Karl Walter Lindenlaub: Adapting for New Film Stocks

From American Cinematographer, This Old House by David E. Williams (August 1999)

Dailies and prints for The Haunting were handled by Technicolor, and like some other cinematographers who have now used Vision negative and print stocks in combination, Lindenlaub found that their increased contrast compelled him to rethink his lighting methods.

"The 79 is more contrasty than [EXR] 5298 was—with the newer stock, the blacks fill up and grain disappears, but latitude disappears as well. To my surprise, the Vision print stocks became the only option for release prints after April [of this year]. Between that factor and our dark sets, I had to reevaluate all of my lighting ratios, especially for moonlight effects—and those were methods that I had been using for 20 years! For moonlight, I would normally go two stops under on the faces, and the backlight would be the moonlight at key. On this film, though, two stops under was almost too dark, because everything just under that would drop to black. With 98, you would have had a stop or so left, and you’d get some shadow detail, but that’s not the case now unless you use more fill. The amount of fill determines the look of the movie much more than any other factor, but on this picture I was adding a lot more fill than my eye was used to seeing, which meant that I had to depend on my meter much more. My exposures had to be precise as well, because the 79 doesn’t handle under- or overexposure very well—it gets too milky. Grain isn’t a problem, but milky blacks look wrong to me."

Asked if using other stocks were an option, Lindenlaub replies,

"No, we needed the speed because of our big sets, but because we were using so much smoke in the film, the grain in 5298 would be too apparent. Before this, I’d used the Vision 5277 320T, which has much lower contrast, but I overexposed it to get good blacks. I liked it because it took the contrast out of faces and was more flattering, but it was too slow. I also looked at Vision 800T 5289, but I wasn’t too happy with the grain. The 89 would be a great stock for a gritty big-city thriller, but not for The Haunting .

I know that some people’s use of lab processes like ENR to get better blacks prompted Kodak to add contrast to their stocks, but not everybody wants it. If I ever wanted more contrast, I could do it with my lighting. Now, lighting for 79—in combination with the Vision print stocks— is like lighting 5247 or 45 in the studio, and it will take time to get used to that. Of course, the blacks we got with 79 were great for the atmosphere of our film, since it’s a dark movie."

- Karl Winston Lindenlaub, ASC, BVK

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