was a big deal.
How they pulled off the shoot with a paired-down camera and crew
First, the four-person crew needed to make sure no one, and nothing, could fall. This meant putting safety cables on every piece of gear that could be rigged, and removing anything that couldn’t. Including the battery.
“Anything we couldn't tether separately, [we had to] remove,” describes Lehfeldt-Ehlinger.
“We took the battery off the camera, so it has no chance of it detaching, and killing anybody,” says Ozturk. “It comes with a cable that's in a backpack behind me, and then we put tethers on the camera.”
The trick here was for Ozturk to climb up ahead of Leto with the BURANO.
“You ascend the rope in little 15 to 20-foot sections to try to stay above [Leto] because most of all the dramatic shots are above - looking down,” describes Ozturk. “So, you're not just getting butt shots!”
On top of that, the crew had to quickly learn to work with the professional rigging team from the building who weren’t familiar with rock climbing directions like “slack” and “tension.” Throw in that the building required Leto to wear two thick top-ropes amid 40 mile per hour winds, and you get a pretty challenging set.
“It was definitely chaotic,” says Ozturk. “Rudy was communicating with a helicopter, communicating with me, and communicating with Jared. Jared can't always just let go and talk on a radio because he's holding onto the building. So, I was having to scream. We were all playing multiple roles, directing and producing different sections.”
The benefit of switching between PL and E-Mount Lenses
Ozturk started the shoot with the lightweight anamorphic Atlas Mercury series for the lead-up to the climb. But when it came to the climbing itself, Ozturk needed something more suited to the vertical realm.
“The BURANO has PL-mount, and then it has that sneaky hidden E-mount that's awesome to have so we could swing over to those other lenses,” explains Lehfeldt-Ehlinger.
After taking off the PL-mount, which got them an even leaner build, they switched to the Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM Lens. And there was another added benefit to that switch: autofocus.
“When you're bracing yourself on the wall of the building, when you're shooting high angle dangling from ropes, you can't exactly control the camera as you normally would on the ground,” describes Ozturk. “So having the camera do some of that autofocus work for you, it's pretty nice to have, not to mention all other built-ins like the NDs.”
How the Sony BURANO let the team reach new heights creatively
Ozturk grew up more in the sports and climbing world, where the risk-taking to get to a mountain and climb it for the first time reigned supreme.
“But these days, it's more about taking risks so you can bring things back in the highest quality possible to share them with people,” says Ozturk. “We get excited when we get the opportunity to put these high-end pieces of technology in beautiful situations.”
When Leto began to onsite the climb for the first time, Ozturk captured his favorite moment with the BURANO.
“Emotions are high. The sun was peaking, and that 12-24mm was giving off some beautiful lens flares. That's how I fall in love with a camera, when I see how it interacts with the lenses. There were some amazing flares coming off his body, and that was probably one of my favorite moments.”
Lehfeldt-Ehlinger is equally impressed by how the BURANO handles light.
“There’s just something about the Sony color science, the sensor in low light, and then just that image coming directly on camera – it looks so damn good.”
Ozturk has only released a few selects of the footage from the climb up the Empire State Building, so stay tuned for a bigger release in the weeks to come.