Oliver Stapleton: Trees on Film

From American Cinematographer, Enchanted Forest by Chris Pizzello (May 1999)

"One of the first things we discovered was that Lucianna Arrighi, our production designer, couldn't afford to build the woodland from scratch. Instead, Lucianna had real trees brought into Soundstage 5. It's cheaper to do it that way, but it's also a nightmare, because the leaves can fall off or change from being glossy, watery things to dead, horrid crispy things. After looking at tests, we decided to paint all of our branches, leaves, and trees. The trunks of the trees in particular were very dull and boring in tests. The green and brown colors of trees in woodlands really absorb light, so they tend to look dead on film. I think just about every cinematographer has been caught shooting dead forest at night. It's a very tricky photographic thing, because when you look at it by eye, you think, 'That looks all bright and nice!' Then you photograph it, and it barely shows up on film.

One of the reasons Michael wanted to make this film was that he didn't think any of the previous movie versions of the play were any good. But I thought the 1935 film was kind of interesting from a photographic standpoint. An operator friend of mine, Chris Lombardi, faxed me a magazine article in which Hal Mohr talked quite extensively about tricks they had used in the film. They put sparkles and diamonds all over the leaves and trunks. Photographically it's very subtle but quite effectivel the audience is not going to come out of theater saying, 'Gosh, what were they doing with those trees?' The highlights we added made the light and environment much more substantial and magical, which is what you're trying to do with A Midsummer Night's Dream."

- Oliver Stapleton, BSC

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