Jeffrey Reyes joins ZGC Inc.


Jeffrey A. Reyes has joined ZGC as Director of Sales for the Americas—North and South. (ZGC distributes Cooke lenses in the Americas.)

Jeffrey  worked in sales, customer service, and independent film production. He recently worked for 6 years at ARRI as Director of Sales for Latin America handling camera, lighting, accessories and lenses.

Jeffrey will live in LA, on airplanes and hotel rooms.

The rest of the Cooke team continues as always: Thomas Greiser is Director of Sales, Europe, Australasia, and Africa. Geoffrey Chappell is Director of Sales, Asia and Middle-East. Juergen Schwinzer handles special projects.

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Denz Anamorphic Viewfinder



Here’s an anamorphic update on the venerable DENZ optical viewfinder.

The OIC 35-A from Munich-based Denz is can switch back and forth between spherical and anamorphic viewing. The ground glass holder has been adapted from the OIC 35 and allows use of all previous Arriflex 435 ground glasses.

The new OIC 35-A Anamorphic/Spherical Viewfinder has an adjustable eye-piece (+/-3 diopter), removable eyecup, and comes in PL or Panavision mounts.

Contacts: Präzisionsentwicklung DENZ Fertigungs GmbH, Otto-Hahn-Str. 12-14, D-85521 Ottobrunn/München, Tel.: +49 (89) 62 98 66 0

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50 Years Ago Today: Ranger 7


50 years ago, on July 31, 1964, Ranger 7 took the first pictures at close range of the Moon. These pictures were made with Angenieux 25mm f: 0.95 M1 lenses.

The Ranger program was a series of nine unmanned space missions by the United States in the 1960s, between 1961 and 1965, whose objective was to obtain the first close-up images of the surface of the Moon: large-scale topographic information needed for the Surveyor and Apollo projects. The Ranger spacecraft were designed to take images of the lunar surface, transmitting those images to Earth until the spacecraft were destroyed upon impact. A series of mishaps, however, led to the failure of the first six flights.

Ranger 7 was the first US space probe to successfully transmit close images of the lunar surface back to Earth. It was also the first completely successful flight of the Ranger program. Launched on July 28, 1964, Ranger 7 was designed to achieve a lunar impact trajectory and to transmit high-resolution photographs of the lunar surface during the final minutes of flight up to impact. Ranger 7 reached the Moon on July 31, 1964.


Angenieux 25 mm M1 lens

Read the complete story from Angenieux about Ranger and Apollo missions using Angenieux lenses. Download the PDF here:  AngenieuxRanger-50Years-fdt





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Luc Besson’s “Lucy” Opens Today… Interview with Thierry Arbogast, AFC

ABS-38858 Thierry Arbogast

Thierry Arbogast, AFC

Thierry Arbogast, AFC is an award–winning French cinematographer. He was born in France in 1957. His work with director Luc Besson began in 1989 with “La Femme Nikita.” Their most recent collaboration, “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson, opens July 25, 2014. Among many awards, Thierry won the Vulcan Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for “The Fifth Element” in 1997, the César Award for Best Cinematography in 1998 for “The Fifth Element,” and the César again for Best Cinematography in 2004 for “Bon Voyage.” Thierry’s other credits include “Léon: The Professional” (1994), “Asterix at the Olympic Games” (2008), “The Lady” (2011), “Malavita (The Family)” (2013), and about 70 more films.


Writer-Director-Camera Operator! Luc Besson on “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson, with Sony F65. Photos in this article by Jessica Forde. ⓒ Universal Pictures

“Lucy” was directed by Luc Besson. He was born in Paris in 1959. His parents were Club Med scuba instructors. His first big success was “The Big Blue” (1988) about free diving, followed by “La Femme Nikita” in 1990. He won a César for Best Director on “The Fifth Element” as well as many other awards. He founded EuropaCorp in 2000, built the Cité du Cinema stages and post facilities in Saint-Denis in the film district of Paris, and worked on more than 50 films as writer, director and producer.

Luc Besson’s films are renowned for their highly visual style, edge-of-the-seat action, quirky characters, and delicious dialog (Léon: And stop saying “okay” all the time. Okay? Mathilda: Okay. Léon: Good.)

Besson writes and is involved in every aspect of his films. He operates the camera himself. His prodigious handheld camera work and great gliding moves deserve recognition by the Society of Camera Operators. He has always favored the latest, most innovative technologies. He also seems to be daring in his choices of cameras, no matter the size or weight—as long as it fulfilled the high technical bar he required. At a time when most people shunned the Arriflex 535—Bill Bennett, Gary Thiltges, Jim Jannard and I were lonely members of the original unofficial 535 owners’ association—there was Luc Besson in many production stills, shown fearlessly handholding the 535 on “The Fifth Element.” For “Lucy,” he purchased two Sony F65s at a time when few people in Europe were using those cameras. Colleagues noticed and the camera gained acceptance.

Behind the scenes video from IMDB (4:38 min)

Jon Fauer, ASC spoke with Thierry Arbogast a few days ago. Thanks to Julien Bachelier, DIT, for additional editing on this interview.

JON FAUER: What cameras were you using on “Lucy?”

THIERRY ARBOGAST: We shot most of the film with two F65 cameras. We chose them after doing many tests with all the major brands. After screening the results in a theater, our favorite camera for the look of this film was the F65—especially for its color space.

Did you shoot it in 4K?

Yes, of course, we shot in 4K. I think there will be selected screenings in 4K. But probably 90% of the film release will be projected in 2K.

Where did you rent the equipment from?

The camera equipment came from the rental house Next Shot.

I visited there last year—in la Cité du Cinema, Paris.

They bought two F65 cameras for the movie because they didn’t have any when we chose the F65 for the film. So Next Shot bought two Sony F65s for the movie and also an ARRI/FUJINON Alura 18-80 mm zoom.

Tell me about the lenses that you used on the show.

We shot with the Cooke S4/i primes. The Cooke S4 is my favorite prime lens. We had the complete set (12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 25, 27, 32, 35, 40, 50, 65, 75, 100, 135, 150, 180 mm). And we had two zooms. The 18-80 ARRI/Fujinon and an Angenieux Optimo 24-290. I like this Optimo zoom; I think it is one of the best. The 18-80 is a very good zoom for Luc because he likes to operate the camera with a short lens but he sometimes wants to zoom during the shot. The 24-290 was for long lens shots, but we didn’t use it that much. Just sometimes.

Since you had two F65 cameras, were you shooting both at the same time?

No, we never used them simultaneously. We had two cameras because Luc likes to have the second camera ready to go any time. The main camera, operated by Luc, usually had the 18-80 zoom. But the second camera was always on the side ready to go with a Cooke S4. For example, we might be shooting with the “A” camera and then Luc would ask for a Steadicam shot. But, of course, he’d supervise the Steadicam shot.

Isn’t the F65 heavy for Steadicam?

Not really. The F65 looks a little bigger than other cameras—especially bigger than the RED, which is very small. But if we compare weights, the F65 is not very heavy. (11 lb / 5 kg.) The Sony’s body is made of something lightweight (magnesium). It looks big, but it’s completely lightweight. Unfortunately, the F65 looks like a cheap camera. If we compared the styling of the F65 to other cameras, the others look much better.

But in our tests, we and our colorists found that the images on the F65 had the best picture, the best color space for this film.

What was the look or the style for this film?

We spoke about the style of the movie during pre-production. Luc told me he wanted something like “Inception.” He told me he wanted something close to that look and we decided with the assistance of some reference photos with the art department. Especially in Taipei, the look was very colorful, very shiny.

Did you soften the image with filters or shoot clean?

Just clean. Luc always works with a clean picture. Always. No diffusion, no filters.

So you and he are not afraid of 4K for faces? Unlike some of our other colleagues who seem to be concerned about that?

No, we always try to find something sharp, with high definition, and we are not afraid of 4K.

I love anamorphic lenses, but Luc has not wanted to work with anamorphic lenses for quite some time. When we did “Fifth Element,” Digital Domain asked for it to be shot in spherical, Super 35mm. Since then, Luc has worked with spherical lenses. He came back to anamorphic lenses only for “Malavita” (“The Family”) with Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer. The French title “Malavita” comes from the name of the dog in the story. It was a very famous book and this was an adaptation. It made a lot of money. Luc asked me what I thought for lenses on his last 35mm film. He was thinking it would probably be the last movie that he was going to make using motion picture film. He asked me if I agreed to shoot in anamorphic. And I said, “Wonderful, I love anamorphic lenses.” We used the Panavision anamorphic G-Series lenses, Primo Close Focus, and some anamorphic zooms.

But for this movie, “Lucy,” he told me he preferred to shoot in spherical because it’s would be easier with effects, and also there would be a lot of close focus. It was Luc’s choice. Also with the F65, it would be bad to shoot in anamorphic because the sensor is not tall enough.

Because it’s 16×9 and the sensor height is less than 18mm?

Yes, it will crop. So we tested spherical lenses with the F65. We liked the Cooke S4 set. They are very good lenses, very sharp, very beautiful. But they are not too “crispy,” you know? I think it’s good for digital to be not too sharp…not too hard or harsh.

Where did you get the S4 Cookes? From EMIT?

Next Shot already had many S4s primes. But I wanted a complete set, so they just bought the rest.

You shot the entire film with F65 cameras?

Yes, most of it.

What is “Lucy” about?

It’s a story about a woman. You can get some information about the story from the Internet. But I can’t speak about the story because it’s opening soon.

I’m reading online: “A woman accidentally caught in a dark deal turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.” So it’s science fiction and action, right?

Yes, exactly. Some parts are science fiction. But it’s not complicated science fiction. It’s a story in the reality of the city. It’s a normal movie, but there are some parts that are a little futuristic.

Getting back to the style. Your lead actress is Scarlett Johansson, a beautiful woman.

She’s a beautiful woman. We used ring lights on the camera all the time. Because I wanted to have very good highlights in the eyes. I wanted her to be as beautiful as possible. I used the ring light a lot of times, with a dimmer. The dimmer was controlled wirelessly. When the camera moved, I could dial the brightness of the ring light up and down.

Is it wireless? Do you do it by remote control?

Yes, exactly. For example, if I do a travelling shot with Scarlett, and if at some point we go in front of a mirror or glass, I can go down or turn if off if there is a reflection of the ring light in the glass. Also, if the actress comes close to the lens, I can go down or I can go up if she goes a little further away.

This is on the zoom lens?

The ring light was attached to the zoom lens. And also on the Steadicam with the Cooke S4 lens.

Really? You had a ring light on the Steadicam?

Exactly, but we built a special ring light for the Steadicam. The ring light was in daylight, but we had some filters that we put in front to go warmer and to go to tungsten. I asked my gaffer to make one with different LEDs. Warm and tungsten and daylight. But it was not possible to do it so quickly. So we only had one in daylight and we used gels to warm it. But next time if I have to do a movie with a ring light again, I’m going to try to build one with two different LED colors: tungsten and daylight so we can mix them together and chose the perfect color that we want.

Let’s talk about the lighting in general.

On this movie we used all the latest technology in lighting, LED, and so on. In Taipei, I used some ARRI LED units that can go red, yellow, blue, every color. You can turn the button and it goes to any color you want. I used that for the Taipei shots with Scarlett in a taxi. When we had a close-up of her at night in the taxi, or in the street, there were a lot of different color signs outside. Taipei has many huge color signs everywhere in the street. So we put some LEDs near the lens and I changed the color to red, blue, green. It was very nice.

We also used these lights in the nightclub scene. It’s a flashback. The look of the movie is quite colorful.

What key lights did you use for your big setups?

I used big 18K lights in the stage. We had a lot of sets on stage and I recreated daylight for the hotel scene. We had a lot of scenes in the big hotel and we created a lot of daylight—big sources of light from outside. We used a lot of blue screen also. Actually, the majority of the movie was shot on the stage. After shooting the real locations, we matched them on the stage. In Taipei, we shot in some real locations—including some bad restaurants and some crappy locations—but they are very beautiful in the movie.

With all of those different locations, did you use the built-in ND filters inside the F65?

On stage, not so much. There, I adjusted the ISO sensitivity of the camera. But outside, of course, when we shot in real daylight with the sun, we used the ND filters.

For exteriors, did you use HMI lights?

Not so much. We used a lot of natural light. We had a chase sequence in Paris that was very sunny, with very natural light. Afterwards, we matched it with the car and the actors on stage. So the big chase was in the real location, with the car moving; but inside the car, we matched everything on the stage with the actors because we didn’t want to have the actors doing this chase in the streets of Paris.

What lights did you use on the stage to match?

HMI to recreate daylight. We put a circular track around the car and used an HMI—probably 12K—to recreate the sun. This HMI sun was on the track so we could move it around the car to have the feeling that the car was turning.

Did you shoot in slow motion?

Not really. Luc didn’t use slow motion for this movie.

Where did you do post production and grading?

At the Digital Factory ( in the Cité du Cinema. On Lustre. Luc always wants to do the grading in France. Since his very first movie, he has done the grading in France.

When you were shooting, did you have a DIT to set the looks?

Yes, I have a DIT on the set all the time to check the exposure and to be sure that there are no technical problems. And also I have a Data Manager to take care of the back end.

Do you operate the camera or one of the cameras?

Luc does the camera operating himself. Always. From the beginning, from his first movie, he was always behind the camera himself. Luc usually works with only one camera. If there are some action scenes, sometimes he uses the second camera for something very special, but not usually. If there is a second camera, I take it. But because we had the Steadicam 75% of the time, it was standing by, ready to go, already configured.

When you are not operating second camera, are you watching on a monitor?

Yes. We had a Sony OLED monitor that I liked very much for the whole movie.

I’m looking at IMDB. It says that you used an Alexa and an Epic for some shots?

Yes. For the car chase in Paris, as background plates. We needed to match the chase with the actors later in the studio. We shot the chase during the middle of August. Paris is completely empty during August. It’s the best time to do a chase. But the chase was supposed to be with the actors and the actress and they were not available at this time. Scarlett came to Taipei in September. So we filmed the chase elements without the actors. We mounted six RED cameras on a camera car: one in front, one behind, two on the sides, one tight, one wide. At every point, we needed to match the actors. We had this camera car do the chase along the rue du Rivoli in Paris. At the time, it was very difficult to find six F65s in Paris. It was easier to find six RED cameras in Paris. That’s the reason why we shot with the RED in 4K, which was very comfortable.

So the RED cameras were for the car chase and what was the Alexa for?

Alexa was also used from time to time because it was easier to find for occasional extra camera shots. I love the Alexa too. We also did some shots with the Canon 5D. We used the 5D for some very small, very quick shots. But when you have an action scene, quickly cut, it’s not a big deal to match everything together. There are some shots that are just two seconds long.

Since we may have people from Sony reading this, do you have any comments to them on what you liked about the camera, what you didn’t like, what you’d like them to improve for the next camera?

If I have some suggestions for the F65, it would be a bigger 4:3 sensor for the anamorphic lenses (18 x 24 mm). Not the 16:9 sensor. The bigger the sensor, the happier I am. At minimum, an anamorphic lens should cover it (without cropping).

On this show, what aspect ratio was it? 2.35:1?

Yes. We shot 2.35:1, spherical, Super 35mm. But for the next movie, if I want to use anamorphic lenses, I would be happy to have the quality of the F65 with a bigger sensor that captures the full 4:3 anamorphic squeezed frame (23.76 x 17.82 mm).

Why are so many people interested in anamorphic?

Because of the style of anamorphic, because of the depth of field anamorphic lens, and especially the quality. There are some old lenses that provide a very nice atmosphere and picture. We don’t always need to be so realistic and anamorphic offers something that may be a little more poetic in style. It’s my point of view but it’s the same for a lot of cinematographers.

A lot of us love anamorphic lenses, especially in digital because it blocks the digital style. I am very open. There are some movies I prefer to make in Super 35 with prime spherical lenses. But there are also some movies that I prefer to make in anamorphic. I choose ARRI Alexa for anamorphic because it’s the only camera that has a digital sensor that covers the full anamorphic lens. The new RED Dragon camera has a sensor that is bigger—it crops a little less – but it still crops. But the F65 crops too much when we use anamorphic lenses.

If you had a choice of shooting anamorphic 35mm, which lenses would you prefer?

At the moment, I am shooting a movie using a set of Panavision Primo close focus anamorphics. They are heavy, but I don’t care. Because the camera is on a dolly. The minimum focus is 2.5 feet. For the Steadicam or handheld camera I have 3 Kowa anamorphic lenses… not so bad. I have a 40, 50 and 75 mm. Good quality. So I match them with the Primos. It’s nice. I think it’s a good combination. And no zoom.

What camera are you using for this?

I’m using ARRI Alexa. Because of the 4:3 sensor. If Sony had the same sized sensor, I might use the F65.

How would you describe the color space of the F65?

I made tests—almost ten different shots, two shots outside, three shots in stage, two shots in the real location. We tested three different cameras and then we worked on the grading. First we graded the images to make the cameras’ picture as similar as possible in the DI. When we adjusted the three cameras almost all the same, Luc came to the screening and said that he liked the F65 best for the color and look of the film we were about to make. We tried to match everything. We tried to match the three cameras together to have the same look, but it was impossible to be the same, of course, because they are different cameras. Luc was referring to the green of the trees, the costumes, the skin tones of the models. For the look of “Lucy,” we felt the F65 was the best for the skin tones and for the colors of the film. I mean, it’s not a huge difference. You have to look a few times to be sure because it was very close when we tried to match in the DI. Also, the person doing the grading told me that with the F65 it’s very easy to find the natural color.

Was this the first digital film for Luc Besson?

Yes. It was the first digital film for him. The first one that he directed. But not the first one that he produced. On “Malavita,” we did some night shots with the Alexa. Because it was easier to catch the streetlights of the village. If we had done it in 35 mm, it would have been at 500 ISO. With Alexa, we could go to 1200 easily. And also we could open the shutter. I don’t mind opening the shutter to 360 degrees if there is not too much motion blur on the actors’ faces.

So whose idea was it to shoot “Lucy” in digital as opposed to film?

It was an evolution. A while ago I asked Luc if he wanted to shoot in digital and he said, “No, I want to shoot in 35mm.” But we did some tests back then with the F35 and the Panavision Genesis. Also at night, in the Place de la Concorde. I used the two cameras together, F35 and Genesis for a few shots. Because he didn’t want to use cherry pickers with HMI lights at night. He wanted to catch the natural light from the street lights in the Place de la Concorde. So we started in digital with Luc on this movie. On other movies, except “Malavita,” he asked me if it’s possible to use digital for night scenes. On “The Lady” we shot the whole movie in 35mm film. But with the evolution of digital, the quality of the cameras was getting better and better, and I said to Luc, “Now maybe it’s good to go digital.” For “Malavita,” he said, “No, I want to make ‘Malavita’ in 35mm. It’s probably the last movie that I’m going to do in film.” But for the next one, he said, “OK, I agree to shoot in digital.” When he saw the test, he approved the Sony F65. It’s nice because digital is getting technically better and better. I am not sure – but maybe Luc will go back to film for his next movie. It’s not impossible, you know? But for this movie, he agreed to shoot in digital.

It’s interesting that you chose the F65. I know a couple of rental houses in Paris bought F65s and they really couldn’t rent them for a while. And then all of the sudden you started using them and now everybody wants to shoot F65.

I know the F65 was not very popular a few years ago. The F65 came out 3 years ago, but this camera was not very popular until now. Two years ago, nobody wanted to use it. From the beginning, Sony said why not use the F65, make some tests, try it. Few people knew about it before.

I think also in the beginning people were afraid of 4K and maybe now it’s more accepted in France?

I don’t think so. The RED was already in 4K, you know? The RED was very popular. So I don’t think that’s the reason. I think the reason that the camera was not popular is it’s a little ugly. It looks a little cheap. And it’s a little too big. So people stayed away from a big camera. It’s a big camera. Much bigger than the others.

The film business is almost like the fashion business. If the camera’s not stylish, they’re not going to use it. It’s like fashion.

Yes, exactly. Not fashionable. Sony has to think about that. The Genesis was very ugly too.

Actually the Genesis, the Panaflex, and the F65 all kind of look the same?

The Alexa and the RED have the best designs at the moment for sure. The ARRI D-21 was not very pretty.

Do you use a light meter or how do you determine exposure?

No, no, I rarely use a light meter. Sometimes I use one during pre-light when I need to have a little reference of the level of the light. But on the set I don’t need it. Because we have the monitor. We know the exposure exactly: the blacks, the whites, if we are over or under, we know. Especially with the DIT, we speak about that. We don’t need light meters anymore with digital. I know there are some DPs who use light meters, but it’s a little funny. But sometimes it’s good to double check to be sure that the camera is doing well.

So physically on the set, you’re watching the same monitor as the DIT and then you say make it darker, lighter and so on?

Yes. I advise the DIT on the exposure because sometimes I want it to be much darker or sometimes I don’t care to be overexposed in some part of the picture. I might say, “No, no, you can go up in the picture” or “You can go down.” I love digital cameras now because you have the complete picture on the set. You don’t have to wait for the lab to process the film and screen the film dailies the next day. It’s very comfortable to have the picture on the set and to know is exactly where you go.

No more scary telephone calls in the middle of the night from the lab.

Exactly. I waited a long time for the digital cameras to have the quality they have now. In 1990, we saw the first digital cameras, but they were really still photography cameras. And I was thinking if there were some digital still photography cameras in 1990, probably in 10 years, we would have the similar digital technology in motion picture cameras. But it was not completely true. We waited a lot longer. I think the Genesis was probably the first good camera in digital. Before that, I didn’t really want to use a digital motion picture camera because I didn’t feel the quality was not good enough. So the first good quality camera in digital was the Genesis from my point of view. And when the Genesis appeared, I wanted to use it as soon as possible.

You didn’t like the F23, a 2/3 inch camera?

No. There were no digital cameras before the Genesis good enough for me. Of course, I am very happy to work in digital now, but I am not happy to work in digital if the digital is not the same quality as film. Because there is no reason to go so fast to digital if it is not as good as film. But I think with the Genesis, it was maybe not the same quality, but close enough.

And the F65 is definitely as good as film?

Maybe better. Especially now that we’re screening in 4K. The F65 has an 8K sensor.

How did you screen your dailies on “Lucy?”

I saw the picture on the set. I did the grading with the DIT. And after that we had an iPad with a reference of every scene. But on the set I saw every shot, every setup. After, I don’t care to see dailies. It’s not my thing to see dailies. The dailies are for the Director and for the Editors later on. But for me, I don’t need to see dailies. When we finish the day, for me, it’s completely finished. I don’t need to come back to the dailies. But I keep every picture on the iPad. It’s a still frame. Sometimes I want to be sure to have the same reference if I have to match something, so the iPad helps remember what picture we did.

Does Luc watch dailies on a big screen like a 4K projection or something?

Luc just wants to be sure that post-production is happy and there are no technical problems. He doesn’t need to see dailies on a big screen. Post-production makes a DVD or whatever that he sometimes uses to see the dailies for himself. Or he starts editing during shooting. I think sometimes during the weekends he goes to the editing room or to see some sequences or to see some dailies.

Have you seen the finished film yet?

Yes. I’ve seen the movie. But not the 4K screening yet. Luc asked me to come to a screening a few days ago, but I was not available because I am shooting the Jean-Paul Rappeneau movie (“Belles familles”) now.

How did you get started in film? Did you go to film school?

No, I never went to film school. When I was a child, I wanted to make movies and be a DP. When I was about 12, I had a Super 8mm camera and I would make films by myself. And at one point, when I was 17 years old, I began working with a DP as a First Assistant on some very small, cheap movies in 16mm. I worked my way up. After eight years as an assistant, I began working as a DP.

Are you also teaching film these days?

No, not really. I’m too busy working. I don’t have time to teach. But if La Femis asked me to come, I would go maybe one day. I taught one day at Luc’s school in the Cité du Cinema.

How was that?

Good, I was very happy to do that.

Is there anything else you would like to add about “Lucy?”

I think we made a very nice movie with Luc. I think the picture looks good in the trailer And I am sure it’s going to be a good film. I have a feeling that the movie is going to be a big success. It’s just my feeling.

Congratulations in advance. I think you’ll have a great success and you’ll be widely applauded.

Also, I just want to say that Luc’s films are always very beautiful. Because it’s Luc’s style. It’s something that we work on together. He helped me a lot to make this picture so good. It’s a collaboration. Luc has a very good style.

Your first film together was which one?

“Nikita.” In 1990. It’s a long time ago. And we have worked together ever since. I have shot all his films since “Nikita.” “The Professional,” “The Fifth Element…” I’m very happy to work with him all the time.



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Blackmagic Camera Updates


Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Price Reduced

Blackmagic Design announced a discount for their  Pocket Cinema Camera, previously  US $995, now $495. Limited time: sale ends August 31, 2014, subject to limited availability. Price reverts back to original rate, or (pure speculation–is a new model coming for IBC?)

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is a marvelous, little, point-and-shoot-sized video camera with a Super 16mm size 1080 HD sensor, with 13 stops of dynamic range, built in SD card recorder for Apple ProRes 422 HQ, 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW, and active Micro Four Thirds lens mount that accepts a multitude of MFT still lenses and mount adapters (including PL).

  • Standard connections including mini jack mic/line audio in, micro HDMI output for monitoring with camera status graphic overlay, headphone mini jack, LANC remote control and standard DC 12 power connection.
  • Built in LCD for camera settings via easy to use menus..
  • Supports 1080HD resolution capture in 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97 and 30 fps.
  • Compatible with DaVinci Resolve Lite color grading software.

Apple ProRes formats for all Blackmagic Design Cameras

Blackmagic Design also announced the immediate availability of Camera 1.8.2 software which adds three new Apple ProRes file formats for the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and Blackmagic Production Camera 4K. Camera 1.8.2 update is available now free of charge from the Blackmagic Design website (support-Professional Cameras).

Blackmagic Design cameras recorded in both CinemaDNG RAW or compressed ProRes 422 HQ formats. This new software update adds three additional Apple ProRes file formats: ProRes 422, ProRes 422 LT and ProRes 422 Proxy. This means significantly smaller video file sizes allowing much longer recording times on the same media card in 10-bit 4:2:2.

With ProRes 422 Proxy it is possible to record 230 minutes of 1080 HD video on a single 64GB SD drive. Selecting the type of ProRes format for recording can be set via the on screen menus and all ProRes types can be played back instantly.

All ProRes files recorded with Blackmagic Cinema Cameras and Blackmagic Production Camera 4K can be opened directly in DaVinci  Resolve 11 and Apple Final Cut Pro X for immediate color correction, editing and finishing.


Criterion Collection on British Airways

British Airways began showing some Criterion Collection in-flight movies this month.

Criterion Collection has provided some of the highest quality DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming transfers of original films since 1984 – uncut and in the original aspect ratio. Hopefully they will be presented without the dreaded words “reformatted to fit this screen.”


Passport Expirations and Travel Woes

With the IBC-Photokina-Cinec trifeca rapidly approaching, check your passport.

  • Does it expire in 6 months?
  • Do you have at least 2-4 blank pages for stamps/visas?

The tales of woe from many colleagues and the lack of clear guidance from the airlines means it’s wise to check. Many people we know were denied boarding when they checked in because the passport was due to expire within 6 months. Since the airline asks you to enter  passport data, including expiration date,  when you buy your ticket — it’s ridiculous that they don’t catch this in advance.

It gets worse. A prominent board member flew all the way to Europe (airline didn’t catch the expiration date upon boarding), but was held at EU immigration upon arrival. Luckily the US Consulate was open and he had connections. All the more ironic, since he was detained in the city of his birth.

The rules are online — but you have to check:

I never heard of the 2-4 page blank page rule before, but it’s there.



Leica Cine Camera 1911

L1000151-Barnack-CineCamera1911Leica Camera. Wetzlar, Gemany. We’re back at Leica’s new headquarters, investigating a mystery. Last month several jaws dropped at the sight of a 1911 hand-cranked 35mm cine camera, built by Oskar Barnack, on display in the lobby. Why did this camera not go into production? Instead, another Barnack project, the Liliput 35mm still camera, was developed and became the legendary Leica. Experts are weighing in. The adventure continues…


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ARRI Alexa gets ProRes 4444 XQ


ARRI Alexa now supports Apple’s new ProRes 4444 XQ codec. This is now the highest quality version of ProRes — with a 1:4.5 compression ratio and a data rate of around 500 Mbps.

(In comparison, ProRes 4444 had a compression of 1:6.8 and a data rate of 330 Mbps.)

Final Cut Pro version 10.1.2 handles ProRes 4444 XQ. Alexa XT and Classic cameras with the XR Module will be able to encode ProRes 4444 XQ with ARRI’s Software Update Packet SUP 10, which is scheduled for an open beta in July and a final release in August. Alexa XR/XT cameras will support ProRes 4444 XQ in both HD and 2K resolutions.

As Marc Shipman-Mueller explained, “the higher the data rate, the less compression, the better the image.” It’s as simple as that — however, there’s a lot more information:

See ARRI’s page on ProRes 4444 XQ.

Read Apple’s ProRes Report.

Here is a Q&A from Marc:

Q: What is the advantage of ProRes 4444 XQ?

A: ProRes 4444 XQ has a lower compression ratio (about 1:4.5) than ProRes 4444 (about 1:6.8). This means a higher data rate, which is great for doing extreme color grading in post. The fact that it is a 12 bit RGB codec (like ProRes 4444) also helps in preserving the superior tonal range of ALEXA’s Log C signal.

Q: Who will use ProRes 4444 XQ?

A: ProRes 4444 XQ is one more choice available, in addition to the other ProRes codecs, ARRIRAW and DNxHD. Customers can choose the recording format that best matches their post workflow, distribution format and budget. This flexibility has always been one of the great advantages of ALEXA cameras. While we expect ProRes 4444 to continue to be the most popular recording format for ALEXA shows, we think that a number of commercials and high end TV shows will want to use ProRes 4444 XQ.

Q: When will ProRes 4444 XQ be available for ALEXA?

A: ProRes 4444 XQ is a feature of the free-of-charge Software Update Packet SUP 10.0, which is scheduled for an open beta in July and a final release in August. We are currently deep in the testing phase of SUP 10, and depending on how testing goes the releases will be earlier or later in those months.

Q: Which ALEXA models will support ProRes 4444 XQ ?

A: ProRes 4444 XQ will work on all ALEXA XT cameras and all ALEXA Classic cameras with the XR Module upgrade. The reason is that the XR/XT cameras have a much more powerful compression board than the ALEXA Classic cameras. The compression board of ALEXA Classic cameras cannot handle the higher data rate of ProRes 4444 XQ.

Q: Will ProRes 4444 XQ work with ProRes HD, 2K, 16:9 and 4:3?

A: Yes, all currently supported ProRes resolutions (ProRes HD and ProRes 2K) and all supported aspect ratios (ProRes HD 16:9, ProRes 2K 16:9 and ProRes 2K 4:3) can take advantage of ProRes 4444 XQ.

Q: What recording medium can I use to record ProRes 4444 XQ?

A: You can use SxS PRO cards, CFast 2.0 cards and XR Capture Drives.

Q: What is the maximum frame rate for ProRes 4444 XQ?

A: We are still in the fine tuning phase, but here are our preliminary findings: When recording ProRes 4444 XQ in HD/16:9 resolution onto an XR Capture Drive, you get a maximum of 75 fps. In ProRes 2K/16:9 resolution that will be 60 fps. The maximum frame rates for CFast 2.0 and SxS PRO cards will be lower. We are working on an overview table that shows all recording formats/recording media combinations with the resulting maximum fps.

Q: Which post software supports ProRes 4444 XQ?

A: Apple’s Final Cut Pro X 10.1.2 supports ProRes 4444 XQ for editing, compositing, rendering, and exporting. FCPX 10.1.2 is available now. We are sure, however, that others will follow soon and we will list all compatible tools on the ‘Working with ProRes’ web pages in the Workflow area of the ALEXA web pages.

Q: What is the data rate for ProRes 4444 XQ?

A: See table below. For comparison: ProRes 4444 HD/16:9 at 29.97 fps is about 330 Mbit/s, while ProRes 4444 XQ HD/16:9 at 29.97 fps is 495 Mbit/s. Thus the ProRes 4444 XQ data rate is 1.5x higher than the data rate of ProRes 4444.


Q: Does this mean that I need more storage capacity when I shoot ProRes 4444 XQ?

A: Yes. Since ProRes 4444 XQ has about 1.5x the data rate of ProRes 4444, you will need about 1.5x the storage capacity. In exchange you get a higher quality image.

Q: Will AMIRA also support ProRes 4444 XQ?

A: That’s possible in the future, but at this stage ProRes 4444 XQ will only be available for ALEXA XT/XR cameras.




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Adam Wilt’s Cine Meter II


Adam Wilt has done it again. His new Cine Meter II is an essential app for every cinematographer. I just downloaded it from the Apple App Store. Adam’s original Cine Meter app for iPhone and iOS was brilliant. This one is even better.

The new Cine Meter II app turns your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad into a shutter-priority reflected light meter, an RGB waveform monitor, and a false-color picture monitor. Here are some of the new features:

  • Cinematographer-friendly controls let you set shutter angle, ND filter compensation, and arbitrary filter factors.
  • Use the front-facing camera for “lightmeter selfies” – aim the iPhone camera at yourself (not available on iPhone 3GS).
  • The spot meter zooms in up to 15x (requires iOS 7 or later on iPhone 5, iPod touch 5G, iPad Air, iPad mini 2G, or later devices).
  • Add a Luxi photosphere for incident-light readings ($30 from ESDevices for iPhone 4/4S or 5/5S; support for other devices coming soon).

Cine Meter II doesn’t use WiFi or mobile data — it runs natively on your iDevice. This is good to know when you have to explain to your family why you absolutely must have the next, new iPhone 6, and why your perfectly fine iPhone 5s will not trickle down to them but will instead be pressed into service as a stand-alone Cine Meter II.

More details:

  • The light meter displays T stop in decimals (e.g. 3.2) or stops and fractions (4.0 ⅓). You can set shutter speed or shutter angle (11.25º to 360º) and add neutral density filter corrections and other exposure compensations.
  • The waveform monitor shows how light levels vary within and across a scene.
  • False-colors show shadows that may be under-exposed and highlights that may clip.

See the Cine Meter II webpage for more details. Cine Meter II works on any iDevice with a camera running iOS 5.1.1 or higher.

Cine Meter II costs $19.99 and is now available on the App Store.

CMII-false-landscape CMII-CDM-portrait

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Nikon D810


Nikon revealed the new D810 full-frame (FX) DSLR camera today. It has an OLPF-less  36.3-megapixel (7360 x 4912) CMOS sensor. As photosite count increases,  dreaded moiré decreases, and there’s less need for an optical low-pass filter to “smudge” the image.

  • Sensor Size: 35.9 mm x 24 mm
  • ISO: 64 -12,800 (Lo to 32, Hi to 51,200)
  • Approx. Weight: 31.1 oz. (880 g) camera body only
  • Video: Full HD 1920 x 1080 at frame rates that include 60, 30, and 24p
  • Crop: FX and DX crop modes
  • HDMI output: Uncompressed digital video via HDMI to external recorder and monitor, with simultaneous video display on the rear LCD monitor.
  • Record to the internal card (compressed) and to an external recorder (uncompressed) simultaneously.
  • Smooth in-camera time-lapse and interval timer
  • Built-in stereo microphone
  • External microphone can be attached
  • Auto-ISO function available while recording to adjust exposure without having to change aperture in manual mode, ISO 200- 51,200
  • More than 80 Nikkor lenses are supported
  • “i” button for quick access to commonly used settings

The Nikon D810 will be available in late July for the suggested retail price of $3299.95





Keslow Camera’s New Space

Keslow Camera has moved to a stunningly beautiful new building on Blackwelder Street in Culver City (off La Cienega, just south of I-10). The 35,000 square foot space looks like it jumped right out of the pages of a coffee-table book on architecture. The Bauhaus meets Southern California style was designed by architecture firm Abramson Teiger. With clean, efficient lines, custom space-light-like LED lighting, form-following function — it is a bright, clean, cheerful, efficient place that is a pleasure to work in and will delight camera crews coming to do check-outs.

CEO Robert Keslow said, “We finessed the layout to greatly improve the speed at which we can get the equipment into the hands of our clients. Our new location provides a state-of-the-art facility.”

Keslow Camera has been renting camera equipment since 1990. In additional to the new LA Headquarters, Keslow Camera also has offices in Chicago, Santa Fe, New Orleans, and Miami.

Click first image below to begin slideshow:


Cine Gear Expo 2014

Click on first image to begin slideshow:


Cine Gear Expo 2014 Slideshow

Click on first image to begin slideshow:

photos by Evan Davies


Fauer Face-Friendly 4K Filter Factory

The idea arrived with the first bottle of Kanzler 2011 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Ahi tuna tempura sashimi at Chinois on Main yesterday. By the time the Shanghai Lobster with curry sauce came with a second bottle of Pinot, Howard Preston had the name: “Fauer Face-Friendly 4K Filter Factory.”

The company was born. Venture capitalists were salivating and circling.

Dr. Hubert Nasse, Senior Scientist of  ZEISS Camera Lenses once said that old lenses often look better in 4K digital than they ever did on old analog film projection. But now you can forget about painstakingly restoring those pesky vintage Kowa, Baltar, Todd-AO and Panchro primes. No need to sand-blast expensive coatings off perfectly good glass.

Instead, our face-friendly filters are perfect for your current inventory of  high quality lenses. Slide one of our ancient glass filters in your mattebox and you’ll hear a chorus of angels.

Fauer Face-Friendly 4K Filter Factory staff are currently scouring the earth and plundering ancient cathedrals in search of vintage glass to degrade and soften any lens.

Fauer Face-Friendly 4K Filters elevate your images to new heights. Using medieval cathedral glass from York Minster (11th century, above), Chartres, St. Ouen, Augsburg and elsewhere, shooting through our filters reveal more things in heaven and earth than ever dreamt of in any screenplay.

Seriously though — take a look at Tiffen’s 4K Diffusion Test Film. The Tiffen GlimmerGlass, Pearlescent, ProMist, Satin, Soft FX, Diffusion, and Smoque filters are definitely 4K Face Friendly and a lot more controllable than 11th century shards of glass.




Camtec Lens Tests

Here’s an interesting test from Camtec with some of their popular modern and vintage spherical lenses. The tests were shot with an ARRI Alexa XT Plus in ProRes 4444 Log-C. Framegrabs were exported from FCP 7 as high-rez .PNG files. Note this is a test mostly of flare, contrast and hightlights—not a test of skin tones or how portraits are handled. The comments come from Kavon Elhami. Tests by Tim Jensen. Your mileage may vary, and that’s why there are so many different flavors of ice cream—and lenses.

Download 2-page PDF: 61FDTimesCamtec


Issue 61 Now Online


Film and Digital Times Issue 61, June 2014 Cine Gear Edition is now online. Subscribers can download the 16 MB PDF. iPad Edition goes lives Friday, May 30. Print Editions ship week of June 1.

Free copies of the 48-page print edition will be everywhere at Cine Gear Expo in LA on June 6-7, in the booths of our sponsors and in our booth #77. (We are next to Servicevision, and on the way to the In ‘N Out Burger Truck.)

Picture above is from the article “How to Desqueeze Anamorphic.”




Preston Light Ranger 2



Light Ranger 2 from Preston Cinema Systems could be the most important invention of the year for motion picture production.

Although FDTimes tries to follow the National Geographic style of subdued enthusiasm and avoidance of incendiary adjectives, this new focus tool is revolutionary. No focus puller will leave home without one…for each camera.

Preston Cinema Systems Light Ranger 2 is an innovative tool that  graphically divides a monitor into zones and intuitively guides your focus pulling in the correct direction.


The system consists of two units. The sensor unit sits atop the camera, preferably above the lens. Using parallax correction found in the on-screen menu, it can be placed anywhere that’s convenient. A quick setting calibrates the offset.

The Video Interface box attaches easily to the back of almost any monitor. It receives focus information from both the Light Ranger 2 and the Preston FIZ HU3 Hand Unit.

A beam of infrared light emitted by the Light Ranger 2 bounces off the objects and subjects in the scene, and is captured by the detector array behind the unit’s lens. It’s safe infrared. There are no lasers, no ultrasonic signals, no transponders attached to actors.

Light Ranger 2 works in harmony with Preston Wireless FIZ system HU3 hand unit and MDR3 motor driver. Plug the Serial port into your MDR3, power it up, aim, calibrate, and shoot.

You still control focus the way you always did. The same skills developed by years of muscular-neurological memory are applied. You still control speed, point of interest and splits.

The Light Ranger 2 divides the monitor into 16 zones, like a bar graph. Rectangles above the horizontal line show areas behind your established distance. Rectangles below are in front.

Things that are in focus are shown in green. The genius of all this is how intuitive it is to pull focus, because it graphically shows which way to turn the knob of your wireless FIZ hand unit. As Zoran Veselic, camera assistant (see cover) said, “this is a tool that can help, and we welcome any help we can get.”

Howard Preston invented the original Light Ranger and patented it in January 1990. It was used on “Without Limits,” “Thirteenth Warrior,” “The Mighty Ducks,” “Spiderman,” “Benjamin Button”, “The Patriot” and many commercials.

Preston Cinema Systems Light Ranger 2 is patent pending. It will cost under $10,000, and should be ready to ship this September.

Free PDF Download of the 4-page cover story from our June 2014 issue of FDTimes.



Vilmos Zsigmond honored in Cannes



Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC was honored this evening at the Cannes Film Festival with  the  Pierre Angenieux EXCELLENS in cinematography award. The award, by the way, was a new Angénieux 56-152 anamorphic zoom lens engraved with his name. We spoke last week about cinematography, Cannes, lenses, and life.


When we last spoke, you said that on “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” Robert Altman was looking for a different kind of style. You were not too keen on using zoom lenses, but he “taught” you how to use them during that movie, not necessarily to use the zoom as a zoom, but to be practical about setups. Would you like to comment on that?


That’s true. I was not really in love with the zoom until “McCabe And Mrs. Miller” because I don’t like it when the zoom is visible. I like the dolly because it has a more dimensional look. It’s like 3-D in a little way. And the way Robert always used it, was to hide the zoom with the dolly move. That’s when the zoom move would become three-dimensional: it would have perspective changes. If you just zoom in and zoom out, that’s almost like a cheap way to do a dolly shot, and not very interesting. But when you make a diagonal dolly shot and you combine it with the zoom, the zoom is actually not visible anymore. You almost get the feel that the camera is dollying all the time.


Was that the first time you had used the zoom?


When I was filming in Hungary, we usually could not afford to have a zoom lens. When I came to the United States, at the beginning, I did really low-budget films. Still, I still could not use zoom lenses. And then when we grew up into bigger pictures, not just low-budget pictures, I still didn’t really like it too much. I occasionally used it when we really needed it.

But then came “McCabe And Mrs. Miller.” On the very first day, we were using two zoom lenses; we had two cameras. And that’s when I learned from Robert Altman to fall in love with the zoom lens. Because it was so convenient, in the cold, or in the rain, and all that.

Imagine that every time you want to change the focal length and angle using regular prime lenses. It  would take time, and it’s basically a time thing. Also when you line up a shot and then the director doesn’t like the lens, he’ll say, “Okay, give me a 28 mm.” We put this in the camera, and, “No, no, no. Give me a 40.” And then so on. Then we have spent maybe 10 to 15 minutes changing lenses. With a zoom lens it saves a lot of time lining up a shot. Because you can actually find out what size lens you want to use. And not necessarily using the zooming aspect of the lens, but just the convenience to find the exact shot also find a size when you’re between two focal lengths.  It could be a lens that is not available, for example any size between 25 and 30.

And from that point on I probably could not even do a movie without the zoom lens. Zoom lenses are very good in quality. When Angenieux came out with the first Optimo zoom lenses, they became the lenses I liked to use in many movies.

I love the combination of using a very sharp zoom lens and a little bit of diffusion.


Do you remember when the first time was that you had heard about Angenieux and Angenieux zoom lenses?


The 35-140 in the 1960s, and then the 10:1.


The 10:1 one that we all know, the 25-250 for 35 mm came out in 1962.



What about anamorphic? Your did a lot of work in anamorphic?


Yes. Actually, most of my work was anamorphic, starting way back after “The Hired Hand,” it was “Red Sky at Morning.” The first job with an anamorphic zoom was “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.” I’m guessing that it was an Angenieux lens, converted for anamorphic.

From “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” on, it was all mostly anamorphic. Also on many commercials. Because they had money, and we had the zoom lens on the set all the time. Even if you didn’t use it, they had it.


What made anamorphic so interesting to you?


I fell in love with anamorphic right away.

When you’re in a wide, wide screen, I think it’s a great thing for movies.  Starting with Robert Altman, and then other directors like John Boorman, they all did anamorphic movies. Because the compositional  value combines one shot. If you have a close-up, it could be a close-up in the front; and then behind that you see the location, close-up in the front, and wide angle in the back in the same shot.

Most of the painters use a wide screen, a wide-angle, wide composition.


And does the anamorphic lens give you a different look than shooting spherical wide-screen?


It’s a difference in strategy. I shot many movies with anamorphic lenses. But many of my low-budget movies actually were shot spherical widescreen with the Technoscope 2-perf system.

By using only 50 percent of film, it was very convenient in those days. It had an amazingly similar look to the look of the anamorphic. But it was projector’s anamorphic projection lens in the theater that helped give it that look. ork.


What was it like working with Robert De Niro on “The Deer Hunter?”


It was quite an experience to see an actor be so good on the set, so talented, and such a nice person. It was very amazing for me to work with Robert De Niro on “The Deer Hunter.” We spent a lot of time together.  Also as a person, on the set, as a human being he was so kind, so nice with everybody. He’s such a wonderful person. Talented.

When he’s on the set, he’s totally concentrating on his character and then the movie itself. I can give you an example. On “Deer Hunter,” we were on a mountain. He had a big monologue, talking about taking just one shot—getting the deer with one shot. We started to film that scene, basically a minute or so of his monologue. But he could not concentrate. I walked over to him. And Robert said, “Vilmos, what does that thing do for you? He was referring to my foamcore bounce material. I said, “Well, Robert, they just give you a nice, beautiful soft light, enough for your close-up. Why, is it something wrong with it?”

And Robert said, “Can you just take one of them away? I would like to see the mountain, myself, in the shot.” I suddenly realized that he could not actually basically FEEL where he was. And I had to take that wonderful 4×8 foamcore away. I said, “No, Robert, I don’t really need this.” And then we went back to shoot that scene, and immediately he could do the shot in the first take. And it was a great lesson for me to not to bother the actors with technical things.


You should not put the light too close to the eyeline. Yes, cinematographers need to do their work, but not at the expense of the acting for the actor. Probably the most simple thing in movies that the actors FEEL the location that they are in.


\You are very well known for the praise that actors give you. Why is that, besides your charming personality?


I like to let them be as good as possible. I like to keep them in a mood, on the set. I try to tell my crew members to not bother them. Don’t go with that measuring tape, so close to them. When you repeat takes, you don’t want to go and bother them. Let them be themselves because they need that concentration for each take.


Are you’re looking forward to using the new Angenieux anamorphic zoom lens.


Oh, yes! I’m glad you mentioned this. Because I saw that zoom lens in Budapest.

I saw the prototype. And I looked at the lens, said oh, “My God, this the greatest zoom lens ever made. Because it starts from 56 and goes to 152 mm. I would love to have that lens in our rental company in Budapest.



Angenieux announced they’re coming out with another anamorphic zoom in September, a 30-72 mm.


Ohhhh! Well, that could be my new favorite. Because I like to use a lot of wide-angle lenses in anamorphic cinematography.


Well, in my anamorphic movies, I love to shoot with at 30 mm. I love the perspective of it.


Tell me about some of the other directors and actors you’ve worked with.


Meryl Streep was really a gem. Everybody on the set of “Deer Hunter” was so talented and so loving. It  was such a great experience for me how a good company can work together for the same thing and make a brilliant movie. Christopher Walken, John Casale, everybody was great in that movie.

Spielberg. There was a great relationship with him, on “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Sugarland Express.” Those were some of my best experiences. Spielberg was an upcoming person, and I had all only some experience, and the two of us together, would work so close together that it was clearly, like a hundred percent cooperation between the two of us. I felt so great to be with this talented young man who knew so many things. And Spielberg would listen to his cinematographer.

On Close Encounters we didn’t really even have to talk, you know, about anything because we were justable to understand each other without talking to each other, we just did everything like people who had worked ten years together before that.

Brian De Palma I love because he’s very, very visual–like Spielberg and Altman I did the first movie with him, I think it was “Obsession.” He was still working with sketches and storyboards. He knew exactly what he wanted. He always had a shot that went at least 360 degrees, a circling dolly, and so visually fantastic. For him, the visual part of the movie is what he likes. Not so much dialogue, but mostly telling the story with images. I love directors who can do that. We worked together very well for four movies. And it was a joy to be to create those images together.


Which is your favorite movie in terms of visual storytelling?


My favorite movie would be “Deer Hunter” because it actually has everything. It is good in every aspect: story, acting, design, photography. It’s actually my ultimate best experience in any movie. And it turned out to be a classic now. It’s hard to beat.

For all the visuals, I would like to say that the best is probably “Close Encounters” especially because of the last 40 minutes of that movie, it’s very visual and carefully designed, actually. Brian De Palma movies–all of them, are based on visuals. Starting with “Obsession,” and to “Bonfire Of The Vanities,” you know.


I think you told me on “Black Dahlia” you were using Angenieux zooms?


Oh, absolutely. And I liked “Black Dahlia” also for visuals. It was the first time I tried to desaturate the colors of a colored movie to make it look like a black and white movie with some colors. And it was very interesting how good it worked, actually, by almost taking a black and white movie in color. It was great to work with Brian because he actually hires the cinematographer and wants the cinematographer collaborate on  his movies.

Of course, cinematographers love to work with directors who let the cinematographers do their job.


He is very, very visual. He knows about lenses, he knows about angles, he likes interesting shots, and then at the same time, he usually tells the story where the visuals are the most important element of a movie.


What about this move to digital cinematography?


Composition’s important, but the most important element is the lighting. Lighting sets the mood, sets the visual feeling. And the mood has to be there to accept the story.

It always depends on the lights, what you use, and unfortunately that’s the part of taking the most time in any moviemaking is the lighting. Now when digital photography came out the producers thought, “Yeah, that’s great! Digital is great! You don’t have to light the films anymore.” But that’s not true. It’s like somebody would say when they invented painting, would someone say, Well, we don’t paint anymore for the painting.

So lighting is like the paint in the painting. If you don’t have lighting, you don’t have the movie.

You have to create the light. And you can actually capture the right light. And the viewer should experience it.

I try to find out that what’s going to be the best time of the day to shoot a scene, so sometimes I don’t have to even use any lights. And when that happens, you made it happen, and you have a very beautifully lit scene and didn’t use a single light.


Tell me about this award you’re getting in Cannes. And how you feel about that.


I feel great about it. I got a lot of nominations in movies. I had four nominations; and got one Academy Award. But the best award that I ever got was for Deer Hunter by the British Academy. And, unfortunately, I could not be there to pick up that award, and I always am sorry for that when I could not be there. I’m really looking forward to this award from Europe and Cannes, I feel really, really great about it.

Finally I can get an award from where I came from, from Europe. I really feel that it’s going to be  probably the best day in my life that I’m getting an award from there.

But, I must say that I was surprised about getting this award. Isn’t it rare that they’re giving an award, rom Europe, you know, for someone who is half Hungarian, half American.


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Remembering Gordon Willis, ASC


Gordon Willis, ASC passed away on Sunday. He was a god to cinematographers, and inspired us all.

He told me, “A cinematographer is a visual psychiatrist, moving an audience…making them think the way you want them to think, painting pictures in the dark.”

Ah yes, the dark. I don’t think Gordon woke up at night worrying if a scene he had shot was too dark. He said, “The studio executive is the first one to wake up and think it’s too dark. On The Godfather, we got huge flak from Paramount. It even made Francis Ford Coppola nervous. But I said, ‘Just hang in there. It’s going to be OK.’ And to his credit, he did.”

I interviewed him for Cinematographer Style 8 years ago. Tibor Sands, his longtime camera assistant, was working at ARRI/CSC, and took a few days off to be our production manager. We scouted the location — Gordon’s beautiful new home in a very nice neighborhood on Cape Cod. He was away–but since a cinematographer’s worst nightmare is a film crew dragging lights, cables, and sharp stuff across newly finished floors and freshly painted walls–we figured we’d light from outside.

Cut to the shoot day. The largest grip/electric truck the world has ever seen backed down Mr. Willis’ precariously steep driveway. One slip of the brakes, and his very large, beautiful  house would be toothpicks. Gordon was watching, looking amused. “What’s with all this stuff?” he asked. Ken Perham,  gaffer, explained that he was under strict orders from Tibor not to scratch, blemish or scrape anything,hence lighting with big HMI PARs from outside, with no heavy metallic feet  touching the inside of the house. “Too complicated,” said Gordon. “Just bring in one Kinoflo.” So, one 4-bank 4-foot daylight Kinoflo it was. After it was all over, Gordon asked the electric crew to turn the light off. “Aha,” he said, “that’s better, isn’t it—no light at all.”

Next, the cinematographer known for lighting with less spied a battery-powered Litepanels Mini, unused,  on the floor nearby. He picked it up, turned it on, and said, “Should have used this.” (picture below.)

I believe it was Conrad Hall, ASC who first called Gordon Willis “the prince of darkness.” He will be missed.

Here’s the full text of the Gordon Willis, ASC interview for Cinematographer Style, from the book, Volume 1.


Jon Fauer: Who are you and what do you do?

Gordon Willis, ASC: I’m Gordon Willis. I’m a Director of Photography.

How did you become a Director of Photography?

I sort of stumbled into it because my family was in the business. My father was a makeup artist at Warner Bros. in Brooklyn during the Depression. I was always hanging around him and decided I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid. Luckily, I changed my mind. Then I got interested in stagecraft and, finally, still work. Then I went into the Air Force, did documentaries, came out and got into the local union in New York. After I got in, a very nice man gave me my first job two days after I met him. I didn’t have any equipment. I showed up on the first day of work with a paper bag and a tape measure. That’s how I started.

How did you get your first big break?

I got my first big break from a very nice person who wanted to make a movie called End of the Road. He had been going through everybody’s reels when I met him. We were part of this group of avant-garde people who took off and did what we felt like doing, such as shooting this movie. The film was so unique, generally speaking, for mainstream moviemaking that I got a lot of attention from it — not that I was trying to, but it worked out that way. That’s how I got the start in motion picture work. Prior to that I shot commercials and industrials.

Would you say there’s mostly luck involved in starting in this business?

Film students always ask, ‘What do you do? How do you get a job?’ There’s a lot of luck involved — right place, right time. Anything good that’s ever happened to me happened to me because of someone else giving me an opportunity. Always, every single time.

What does a cinematographer do?

My out-of-pocket answer would have to be that the DP’s job is to transpose the written word into visual storytelling. A longer version of what a cinematographer does is probably being a visual psychiatrist. We move an audience around as we see fit at given times, painting pictures in the dark, kind of like a dream-maker. A very short version of what a cinematographer does is set lights.

What is style?

Style, basically, comes out of you. Generally speaking, there’s no formula, although people always want to know the formula. Style comes out of watching an actor do a scene; style comes out of a process of the material many times, but it’s indiscriminate. At least, I feel it’s indiscriminant. It can come from almost any place in the structure of a movie.

As an example, I decided how The Godfather should look about 20 minutes before I started shooting. I watched rehearsals, I listened to people, I just stood there, and then some idea came to me and I said, ‘That feels right; that feels right for this.’ That’s how I get to it.

When you’re prepping a movie, do you do research?

When I prep a movie I do look at things. If it’s a period movie, I’ll especially look at things, because people’s reference to something set in the 1800s or early 1900s comes from the pictures and paintings that they’ve seen. Sometimes, I’ll use that as a reference and pull something out of those photographs and paintings and use that quality up on the screen.

What’s your philosophy on how things should look?

I’m a minimalist. I like to take things out, not add things in, so I spend the first week on a movie or the first prep time taking things out. I think simplicity is very elegant, and I find that people don’t quite understand that. Many moviemakers are encumbered with complexity. They perceive the complex as good. It’s like, if something’s not working, they’ll throw another sandbag in the boat because it’s listing, and they’ll keep throwing sandbags in until the whole boat sinks. But usually, when something isn’t working, it’s because we’ve done too much or made the wrong choices. It’s one of those two things, so we have to rethink things when they’re not working. Sometimes, one of the problems might be too much in the art direction or wardrobe. So I say take everything away. I don’t like complexity. Simplicity and elegance are better.

How does that relate to lighting? Do you take lights away?

Yes, I take lights away. I suppose I have a reputation for not using a lot of light, but a lot of times I’ve used quite a bit of light. I try to fit the punishment to the crime. I’m not a formula thinker. I’ll think about something and say, ‘This is good for this; this is good for that.’ One light bulb and a lamp might be good for something, but 29 space lights might be better for something else. I don’t get motion confused with accomplishment, and I think that happens a lot in this business. I do what’s necessary to convey the idea or the visual at that time.

What do you mean about getting motion confused with accomplishment?

I don’t get motion confused with accomplishment. It’s a big flaw in the movie business. People fall in love with the process and equipment. The process is a means to an end. A camera is a tool. Film is a tool. I’m a tool. The actors are tools. The director is a tool. The whole thing is about moving the script onto the screen. The process bogs people down sometimes, so that’s the reason I like to eliminate, not add, and get right to the heart of what has to be done.

Let’s talk about the differences between movies and commercials.

I made a living from commercials for a long time, again because of a lot of nice people. I learned a lot about shooting via commercials, because there is so much technique in commercials and so much gear and so much stuff that can be drawn upon to learn things. I learned a lot about making features from watching movies from the ’40s, ’50s and early ’30s. Back then, filmmakers didn’t get motion confused with accomplishment in the scenes. A lot of people think a scene is dull if the camera’s not moving — ‘this is motion pictures, we must move.’ What makes a scene dull is the content of the scene. If that’s no good, the camera can move back and forth forever, and it won’t help. The earlier movies, from the ’40s and late ’30s, play scenes out in a two-shot with a button on the end of it, like a close-up, and the audience never took their eyes off the screen. The writing was good; the acting was good. I learned a lot about cutting from these earlier movies. The opposite happened in commercials. Technically, I learned a lot from shooting commercials, but that’s not the place to learn how to shoot a movie. In fact, a lot of MTV people try to shoot movies, and the process becomes what’s important to them, not the content. So they get mixed up.

It sounds like it’s important for cinematographers to know editing.

The cinematographer can’t shoot well unless he also knows how to edit. I’ve been accused of editing through lighting, and maybe I do — not consciously, but I do it and I have done it. I don’t like shotgun moviemaking. I like definition. If you need two cuts or four cuts, fine.

What is shotgun moviemaking?

It’s like, ‘Let’s spray the entire room. Let’s get every single cut we can think of, including the doorknobs. Let’s do everything. Let’s take every shot. Let’s take a long shot, a close-up, a medium close-up.’ There’s no real structure in that thinking. And then it gets turned over to an editor, and the editor makes the movie. That’s what I call ‘dump-truck directing,’ and I don’t particularly care for it. I’ve been fortunate enough to mostly work with people who will look at a scene and say, ‘What do we have to accomplish in the scene?’ Whether we take one cut or four cuts, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll lay it out and shoot those four. We’ll lay it out and shoot 20 if that’s what it takes, but it’s never mindless machine-gun shooting.

I guess a cinematographer has to know when to argue.

A cinematographer does have to know when to argue — even fight at times. This is not good advice for everyone. We have to take our own cues from working with people. I’m not indiscriminate, but I don’t like living in a fool’s paradise. So I have argued about certain things to get them done properly.

Vittorio Storaro, ASC, said that sometimes you just have to say no.

No is a very important word. Yes is not a good word all the time. It doesn’t get us more work. In fact, no gets us more work, because anything works while we’re shooting it. Nothing works in the screening room if it’s no good. What was said the day before is forgotten once everyone gets in the screening room. If we said no to something bad, and it turns out to be right in the screening room, the no said the day before is forgotten, but they’ll never forget about the yes if it’s no good.

What defines the look of the film?

For The Godfather, both the first and second ones, it was about 20 minutes before the movie began shooting that I decided what it should look like. I said, ‘It should be kind of dirty and street, and it should be brassy yellow.’ If someone were to ask, ‘Why did you decide that?’ I would have to say, ‘I have no idea. It just felt like it should be that way.’

For part two of the series, we had the time problem of this turn-of-the-century story going into 1958, and then switching back and forth between the two. So director Francis Ford Coppola said, ‘Jesus, how are we going to know where we are?’ I said, ‘Why don’t we just resort to using a title? That’s stylish.’ And it worked. We went from 1900 to 1958, and we didn’t want to do something stupid, like using black-and-white here and then color there, which is intrusive. I applied the same color throughout the entire movie, both the first and second — it was a kind of yellow hue. But I kept the quality of the photography within the period work different. I went for a very soft, unfocused look on the period work, whereas the other work in the ’50s became sharper and more definitive, but it wasn’t so intrusive that we couldn’t go back and forth where people wouldn’t know what was going on. And we moved through the entire movie that way.

Take another movie, like Woody Allen’s Manhattan. He wanted to shoot in black-and-white, and I said, ‘That’s a great idea. Why don’t we do it in scope — widescreen black-and-white?’ I said, ‘This is New York; it feels kind of good.’ He saw New York as a black-and-white city, and so did I. I perceive most of what I do as romantic reality, so Manhattan and The Godfather Trilogy were all romantic realities. People always say, ‘Oh, it’s so real.’ But it’s not real. It’s what we select to shoot that makes the difference in what it looks like. That’s very important. We can select to shoot something over there or over here. Those choices are what make it look different. They will evoke a different feeling on the screen. I’ve shot movies where New York was an ugly place to be. I didn’t want that for Manhattan. I wanted it to be George Gershwin’s New York. So my choices were all positive choices. I can make negative choices for a different kind of movie.

Do you think there’s a style that runs through all of your movies? Are you a romantic at heart?

I’m a romantic at heart, although my wife would say that wasn’t true. But I am visually romantic at heart. Even a killing in a movie should have a certain amount of romantic reality in it. But I don’t try to think that way — it’s just what I choose to do, even in brutal movies.

It seems that a lot of our colleagues say they don’t have one particular style. But I would argue that you do.

I do have a style. I probably use the same thinking applied at different levels. But if you took The Godfather and put it up against Manhattan, it wouldn’t be the same movie. It wouldn’t look the same and it wouldn’t feel the same. But you’re quite right in that there is a definable style that runs through most of my movies. I do a lot of the same things applied differently, and I don’t mind saying that. The trick is integrating my visual decisions with the movie and with the story — to make it a good movie with good visuals. I think there can be a very good story that will work with bad photography, but really good photography on a bad story will not really work. Both together are important.

Is cinematography subservient to the story?

I don’t think the cinematography should be subservient to the story. In fact, the opposite is true. We editorialize visually. I like relativity: light to dark, big to small. My favorite kind of thing is to have someone standing by a window talking to someone in a corner, and the someone standing in the corner is in the dark. It would cut between these two people, and maybe at the end of the scene, the person in the corner steps out of the dark. That’s good shooting. It’s very hard to find people who have the courage to shoot a scene that way. Or they’ll shoot it that way and then say, ‘Let’s shoot it where he’s not standing in the dark.’ But to me, that’s not an idea. That’s an option, but that’s not an idea. I like to commit to an idea. I enjoy that kind of function.

So who needs to be gutsy? Is it the cinematographer or is it the director?

Sometimes one has to lead the other. Sometimes I’ll tell directors what the shot is going to look like, because standing on the set, they don’t know what it’s going to look like in the screening room. Most of the time, we’ll have a long discussion about that; other times, I’ll just do it and we’ll get in the screening room and they’ll say, ‘I didn’t know it was going to look like this, but I like it.’ That’s the best option. The other is, ‘Jesus, I didn’t know it was going to look like this. You can’t see his eyes.’ To that, I’ll say, ‘Tell you what. Let’s cut it together. Then let’s talk about it.’ Usually that does it, because once we cut a piece together, as opposed to looking at it fragmented in dailies, it works. But I hate discussions like that. I like working with people whom I’ve worked with for a while, so that when I apply something, they’ll accept it because they know I’m not applying it arbitrarily.

Decisions like those are about how a scene fits in the movie. What comes before, what comes after? What happens when that scene is cut in here? What happens when it’s cut in there? What happens an hour from now when the audience sees this scene, based on something they saw at the front end of the movie? I try to keep the whole thing in my head that way. I’m not high on options. I like commitment. The cinematographer has to be gutsy regarding what decisions are made, and sometimes we have to get pushy in order to get the idea through.

Relativity is important to me, especially between light and dark. I use it a lot in movies because, transitionally, it’s very good. The problem with most filmmakers at first is fear, where they are afraid to step past the point that they know is safe. When shooting a scene with two people in a room who are doing this or that, the director will want the option of seeing it this way as well as that way. One director I worked with said, ‘What are my options?’ I said, ‘There are no options! Six months from now, you’ll have so many options in the editing room that you’ll have forgotten the movie that you’re shooting.’

When you show up on a dark set, what goes through your head?

The last thing on my mind is where the camera goes and what light should be used. The first thing on my mind is: What’s the scene about? I watch the actors rehearse. Out of that, there’s the decision of how many shots to make the scene. I go over that with the director, and after that it’s about lighting the scene. That decision is really based on where the scene fits in the movie and what it’s supposed to accomplish.

Do you read the script a lot?

I’m a two-time reader. I read it first for the values in it, the feelings and what it has to say. Then I read it again to see what the film really is. I used to have feelings about how it should be shot when I’d read it, but I stopped that. Well, I still have them, but I bury them, because at that point I haven’t yet talked to the director to find out what his feelings are. I don’t want to come in with preconceived ideas, because he might have much better ideas than I do. So I want to hear what he has to say and what he feels like. And I might agree or not agree. Then I shove everything I’m thinking at him and he can feed off of that. It’s an exchange. After that’s all over, the process of actually coming up with the goods happens while the actors rehearse and while I’m on my feet, standing where I’m standing. At that point I’ll make the decision for the scene.

Are most directors visual?

No. I have found that most directors today are not visual. I’ll walk into a room and immediately transpose what I’m looking at into film terns. As you know, there’s film reality and there’s reality, and film reality is not reality. I’ve found that a lot of directors can’t transpose what they’re looking at into film reality. It’s like the big surprise in the screening room again: ‘I didn’t know it was going to look like that. Is this all we have, these 40 close-ups that we shot all night?’ They don’t really see what that is. It could save them a lot of time if they could just reduce what they’re looking at into cutting terms or film terms. Some do, but it’s really rare.

What’s the best way to work with a director?

My ideal way has changed with time, but I used to talk through the script page by page, scene by scene, with the director to his thoughts and my thoughts together. But after working with certain people for a period of time, we got used to each other and the story enough, so that process was eliminated. We would talk about things that morning while we were on our feet, but the overall concept we talked about before the movie ever started so I always keep those conversations in mind. I don’t want to get off track. I don’t want to shoot seven movies at the same time because I’m afraid of the one movie that I’m actually shooting. I don’t want to do a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I push straight ahead on the basic concept of what I’m supposed to be doing.

Remi Adefarasin, BSC, says that, in America, studios are all over the cinematographer, while in Europe they trust the filmmakers to do a good job.

I get a little pushy about that because I only see it one way; I don’t really like management telling anybody what to do. Most of the people I’ve worked with feel the same way so I’ve been fortunate. We push ahead and do what we like to do for reasons that we feel are concrete in making the movie. And it’s usually worked out.

We talked earlier about the New York look. Sol Negrin, ASC, says it’s gritty. Owen Roizman, ASC, says it’s handheld, documentary-style. You said it was sort of black-and-white. Can you expand on that?

I perceive New York as a black-and-white city, but from the standpoint of what New York is, visually, on the screen, it is, again, what we select to shoot. But New York is concrete and asphalt, so its tones are gray. So it’s very easy to hop on black-and-white visuals.

We spoke to a French cinematographer about a certain light, and he said that it does everything — not well — but it does everything.

I don’t think that anything does everything. From the standpoint of economy, something might do everything, but from the standpoint of applying a light, applying an idea, nothing does everything. My favorite form of lighting is putting a 100-watt bulb in a lamp and turning it on. I fit the punishment to the crime, as far as lighting is concerned. I’ve had people say, ‘He doesn’t do anything.’ But that’s not true. I’ll do something, though it might not be a lot in one case. Other times, I’ve put up a lot of lighting. But again, it’s what we’re trying to capture at the moment and what it’s supposed to look like. What are we trying to achieve? It’s all those kinds of things.

I know I mentioned that I like a lot of relativity in lighting, with light and dark in scenes. For instance, if we have a railroad flat and somebody is walking in and out of the apartment, there are three rooms to walk through and all three rooms are not going to look the same. One might be light, one might be dark, and one might be in between. There’s a dimension that we have to create on the screen with the light. It’s not mysterious. It’s just, in my opinion, common sense. A lot of people in Hollywood should have a T-shirt that reads ‘Fear’ on it. If we’re not afraid to exercise what we feel about something, we’ll do the right thing. I made it easier for a lot of people to do the right thing once I started shooting, because I broke through the ‘we can’t do that’ idea. Yes, we can. Just do it.

How did you, of all people, break through that?

I never did anything to be different. There’s a very thin line between different and lousy. I just did what I liked and I was fortunate enough to be with people who accepted that and enjoyed it. They were part of it. This caused a riot a couple of times at certain studios where people were very upset, but I said, ‘this is it,’ and continued. That helped other people do similar things, but it took them a long time before they would shoot with one light or no light or against a window. Yet it’s something that I enjoy doing and I never think about it. I just think about applying it without ever thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’

What would you say that you did differently from the others?

It’s sort of like the Marx Brothers drama syndrome in Hollywood. Back then, when we shot comedies, they had to be two-dimensional with flat light. And that worked. If we shot a drama, it had to be different, more low key. There was always a concept that it had to be one way or the other. My concept is: Does it work for this movie? I don’t care if the actors are saying something funny or sad. It’s about whatever the story is and doing what feels right and good. I do that.

If All the President’s Men had been shot by someone in the studio system, what would it have looked like?

I honestly can’t answer that question. I mean, I really don’t know. I don’t think they would have used cool white fluorescents to light up The Washington Post newsroom. I don’t think they would have used the same kind of lighting relativity going from the newsroom down to the garage. For Deep Throat’s scenes, I kept it full of greenish-blue fluorescents.

I remember a discussion I had at the time with the director, Al Pakula, on shooting Hal Holbrook as Deep Throat. I said to him, ‘We should just backlight him. Let’s not use anything on his face.’ Al practically went into cardiac arrest. The suggestion was a bit too much for him. So I compromised and had a little bit of light around Hal’s eyes the very first time he appeared. My thought would have been no light for the first time and a little bit the next time — that kind of thing. But I couldn’t really force the issue at that point, and everybody liked what we ended up with. But I don’t think a director would have used that kind of relativity if the film had been done Hollywood-style. It wouldn’t have been green down in the garage and they probably would have given Hal more light on his face.

Some critics have said that you are the best cinematographer this country has ever produced, though you worked outside of the Hollywood environment. Was that helpful?

I try not to pay attention to any of that, and it didn’t help me in Hollywood. There were plenty of people who wouldn’t touch me with a 10-foot pole. They were very frightened of getting involved at that level, regardless of what I could or couldn’t bring to the movie. I’m perfectly capable of thinking inside the box, but I just never really did. I just thought about things, as I said before, in terms of what I like to do and what I thought was appropriate for the movie. It was always an attack on the movie itself and treating the gut of it as I saw fit. I think there were people who also felt the same way about things, and there were still others who felt, ‘God Almighty, I don’t want to hire him. Look what will happen.’ It was mixed.

So it’s about the ideas — the why, not the how?

Right. I have a lot of film students or even people who work in the business, ask me, ‘How did you do that?’ Why I do something is a lot more important than how I do it. The ‘how’ is the craft. We have to learn that and keep up on it. It’s like a paintbrush that we can reach over and grab to enable us to transpose an idea that’s in our heads. And once we’ve got that, we can forget about it. It’s why we decide to do something that is really important. The ‘how’ of it is the sister of the ‘why,’ but it’s not the most important part. The idea is most important.

Technique and technology — do they influence each other?

They don’t influence me, but they do tend to influence the business. When zoom lenses came out, people started designing shots for zoom lenses. When cranes came out, they started designing shots for cranes. I am not a believer in that. What I do is design the movie, decide what I want to do, and then reach for the equipment I need, not the other way around. But a lot of people get lost in the process of getting all this stuff together and finding a way to use it, which is a big mistake. If I only need one of these and two of those, then that’s what I do. The biggest mistake people make is adding equipment as opposed to removing equipment.

It sounds like you have to know the equipment and what it does to be able to know when not to use it.

Exactly. What we don’t do, half the time, is really more important that what we do do. I’m a walk-and-talk kind of thinker, and that’s the kind of movies I shoot: the walk-and-talk movies. If I think a scene works perfectly well in a two-shot moving along a sidewalk, I don’t add extra coverage. I don’t need a close-up of him and a close-up of her, plus the two-shot moving for a block and a half. But a lot of people think they do, and a lot of people don’t know if they do. So then comes, ‘Let’s add some more stuff. If it doesn’t work, we’ll get in the helicopter. That’ll work.’

It’s like pulling up to the actors at the end of the movie when they’re walking away down a dirt road. Why do that? Because we saw it in another movie and it looked good there. This is one of the big problems — we influence each other, and sometimes it’s good to learn things from each other, though sometimes it’s really bad. It’s wallpaper on top of wallpaper on top of more wallpaper.

So the more tools you have, the worse it gets?

Less is more in my mind. Nowadays, we can have everything. I’ve seen people go out with a lot, and I’ve seen other people go out with very little. A lot of directors influence DPs, saying, ‘Make sure we do this, make sure we do that.’ They don’t know what they’re going to do, so they want every single thing available. That’s motion confused with accomplishment again, where it’s always never enough.

But that’s not an excuse for not knowing what these things can do.

You can’t have art without craft. It’s like if somebody says, ‘I have a great idea for a painting,’ and I ask, ‘Can you paint?’ And if he says no, then the idea is no good. We’ve got to learn our craft. There’s nothing really esoteric about that. We have to know how to paint in order to transpose an idea properly. There is no art without craft. I’ve seen people who have worked in this business for years not know how to make their ideas happen. We all tend to reduce or expand things to a level that we understand. It’s human nature, but it’s a very dangerous trade, because directors will do that where they will work their way around something they don’t understand, get it to where they do understand it and do it improperly. And a lot of DPs will do the same thing.

Fred Koenekamp, ASC, said that he was with his crew more than his family.

I saw my family and I saw my crew, not always on equal terms. Yes, I saw my crew a lot more than I saw my family at times, but my crew became my family for awhile, and hopefully we all got along because we’re together for extended periods of time. The trick is being married to somebody who loves you, because she’ll be there when you’re finally done, because she has to run it. I’ve been very fortunate on that level. She’s always been there when I’m done. But that’s an overall perspective that we had to keep, and my wife understands it, and I have to understand it thoroughly as well. It’s very easy to cut the boat adrift. We do get reality mixed up with fantasy in this business, so it’s very important to redefine the difference every now and then. I’ve had a lot of good people whom I worked with — and a lot of them, actually, were very good family people. But you have to be strong. There are a lot of women and men hunting in this business. We have to decide what it is that we want and do that.

Let’s talk a little more about separating film reality from real reality.

There are a lot of people who cannot separate film reality from reality. I’ve known certain actors who have never separated it and are happiest in film reality. They’re happiest being someone else. When you finally decide to quit the business, a lot of people get in trouble. Mentally, they can’t handle it. It’s like Alice in Wonderland, where they step through the looking glass and never come back. They think, ‘Wait a minute. This is so great.’ But it’s not so great and it’s something they have to back away from eventually, and that’s a problem when people are not able to get back through the glass.

What about stress? Does art come out of stress?

Sometimes it does. There are directors who believe the more chaos, the more creativity. Truly, that does not happen. But I don’t like chaos. I like quiet, definitive decisions and thinking to get everything done properly. But there is a certain amount of stress to that. Actually, I’ve probably been more of a conduit of stress than I was stressed out because I caused a lot of people to do things that they didn’t want to do, and I used to fight to get it done. It’s exhausting to do that 14 hours a day. Then I came home and had eight or nine drinks before dinner to relax. That’s not a good habit, and it does take its toll.

Did you wake up at night worrying if the scene was too dark, or is that the role of the director or executive?

The studio executive is the first one to wake up and think it’s too dark. On The Godfather, when we started with this dark hole of the guy talking to Marlon Brando, we got huge flak from Paramount. It even made Francis Ford Coppola nervous. But I said, ‘Just hang in there. It’s going to be OK.’ And to his credit, he did. It used to be the studio that got in the way and it still is to a degree. Directors don’t get too nervous.

When I first started shooting, we had the ‘drive-in syndrome’ — ‘they’ll never be able to see this in the drive-in.’ I said, ‘Nobody in the drive-in is watching the movie anyway.’ We’d get these types of wires; we’d be in the middle of nowhere shooting and get these telegrams. I ignored those. It’s fear. Also, studios would see two days of shooting in a dark hallway with guns going off where they really didn’t see much except for what was in that cut. They would see yards of this stuff and say, ‘We’re not seeing anything.’ So we’d say, ‘It’s a scene in a hallway. The scene after that is this.’ But their immediate response was that they didn’t know how to cut it or that it was too dark. And I even had the response that it was too light.

I was shooting a film with director Hal Ashby where we were doing this relative thing about light and dark and how people lived. The first complaint we got was, ‘It’s too light.’ I had never had that complaint before, but I had it there. It’s understandable when something is isolated as one piece. It’s very hard to know how to look at dailies. Even people who know better will look at the dailies and ask, ‘What’s this for?’ But it’s got to be put together to be understood.

Where are we going from here as cinematographers?

Where we are going from here is somewhat complicated, but I don’t see it that way. I see that we are approaching another medium, another way of recording, but it doesn’t eliminate anything. It doesn’t eliminate thinking. We still have to structure and come up with content. We still have to light and record and put sets together. Because somebody can pick up a digital camera now, which I often do, and go from the bathroom to the kitchen is not enough. There are a few directors who have gotten lost that way, thinking, ‘Oh, look, I can get under the chair. I can do this and that.’ I suppose so, but that doesn’t replace thinking. It’s another medium to record with. It could be toilet paper for all I care. It’s not the idea; it’s how we apply it. It’s another recording medium, and I think it will replace film. But I don’t see it as a negative thing. I see it as just another way of telling a story.

How will the cinematographer’s role change?

The cinematographer of the future will be doing the same thing with this different medium. We bring a light into the darkness. We find the magic and structure the movie. Certain applications of technical things will be a little different, but the job should be the same. The only problem with technology right now is that it brings too many cooks into the kitchen. I’d like to get it back to when one or two people were responsible for the image. Nowadays, it goes through a lot before it finally gets to us.

Is the cinematographer the guy who’s responsible for the image?

He is responsible for the image. He is responsible for putting that magic up on the wall. He’s the visual psychiatrist, moving the audience from here to there. That doesn’t change, and it won’t change.

Gordon Willis, ASC, was born in Queens, New York. His credits include The Godfather (all three), Manhattan and All the President’s Men.


Gordon Willis, ASC holding up Litepanels Mini. “Should have used this.”

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