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Max Jacoby

Academy Award Nominations 2008

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I'm a director, not a DP, so yes I would wait. I do wait. I make waiting for good light the priority of all my shoots. People who know me will attest to this. :)

 

 

So if you were directing There Will Be Blood, a 3 Hour epic about a greedy and brutal oil man, and Robert Elswit looked over and said "let's go we are ready to shoot, this "high noon" light looks perfect for what we are trying to achieve here", you would stop him?

 

"Hey Bob lets go over to the church now or a read a book until 4 or 5 because I don't like the light, it's not pretty enough right now."

 

And then Daniel Day Lewis tells you he is ready, and Paul Dano is ready. There performances can't nearly be as important as amber sunlight on their cheeks 4 hours later when they are less focused and feeling fatigued.

 

"Just keep rehearsing."

 

Elswit, Lewis and Dano are just as much artists as Paul Thomas Anderson, and I think they, especially Elswit, would fight with you a great deal about your reasonings to make the film more pleasant to the eye for the simple reason that they read the script and understand the story. What you are describing s Michael Bay theory. Every shot could stand alone, every shot is a trailer shot, a still photograph, a 3 hour trailer.

 

There are higher things at work here. Beside the logistics of a gigantic production, and other things like budget, the simple fact is the story called for harsh visual imagery.

 

Good luck directing a DP on such a high level. I would imagine people like Elswit don't just listen to orders without a lengthy discussion that answers the artistic motivation behind such strict rules. Motivations that simply serve the story. Any great DP I have ever heard talk, always say they are their to serve the story.

 

I am sure David Mullen would agree he would not do something he doesn't believe works for the story just because the director wants it to look pretty, at least without a long discussion and a fight. I have worked on student films where I have seen big conflicts between the DP and the Director about lighting and composition, let alone a 60 million dollar movie.

 

When people's careers are on the line and their artistic reputation, they should and do have a say.

 

Jack

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Well, hopefully the director and I are in sync because we agreed to the ground rules from the beginning, during prep.

 

Though I've been defending "There Will Be Blood" (as if it needed my defense) for being deliberately harsh and brutal visually as a reflection of the characters and what they are doing... a director could also come to me and say "I want to play against expectations" (which can be dangerous) and decide to make something ugly look beautiful as a visual counterpoint. Now in the case of "There Will Be Blood" I don't think that would have worked as well because it's the oppressiveness and sense of dread that makes the movie dramatically gripping, so counterpointing it visually with a lush romantic landscape could have deflated that tension. But I could see a director making the case that this was a tale of the deflowering or destruction of the Garden of Eden by mankind (a common Malick theme.)

 

Look at "A Bridge Too Far", though this also applies to "The Thin Red Line" -- when someone questioned Geoffrey Unsworth on capturing the Dutch landscape in all its beauty for a war movie, he said "well, isn't that the tragedy of war? That these horrible things happen in such beautiful places?" (I'm paraphrasing). It's the opposite approach to something like "Saving Private Ryan" or many WW1 movies where the European landscape has been reduced to a hellish no man's land of mud and blood (an approach that worked well in "A Very Long Engagement" because you had the great moment where they revisit the WW1 battlefield site a few years later and it's disappeared under a sea of flowers.)

 

But as I said, I think they made the correct visual choices for "There Will Be Blood". Obviously many other people agree -- it's already won Best Cinematography awards from the ASC, the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Society of Film Critics, and the Las Vegas Society of Film Critics. And the cinematography has been nominated in a slew of other awards, including the Oscars and the BAFTA's.

 

And the truth is that many of these oil rigs went up in rather scrubby, unspectacular landscapes across the southwest and west (like Culver City... or around Dallas and Houston.) It would have been too arty to stage the movie in some striking landscape, too symbolic.

 

Also, if you read the articles on "The New World", Malick shot the movie in all kinds of light, at all times of day, shooting mountains of footage. In fact, Lubezky and Malick were sort of determined to not turn it into to a postcardy sunset-heavy movie. It's just that toppy hard sunlight isn't as flat or desolate-looking in a wooded landscape compared to the desert.

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Well, hopefully the director and I are in sync because we agreed to the ground rules from the beginning, during prep.

 

Though I've been defending "There Will Be Blood" (as if it needed my defense) for being deliberately harsh and brutal visually as a reflection of the characters and what they are doing... a director could also come to me and say "I want to play against expectations" (which can be dangerous) and decide to make something ugly look beautiful as a visual counterpoint. Now in the case of "There Will Be Blood" I don't think that would have worked as well because it's the oppressiveness and sense of dread that makes the movie dramatically gripping, so counterpointing it visually with a lush romantic landscape could have deflated that tension. But I could see a director making the case that this was a tale of the deflowering or destruction of the Garden of Eden by mankind (a common Malick theme.)

 

Look at "A Bridge Too Far", though this also applies to "The Thin Red Line" -- when someone questioned Geoffrey Unsworth on capturing the Dutch landscape in all its beauty for a war movie, he said "well, isn't that the tragedy of war? That these horrible things happen in such beautiful places?" (I'm paraphrasing). It's the opposite approach to something like "Saving Private Ryan" or many WW1 movies where the European landscape has been reduced to a hellish no man's land of mud and blood (an approach that worked well in "A Very Long Engagement" because you had the great moment where they revisit the WW1 battlefield site a few years later and it's disappeared under a sea of flowers.)

 

But as I said, I think they made the correct visual choices for "There Will Be Blood". Obviously many other people agree -- it's already won Best Cinematography awards from the ASC, the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Society of Film Critics, and the Las Vegas Society of Film Critics. And the cinematography has been nominated in a slew of other awards, including the Oscars and the BAFTA's.

 

And the truth is that many of these oil rigs went up in rather scrubby, unspectacular landscapes across the southwest and west (like Culver City... or around Dallas and Houston.) It would have been too arty to stage the movie in some striking landscape, too symbolic.

 

Also, if you read the articles on "The New World", Malick shot the movie in all kinds of light, at all times of day, shooting mountains of footage. In fact, Lubezky and Malick were sort of determined to not turn it into to a postcardy sunset-heavy movie. It's just that toppy hard sunlight isn't as flat or desolate-looking in a wooded landscape compared to the desert.

 

You'll notice in The New World that much of the broad daylight shooting is done under the tree canopy, which I think is smart.

 

Regarding the locations for Blood, I agree they are perfect. That's not my criticism at all. I just liked the "look" of No Country a lot better. It wasn't more romantic, it was just shot better under better light and weather conditions, for my money. I'm pretty sure they used the exact same desert for both movies. David, what lenses were used for Blood?

 

Jack Williamson finds it impossible to believe that any director could actually plan a movie so they can shoot in optimal light..... hehe. Sure, it's difficult, but it depends on your patience and your priorities. If you are willing to sacrifice other things, you can plan such a shoot. And of course, the whole thing would be agreed to in advance, as Almendros and Malick did with Days of Heaven.

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Most of "There Will Be Blood" was shot in Marfa, Texas (doubling for Bakersfield, CA) with a few shots done in California, whereas "No Country for Old Men" was shot in New Mexico (in some of the same locations as "Astronaut Farmer", like Las Vegas, NM).

 

And you can tell -- Texas is a lot flatter than New Mexico and the rocks are less colorful. New Mexico has a very rich-colored landscape generally (which is why Georgia O'Keefe lived there) and is more hilly and mountainous.

 

"There Will Be Blood" was shot in anamorphic Panavision with no D.I. and "No Country for Old Men" was shot in Super-35 using Zeiss Master Primes and went through a D.I.

 

"There Will be Blood" generally used slower film stock (PT Anderson doesn't like fast film) -- Kodak 50D (5201) and 200T (5217).

 

"No Country for Old Men" was shot on Kodak 100T (5212), 200T (5217), and 500T (5218).

 

I believe Deakins also shot "In The Valley of Elah" also in the New Mexico region.

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Jack Williamson finds it impossible to believe that any director could actually plan a movie so they can shoot in optimal light..... hehe. Sure, it's difficult, but it depends on your patience and your priorities.

 

I am not sure you read my posts. Obviously this is not what I am saying.

 

 

Good luck.

 

Jack

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This whole discussion reminds me of something that happened on one of my first student films as a DP -- the director and I went to this chapel on the Sunset Strip in Las Vegas for a scene and I asked him what he wanted it to look like and he said "I'd love it if you captured the way it actually looks".

 

Sometimes you want to shoot a location in the optimal light, but sometimes that isn't really an honest representation of the place in terms of how it should feel for the needs of the story. I grew up in a desert town and the reality wasn't always golden late afternoon light or sunset -- the reality often was a scrubby, hot, barren, dusty, bleak, washed-out overhead light. The feeling of being baked in a microwave oven. And that grey-ish tan sand of the Mojave, not the rich golden sand of some other deserts.

 

"There Will Be Blood" is supposedly set around Bakersfield, which is not the most photogenic town. PT Anderson's main strength as a director is creating worlds, a community, like Altman did in "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" or "Nashville". It is not a setting with mythic, almost Biblical, resonance like in a Malick movie -- it's a realistic setting with realistic faces populating it. You feel the heat and dust mostly, and the poverty of the people living on the fringes of the town. You marvel that people actually are trying to build a community there. When I grew up in Ridgecrest / China Lake, I heard that before it became a military base for testing missiles, it was originally the site of a dairy. A dairy in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the desert, with only well water to drink. I'm still trying to figure out what that dairy farmer was thinking...

 

Anyway, "There Will Be Blood" struck me as being a honest representation of that time and place, that lifestyle. It doesn't have the noir-ish, mythical elements of "No Country for Old Men".

 

Personally, I'd give the award to "No Country" or "Jesse James" over "There Will Be Blood" but that's more to do with my personal taste in cinematography, not about objective worth. I can find no fault in the way Elswit decided to shoot the picture, I think he's a genius. And personally, I suspect Deakins would have shot that script in a similar manner, just as he shot "Jarhead" in harsh desert light.

 

Sometimes you look at a location and think what light will make it look the best, but other times, you ask yourself what the reality is of this place and whether you should be capturing that honestly, even plainly. Again, look at the two photos you posted Tom -- the first looks like the desert that I grew up in, the second looks like it belongs on a calendar, or for a Jeep commercial. I've seen the desert look like that sometimes, but it's not the first thing that pops into my head when I think about the Mojave Desert.

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Hmmm.... it's tough to argue with what you are saying. Because yeah, if you walk out into a typical desert at noon, it's going to look ugly. So I get your point.

 

The only other thing I will mention is that some of the mid-day shots in Blood might have seemed blown out? If you look at the first desert photo I posted, it's definitely blown out.

 

306758128_47b3b7b00f.jpg

 

I can't remember for sure, but it seems like maybe some of the high noon shots in Blood might have been blown out? You mentioned, David, that the photo above looked like the desert you knew, but the difference perhaps is that your eyes have more dynamic range than the camera used to take this shot?

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I thought the problem with HD is that "blown out" is far too easy to get! ;)

 

On my earlier point about The Searchers and Lawrence, do you think 65mm holds up better during these broad daylight, high-noon shots in the desert? I remember seeing a few shots in The Searchers that I was amazed to see were not blown out in terms of the sky. The desert is perfectly exposed, and yet so is the sky, blue and beautiful.

 

moviepic003.jpg

 

I don't know if maybe grad NDs were used (it doesn't appear so), or if the 65mm stock just has a lot more latitude?

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I don't know if maybe grad NDs were used (it doesn't appear so), or if the 65mm stock just has a lot more latitude?

 

65mm stock is the same as the 35mm. & 'The Searchers' was VistaVision, which is 8-perf 35mm.

 

It has more to due with shooting in front light rather than in back light & how clear the sky is & also what season it's being shoot in rather than the format.

 

'Robinson Crusoe on Mars' was shot in Death Valley in Techniscope, the smallest 35mm format. It was shot at a time of year when the skies were deep blue and cloudless enough that blue screen travelling mattes could be pulled off of them in order to replae them with red skies.

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Not really more latitude... but the thing with the light in open spaces like the desert is you need contrast and shadows to create depth and texture, hence why it tends to look better when the sun is coming at a lower angle (especially sand dunes, which don't look like much in overhead light)... so when you shoot on a format with a lot more resolution, and can pick up more fine detail, then the flatter overhead light doesn't look quite as boring because your eye has some detail to pick out, whereas the lower the resolution, the more you need dramatic contrast to create that dimensional feeling.

 

But it really depends on the desert formation -- in a deep canyon, for example, high overhead light may give you more rock shadows and detail than late afternoon light when most of the canyon is in the shade, and thus in flat soft light. Same goes for a deep forest in a valley -- late afternoon light may just get blocked up or only hit the tops of the trees, not where your actors are standing.

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David, I thought you told me a while back that a larger negative like Vista Vision or IMAX would generally have more dynamic range than a smaller 35mm negative? Am I mistaken about this?

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David, I thought you told me a while back that a larger negative like Vista Vision or IMAX would generally have more dynamic range than a smaller 35mm negative? Am I mistaken about this?

 

I think that a larger negative can record more "color depth" in a sense because color in real life is made up of small patches of other colors -- even the human face has many subtle shades going on in it. So a larger negative tends to resolve those smaller patches of color and thus, I think, allow richer and more subtle variations to come through. But that's just a theory of mine.

 

I'm not sure about contrast / latitude though. You'd think the characteristic curve of the stock is whatever it is, regardless of the size. I suppose you could say, again, that in real life there are more luminence variations in small patches that a larger negative can capture, thus giving more "life" to the image rather than blurring those variations into one larger patch of tone. But I'm not sure that would translate into more stops of dynamic range recorded. But there may be the perception of more range because of the subtle details of tone being recorded.

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It's not a directors decision 100% on a film that big anyway Tom. I didn't see mention of answering to producers who are answering to a studio or company that is looking to make a profit. You just can't extend your shoot another month because you want to shoot at the best time of day. Some people are in unique positions to do this on a small scale but I think it is often overblown in the after-stories you read. If you are making a small film with local unknowns you can do things you could never do with the kind of top-tier professionals working on Blood.

 

Some of these aesthetic discussions on the given places and styles will be more interesting in '09 as Malick and Lubezki start shooting "Tree of Life" in southern Texas this March. I suspect we will see some of their finest work ever, given the long term work on the script which started in the '70's and given where each is in their careers. Just a feeling.

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I think that a larger negative can record more "color depth" in a sense because color in real life is made up of small patches of other colors -- even the human face has many subtle shades going on in it. So a larger negative tends to resolve those smaller patches of color and thus, I think, allow richer and more subtle variations to come through. But that's just a theory of mine.

 

I'll second that concept.

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Obviously with filmstock the dynamic range is the same, no matter what the format. But I've found that underexposing 5218 by 2 stops and printing it up again does show a lot of grain in Super 16mm, visible grain in 35mm and no grain in 65mm. Basically the bigger the neg size, the smaller the grains are (proportionally speaking of course, i.e. when projected onto a screen) so with 65mm you have more latitude to correct in post and not get penalized by grain.

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In the AC article on "Armageddon", John Schwartzman says that the larger anamorphic negative (compared to S35) allowed him to see further into the underexposed areas of the scene. He said that you could clearly read people's facial expressions at three stops under, where he felt that you wouldn't be able to see that kind of detail from an S35 blowup. So you've got the same range, but you'd be getting more readable information within that range.

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I can understand why there would be more latitude for exposure mistakes in terms of graininess, but I can't understand why there would be more shadow detail with anamorphic photography. Again, there may be more sharpness in underexposed areas because of the larger negative / less amount of enlargement.

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My interpretation was that Schwartzman was talking about seeing more in shadow areas because of greater resolution. I thought that the "Armageddon" article talked about a lot of different aspects of shooting anamorphic that were really interesting to me, including how the lenses could be optimized for a specific stop and focus distance. I've got a photocopy of the article so I'm not sure what issue it's from, but I'd be interested to hear your take on it, David, if you get a chance to look at it.

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I thought that the "Armageddon" article talked about a lot of different aspects of shooting anamorphic that were really interesting to me, including how the lenses could be optimized for a specific stop and focus distance.

No lens works equally well all throughout its focus range. Usually the closer the minimum focus is set, the harder it is to calculate/correct the lens so that its optical performance is the same from infinity to minimum focus. Which is why some older anamorphics like the E Series have such a high minimum focus (5 feet on the shorter lenses). These lenses could be made to focus closer (and some have been adapted to do so), but the optical performance drops off too much.

 

What Panavision likely has done on these lenses mentioned in 'Armageddon' is turned some of them into close-focus lenses and corrected them for these distances, thereby loosing quality on the other end of the scale. These lenses then only were used for close-ups, not wide shots.

 

With the stop it is similar, because the lens elements move as you pull focus, the light that reaches the film does not always stay the same intensity. For instance I was told that at infinity the 100mm Master Prime has an effective stop of T1.8 and not T1.3 as advertised. Any lens does this and it is actually more of an issue with zoom lenses whose stop also changes as you zoom in. Once again Panavision must have corrected the stop on these close-focus lenses for close-focus shots.

 

Incidentally if you wanted to build the best quality lens possible, you'd give it a fixed focus and stop setting and only correct for those.

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I'm glad that Robert Elswit won, of all the nominated films I have seen, I liked 'There will be Blood' best. Lovely anamorphic photography, no DI, just what the doctor ordered.

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Poor Deakins. :(

 

Definitely a classy move from Elswit giving due credit to the art director.

Edited by Tom Lowe

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Congratulations to Elswit, "there will be blood" was really beautiful.

However, I would have loved to see Deakins on stage with an oscar...he really deserved it: his work is always amazing, and imho both Jesse James and No Country are incredible, I liked them both better than PT Anderson's film.

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