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Celebrating the Creative Spirit

Stefan Duscio, ACS reflects on Play it Safe, a salute to 50 years of the Sydney Opera House.

Since its opening in 1973, the Sydney Opera House has become a globally recognized symbol of Australia and the creative spirit. In honor of the renowned institution’s 50th anniversary, the Sydney Opera House commissioned the 4-minute short Play it Safe, featuring Australian musician Tim Minchin — backed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Australian Ballet, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and more — performing an original composition that celebrates the Opera House’s steadfast commitment to not playing it safe or keeping things simple. (Watch the full short below.)

Directed by Kim Gehrig, the piece was shot by cinematographer Stefan Duscio, ACS, who turned to Panavision Australia for an equipment package that included Panaspeed spherical lenses and Ultra Panatar II anamorphic optics. Panavision recently caught up with Duscio for the cinematographer’s thoughts on being able to contribute to the cultural landmark’s milestone anniversary.


Panavision: How did you come to be involved in this project?

Stefan Duscio, ACS: One of Australia's best production companies, Revolver, reached out to me when they were in early stages of developing the approach for Play it Safe. I really appreciated being brought on early to scout with amazing director Kim Gehrig. We studied the iconic building carefully and were given wonderful access to explore many areas that hadn't been shot before.

Cinematographer Stefan Duscio, ACS.

What specifically drew you to the Panaspeed and Ultra Panatar II optics? What qualities did you see in those lens series that made them the right match for the look you were crafting?

Duscio: As I shot more and more stills of the Sydney Opera House and demonstrated a variety of aspect ratios to Kim, she fell in love with the squarer look of 1.43:1. This was due to me demonstrating what Alexa Mini LF would be like framing in open gate mode with spherical lenses. We both found it placed an importance on the architecture, and we planned on framing many sequences around the building's geometry. I had shot a few commercials on the Panaspeeds and had been hoping to shoot a project on them that utilized as much of the glass as possible. I also adore their smoother look, and the way they render faces.

As we continued to progress our photo boards and discussions, we noted Tim's lyrics spoke of 'building walls around you' and 'finding a box that makes you comfortable.' This lent to the idea of expanding one's horizon for the final chorus, and we decided to design in the choreography an action that would actually 'push' our aspect ratio to a wider 16:9. I loved this idea — it felt like such a great visual representation of thinking outside of your box. For the final sequence on the exterior of the Opera House, we shot using Ultra Panatar IIs, which felt joyous and cinematic. They're also a wonderful pairing with the Panaspeeds, and I found they had a similar smooth quality to their texture.

What did it mean to you personally to be part of this campaign?

Duscio: It personally meant a lot to me, to be a part of this campaign. The Sydney Opera House is an iconic, meaningful building for Australia and the world. It's a celebration of art and creativity and is a testament to how the arts enrich our lives and culture. To bring that idea to life with such an accomplished filmmaking team was an amazing experience. Kim is an exceptionally talented director, Revolver are a joy to work with, and I loved working with so many of my trusted collaborators. I wish more projects were this meaningful!

Duscio’s crew included (from left) camera operator Andrew “AJ” Johnson, AC attachment trainee Johan Razlan, 2nd AC Justin Latimer, and AC attachment trainee Lucky Chen. Razlan and Chen joined the production as part of an Assistant Camera training program presented by the Arts & Cultural Exchange, Screenrights Cultural Fund and Screen NSW in collaboration with Panavision Australia.

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