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THE CINEMATOGRAPHERS

Of scenes and sweet spots

The professionals behind the look of such films as 'The Hurt Locker,' 'Inglourious Basterds' and 'Precious' describe the scenes that captured the story.

December 23, 2009|By Christy Grosz

Although the stories in this year's Oscar hopefuls are powerful, it's the look of a film that often creates an enduring impression in the minds of voters. With an eye toward some of the most visually arresting movies of the season, we asked cinematographers to discuss the scenes that they think achieved the effect for which they were striving.

-- Christy Grosz 'The Hurt Locker'

Barry Ackroyd

The opening sequence in which a sergeant attempts to defuse a bomb on a residential street.

That first scene happened early on in our schedule, more out of coincidence, because we had to take a major road and close it down. It's quite a big set, and then [we had] to apply an actual full-scale explosion in a domestic space where people were living. It's not enhanced in any way with CGI, just shot for real with three or four cameras. We didn't have the money to go out of our way and look for an alternative method. We got down and dirty, got in the street. Stylistically, realism is what we were about. You want to kind of get the enhanced reality a little bit, while still trying to remain real. One of the authentic parts I thought about when we did the explosion was how to express the power. I tried showing that the power is not shrapnel or the blast or heat, it's merely force -- the air moving, the shock wave.

'Up in the Air'

Eric Steelberg

Ryan Bingham stands in front of the airport monitors, deciding where to travel to next.

Airports, it turns out, do not like movie crews. We come in with a lot of equipment; we kind of take over things. Generally speaking, the ticketing areas and out in front of the airport were not as big of a deal as trying to shoot past security -- that was extremely challenging. But the complication in that scene was scheduling it around the sun. We determined, through scouting it and some charts based on where the sun was coming in, that late in the morning would be the best time to shoot. It wasn't until our third attempt that we had the ideal weather to shoot that scene in the terminal. First attempt, it was raining. Second attempt, we couldn't get there in the morning. The third attempt, we got really lucky. It's a little nerve-wracking because [there's] the way it needs to be done, the way that it will be perfect, but you also have a schedule to live by. Fortunately, it was a very important image that Jason [Reitman] had in his mind even before we started shooting the movie, so he supported me.

'Inglourious Basterds'

Robert Richardson

A Nazi officer pays a visit to a Frenchman he suspects of harboring Jews.

We did end up on a stage in three parts: for shots like the eyes underneath the floorboards, for performance purposes, and when the Germans came into the room and began firing. We had a fair amount of material that was mixing the practical location and the stage. That was where I had some of my greatest fears. You can imagine sitting in a room in your kitchen, and you're looking at someone and the exterior's really bright. On film, if it's as bright as it is to the normal eye, it will be burned out and the interior will be very dark. Quentin [Tarantino] wanted a sense that the exterior was as close to the interior as possible without taking it to a surreal level. When we ended up on the stage, I had to re-create that [lighting]; our attempt was to make it as seamless as possible.

'Bright Star'

Greig Fraser

Fanny basks in the glow of love, lying on a bed with a warm breeze billowing out the curtains.

What we found when we were in the house where we were shooting for a little while was that if we opened a couple of doors, we could actually control the wind through the house. We discovered the best door and the best window to open. We also discovered the best level to keep the window open to create that gust. I spent a lot of time early on just studying the quality of the light and studying the beautiful different levels of overcast, and it's really quite complex. What I discovered was that I wanted to try and use tungsten light, which emits a heat, [and] then you put gel over the lens in the lab to create the color of the daylight. We also used a very big bank of light called a Wendy Light that created multiple shadows on the walls. The lighting was quite an important part in creating the feel.

"Precious"

Andrew Dunn

The sequence of scenes in the apartment in which Precious lives with her mother.

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