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

No comments:

Post a Comment

I am always open to relevant, professional feedback, opinions and critical critique.

go raibh maith agat!