The Canon kit that made FX's Pistol

Find out more about the Canon cameras and lenses that became DoP Anthony Dod Mantle's "paintbrushes" when shooting Danny Boyle's game-changing Sex Pistols biopic, Pistol.
Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle films with a Canon camera. He is wearing a warm black jacket, yellow gloves and headphones.

For the six-part limited series Pistol, DoP Anthony Dod Mantle (pictured) knew he needed to tread new ground and find technology and techniques that would fit experimental visuals into a fast-paced production schedule. "It's a lot of investment," he says. "It's 200 people on the floor, time's ticking – this is a combination of military discipline and a bunch of mad artists. And, in the middle of all that, I try to keep some kind of surplus space where I can do things on the go." © Miya Mizuno

DoP Anthony Dod Mantle calls his cameras and lenses "paintbrushes" because "some are wider than others, some are oily, some are greasy and some are watery". It's also an "easy way of avoiding having to say the numbers and the names all the time, and having to remember them".

For FX's limited series Pistol, a frenetic celebration of 1970s punk rock that charts the meteoric rise and chaotic fall of the Sex Pistols, the Academy Award®-winning cinematographer needed a larger palette than usual, with more than six image capture systems being employed at one point or another over the course of filming. "I guess you could say the varying [camera] formats represent instruments that have their own characteristic beat and tone and potential noise level, until they mesh into a final mix in the edit," he says.

Here, Dod Mantle, together with long-time collaborator and fellow Oscar winner Danny Boyle, who directed the project, talk about the Canon cameras and lenses they used to shoot the series, and why they were the best tools for this unique production.

Three masked crewmembers, all wearing warm coats and jeans, adjust an elevated bar cam of Canon EOS R5 cameras on an outdoor set.

The bar cam setups of 12 Canon EOS R5 cameras and six Canon EOS R5 cameras proved such a success that their usage wasn't just confined to capturing Pistol's frenzied concert sequences. Dod Mantle and director Danny Boyle also employed them for more general drama scenes and to visualise people "just thinking or doing". Adds Dod Mantle: "The bar cams were tools we used to freeze time – a moment in time – so that anything potentially momentary and meaningless can attain extra significance." © Miya Mizuno

Canon EOS R5

"For the bar cams, and the idea of capturing time [explained in our Making Of], we went with the Canon EOS R5, because it's a robust, small, lightweight, powerful little image camera; it's a strong tool," says Dod Mantle.

"It was all about taking up as little space as possible and not making the rig too heavy – and the EOS R5 had a combination of this light body and small size with a small lens. If I put 12 Canon EOS-1D X Mark III cameras on a rig, I'd have a monster of a powerful image capture system, but I wouldn't be able to lift it, and it'd bend the bar of the crane.

"I had to find a light camera body, and an appropriately reliable USM lens, with the right millimetre, the right capabilities and reliable processing," continues Dod Mantle. "It had to be dependable – and that's why I went for the EOS R5."

Alongside the EOS R5, Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM lenses – which can be paired with EOS R System cameras using EF-EOS R adapters including the Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R – were chosen for their small size, light weight and speed. Diffusion filters were then added to achieve a soft, vintage look.

"I had to trade a certain in-depth quality and the possibility of more choice by committing to the 24-frame, continuous recording system. But it gave Danny what he wanted, and you'll see that in the film, that's the most important thing," says Dod Mantle.

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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A masked crewmember films with a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III camera on a dark television set. Several other crewmembers watch on.

"On this production, it was about, in particular, using the burst mode on the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. I really loved it, and Danny fell in love with it too – and that's very important," says Dod Mantle. "It's about savaging the viewer in a more volatile way to witness a moment or a space. It is like a punching reminder, a visceral scratching of the cinematic surface of the story."

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, Dod Mantle says, "is an absolute beast – an incredible piece of technology. I've used earlier models on many films, grabbing burst images. On Slumdog Millionaire, there's a lot of material on EOS-1D series cameras, which people think is created in the edit – but it's actually just me moving the camera and working with the burst mode. It was to do with memory on Slumdog; in the case of Pistol, it's about time, and freezing time. We can get to 20 frames per second burst capture [in high-resolution 20MP stills] – it's a slight adjustment of our conventional perception of reality. I could move, either with zooms or with prime lenses physically close, and dance around the actors.

"This started as a potential concert tool," Dod Mantle continues, "but it became something I shot in every single location: a prop or a picture, it could be a pair of underpants in the SEX boutique of Vivienne Westwood or a record spinning in a jukebox. I never left a scene without grabbing the EOS-1D X Mark III and just painting a little image… and it's become a montage element of the film, which is very clear and very important.

"It became so enjoyable for Danny and I – so quick and so powerful. When we went to America as a small crew to shoot an episode, about 60% of that material was shot on the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. Where I start to shoot scenes conventionally, the sound is running and we can sync it up. But I'm taking sequences and even doing dialogue where the sound does not move in conventional sync to the picture – it became our look.

"It was important that shooting these 20-frame bursts could be done silently – it was extraordinary," continues Dod Mantle. "Often, I've got two operators working for me and I'm poking my EOS camera in through the legs of the actor, or past the shoulder of the director, and getting something I want as well."

Pistol director Danny Boyle, meanwhile, refers to the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III as "the monster", as he loves its huge resolution. He says: "We'd used Canon EOS-1D series cameras before, in Slumdog Millionaire. The experience of India made you want to have a resolution that was much greater than what you're regularly seeing – because the way you experience India when you're there is just breathtaking. Moving photographs aren't quite the same."

A stage containing a bar cam, an electric guitar and an elaborate drum kit. In the background, the number 100 can be seen.

Inside Danny Boyle's punk biopic Pistol

Director Danny Boyle and DoP Anthony Dod Mantle share the inspiration and techniques it took to bring '70s punk culture to life for their new Sex Pistols biopic.
A person films with a Canon XL H1 on a television set bathed in pink light. In front of him are two bar cams containing 18 Canon EOS R5 cameras.

"We tried to make the experience immersive through the intensity of what you're seeing and hearing," says Boyle. "Everything that you see in the series is live, and it's all recorded live. It's not been over-dubbed or treated or cheated." In this image, Dod Mantle and his crew film with 18 EOS R5s, an EOS C70 and a XL H1. © Miya Mizuno

Canon EOS C70

"We had the Canon EOS C70, which I was hoping would work as a transition between the bar cam and our other studio cameras, with PL lenses and older vintage lenses," says Dod Mantle. "That went out the window because the time was too complicated, but I kept that camera and used it with the FX guys, because they were shooting plates all the time.

"It's an incredibly powerful camera with a good sensor, good lenses, latitude, sensitivity and speed."

A close-up of a Canon XL H1 camcorder on a TV set.

In the final edit, Dod Mantle and Boyle combined the pin-sharp clarity of the Canon EOS R5, Canon EOS C70 and Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with the vintage aesthetic of the Canon XL H1 (pictured here on the Pistol set). "The innate grain of the lower resolution hopefully encourages or triggers a questioning of how the audience could view the scene or whatever/whoever is in the frame," says Dod Mantle of the Canon XL H1.

Canon XL H1

"The Canon XL H1 is a beautiful dinosaur that we used on 28 Days Later," says Dod Mantle. "We pulled it out of its grave on this show, which is quite funny and not without complications because you're suddenly back on MiniDV tape and stuff like that. But we brought it out as a tool because, although it's not a '70s camera, it has the ability to capture images at a resolution that suddenly became important to me.

"I could mix the quality of images together to make this patchwork montage," he continues. "A sort of 'Rauschenberg' idea of pop art meets punk meets entertainment meets the rock business. That's where the formats come from."

Canon K35 lenses

Pistol was a collaborative effort between ARRI Rental and Canon Europe, with much of the series primarily shot on the ARRI ALEXA Mini LF paired with Canon K35 vintage glass to provide an authentic 1970s look that would blend well with the archive footage used in the series. "I work with the Canon K35 lenses [now succeeded by the Canon Sumire Prime series], which I have been married to for 15 years," says Dod Mantle. "And anybody sane in this industry should marry themselves to the Canon K35s because they are the most adorable pieces of glass, and rightfully respected for that.

"Any honest filmmaker and storyteller wishes ultimately to create something unforeseeable and unforgettable," concludes Dod Mantle. "Each story has to have its own alphabet."

Pistol premieres on 31 May exclusively on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Emma-Lily Pendleton

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