elaine, 28, film student always, and the last to leave the theatre.


May 19th

“There weren’t a lot of contemporary mechanics introduced, like helicopters and zoom lenses. It was a tableau form of moviemaking, where the actors move in and out of frame, very straightforward. It was supposed to feel like a period piece… There was no discussion of lighting. I just did what I felt like doing. The design came out of the juxtaposition of the bright, cheerful garden party wedding that was going on outside, and the underbelly in this dark house. I used overhead lighting because the Don was the personification of evil, and I didn’t always want the audience to look into his eyes, see what he was thinking. I just wanted to keep him dark… (In those days) screens were so blitzed with light that you could see into every corner of every toilet and closet on the set. I’d always hear, ‘They have to be able to see it in the drive-ins….’ When the dark stuff started to appear on the screen, it seemed a little scary to people who were used to looking at Doris Day movies.” - DP Gordon Willis talking about The Godfather in Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Willis died yesterday at the age of 92.

May 11th

Every burst of incandescence around the car’s night-time exterior was carefully staged and the effects of weather were controlled as much as was humanly possible.

“That was really hard because we knew what we wanted,” says [DP Roger] Deakins. “It wasn’t a very big budget and we searched forever to find the right streets and we only had one night and half a night outside the hospital.

“We had nozzles mounted to the front of the car to create rain on the windshield but we couldn’t put rain over such a large area of that whole drive. We wet the streets down. All the snow was CG because there was no way we could create snow over such a vast area.” (via Screen Daily)

March 28th

For lustful eyes only, here are a couple of pics (courtesy of camera operator Andrew Bikichky) of the blacked out Panavision cameras that will be shooting Star Wars Episode VII over the summer.

The Panny’s are custom made for Star Wars and will be the production’s “A” and “B” cameras, nicknamed “Death Star” and “Millennium Falcon.” 

Mounting on the front of these bad boys will be Panavision anamorphics and they’ll be loaded up with Kodak film stock 5219, as was revealed by cinematographer Dan Mindel, ASC, BSC last summer.(via Blog | The Black and Blue)

January 21st


Evolution of the Dolly Zoom (by Vashi Nedomansky)

Very nice. It even has the one that taught me the term and remains my favorite (at 5:37). Though I’m not sure “evolution” is the right word - how’re you gonna say it got better after Vertigo?

December 20th

88 Cinematographers Share the Best Professional Advice They’ve Ever Received | The Black and Blue

When I was a focus puller on a movie with Adrian Biddle, BSC, I told him I did not have focus marks, and he said, ‘Feel the Force.’ I use that advice all the time. - Dan Mindel (Enemy of the State, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness)

1) Learn how to listen; 2) Choose one strong idea per film; and 3) Really understand your motivations, why you do something and not something else, and the direction you take in your work. - Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC (Delicatessen, Se7en, Midnight In Paris)

At ILM, Dennis Muren, ASC had a simple, powerful phrase: ‘One shot, one thought.’ When we lapse into gilding the lily on a setup, that quote provides a reality check. - Pete Kozachik, ASC (Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas)

Never take rejection personally if you don’t get a job. There are so many cinematographers vying for so few jobs, and there are many forces at work that have nothing to do with one’s talent. - Nancy Schreiber, ASC (The Nines, Woody Allen: A Documentary)

Stay calm, listen, observe and lead by example. - Jonathan Taylor, ASC (Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy)

November 20th

The film’s bold contrast ratios pay homage to classics like The French Connection (also shot by Owen Roizman), and The Pope of Greenwich Village (shot by John Bailey, ASC), while the Panavision C series lenses (developed decades ago, and modernized by Dan Sasaki) softened resolution and increased flaring (like 1970’s era films), while still providing a clean, grainless negative.  [Cinematographer Robert] Elswit, and his first-time director Tony Gilroy, culled from New York anamorphic classics, while adding new school touches like invisible Steadicam and digital scaling. “Those films had minimal camera movement and exploited image size changes,” says Elswit, “bouncing in from very wide to very close, for example, to highlight their graphic qualities. Rather than using a standard master and coverage, the shots all stand on their own and that’s what we tried to emulate. Tony even looked through the camera, and screened dailies (digitally projected) every day, both of which seem like rarities for most directors these days.”

“The movies that came out of New York City from 1965 to 1985, were, to me, the creative peak in American cinema,” adds Elswit, “and I wanted to find my way back to those movies, led by the likes of Gordon Willis and Owen Roizman, that I saw in film school.” (via)

November 18th


The Art of Roger Deakins.

October 20th

The Light Box stood over 20-feet tall and 10-feet across, with a sliding door on one side that allowed access to the interior, and a gantry hanging overhead that tethered the box to a team of VFX technicians at a computer control center. The interior of the box was comprised of 196 panels, each measuring approximately two feet by two feet, and fitted with 4,096 LED bulbs that could cast whatever light or colors were needed and alter them at any speed. Images could also be projected onto the walls, including the planet Earth, the International Space Station (ISS), or the distant stars “giving the actor the perspective of what their character was seeing,” [VFX supervisor Tim] Webber says “It was primarily so we could reflect the appropriate light on them, but it had the double benefit of being a visual reference for them, too.” (via)


"If you zoom in on Sandra’s eyes, sometimes you can see the earth moving around—things like that would have been almost impossible to do without the box. So we built the box, but that wasn’t it.  To be able to shoot inside the box, we had to build a special rig that holds the camera and moves with motion control. So we had people build a very narrow, lightweight but sturdy rig to control the camera. If you imagine the big box of LEDs, it has a gap that is almost a foot and a half or two feet wide, and the camera has to go into the box and make all these moves to make the audience believe that Sandra is turning and turning, but it’s really the camera and the environment in the box that is moving. So we built the box, the rig, and then used a company called Bot & Dolly. These guys are from San Francisco, and they use robots from the automotive industry.  They redid all the software for us, so we were able to use these robots to move the cameras and the lights around the actors.It was just a big ballet of gadgets and new technology for the film.” - Emmanuel Lubezki

October 19th

Can you touch upon some of the pieces of technology and equipment that were created to make Gravity possible?  

Emmanuel Lubezki: To make this movie we used many different methodologies. For one of them, we invented this LED box that you’ve probably read about, which is basically this very large LED monitor that is folded into a cube. So all the information and images that you input into this monitor lights the actors, and you can input all of the scenes that were pre-visualized to create the movie—all the environments that we had created—and you can input them into this large cube so space itself is moving around the actors. 

So it’s not Sandra Bullock spinning around like crazy, it’s your cameras.

Emmanuel LubezkiYes, instead of having Sandra turning in 360s and hanging from cables, what’s happening is she’s standing in the middle of this cube and the environment and the lighting is moving around her. The lighting on the movie is very complex—it’s changing all the time from day to night, all the color temperatures are changing and the contrast is changing. There were a lot of subtleties that you can capture with the box, subtleties that make the integration of the virtual cinematography and the live-action much better than ever before.(via)


Children of Men Ambushed Car Scene

There are very few director/cinematographer teams working today as well known for a certain aspect of filmmaking as you and Alfonso are, which is that long extended take, or the seamlessly edited take. What it is like actually shooting those scenes?

Emmanuel Lubezki: I’m going to tell you something, the reality is that the movie was so new that when we finished a shot we would get so excited people would scream on set—probably me before anybody else.  There were moments when we were shooting and Alfonso said ‘cut’ we would all just jump and scream out of happiness because we’d achieved something that we knew was very special.

In Children of Men, we also had moments like that. When we finished the first shot inside that car [the aforementioned ambush scene], the focus puller started crying. There was so much pressure that, when he realized he had done a great job, he just started crying.

As the cinematographer, you must feel an insane amount of pressure yourself.

Emmanuel Lubezki: You know for me it’s an incredible pressure, but for Alfonso it must be fifty times more because he has to deliver something, and he’s getting notes, people saying you shouldn’t do it in one take, it’s not going to work, why don’t you do it the way everybody else does it? And one thing I want to say is that Alfonso is not doing these shots because he wants to show off, or because they are tour de forces shots of an auteur, or because they are gimmicks. I think he does it from a very honest perspective. It’s that he’s doing them because he wants to capture a certain emotion, and he believes—I hate to talk for him because he might not agree with me—but my feeling is he does these shots because it is the only way to capture certain emotions, and it’s the only way to get the audience immersed as deeply as you get immersed in moments like in that scene, or in Gravity. When you feel things are happening in real time and there’s that immediacy with the actors, and the camera is doing all of these elastic shots that are very objective shots that then become subjective shots, and you see what Sandra’s going through, you see it through her eyes, and then you also see objectively from the audience’s point of view, I think all that creates an energy, a tension, and a feeling of being immersed that otherwise you cannot achieve. (via)

October 11th

Jesse James opens with a train robbery that takes place in a wooded area that seems to be lit almost entirely by a light on the front of the train and lanterns held by the characters. How did you approach that sequence?

Roger Deakins (Cinematographer): We shot that in Edmonton in this preserved town where they had a little loop railway and a small train. Andrew actually wanted to ship in a much bigger train, but the cost was prohibitive. We kept trying to reassure him that we could do things photographically that would give the train more of a presence. Andrew kept calling it ‘Thomas the Tank Engine,’ and when you saw it in broad daylight, it did look pretty puny! Now, though, he thinks it looks great.

When you’re dealing with that kind of period situation, the first thing you think of is the technical challenge of lighting everything. The train robbery had to look as if it were really lit just with lanterns. Of course, if you look closely at the shots, they’re totally unrealistic because there’s much too much light! Nevertheless, our approach worked pretty well. Andrew kept pushing for darkness, and, of course, if you haven’t worked with a director before, you wonder what he means by ‘dark.’ In this wooded area where the James gang was waiting to ambush the train, I’d positioned some lights on Condors to rake through the trees so you’d get some sense of the trees before the train came. But about an hour before we started shooting, I decided to turn them off, and instead we just pumped some atmosphere into the area. Luckily there wasn’t much of a wind, so we could maintain a low level of smoke hanging in the air and just let the light on the front of the train provide the general ambience. We shot the arrival of the train without any rehearsal, but it worked out just great. The only light in the whole scene is coming from either the train or the lanterns the outlaws are holding. The lanterns were dummied with 300- or 500-watt bulbs. Sometimes I’d keep the flame and put the bulbs behind the flame, dimmed way down. We positioned little pieces of foil between the bulb and the flame so all the camera would see was the little flame. At other times during the robbery, we just had bulbs in the lanterns — two bulbs side by side, dimmed down and sometimes flickering very gently. To augment the lanterns for close-up shots, I occasionally used a warmed-up Tweenie bounced off a gold stippled reflector.

The light on the front of the train stretched credibility, really. They did have lights on the front of trains back then, but they wouldn’t have been as strong as the 5K Par we used! We also had some gag lights underneath the train — little bare bulbs dimmed down — to light the steam and create the effect of this fiery red glow beneath the train. We had a special-effects rig on the train that would create sparks as it started braking. There’s one shot where the train is coming toward you and seems to hit the camera and carry it down the tracks; on the tracks, we set up a camera-platform rig with a big, soft buffer, and the train actually hit the platform and started pushing it along. In that particular shot, you can really see the warm glow of the bulbs underneath the engine. We also positioned a little silver reflector that caught some of the bounce from the 5K on the train, just to create some reflected light that would reveal the front of the train — otherwise, there was nothing else to illuminate it. We had a steam generator on the train so that when it stopped, we got this big cloud of steam that Jesse disappears into. (via)