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Sundance Cinematographers Tell Indiewire About their Most Difficult Shots

Sundance Cinematographers Tell Indiewire About their Most Difficult Shots

Though a film’s cinematography is shown on-screen, what happens behind the camera often proves to be much more strenuous than meets the eye. Battling against technical difficulties, budgetary restrictions and even some political strife, the 2014 Sundance cinematographers have certainly had their work cut out for them. As part of our “How I Shot That” series, we asked a selection of cinematographers with films at Sundance 2014 what their most difficult shot was on their respective productions, and just how exactly they managed to pull it off.

Here’s a selection of their answers:

“The most difficult sequence of ‘Life After Beth’ was absolutely the final
scene in the attic with Zach and Beth after they come back from the
beach. It’s incredibly simple. Two people in a small attic…they make
out…it turns a bit ugly and Zach escapes through a dormer window.
The director Jeff Baena wanted it to feel very moody with the actors
entering pools of light and then receding into pure darkness. Moody,
high contrast lighting is always the most time-consuming because you
need to be very specific with the angle of the cameras in relation to
the angle of light, or else you’ll have half your shots look moody and
the other half look bright and flat. Cross shooting with two cameras is
very difficult in this situation as well, as you then have very few
choices of where you can put your lights and still maintain a dark mood.” – Jay Hunter (“Life After Beth”)

“The Christmas Eve scene was the biggest challenge. Once you fill an
environment with that much smoke, you quickly lose the definition of
space. So my gaffer and I put almost all of our (few!) lights up outside
the house, playing in through the windows and blinds, and tucked small
fixtures in the corners of rooms, to make sure we got good silhouettes.
Maintaining that level of smoke was tricky, so we closed all the windows
and doors, checked all the cues and then left the machine running until
we could barely see in front of our faces before calling action.” – Ben Richardson (“Happy Christmas”)

“Pretty much the entire shoot was a challenge. I had a small crew and
very few days in which to shoot this film. That all translates to not
enough time or resources to set up. As a result, night interiors are lit
with carefully selected practical lights. As for daylight interiors, I
asked the production designer to supply dark wooden shutters to
modulate the light. I find blinds to be the most versatile
window-dressing when attempting to light with available daylight. Not
only can you have a completely open or completely closed window, but you
can modulate the amount of light coming in with just a simple twist of
the blinds. The darkness of the wood helped me avoid overexposure on the
blinds when direct sunlight hit them. On a low-budget film with limited
resources, I always find the challenge to be in how to maintain the
integrity of the lighting.” – Bobby Bukowski (“Infinitely Polar Bear”)

“Shooting a huge night exterior down by a river bank that was a half-mile
down a hiking trail. I didn’t pull it off–my crew did! We had multiple
18K Arri Max pars on a state highway bridge and other lamps on a foot
bridge.” – Darren Lew (“Jamie Marks Is Dead”)

“I was filming my main subject, Pastor Jay Reinke, in a fly-speck town
called Wheelock in the North Dakota oil field when a woman pulled out a
rifle and threatened to shoot us both if we didn’t leave. I kept
filming and wondering if she was going to shoot us, hoping that his
position as pastor would provide some form of divine protection. As we
were leaving, and still rolling, she attacked me with a metal
broomstick. The shot is in the film. I pulled it off by ignoring that
rational voice in my head that said run like hell.” – Jesse Moss (“The Overnighters”)

“The most difficult sequence to shoot
was when I had to film two of the characters in ‘E-Team’ being smuggled
into Syria along the Turkish border. It was pitch black as we rode to
the crossing and there was absolutely no possibility for lights since we
were supposed to be incognito. To top it off we had to run across an
open field and could only bring what we could carry on our backs.
Luckily, because the car broke down 4 times on the way to the border, it
had allowed the sun to start rising and it was right before dawn, so the
shadows and colors turned out to look lovely. As we were instructed when
the smuggler said run, well that was it and we took off! I held the
camera at my hip and ran next to the subjects so they would be back-lit
and I could capture the chaotic, frantic moments as we ran towards
Syria.” – Rachel Beth Anderson (“E-Team”)

“We had some big night exteriors that I wasn’t 100 percent sure about how
to light, and at lunch that day, I made a joke to our key grip Bert
Montanari about building a 12×12 booklight on a scissor lift (which for
many reasons was a completely ridiculous idea). We went back to
shooting inside and I forgot about our conversation. When we went
outside to start setting up, and figuring out how we would light the
scene, there it was. A marvel of grip engineering. It worked
beautifully, and enabled us to shoot wider, faster, and get more angles
than I had anticipated.” – Zachary Galler (“The Sleepwalker”)

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