Shooting Death Row by MXMS on the Sigma Cine Primes

It’s funny how things come together, how stars align. It was a cool, dark Thursday evening a few years ago when I heard haunting music wafting up to my loft from outside. For a minute I dismissed it as just a passing car caught at the traffic light, but traffic moved and the music continued – ghostly vocals, a droning but still catchy keyboard baseline, and a quiet “thank you” at song’s end. I realized this was live music floating up and worming its way into my ear, and it was good, so good that I was compelled to descend and find the source. This was how I met MXMS, the Goth Pop duo Ariel Levitan and Jeremy Dawson (also of Shiny Toy Guns). They were playing a live set on the sidewalk outside my building during Art Walk in Downtown Los Angeles, and I was transfixed.

In the Spring of 2018, MXMS again got under my skin with their then-new song, “Paris.” It became the track underlying the short fashion film I directed and shot for Sony Electronics for the launch of their VENICE full frame motion picture camera, playing at both NAB and Cinegear.

My first touchpoint with Sigma cine lenses was in the summer of 2018. I was DP for a narrative short film titled “Stormchaser,” about a female door-to-door salesperson selling storm siding. For that film, I paired the Sigma FF Cine Primes with my VENICE, and I was quite pleased with how the lenses performed with my camera, with their build quality, and ultimately with the look of the final film and how they contributed to that in their cleanliness. In November of 2019, at the Williamsburg (Brooklyn) Independent Film Festival, “Stormchaser” won Best Director, Best Actress and Best Cinematography. It will be on the festival circuit well into 2020.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2019 when I was approached by the band, Jeremy and Ariel, about lensing their next music video of a song titled “Death Row,” concepted by the band and the video’s director, Felicity Jayn Heath. Besides that I was already a big fan of the band, after meeting with Felicity and seeing what she was planning for this video, I became completely inspired. Of course, I quite liked the song as well but it was the visual references that sold me; they were bold and very fashion-driven.

The film’s concept also allowed me to tap into a specific style I shot as a still photographer when I lived and worked in Paris, Milan and NYC. I decided to shoot the film full frame on my Venice, and the lenses I selected would again be the Sigma FF Cine Primes since I felt they would be able to translate perfectly what I wanted in the look of the film; I knew this the moment Felicity, the director, showed me her creative references.

The Sigmas are fast and have a very pleasing focus roll-off which looks great on the tight shots of Ariel, many shot on the 105, as she’s done up like a model straight out of a mid-1990s Versace ad. To that end, the lenses brought a certain sharpness, a crispness from the right amount of contrast, without affecting color or looking too clinical or harsh, and this worked perfectly with Ariel’s alabaster skin under my hard light. The Sigmas were just right for the look of the film and I’m very pleased with the final result, as I knew I would be. And while filming it came to light that another little film used a similar camera and lens package – Sony Venice and Sigma FF Cine Primes. That film is Top Gun: Maverick, so I think I may be onto something with this camera / lens combo.

Note: Video is NSFW

CLICK HERE to watch the MXMS – “Death Row” music video

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