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Larry Sher Was Here

Ten years ago, Lawrence Sher, ASC shot his first Panavision movie—a small, independent movie filmed in his home state of New Jersey that was written and directed by actor Zach Braff. That film, Garden State, struck a chord in capturing the ennui of Gen X malaise and was a smashing indie success. A decade passed before the two connected again to make Wish I Was Here.

“This is full circle, representing my Panavision experience, history and loyalty,” Sher remarks about the Braff collaboration.

Wish I Was Here stars Zach Braff as Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor still trying to find himself mid life. When Aidan’s father no longer can pay for the grandkids’ private school, Aidan attempts to home school them, and learns more about himself than imagined. Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Joey King and Pierce Gagnon round out the cast.

“Wish I Was Here has a very similar voice to Garden State – very personal – and it was a pretty easy ‘yes’ for me to do it,” says Sher, who in the decade between films shot such comedic hits as I Love You, Man; Due Date; The Dictator; and The Hangover trilogy.

Even for a smaller, character-driven movie, the filmmakers wanted to shoot Wish I Was Here with the 2.35 anamorphic aspect ratio. “Zach was very interested in shooting anamorphic because it does more to shallow the depth of field and really make a three-dimensional image, even in close-ups and small spaces,” Sher says. “It allows for even more separation, and gives the audience a very singular perspective of focus.”

Shooting in and around Los Angeles over 26 days, Sher turned to Panavision Hollywood. “What keeps me coming back to Panavision is their support,” he asserts. “With Panavision Hollywood and Cathy Peirce (marketing executive), Lisa Harp (general manager), Guy McVicker (camera service manager) and everyone there, it’s beyond piece of mind. It’s like I have this huge net underneath me so that at any point I can turn to Panavision, and they always come through and bend over backwards to make it work. Panavision is a huge part of my filmmaking and is the first call I make whenever I do a job.”

Sher armed himself with a pair of Panavised ARRI Alexa Plus bodies with 4:3 sensors mated to Panavision G-series anamorphic lenses, with some C- and E-series to fill in a few focal length holes. The modular nature of the Alexa allowed Sher to switch to wider spherical lenses for select shots. “If we had a really wide shot where we needed more light or we didn’t want the barrel distortion of a 30mm anamorphic, we had a Primo 17.5mm and a Primo 14.5mm,” Sher explains. When needed, Sher also had ATZ 70-200mm, AWZ2 40-80mm and Primo SLZ11 24-275mm (11:1) zoom lenses at the ready.

A particular sequence on a pre-shoot day with Braff and the kids camping in the desert seared itself into Sher’s memory because of the location that was inaccessible by vehicle and the need to hand-carry equipment into the sand dunes. “We had to shoot this three-or four-page dialog scene in a really small window at sunset and then had to hustle back in like 20 seconds to get a couple wide shots as the sun dipped below the horizon,” Sher recalls. “With our limitations of crew and equipment, it was probably one of the most challenging shooting days in my entire career.”

Colorist Mark Sachen and his mobile color-grading lab, Color 7, provided on-set dailies. “Mark did six or seven of my movies at Technicolor and is one of the best colorists I’ve ever had,” Sher says. “He really provided the look for a lot of the footage, and because it was already on the DaVinci Resolve, he’s able to translate that color decision list straight into the DI. Then Siggy (Ferstl, at Company 3) did all the polishing. He’s fantastic.”

Because of the workflow, Sher was able to complete the DI in only three eight-hour days.

Wish I Was Here premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and was picked up for distribution by Focus Features. The film opened in theaters earlier this month.

Joey King and Zach Braff on the set of his new comedy WISH I WAS HERE, the follow-up to his indie breakout hit “Garden State.” Credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace, SMPSP / Focus Features