Robert Richardson: Overhead & Overexposed Light

From American Cinematographer, Urban Gothic by Eric Rudolph (November 1999)

Known for his radical photographic style, Richardson often hits actors with powerful blasts of light from above, a tactic that leaves them overexposed by several stops. In Bringing Out the Dead, this approach was utilized frequently, and Scorsese made the most of the unsettling look.

"If you're speeding down the street at night, the light level is going to rise and fall. We would constantly raise and lower the lights, letting Nic go dark and then occasionally hitting him with strong light. I thought it was especially powerful when we synced one of those hotly-lit images to a voiceover in which Pierce testifies that his role is to 'bear witness' to the plights of the victims. At that instant, the light blasts him, and the effect is emphasized by his white shirt. It's as if his tormented soul is burning in the night."

- Martin Scorsese, Director

"I like the actors, consciously or subconsciously, to be involved in the progress of the light on their own faces, or those of their associates. I thought the effect of having the light rise and fall in intensity, as Pierce went up and down massaging Burke's heart, would help to emphasize the dual nature of Pierce's experience. He's burned out, and his patient is dying, so Pierce feels like hell. However at the same time he is seeing a glimmer of hope for redemption in the man's daughter."

[Hot lights on the actors were also used to suggest the idea of the "resurrection of ghosts."]

"Here I was most interested in the ethereal quality of the strong, overhead light. I find that usually this lighting approach is most interesting when the actor is on the fringes of the overhead light, when they're just skirting the edges."

[The result is a ghostly, otherworldly effect.]

- Robert Richardson, ASC

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