Traveling Light — Steve Poster Journal, Part 2

Dateline — Somewhere over the Atlantic on my way to New York

We have been shooting for over seventy days now and I can start to smell the end. It’s been going very well for the last few weeks. One of the main reasons is that we are back shooting near Paris and I am seeing dailies (or rushes as they are called in France) on a regular basis and projected on film again. We were on the road for eight weeks and for four of them I could only get taped dailies.

Even though the tape was Beta, it was so different from seeing an anamorphic image on the big screen that panic set in every time I saw dailies. After about four viewings I decided to do something that I have never done before—I stopped watching the tapes.

I felt that it was better to not see images that were so unrelated to the finished product because I could have started compensating for what was on the tube. That was more dangerous than trusting my instincts and the close relationship I have with my grader (this is very common in European labs). The worst thing I could have done was to have worked from the tape: that would have been a disaster!

Let me throw in this caveat: if you are shooting for a video finish, ignore what I am saying—you have to watch the tape. (Then there’s the age old problem of getting representative transfers, isn’t there? But that is all we have for many lower budget films these days.)

The one-on-one relationship that shooters have with their graders in European labs is really a great service. I am working at Eclair Lab and my grader is Olivier d’Fountnoy. He is unusually young for a grader but his skill is beyond his years. We had talks before we started, and during tests, that led him to understand some of my artistic goals. Olivier read the script and had a real grasp of the story. When I was in the field I could say to him on the phone, “We are shooting the scene where Brasack is preparing the explosives on the bulldozer and it is still dawn [or orb as it is called here]. I exposed more for the sky and let everything fall lower in this one. And it is overcast, so the coldness that we need is built in.” He knew exactly what I was talking about.

How about this one. “Sharkov and his Henchman are sitting in his office in the Bastille. It is late day, the light is really streaming in, and the camera is facing the windows. I have a 6K par hitting Sharkov from out-of-frame right, but nothing on the Henchman. I know it will flare around the Henchman somewhat, but let me know how much. Print it cold and down to control the flare. Be careful not to loose Sharkov too much.”

There was some lost sleep over that one. But Olivier knew exactly what I was talking about and what my concerns were. He also knew that I had limited access to light some of the sets because during one of his visits to the location (something else I’ve never had from a timer in the States) he learned that the director, Patrice, likes to have real (unmovable and low) ceilings built. And he often chooses the 35mm (anamorphic) lens in these situations, and then makes moves with it to boot-doesn’t give me many places to light from.

Patrice feels that it adds a sense of reality and makes you solve problems in innovative ways…I’ll say! I’ve really wanted to take a chain saw to some of those sets to get some light in overhead. But noooooop! I went along with it and accepted it as a challenge.

But in this situation the ‘halo’ around the Henchman was just enough to make it mysterious. How many years have I been doing this and I still get anxious? Just goes to show that what we do is nowhere near an exact science. Sometimes I think it is more like magic, alchemy and mysticism all thrown in together to make our love potions.

So what was I doing on a plane to New York? Actually we are back home now (oops—back in Paris—oh, the life of the traveler). We were in the States shooting the end of the movie. The last scene takes place in Central Park. At one point in the shoot we were standing in front of the Plaza Hotel. The Paris Theater next door was showing Truffaut’s Day For Night. How ironic…here I was standing with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon in front of a marquee for Day for Night. I thought I was living Day For Night.

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