Robert Primes: Shadows & Darkness

From American Cinematographer, Big City Girl by Stephanie Argy (February 1999)

"The reason why most cinematographers like things to be dark is that if you show everything there's no mystery. And if there's no mystery, you're not compelling your audience to be curious. If a face is dark and rim-lit, except for a little gleam off the lips, your eyes are going to be looking at the lips. A lot of the art of cinematography is what you hide and what you reveal. Without shadows, you can't hide."

- Robert Primes, ASC

Robert Primes: A Quick Word on Source 4's

From American Cinematographer, Big City Girl by Stephanie Argy (February 1999)

"The Source Fours are a very hard light that you can bounce into a card, and then contain the spill. They're just 575 watts, but they're 95 percent efficient, so sometimes they'll do the work of a 5K light."

- Robert Primes, ASC

Robert Primes: Chimera Soft Light

From American Cinematographer, Big City Girl by Stephanie Argy (February 1999)

In spite of these difficulties, Primes has managed to carefully maintain the photographic approach that Reeves wants for the show.

"Almost all of the light is soft, and it's very often shining through Chimeras, or frames of 1000H, Chimera cloth, 216, 250 or opal. Those are the diffusion materials we use... One of the nice things about hard light is that you can really shape it. But how do you cut soft light?"

In recent years, the cinematographer has found the answer in Chimera's honeycomb grids, which attach in front of the company's flexible softboxes to concentrate the light, rather than letting it scatter. The grids come in 30-, 60- and 90-degree increments, referring to the angles to which the light is allowed to spread.

"In the past, I was using the 60s most of the time, the 90s some of the time, and the 30s not very much. Marshall [gaffer Marshall Adams] started using the 30-degree grid, which takes a tremendous amount of light. You need 10,000 watts to get anything out of it, and by golly, there it is, just a soft little spotlight. You can have someone in a little glow, and light nowhere else... Our extra smallest Chimeras use 650W tweenies, while our largest use 20Ks."

- Robert Primes, ASC

Jim Frazier: Frazier Lens Swivil Tip and Image Rotator

From American Cinematographer, Seeing is Believing by Christopher Probst (February 1999)

Perhaps the most useful aspect of the Frazier lens is its dual swivel-tip design, which allows for unlimited 360-degree global orientation of the taking lenses. Simply put, the lens can be pointed in any direction, even back at the camera operator. The swivel tip incorporates heavy-duty bearings, which make the system extremely rugged and mechanically precise, and consists of two right-angle pivot points which can be turned independently and continuously in either direction. Internally, the image is relayed through the swivel via a mirror and an amici roof-edge prism.

"On any piece of optics with a roof-edge. The roof has to be made very accurately. Otherwise, you can end up with a double image on the film. The roof angle should be 90 degree plus or minus three seconds of arc, which is very small. Normally, these types of prisms are used in binoculars and other types of instruments that are used by eye. And the eye is actually quite forgiving. In the case of the Frazier lens, however, the amici's roof-edge images to film, so it has to be very accurate...

...There are obvious situations in tabletop work where it can be a difficult matter to even look through the viewfinder. But with the swivel tip, it's easy to leave the camera in a conventional setup and put the lens where you need it. Additionally, if you imagine the lens to be like your hand and arm, you can get the lens wherever you can put your hand. I've seen some extra-ordinary things done with the lens just for the comfort of the cameraman!

You also have added freedom in that the camera itself doesn't have to be level. For example, you can even get a level image if the camera is turned on its side under a car, simply by adjusting the image rotator. This system was designed to free up the difficult aspects of cinematography that are either too expensive or time-consuming. You don't want to have a jackhammer cutting holes in the floor to get a lens in a certain position. You can also save the costs of renting additional equipment like Panatates, dutch heads, low-angle prisms and hotheads. I have gotten reports back from other cinematographers that by using the Frazier lens, they've been able to literally chop days off their shooting schedules...

...Rotating an image with a prism is not a new thing. But by putting that function in this system with its large depth of field and a fully adjustable swivel tip, you create a new range of options. The image rotator is actually what is called a pechan prism. A pechan prism is common in other optical instruments, but in this case it had to be made to very tight tolerances. One reason for that, of course, is image quality, but another is that we have to keep the boresight constant. If you rotate the prism, you don't want the picture to spiral around too much...

...Every lens has to have some sort of filtering capability. However, if you put a filter in front of the Frazier's taking lens, you have to be careful about dust. I'm talking about things like tiny carpet filaments flying in the air that are attracted to the glass due to static charge. Therefore, with the Frazier lens, the best place to put a filter is inside the system, within the relay optics. The Frazier's filter slot is also a sealed unit — there are two glass windows inside to prevent dust from traveling up or down the tube — so you can have dust go into the filter compartment without producing spots on the film."

-Iain Neil (Then Panavision Executive VP of R&D/Optics)

Jim Frazier: Frazier Lens Origin

From American Cinematographer, Seeing is Believing by Christopher Probst (February 1999)

"When I started shooting wildlife documentaries for the BBC," relates Frazier, "I didn't realize that I had immersed myself in a field that was so difficult. Not only was macro and micro photography a difficult area of cinematography, but my subjects were often completely unpredictable, which made it difficult to even keep them in focus! The photographic techniques used on those films often required a lot of special optical equipment, so I spent a lot of time devising equipment and unique apparatus...

...I have found myself lying on the ground for most of my career. I was always looking for unusual angles. But in filming those low angles, I wanted to move the camera away from my subjects. I wasn't content to look down at their world; I really wanted to see that world from their point of view. Toward that end, my first foray into optics literally involved gluing a mirror onto the end of a stick that was taped to a lens. Of course, the problem with that technique was that the insect would then go one way, and I'd pan the other!

To me, optics were absolutely essential to get me where I wanted to go. I literally pulled hundreds of lenses to pieces to get the elements out, and began playing with different combinations. My initial system of lens design consisted of a board with some modeling clay on it that I would stick the various lenses in while looking through with a viewfinder. I spent many months and countless thousands of hours knee-deep in optics.

By trial and error, I eventually came upon the system of optics that ultimately produced the Frazier lens. I'll never forget it the moment I came upon that [optical configuration]. I was doing what I normally did — swapping optics around — and then I suddenly saw what I was looking for. That was it! I literally did somersaults and had to look again. At that point, I knew that I was close to what I had envisioned."

- Jim Frazier, ACS

Jim Frazier: Frazier Lens Advantages & Build

From American Cinematographer, Seeing is Believing by Christopher Probst (February 1999)

"This device does have a very large depth of field, but it is not infinite. The depth that is created does not break the laws of physics; it occurs because of the design of the optical relay system that is used. If you were to take a 10mm fixed-focal-length lens and put it on a camera, you'd get a certain field of view and depth of field at, say a T8 aperture. If you were to put the equivalent lens on the Frazier — which in this case would be the 14mm, which delivers about a 9.9mm field of view — you would actually have a similar depth of field. Now you may say, 'Wait a minute! If that's so, why do people talk so much about the depth of field with this lens? Why wouldn't they just rent a 10mm instead?' The reason is that with a 10mm lens, the diameter of the front element is about six inches. If you were to take a bumblebee and put it on that lens's front glass, it would only fill about five percent of your frame. Because of the Frazier system's optical configuration, when you put the bumblebee on the front of the 14mm taking lens — which is about an inch and a half in diameter — the bee will fill about half of your frame. Yes, you'd have a large depth of field, but more importantly, you're able to get objects really close to the front of the taking lens to get into macro magnifications. So in a practical sense, the Frazier system's depth of field is more available and useful.

Another problem with other lenses has to do with the entrance pupil of the lens. With a lens that has a six-inch diameter, the entrance pupil is actually some distance inside the lens. So as you bring your face in close to the lens, your nose will start to bulge and your ears do something weird with perspective distortion. With a smaller-diameter lens, the entrance pupil is still inside the lens, but at a much smaller distance [from the front]. If you look at the mathematics, it turns out that you could then bring someone's face all the way up to the lens and not see any perspective distortion. This relationship has a lot to do with how the taking lenses, the field lenses and the system have been optimized, which in this case is in the area between six inches and three feet. When you can't see the perspective, you can't tell the size of an object or the distance it's at, so a sort of optical illusion is created."

-Iain Neil (Then Panavision Executive VP of R&D/Optics)

"With the Frazier lens, macro work has never been easier. A cinematographer now has an unparalleled freedom of movement in the macro range. In fact, unlike conventional macro lenses, there is no pull-focus necessary. The camera can simply float in and out on the subjects without any loss of focus and without any distortion or curvature of field — even when the subject is almost touching the lens. This is particularly invaluable for scale model and tabletop work, where both depth and distortion are major issues. I knew from my commercial work that when you put a product close to the lens, you don't want to see this great curved field. I love playing with perspectives [and the perception of perspectives,] so I concentrated on building these units without any distortion. In my earlier prototype units, the illusion — which I knew was there — was ruined because of distortion. In commercials, clients usually don't like to see their products distorted. If the product has straight lines in it, they want to see it [photographed] with straight lines."

- Jim Frazier, ACS

"One significant aspect of the Frazier lens which may not be obvious is that the taking lenses — which also house some field lenses — are designed as sealed units. With the Frazier taking lenses, you're actually getting a taking lens plus part of what really goes in the tube of the main system. In other systems, if you stop down to a T8 or T11, or all the way down to T32, you can have a major problem with dust. If there's one little particle near an intermediate image, you could end up seeing that speck on the film. But with a sealed taking unit, you can pretty much avoid dust. Of course, you still have to keep the optical instrument clean, but at least we have avoided the most likely cause of dust showing up on the final image...

...The longer focal lengths illustrate why increased depth of field, in itself, is not the only selling point of the Frazier lens system — it's a combination of features. For situations where you may not want the object right up to the lens, but you still want the flexibility of the swivel tip, the image rotator and the larger depth of field, we've added the 85mm, a 105mm and a 135mm, which respectively deliver 60mm, 75mm and 95mm cine fields of view. These longer lenses still offer a large depth of field, but it will start at perhaps 2 to 4 feet and then go to infinity."

-Iain Neil (Then Panavision Executive VP of R&D/Optics)

Lisa Rinzler: Rough Terrain & Camera Cars

From American Cinematographer, Culture Clash by Vincent LoBrutto (February 1999)

"The Dry Season took place predominately on a moving cyclo, but in Vietnam there's no such thing as a Shotmaker truck. Instead, we used a Jeep with bad shocks — or seemingly no shocks at all — as a camera car. The streets of Ho Chi Minh City can be potholed and bumpy. A cyclo is approximately 8' long, and the camera lens on our Jeep was approximately 12' from the actors. As a result, we were forced to use a 75mm or 100mm lens for close-ups — lenses that are, quite frankly, too long for unsteady moving-vehicle shots with dialogue. Bumpy footage would have distracted from the story, so we brought in Will Arnot on Steadicam to minimize the bumpiness of the roads. Another time, we used the Steadicam to create a makeshift crane, since the only one available to us was ancient, unsafe, and too heavy to move onto location. We created a rig which allowed the operator to simply walk down a ladder, creating a cranelike effect."

- Lisa Rinzler


Vilmos Zsigmond: Students, Passion & Regret

From American Cinematographer, A Transcendent Career Foretold by Bob Fisher (February '99)

"I encourage film students who are interested in cinematography to study sculpture, paintings, music, writing and other arts. Filmmaking consists of all the arts combined. Students are always asking me for advice, and I tell them that they have to be enthusiastic, because it's hard work. The only way to enjoy it is to be totally immersed. If you don't get involved on that level, it could be a very miserable job. I only have one regret about my career: I'm sorry that we are not making silent movies any more. That is the purest art form I can imagine."

- Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC

Vilmos Zsigmond: Lighting

From American Cinematographer, A Transcendent Career Foretold by Bob Fisher (February '99)

"I think the most important thing about cinematography is lighting. That's how you create the mood that matches the story. The ability to light artistically is a gift from the gods. If you have the ability, you shouldn't waste it. You should be looking for ways to improve and grow."

- Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC

Vilmos Zsigmond: Art of Film

From American Cinematographer, A Transcendent Career Foretold by Bob Fisher (February '99)

Zsigmond spent four years at film school, putting in many 14-hour days and six-day weeks. While he deplored living under the tyranny of the communist government, he learned some great truths from the head of the department, György Illes, and other faculty members.

"They taught us that a movie is only art if it has something important to say. It should be more than entertainment. It should have social value...

My rule is that if a movie doesn't say something of value for the audience, I don't think it's worth making. You only have time to make so many pictures in your life. Maybe 75 percent of the time, you can tell if a film will be worthwhile when you read the script, but I've been fooled on occasion. There were times when I thought something was going to be a good movie, but it didn't turn out that way. There are so many things that have to come together — the actors, the director, the script."

- Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC

Vilmos Zsigmond: Character & Visual Signatures

From American Cinematographer, A Transcendent Career Foretold by Bob Fisher (February '99)

In The Witches of Eastwick, Zsigmond used colors to create a romantic and slightly surrealistic look. Jack Nicholson portrays the devil, who sets up house with three beautiful witches. Zsigmond manipulated color temperatures with the use of gels to bathe the devil in reddish tones, which were always motivated by identifiable sources. He contrasted those tones with cool, blue lighting that provided a visual signature for the witches.


John Toll: Jungles & Daylight Exteriors

From American Cinematographer, The War Within by Stephen Pizzello (February 1999)

"In those situations [jungle], scouting is everything. We would basically clear out a path to get the gear in, and then take the actors in another 100' and let them struggle. [Laughs.]

We did haul some lights into the jungle, but when we turned them on, they completely changed the character and nuances of the natural light. It was beautiful in there, but we were dealing with extremely low light levels. There were subtleties in the colors and gradations of the natural light that completely disappeared when we mixed in any artificial fill. There was plenty of contrast, though, because the sunlight that did filter in created great hot highlights. I decided to just expose into the shadows as much as possible and go for the natural falloff of the shadows to compensate for lack of detail. It worked out okay.

This became a general approach to lighting most of the exteriors. I started out using some amounts of fill, but I became less and less interested in controlling contrast; I would expose for the shadow detail that I wanted and then usually let highlights go. At times, we would use indirect light bounced from muslin or beadboard to lift faces, and maybe use black for negative, but when we were working in heavy contrast, I was quite a bit overexposed from what a more normal exposure would be in those situations. When it was sunny, it was extremely contrasty, but rather than trying to balance everything by adding fill, I just ignored the highlights.

I thought the film actually started looking much better when we lost the details in the highlights; it seemed more appropriate for the story. The more contrasty things got, the better, because it felt as if things were out of control — just as they were in the story.

There's a sequence that I like between Nick Nolte, who plays this mad colonel, and John Cusack, who's his adjutant. In the scene, which occurs about halfway through the battle, Nolte tells Cusack not to worry about the men and to focus on the charge up the hill. We were on top of a hill in an area with all of these burned-out tree trunks. It was extremely contrasty, but we really wanted to get into the faces and show the actors' expressions. We chose to shoot in a direction that would allow us to take advantage of the light. We put them in areas where they were in direct sunlight that was broken up by the trees, and we also added smoke to soften the sunlight. We wanted to show the environment, but we also chose angles that were good for close-ups and dialogue. We used some white fill and black negative to give the characters some shape and contrast, but choosing the right angles was the most important consideration...

...It's amazing to me how often I hear cinematographers say that they think shooting good-looking day exterior movies is all about sitting around and waiting for the right light to happen, and then just pointing your camera at it and shooting 'pretty pictures.' Doing good work in day exterior situations means that you must be able to make great images all day long, even when the light isn't ideal for pretty pictures. You must make choices that will allow you to take advantage of natural light in existing conditions. Even when the light is 'bad' it is possible to do good work by making wise choices.

The predominant day exterior lighting conditions on this film were either sunny high-contrast or soft contrast resulting from overcast conditions. Because we were shooting all day long and didn't have the luxury of waiting for ideal light, we had to decide how to make existing light work for the scenes we were schedule to do on a given day. It was impossible to entirely control all of the light in our shots because we were using wider-angle anamorphic lenses and constantly moving the camera. None of the traditional methods of light control, such as putting up silks, were possible, because of the terrain and the nature of the shots. Sometimes, if we were doing extended dialogue and didn't like the way the contrast was affecting the actors' faces, we would try to create an artificial 'overcast' look by staging scenes under trees or in the shadow of a hill. At other times, we would stay in the open and go with the existing high contrast, exposing the faces and letting the contrast go. There were also days when we had both overcast and high-contrast sun happening simultaneously because of low clouds moving quickly and causing severe light changes. We had some days when the light changes happened so quickly that we just shot through them. It could be blistering hot one moment, and completely dark the next — sometimes in the same shot. But that represented the reality of the situation, and we just went with it. We didn't fight the conditions; we just tried to make them part of the story. In fact, for one Akela shot of the soldiers climbing up the hills, we waited specifically for a light change to happen. The scene starts out in heavy cloud cover, but the sun comes out and reveals these guys sneaking through the grass. That particular light change worked well for us.

The point I'm trying to make is that good daytime exterior cinematography is not comprised solely of making 'pretty pictures' at magic hour; it's about being knowledgeable about your craft and being able to create interesting images in all of the various daylight conditions."

-John Toll, ASC

John Toll: Akela Crane...Uhhh 'Dolly'?

From American Cinematographer, The War Within by Stephen Pizzello (February 1999)

"The Akela was a great asset. One of our biggest challenges was a daytime battle sequence in these grassy hills. The Japanese were in the hills, and the Americans had to go up there, find them, and kill them. To deal with those scenes, we brought in the Akela, which came with two American technicians. The terrain was very uneven; the grass was about waist-high, and underneath it there were a lot of rocks and holes. We spent weeks climbing up and falling down these hills. At times we could use the Steadicam really well out there, but at other times it became impossible because we wanted to see the soldiers actually going up the hills. One of the tougher challenges we faced was preserving the look of this waist-high grass. You couldn't walk through the grass more than a couple of times without leaving these huge paths. It was like working in snow, where you've got to cover your tracks. There's only so much you can do before you destroy the look of the location.

I was contemplating this problem long before we got to the location, because I knew what we were up against with the grass and the steep hills. I began thinking about using the Akela crane, which has an extremely long, 72' arm that would allow us to get the camera into places where we couldn't walk or lay dolly track. The only problem was that I wanted to install the crane on the sides of hills, which involved building some fairly substantial platforms, because the Akela weighs about 6,000 pounds. It worked out fabulously, though. The Akela's arm does have a slight arc, but it's a much more minimal arc than any conventional crane arm. Because of that, we could make shots that had the appearance of a dolly shot. That was the whole reason for bringing in the Akela, and we constantly had it at very low angles; I don't think we used it more than once or twice for a high-angled shot. Our expert technicians, Michael Gough and Mark Willard, kept wanting to show off how high it would go, but I kept hammering them with my mantra: 'It's a dolly, not a crane.' We basically turned our crane technicians into dolly grips, but they did a fantastic job.

There are some great Akela crane shots in the film where we follow the soldiers over really long distances. We did have to train the actors to stay with the crane arm, because it doesn't move in a perfectly straight line. If we were ahead of them, they could just follow the lens, but if we were shooting from behind, we would trace out the arc so the actors could follow it. But using the Akela really allowed us to get down in the grass and get shots that just wouldn't have been possible with a dolly or even a Steadicam because of the uneven terrain."

- John Toll, ASC

John Toll: Story, Camera Movement & Steadicam

From American Cinematographer, The War Within by Stephen Pizzello (February 1999)

"Terry and I talked extensively about creating a sense of movement throughout the whole picture. He loves to speak in metaphors, and he kept saying, 'It's like moving down a river, and the picture should have that same kind of flow'... During prep, we had talked about various ways to create that kind of style, but we never settled on a single approach. On the first couple of days of the schedule, we shot some scenes with a moving camera on a dolly, and some with stationary cameras incorporating conventional coverage and angles. It was all technically correct, and there was nothing wrong with the scenes, but when we viewed the footage, it sometimes felt very 'staged' and overly structured for the camera.

We knew we wanted something more, so we decided to loosen up our approach a bit. As a result, there's a lot of Steadicam and handheld work in the picture. We had a great Australian Steadicam operator named Brad Shields. We allowed the camera to explore a bit, and Terry encouraged the actors to try something different if they felt like it. At times, the camera would drift from one actor to another; we might not get conventional masters or coverage, but it didn't seem that important. Every scene became a unique situation, and we just shot what seemed to be most appropriate for a particular sequence. We allowed the camera to follow the emotional thread of a scene without worrying about much else. What seemed to emerge from that was a feeling of unpredictability which completely supported the idea that Guadalcanal was a strange and dangerous place that these characters suddenly found themselves in.

Terry got into that style of shooting immediately; he has a rather spontaneous and unpredictable personality, so the idea made a lot of sense to him. Using Steadicam and handheld camera certainly isn't a new idea, but the challenge was in shooting scenes that way without drawing unnecessary attention to the techniques themselves. I wanted to use the fluid, mobile camera movement as part of the overall style of the film, but in a way that supported the story."

- John Toll, ASC

Example in Interview:

Those techniques are very effective during a key sequence in which the Americans finally overtake the Japanese in a bivouac area.

"That scene is basically the Japanese soldiers' last stand. Some of them are dying of starvation, some commit suicide, some surrender and others decide to fight to the last man. I think we really captured the chaos and tragedy of that type of battle. No one really wants to be there, but they have to follow orders, and whether given individuals survive or get killed is really just a matter of chance.

The whole sequence was done with either a handheld camera and/or the Steadicam — primarily the Steadicam — and Brad Shields did a great job on it. The Americans are running into the area and the Japanese are all around them, so you don't know if the guy next to you is friend or foe. Once we set up for that scene, we had the actors go in and improvise action. We then kept repeating the sequence over and over, following different characters through this nightmarish situation. It was semi-controlled chaos, and it wasn't over-rehearsed to the point where everyone always knew what they were going to do. There were many extras in the scene, a lot of people firing at each other, and various guys taking some predetermined hits. We just let the camerawork be as free-form as possible"

- John Toll, ASC

John Toll: Super35 vs Anamorphic

From American Cinematographer, The War Within by Stephen Pizzello (February 1999)

"We chose straight anamorphic over Super 35 because I don't really like the idea of having an optical step at the end of the answer-print process. I want to know that what we're seeing during dailies is definitely what we're going to get in our original neg prints. Terry and I had always planned that this would be a widescreen picture because we wanted to see the characters within their environments; after all, that's the major focus of the story. "

- John Toll, ASC

John Toll: The Thin Red Line of Image Manipulation

From American Cinematographer, The War Within by Stephen Pizzello (February 1999)

"Terry and I agreed that this film really needed to feel as realistic as possible. Naturally, there is a certain amount of visual stylization in the film, but we tried to lend the images an integrity so that viewers could believe that they were watching a real event — without feeling as if they were being overly manipulated by a great filmmaker. I sometimes see great visual films that are obviously so well-stylized and well-controlled that I feel slightly overmanipulated; it might be fantastic, beautiful work, but in my mind I don't feel as if I'm watching reality."

- John Toll, ASC

John Toll: Inspiration from Painting

From American Cinematographer, The War Within by Stephen Pizzello (February 1999)

"During the shoot, Jack Fisk brought us this book called Images of War: The Artist's Vision of World War II [1992, edited by Ken McCormick and Hamilton Darby Perry], which presents 200 paintings by many different artists. These were artists who spent time in the front lines and came back with this fantastic artwork depicting the scenes they had witnessed, including many combat situations. All of the artists had different and unique styles. We didn't necessarily try to reproduce these pieces of art, but they did give us good ideas about color schemes and so on. The illustrations basically served as a guide to the kind of atmosphere we were after.

We'd looked at many photographs from the war, but they seemed too detailed somehow, and I wanted the imagery of our film to be a bit less clearly defined. The paintings were great because they were much more impressionistic and abstract in a way that I found more interesting than the photographs. For example, there was one drawing of Japanese prisoners sitting on the ground, and the light they were drawn in — bright contrasty sunlight which left their faces in shadow — looked very similar to the light conditions we were shooting in. There was detail in the prisoners' faces, but the highlights of the background were bright and burned-out. I thought it looked fantastic.

In some scenes [that I'd shot to that point], I had lit the actors' faces or had used fill in situations with heavy contrast, but I'd begun doing it less and less because I started to like the way the film looked when I didn't use fill — overexposing quite a bit, getting detail in the shadows and letting the highlights burn out. It looked much less controlled in an interesting way. After seeing the drawing, which was a much more exaggerated version of what we'd been doing photographically, I went with less and less added light."

- John Toll, ASC

Jean-Marc Fabre: Lengthy Sunset Scene

From American Cinematographer, Sword Pen & Family by Eric Rudolph (October 1998)

Trying to capture the setting sun in a series of shots that included dialogue was, of course, a challenge for Fabre. Additionally, the crew had only a few hours spread over two days to shoot the scenes. Only a third of the scene used real sunsets; the rest was re-created with gelled lights and filtration.

"When Channe was in the house putting on the record, it was actually raining. To simulate the setting sun, I used a 6K HMI outside with a 1/2 orange gel. I cheated by closing a curtain on the window. When the characters are on the porch, the sunset you see through the windows is real. Naturally, the sunset did not last nearly long enough for the dialogue scenes, so for those we used gelled lights and an orange lens filter. The orange filter was also used for the film's final shot."

- Jean-Marc Fabre

Jean-Marc Fabre: Observations of American vs French Crews

From American Cinematographer, Sword Pen & Family by Eric Rudolph (October 1998)

Fabre had never worked in the States before and found the American crew

"...very skillful and professional, but less emotionally involved with the film than a typical French crew. I think I prefer the French approach, but we had a good experience. They taught me a lot and I think I taught them some things as well... In France we do not have a key grip who works with flags and diffusion; the electricians handle that. Having the extra pair of hands enabled me to have greater control over the light."

- Jean-Marc Fabre


Jean-Marc Fabre: Evolving Light with Character

From American Cinematographer, Sword Pen & Family by Eric Rudolph (October 1998)

Another challenge for the cinematographer was the fact that lead actress Leelee Sobieski, 15 years old at the time of production, had to span an age range that took her from pre-adolescent to mature high-schooler. While the filmmakers employed the standard tactics which enable young actresses to age onscreen (such as adjusting makeup, hair and wardrobe), Fabre also played an important role in Sobieski's gradual transformation.

"When she is a young adolescent, the age when girls haven't yet started looking at themselves much, I took no special care with her lighting at all. She would get into the lighting that was there and I paid no particular attention to her. As she becomes interested in boys, we took a bit more care with her lighting."

Later, while shooting scenes that took place after the family moved to the States, Fabre had his cue to start "making Leelee prettier, lighting her like an actress, in a more sophisticated way."

- Jean-Marc Fabre

Constantine Makris: Natural Light Look vs. No Lighting

From American Cinematographer, Legal Eagle by Eric Rudolph (October 1998)

Makris is clearly passionate about his work, which he says is sometimes misunderstood. While the realistic lighting for Law & Order bolsters the show's credibility as much as the use of actual New York City locations does, the lighting is so authentic that some people outside of the industry think Makris's modus operandi involves simply showing up and filming with available light. In fact, the cinematographer was once asked to shoot some commercials for a politician because one of the media advisors was a fan of his Law & Order work.

"This advisor said to me, 'I love the way your show looks, because you don't light it.' Well, that 'non-light' look probably involved four 10Ks!... I'd say that was one of the greatest compliments I've ever received."

- Constantine Makris, ASC

Constantine Makris: Image Control & Post Production

From American Cinematographer, Legal Eagle by Eric Rudolph (October 1998)

While the show is closely identified with its New York setting and production base, it is produced by Universal Television, which is based in Los Angeles. This means that postproduction is done 3,000 miles away. The long-distance marriage has created some problems that Makris has recently taken steps to solve.

"They literally take our unprocessed 35mm negative and put it on a plane to Deluxe in Los Angeles! The postproduction staff began getting a bit creative, changing things I'd done. The squad room walls are green — not blue, as they have appeared to be in some shows. If I say an actor should have an orange half-shadow on his face, well, he should, because I'm the person being paid to light this show. Sometimes I want to warm up a scene with a one-quarter CTO. But when I see the show, the scene is not warm — it's white. For that reason, I started using a 1/2 CTO where I previously might have used a 1/4... Steve Garfinkle, our Kodak rep, suggested using their Grey Card Plus system. Up to that point, I had only been giving post a gray scale. With Kodak's system, with its calibration of the telecine, the colorists' job is to simply match his copy of the Grey Card Plus card to the card we film. If they do that, the show should look the way it was intended to when it reaches the home screen."

- Constantine Makris, ASC

Constantine Makris: Separation & Rim Light

From American Cinematographer, Legal Eagle by Eric Rudolph (October 1998)

"I don't like to rim-light. We do it when we need to — for example, if we have [series star] Sam Waterston in a gray suit against a brown wall — but I prefer to separate the actors using the background. I try to light and shadow the background in an interesting way that will contrast with the actors. To me, that approach is more like a feature and less like 80 percent of television, where everyone seems to have a halo."

- Constantine Makris, ASC

Constantine Makris: Windows & Shafts of Light

From American Cinematographer, Legal Eagle by Eric Rudolph (October 1998)

Makris's basic lighting approach for day interiors is to bring the key light in through a window and then fill around the actors.

"If the window is approachable on a location, that's usually where we start. However, if the location is more than a few stories up and there is only one scene, we'll try to avoid putting the window in the frame, or else gel it with ND. But if I've got three scenes to do, we'll put up a Condor and light through the window. We routinely block and light windows that are 40 to 70 feet up! On our studio sets, shining the key through the window is very common. It's not a rule, but I think the window light suits the somber tone of our stories.

If there is something interesting on somebody's desk, in their wardrobe or on their face, I'll often hit it with a shaft of light. I have mixed feelings about doing that, because I feel as if I'm 'lighting' when I do it. So I'll stop doing it for a while, and then I'll see a strong shaft of light in real life and say 'Well, maybe it's okay. These tight, strong shafts of light happen in New York City, where you will get the ambient window light and then a small, oddly shaped shaft from a reflection off another building... We use Fresnels, HMI Pars and mirrors to make our shafts. We'll cut a Fresnel or Par with diffusion or a flag, and we have different sizes of mirrors which we use to make really tight beams of light. Sometimes, in the interrogation room, we'll hit a subject with a shaft from a mirror if they have an interesting face or a tattoo. We just try to make sure it doesn't look like a spotlight!"

- Constantine Makris, ASC

Constantine Makris: Changing the Light as Actors Move

From American Cinematographer, Legal Eagle by Eric Rudolph (October 1998)

What are Makris's secrets?

"I use dimmers and cross-fading more often. We also walk lights, with electricians doing things like dipping under the frame-line to move a handheld light to the actor's new position. I read an interview with Allen Daviau [ASC] in American Cinematographer where he said, 'I don't know how to do things without walking lights or moving nets and flags as the characters move.' That comment really stuck with me and has greatly influenced how I light now, along with the revelations that came from directing. The dance between the actors and the camera is one of the most interesting facets of this show — in addition to the fact that the writing, acting and directing are so good...

If we can just use a board to bounce the light back to their faces, we will, but often we end up using a Griffolyn — anything from a 4' by 4' to a 12' by 12' — and hit it with a nine-light, from which we'll add or subtract light as the actors move closer and farther away. It's another example of how you can dramatically change the lighting during a scene. We'll bring down a single in front of some of the nine-light's bulbs as the actors get closer to the Griffolyn. We've found that you can change the lighting during a scene a great deal. As long as you have a moving camera and moving actors, the changes are invisible."

- Constantine Makris, ASC

Constantine Makris: Creative Limitations on Location

From American Cinematographer, Legal Eagle by Eric Rudolph (October 1998)

"The fun of doing this show is working on location in New York City. I think my work may be better on location than in the studio. I like to deal with real problems. Since I've figured that out, I've started imagining, when I'm in the studio, that I'm on location and that I can't pull this wall out or clamp a light to this fancy molding. Having those types of limitations seems to spur my creativity. When every accent is right and every actor is perfectly backlit, I'm not that happy. I often do my best work when there are accidents. For example, when my gaffer is moving a light to the position I gave him and I see how it hits an actor as he's moving it, I'll often say 'Stop!'; Or sometimes a lamp will go out and I'll think, 'Gee, that looks better; let's leave it out.'"

- Constantine Makris, ASC

Aaron Schneider: Power Windows

From American Cinematographer, Swanky Modes by Bob Fisher (October 1998)

Schneider: I learned a lot from him about da Vinci's Power Windows. There's a scene where I wanted to cast the shot with a blue-green kind of ugly fluorescent vibe. But a platinum blonde was supposed to be part of the scene in a sort of Marilyn Monroe kind of way. We ended up putting a Power Window over her hair and saved the yellow-blonde in her hair as a striking contrast to the scenes over-all hue. It made her otherwise ordinary blonde hair stand out as a visual icon.

Overton: When you isolate a face or object in a window, you can change colors, contrast and other details. You can solve problems and fine-tune images."

It sounds as if Power Windows was a really useful tool.

Schneider: Yes, and there are many examples. There is a scene in a boat when the characters are leaving Mexico, and it's a transition from night to sunrise. Buddy is looking over the edge of the boat. I needed Dennis Farina to pick his chin up over the threshold, so the light would hit his face. He didn't quite make it, so we lit his face in post.

Overton: When we put his face in that window, we could gradually build the light on it. We have control in the window over color, density, and brightness.

You can do that without affecting the rest of the image?

Overton: The secret to hiding Power Windows is learning to think like Aaron does on the set. You have to look at the scene and see where is the light coming from or where should it be coming from. It has to be a collaborative process.

How long have you been doing this type of work?

Overton: I got into the business about 18 years ago, starting in the electronic labs. I was the first telecine operator here [at Laser Pacific].

What's changing in your world?

Overton: There is a lot of interesting new technology, but there is also an important change in relationships with cinematographers like Aaron. More of them are becoming more knowledgeable. They see digital post as an extension of their work.

- Aaron Schneider, ASC & Colorist Tom Overton

Aaron Schneider: 1.33 to 16:9

From American Cinematographer, Swanky Modes by Bob Fisher (October 1998)

"I composed with a common top line and sides, and framed the images for 1.33:1. That's the way the program will be seen by the vast majority of people. You can't do a good job of composing for two formats at the same time. If they decide in the future to release this film in HDTV format, I'll be happy to supervise extracting a 16 by 9 image by cutting off part of the bottom of the frame. "

- Aaron Schneider, ASC


Aaron Schneider: Reversal Film

From American Cinematographer, Swanky Modes by Bob Fisher (October 1998)

"We used two Kodak Ektachrome films in 35mm format. One is a 125-speed film [5240] balanced for tungsten, and the other is a 160-speed film [5239] balanced for daylight. My friends at Kodak were very helpful in quickly generating these two stocks for our production. An entire section of their manufacturing plant had to be converted to reversal production. I think everyone in the company and at the network looked at a print of Clockers [shot by Malik Sayeed, see AC Sept. '95] to see what Ektachrome film looks like onscreen, but I was doing something different. They used a cross-processing technique on Clockers, which gives you a negative that intercuts with the rest of the footage. The side effect of the latter is very strange and peculiar color rendition. I processed normal because I wanted to use reversal for its sort of "newsreel" quality with rich blacks and all the trimmings of a positive print.

I remembered how beautiful and grainless it looked. The grain structure looks equivalent to [Eastman EXR] 5248 or 5245. It has a fluttery quality. The film's density varies in areas of middle gray and mid-tones. The film kind of breathes as if it's alive. I also did some research and found out which lenses cinematographers used 20 years ago on shows like Mannix, Cannon and MacMillan and Wife. I told my assistant cameraman that I wanted a decent set of [Panavision] Ultraspeeds that were functional, but not too functional, if you know what I mean....

Yale is the only lab that is presently processing 35mm reversal film on the West Coast, and it runs about four times slower through the soup. They could only turn out approximately 8,000 feet a day, and would need 24 hours to begin the turnaround. We ultimately convinced those concerned that a one-day delay wasn't going to be the end of the world. We actually came in under budget for exposed film too. At one point on the set Charlie blurted out, 'When I work with you, Aaron, I'm in my minimalist period.' I took it as a compliment. You know, quality over quantity.

I shot my standard exposure test using a gray-scale card with a human face and colorful fruit in the frame. I find using real objects of color we can readily identify with is more telling than a color chart. I over- and underexposed five stops in 1/2-stop increments. It's a test that shows not only the shape of the curve but the over- and underexposure latitude, as well as the [equivalent] ASA that makes the film look the way I want it. By "correcting" each over- and underexposure, I can see what the film looks like at different ASA interpretations. Leon Silverman at Laser Pacific, set up a room for studying the developed film on the telecine. From what I learned, I decided to underexpose both films by a half-stop, because it makes the images a little more saturated with deeper blacks — the exact opposite of how negative film behaves.

Two terrific cinematographers, [ASC members] Paul Ryan and Bob Primes, worked with me on the tests. We spent 12 hours shooting at Panavision — Phil Radin was kind enough to set us up with a camera and their shooting stage — and a large part of a day analyzing the results at Laser Pacific. I wanted to find the shape of the [sensitometric] curve. You only have about 3/4 of a stop less under- and overexposure with reversal film, but the shape of the curve is radically different. Negative has a more gradual curve. You lose information a lot faster with reversal film."

- Aaron Schneider, ASC

Jean Yves Escoffier: Pools of Light & Night Exteriors

From American Cinematographer, Card Sharks by Jean Oppenheimer (October 1998)

For night exteriors, he used a Lee 104 deep amber gel to suggest the warm sodium-vapor lights now being used in the Big Apple (the city formerly used mercury-vapor streetlamps, which weren't as warm). "The night stuff was beautiful," marvels New York-based gaffer Ramsey. "Some of the streets where we shot were very mundane, junky little lower East Side streets. But the way Jean Yves shot them, with the contrasts and pools of light, really brought them to life."

Night street scenes are Escoffier's favorite milieu. "I love to do the city by night," he says in a reverential tone. "It is like a painting." With a laugh, he adds, "I am a happy person by night."

The cinematographer sought to make the film's exterior night scenes more dramatic and expressionistic. "People who are addicted to playing cards are like night birds," he suggests. "They have strange minds. They are alone in the world. I didn't want them to appear in the normal light of the city by night, so I completely changed the light."

Escoffier created his dramatic nighttime exteriors partially through the use of Dino lights, which were aimed through custom-made cookies to create strong pools of light, so that people walking down the streets would travel in and out of the illuminated areas. The characters' faces were almost always highlighted with eyelights, which were either attached to the camera or held by a crew member walking beside the actor.

Jean Yves Escoffier: Filtration vs Gels

From American Cinematographer, Card Sharks by Jean Oppenheimer (October 1998)

Whereas many cinematographers would turn to filters to achieve a warm feel, Escoffier prefers gels.

"We did it all in the lighting. Jean Yves uses theatrical gels extensively, as opposed to the normal, color-temperatured correction. If you have a white light and you make it a bit warmer or cooler, that is a color-temperature correction. If you use a theatrical gel, which is a color, then that is coloring the light."

Scott Ramsey, Gaffer for Escoffier

"There is a tension between opposite colors. And when actors go from one area to another, it's as if they're crossing into a different world."

- Jean Yves Escoffier

Jean Yves Escoffier: Dark Walls & Set Lighting

From American Cinematographer, Card Sharks by Jean Oppenheimer (October 1998)

"I like dark walls because film is about people; each time you have a bright wall, the wall is stronger than the character. I like the reverse [situation]. I also like the lighting to be in intimate relationship with the set. I don't like anything artificial. The ideal situation would be if we could shoot the way the light is naturally, but obviously, if you do that, you would have too many cosmetic problems, and it would be impossible to read the subtle expressions in the actors' eyes. However, I like to go as close to natural as possible. I like to design the tension, the darkness and the brightness the way life would give it to you."

- Jean Yves Escoffier

Robert Fraisse: Lens, Light & Expose Car Chases

From American Cinematographer, Samurai Tactics by Ron Magid (October 1998)

"Most of the time, we used three or four normal cameras, plus one or two remote crash-box cameras, which were cheap cameras with cheap lenses inside very heavy and resistant metal blimp. With that kind of camera, we got very brief but incredible shots. When you shoot car chases with long focal lengths, you can shoot for 20 seconds, because you see the car far into the depth and you can let it come toward camera. But with very short focal lengths, the cars cross the frame very fast, which I think is a very strong effect. We also shot in Nice, which is an old city in the South of France with very narrow streets, so the shots automatically didn't last a long time. We needed to shoot many setups to have the continuity of the cars going from one street to another.

It was the first time in my career I worked with cars going so fast. John said, 'When I shot Grand Prix, I never cheated on the speed, so I don't want to cheat the speed now.' Sometimes, but not very often, we did shoot at 22 frames per second, or 21. The secret was using very good race-car drivers, who were used to driving at 300 kilometers [186 miles] per hour. It was amazing how fast those cars went — sometimes 160 kilometers [roughly 100 miles] per hour, even though the roads were narrow with a lot of curves.

Generally, there are devices you use when actors are supposed to be driving. For instance, you might have a moving car, with the camera and a small generator to feed your lights, towing the car with the actors. When John told me, 'I don't want to tow the cars; I want the actors to really drive the cars,' I said, 'Oh my God, how am I going to light them?' The cars were going very fast, so I couldn't put any gear on the roof, and it would've been a nightmare to put a generator in the hood. Instead, I decided to go with small 200-watt HMIs, which were fed by batteries in the trunk and fixed onto the hood or in different places outside the [actors'] car. Inside the car, I used small 2' or 1 1/2' Kino Flo daylight fluorescent lights, which now run very well on batteries.

The problem with car chases like these, is that most of the time, you are not in the car. You equip the car with cameras and lights and just let it go. When the sky is blue and the sun is bright, it's no problem — you set the f-stop and you know, more or less, that it will be the right one for the whole shot. Sometimes, though, the sun is going in and out of the clouds. In those situations, you set the stop, the car pulls away, the camera is shooting without you, and the sun comes out. You know you're going to be overexposed, but you can't do anything about it. Quite often, the cars would go from one street to another, and the light was to tally different from one to the next. I therefore had to change the f-stop while it happened. Fortunately, the high speeds of the cars helped. When I had a three-stop difference between two streets, I didn't open the iris three stops; I opened it only two stops, so the second street would still look darker than the first, which was better for the ambiance of the movie."

- Robert Fraisse

John Frankenheimer: Stunt Drivers & Actors

From American Cinematographer, Samurai Tactics by Ron Magid (October 1998)

"We had great drivers, and we did some shots with the actors in the real cars during the scenes. I got the English right-hand-drive versions of the cars we were going to shoot. That way, we could have the stunt driver on the right, driving the car, and a phony steering wheel on the left for the actors, so we could photograph the actors driving' the cars in a lot of cases. We picked Jean-Claude Lagniez as the stunt coordinator and driver, and he brought in two colleagues, Michel Neugarten and Jean-Pierre Jarrier. Together, Lagniez and Neugarten had won their category at Le Mans the year before, and Jarrier was a Formula-One driver. Those guys were really fabulous. I'd tell Lagniez what I wanted to do, and he'd figure out how to do it."

- John Frankenheimer

Robert Fraisse: Photochemical Desaturation

From American Cinematographer, Samurai Tactics by Ron Magid (October 1998)

"Since John didn't want any color, I suggested that we do a special process using Kodak's Vision 500T 5279. After rating the stock at 250 ASA, which overexposed it one stop, we then underdeveloped it, reducing the contrast and desaturating the colors. I also knew that we were going to shoot in France during the winter, when it gets dark at 5 o'clock. I needed to be able to shoot as late as possible, so I made the decision to use the 500 ASA stock for the whole movie. I generally use 5279 only for interiors on stages and on location, or when I shoot exterior night scenes. When I shoot outside, I use a slower stock. For instance, on Seven Years in Tibet, I shot all the exteriors with 5245, which is a very nice, very fine-grain stock. But I chose to shoot Ronin on the 500T stock because I knew that with the process we were using, the stock would be only 250 ASA, which is not a lot when it gets dark early and the weather is very gray during the day. Very often, I was shooting at almost full aperture — T2.3 or 2.5. At those moments, I thought I had been very wise to choose a fast stock that normally isn't used for daylight exterior scenes."

- Robert Fraisse


Stephen H. Burum: Self-Expectations

From American Cinematographer, Ringside Riddle by Stephen Pizzello (August 2008)

"An 11-year-old child could learn the mechanical craft of cinematography. The difference between cinematographers who do great work and those who just do okay work is some gift you have, some sense of taste. I think you’re always frustrated when you’re doing it, because you have this idea in your head and you can’t quite get there, even though everyone else says that what you’re doing is great. You’re always dissatisfied because you want more from the cinematography than you’re capable of giving. You can look at [fellow ASC member] Connie Hall’s films and say, ’This is just fabulous, I could never approach that’... But Connie Hall is tearing himself apart! Cinematography isn’t easy for anybody, and the more you do, the harder it gets."

- Stephen H. Burum, ASC

Owen Roizman: SFX Words Appear on Skin

From American Cinematographer, Demonic Convergence by David E. Williams (August 2008)

One particular special makeup effect relied on a simple camera trick. After opening Regan’s nightshirt, Karras is shocked to see the words "Help Me" appear as raised letters on her heaving stomach. Roizman reveals that the girl’s belly was actually a foam latex prosthetic; prior to shooting, a reactive chemical was painted onto it to create the raised letters. With his camera running in reverse, the cinematographer shot a close-up on the two words, which gradually receded as the chemical evaporated. When the footage was cut into the final film, the plea seemed to mysteriously arise from the girl’s flesh.

Owen Roizman: Breath Vapor in Cold & Light Heat

From American Cinematographer, Demonic Convergence by David E. Williams (August 2008)

Heat and lighting became key issues throughout the exorcism sequence. In the story, the paranormal activities leave the bedroom frighteningly frigid, and since the authenticity-obsessed Friedkin wanted to see the performers’ breath vapor, the set was built in a refrigerated room ironically dubbed "The Cocoon." The crew kept the room at a temperature of about -20°F, making heavy coats a necessity for anyone working in the space.

"We did some tests with the temperature at about 25 degrees, and you could see some breath, but it wasn’t really enough," Roizman says. "When the lights were turned on, their heat warmed the room so quickly that we couldn’t even get a single take. The breath showed up fine at zero, but Friedkin wanted the actors to really feel the cold because he thought it would help their acting. An actor on his knees for 20 minutes at minus 20 degrees is really going to feel the cold."

[The room was ostensibly illuminated by a pair of small table lamps set on either side of Regan’s four-poster bed. To ensure that the breath vapor would read correctly, Roizman painstakingly created a backlight effect for each actor while trying to stay true to his source-lighting approach.]

"This created a problem because our sources were right next to the bed, and [the priests] were always facing the light. The challenge was to get the backlight on the breath while keeping it off everything else. With the actors moving all the time, it became difficult to hide the backlight and keep it off them; my gaffer, Dick Quinlan, was usually sitting on the floor behind Max and Jason, handholding an inky-dink with a snoot on it and just getting the light on the vapor. He did an amazing job."

- Owen Roizman, ASC

Owen Roizman: Candle Light Strategies

From American Cinematographer, Demonic Convergence by David E. Williams (August 1998)

A sudden change in lighting strategies made a scene set in the home’s attic unexpectedly difficult. As staged, Chris was to search the spooky space by candlelight, seeking out the source of some strange and disturbing sounds. Suddenly, her candle erupts in a burst of flame.

"In preproduction, we hollowed out a candle and built in a little gas flame that would create that effect. Inside, near the top, we cut out a space for a little peanut bulb, which we would control on a dimmer for a nicely fluctuating light on Ellen’s face. By holding the candle correctly, she would be lighting her own face. Well, we got ready to do the shot, running a wire down the sleeve of her nightgown, and I said to Billy, ’Please just ask Ellen not to turn the candle, so we won’t see the bulb in there.’ He said, ’I can’t ask the actor to do that! We have to light the scene in some different way.’ We were just about to roll, but he insisted, although I knew Ellen would have done it. Besides her wonderful acting talent, she was very good about the technical side of filmmaking."

As a result, Roizman and his crew began quickly rigging the attic set with inky-dinks on dimmers, setting up a choreography to simulate the traveling candlelight effect.

"Every time I’d seen that technique used in a movie I thought it looked phony and I hated it... I hated it in this picture too. But I was caught by surprise and we had to do it in a hurry."

- Owen Roizman, ASC


Janusz Kaminski: Directors & Taking Risks

From American Cinematographer, The Last Great War by Christopher Probst (August 1998)

“I’m learning more and more about lighting...But you have to be encouraged by the directors. They allow you make the choices that take the movies to a different level. Directors can allow cinematographers to advance to another level, because we all have that capability in us. Some are so scared of taking risks that they won’t allow their cinematographers to try something new. But you can create such powerful and meaningful images by taking chances. I’m talking about things like what Robbie MŸller [BVK, NSC] did on Breaking the Waves. Bob Richardson [ASC], Vittorio Storaro [ASC, AIC] and Malik Sayeed are also very experimental. Newton Thomas Sigel did some great work on Fallen. And what Harris Savides did on The Game was fantastic; I can’t wait to see what he did for [actor/director John Turturro’s upcoming film] Illuminata. We’ve all got the ability to do groundbreaking work, and nothing is stopping us from using very experimental techniques in a major Hollywood movie if the subject matter allows it and the director is willing to go there.”

- Janusz Kaminski

Janusz Kaminski: Painting Tonal Separation (for Depth)

From American Cinematographer, The Last Great War by Christopher Probst (August 1998)

“Tom Sanders did a great job with the coloring and in making the buildings distressed and dark, but the one thing that really made the look of the movie was working with the standby painter, Joe Monks. When we started working in Ramelle, if we felt a building was too bright, and that bringing in flags and cutters for a simple day exterior shot would involve too much work, we’d have Joe come in and make the building darker. We’d give him a 10’ by 40’ wall and in five to 10 minutes he’d be done. That gave the sets much more depth and separation.”

-David Devlin (Gaffer for Janusz Kaminski on Saving Private Ryan)

Janusz Kaminski: Candle Light & China Balls

From American Cinematographer, The Last Great War by Christopher Probst (August 1998)

As the soldiers continue their quest for Private Ryan, they take shelter for the night in a bombed-out church. Illuminated by candlelight, the...

"soldiers are sitting and analyzing what has happened and what is ahead of them. It’s a very beautiful, underlit scene about three stops underexposed that has a painterly feel, as if it was lit only by the candles. There’s a very nice section of dialogue between Tom Sizemore and Tom Hanks. I wanted to create the sense that the light was coming from the candles below them, but I didn’t want to get big shadows. I ended up lighting them with China balls fitted with 1/2 CTO and 1/2 CTS. I then used a flag just outside of frame to take a little of that soft light off Sizemore, so his face was a little brighter on the bottom and then dropped off. I don’t like candle flicker effects very much, so the key was a normal [non-flickering] light, but I did have a little flicker on the fill to give it some movement. I’d tested China balls in the past and never liked their effect, but I’m learning more about how to use them now. The key is to underexpose by 11/2 stops. You also have to keep them just outside of frame but away from the walls, so you get that nice falloff in the light. Philippe Rousselot [AFC] has been using them for years, but if you look at his films, you’ll notice that the people are always positioned away from any walls. He may have a very soft China ball a few feet away from the actors, but everything falls dark behind them. Because there no other light reference in the frame, their faces still glow even if the shot is 11/2 to 21/2 stops underexposed."

- Janusz Kaminski

Janusz Kaminski: Directional & Diffused Exterior Lighting

From American Cinematographer, The Last Great War by Christopher Probst (August 1998)

Kaminski was also able to modify the sunlight to his liking for some shots by utilizing Rosco #3004 Half Soft Frost diffusion in place of an overhead silk.

"For some of the exteriors, we chose to use Half Soft because it allows the light to have some direction while still softening it," Devlin explains. "Whereas with a silk, you create an overall soft ambiance, but you then have to compete with the much-brighter backgrounds. A lot of times there’s really no difference between having a silk or a solid up. One nice thing about Half Soft Frost is that it allows the sun to have a strong direction, and yet the light will wrap enough to fill people’s eyes."

- David Devlin (Gaffer for Janusz Kaminski on Saving Private Ryan)

Janusz Kaminski: Exterior Lighting, Negative Fill & Smoke

From American Cinematographer, The Last Great War by Christopher Probst (August '98)

"For the most part, we really didn’t light much on the invasion. When the actors were in the Higgins boats, we did add some light with white and silver bounce cards to up-light the actors a little so we could see their eyes under their helmets. The ’lighting’ was more about how the negative was being exposed, the lenses and the use of the ENR. The great thing about war movies is that almost everything is drab, dark and dirty, so we weren’t fighting those elements. In fact, the actors’ eyes become [comparatively] bright because their faces are so dark and dirtied."

- David Devlin, Gaffer on Saving Private Ryan.

Kaminski determined that with constant overcast light, he could suitably control the film’s look with the aid of the Panaflasher and the ENR process. Additionally, he incorporated the heavy use of smoke which obviously was a key component in selling the "war" visually as an essential ingredient in his photography. Dense black smoke also offered the added benefit of blocking out any unwanted sunlight that might have sneaked through the cloud cover.

"One of the most amazing and awful things I’ve ever seen were these big drums of diesel fuel that the special effects guys were burning to create huge clouds of black smoke. They also designed a system for making white smoke that was mounted in the bed of a pickup, which was attached to a trailer with a 200-gallon tank of diesel fuel. They had about six of these pickup trucks that could drive up and down the beach as a self-contained unit. The lighting for that whole sequence was more about taking the light away, and when they turned those smoke machines on, it would cut down three or four stops of exposure."

"For closer shots, we’d sometimes bring in a bounce card or solid for negative fill. One of the things I’ve learned over the years while working outside is that if the cinematographer wants to control the sunlight — and the production can afford it — you should have a crane and a large frame standing by. That way you can cover a large area and get the lines [of the overhead’s coverage] out of the shot. Because we used a 30’ by 30’ silk and smoke on Private Ryan, the smoke would cover any of the lines made by the silk. Between those two elements, the ’lighting’ was consistent and it worked great."

-Key grip Jim Kwiatkowski

Janusz Kaminski: Lens Coatings, Camera Shake, High Speed & Offset Shutter

From American Cinematographer, The Last Great War by Christopher Probst (August '98)

Saving Private Ryan begins with a truly harrowing 25-minute depiction of the carnage and chaos experienced by the soldiers storming Omaha Beach. Both Spielberg and Kaminski sought to infuse the sequence with a high degree of realism, and studied newsreels and documentaries shot by combat cameramen in order to capture a true sense of the insanity and frenetic panic of war.

"We wanted to create the illusion that there were several combat cameramen landing with the troops at Normandy. I think we succeeded in emulating the look of that footage for the invasion scenes, which we achieved with both in-camera tricks and other technological means. First off, I thought about the lenses they had back in the 1940s. Obviously, those lenses were inferior compared to what we have today, so I had Panavision strip the protective coatings off a set of older Ultraspeeds. Interestingly, when we analyzed the lenses, the focus and sharpness didn’t change very much, though there was some deterioration; what really changed was the contrast and color rendering. The contrast became much flatter. Without the coatings, the light enters the lens and then bounces all around, so the image becomes kind of foggy but still sharp. Also, it’s much easier to get flares, which automatically diffuses the light and the colors to a degree and lands a little haze to the image.

If I had two cameras running on a scene, I’d mismatch the lenses on purpose, using one with coated Ultraspeeds and one without coatings. That gave us a certain lack of continuity in picture quality, which suggested the feeling of things being disjointed.

Next, we shot a lot of the film with the camera’s shutter set at 45 or 90 degrees. The 45-degree shutter was especially effective while filming explosions. When the sand is blasted into the air, you can see every particle, almost every grain, coming down. That idea was born out of our tests, and it created a definite sense of reality and urgency."

- Janusz Kaminski

"During the tests on the backlot at Universal, Steven was talking about this one shot in Empire of the Sun in which he shook the camera to get the effect he wanted. With that in mind, the best boy, Bob Anderson, attached an electric drill to the pan handle of a fluid head and locked an oblong bolt with an eccentric washer in the chuck. When activated, it created a wobbling movement and the camera shake we wanted."

- Jim Kwiatkowski (Key Grip)

"It’s a great effect, but you certainly can’t handhold the camera with a drill attached to it. Plus, your eye is constantly bopping against the viewfinder. So for handheld work, we used Clairmont Camera’s Image Shaker, which is an ingenious device. You can dial in the degree of vibration you want with vertical and horizontal settings, and mount it to a handheld camera, a crane, whatever. It’s heavy, but my camera operator, Mitch Dubin, did some amazing handheld work with it. At first we used it very conservatively, like when there was an explosion or a tank rolling by, but after seeing dailies, we just dialed it in and out as Mitch ran with the camera"

- Janusz Kaminski

"I also used another technique that Doug Milsome [BSC] utilized on Full Metal Jacket [see AC Sept. 1987] where you throw the camera’s shutter out of sync to create a streaking effect from the top to the bottom of the frame. It’s a very interesting effect, but it’s also scary because there’s no way back [once you shoot with it]. It looked great when there were highlights on the soldier’s helmets or epaulets because they streaked just a little bit. The amount of streaking depended on the lighting contrast. If it was really sunny, for instance, the streaking became too much. However, if it was overcast with some little highlights, it looked really beautiful. The streaking also looks fantastic with fire, and that’s what Milsome primarily used it for in Full Metal Jacket... "

- Janusz Kaminski

Kaminski employed Panavision Platinum and Panastar cameras throughout the Private Ryan shoot, and had Samuelson Film Services in London prepare one unit with a purposely mistimed shutter in order to create the described streaking effect. Used in combination with a narrow shutter, however, the effect was negated as the shortened shutter interval fell within the moment that the film was in its stationary position. Due to this anomaly, however, the "streaking" camera could also be used for normal shooting provided that the shutter was set between 45 and 90 degrees.

Janusz Kaminski: ENR, Blood, Texture & Panaflasher

From American Cinematographer, The Last Great War by Christopher Probst (August '98)

"We also wanted to shoot this picture in color because there is some blood in the film and we wanted to play with the reds, even though we did desaturate the colors through the use of ENR. I knew the movie would have more of a bluish tone to it, and with 70 percent ENR, the color of the blood on the uniforms and the ground was a primary concern. For scenes in which the characters got wounded, we wanted to know how the blood would look on the uniforms and how it would look after they wore those uniforms for a couple of days. Because we were dealing with a World War II drama, the wardrobe was already muted, and since we were shooting in England and Ireland, we had day after day of foggy, rainy climate, which automatically made the light more diffused and the colors more pastel. We therefore compared various levels of ENR, and based on those tests, the special effects department mixed a certain amount of blue into the blood to make it a bit darker than they’d normally use... I think the biggest mis-conception about ENR that everyone talks about is what the process does to the shadows to make them deeper and richer. Yes, that is one aspect of the process, but the biggest thing about ENR that no one seems to be talking about is what it does to the highlights and colors. If you shoot a test and compare a shot with ENR and without, the clothing will look much sharper and you will see the texture and pattern of the fabric in the ENR print. This was especially true on Amistad, on which we used about 40 to 50 percent ENR. As a result, all of the Africans’ clothing had much more texture. On Saving Private Ryan, the uniforms benefited as well. The edges of the shirts and the helmets were sharper, and the process also worked magic on metallic surfaces and water reflections, which become like mercury. It’s so gorgeous... Additionally, I again used a Panaflasher in conjunction with the ENR process, as I had on Amistad. Because of the contrast that you get with the ENR, I was flashing at about 15 percent so that I didn’t get totally sharp blacks. I was looking for a slightly flatter look. The Panaflasher also contributed greatly to the color being more desaturated. You gain the contrast back with the ENR, but you’ve desaturated the color already with the Panaflasher."

- Janusz Kaminski


Brian Reynolds: How Buildings Effect Light

From American Cinematographer, Policing A New Beat by Bob Fisher (July, 1998)

The milieu of NYPD Blue is Manhattan, where tall buildings diffuse and filter the warmth out of sunlight before it reaches ground level. Though Brooklyn South occurs in an adjacent metropolitan area, its setting might as well be a different universe.

"Brooklyn doesn’t have a lot of really high structures, so you see more of the sky, and the light is a bit warmer and more direct. It’s more of a natural look, with a more exposed daylight source and less light bouncing around." In addition, the scripts are not about detectives, but about cops in uniform who live with the unexpected every day.

- Brian Reynolds (DP for NYPD Blue 1st 4 seasons, and Brooklyn South Pilot_