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.

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