One of the first things you think of with those ’70s films is there grainy texture. Today Kodak makes their film so grainless, they almost look digital once you go through a digital intermediate [DI]. Todd and I didn’t want to shoot super 16, like we’ve done in the past and gives you some grain, because we still wanted the aesthetic of 35mm which is what films like “The French Connection” shot on.
[Editor’s Note: The sensitivity of film stock is measured in ASA, similar to the ISO on a digital camera. The higher the number, the more light sensitive, or “faster,” the film stock]
The way around this and to create more of a grainy structure closer to how films of that era looked – and I’ve been doing for years – is I push the film in development. For example, the Kodak 5219 has a 500 ASA, so I would rate it at 1000 and shoot it at that 1000, so by my exposure I’m building more grain in the negative when it gets developed.
I wanted to build some color temperature into the negative on this film as well. Sometimes I used tungsten film outdoors and sometimes I would used daylight film indoors. If you use daylight film indoors, the tungsten lights goes warmer and the windows go neutral or burn out. But if I use tungsten film outdoors, it goes cooler if I don’t totally correct it. I was trying to throw the color balance off the film. I shot with 5219 and a 250 ASA stock, but I wasn’t totally correcting [the color temperature] with an 85 filter, I was using an 85C.
I reached out to Owen Roizman because he had a lot of moving shots in the streets of New York in “The French Connection” that have such a distinct feel. Today it would be considered pretty primitive, but he did it with western dollies — you may see people using them today on beaches and things, those big rubber round wheels. So instead of laying track — we had long tracking shots — we went back and found western dollies and use those in the streets of New York to create the same approach.
Todd wanted to use zooms to create that ’70s language. People today have an aversion to using zooms, but in that time period, especially with “The French Connection,” they use zooms in a very mechanical way. A lot of those cinematographers came out of commercials where they were using zooms, so that was a technique back then — although it’s worth noting Owen didn’t like them, the zooms in “The French Connection” were Friedkin’s decision.
So for the color 1970s part of the film, I shot with zoom lenses and tried to use what Owen used. I used the older Canon K35s and Cooke lenses.
It’s Not That Mechanical
Once we are shooting, Todd puts me in situations where I have to respond. A lot of times we shot with two cameras. There’s documenting the experience as you are filming it, so you aren’t overmanipulating the image to create the image. Almost like a documentarian, you are letting the camera respond to the performance, so that has a certain roughness or rawness to it as well.
“Wonderstruck” premiered in Competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions will release it in theaters October 20.
Editor’s Note: This feature is presented in partnership with ARRI, a leading designer, manufacturer and distributor of motion picture camera, digital intermediate (DI) and lighting equipment. Founded by two filmmakers 100 years ago, ARRI and its engineers have been recognized by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for contributions to the industry with 19 Scientific and Technical Awards. Click here for more about ARRI.