The American Society of Cinematographers

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Inside Man
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Sundance 2006
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Production on got underway in the summer of 2005 and ran for 43 days. The story covers a 24-hour period, from the morning of the day when the heist begins to the morning of the next, when the crisis is resolved. There are three primary, adjacent settings: the exterior of the bank, where the police and emergency forces congregate; the lobby of the bank; and the bank basement, where the hostages are held. “We had a bank location downtown, right off of Wall Street,” says Libatique. “It was an empty building that had a beautiful lobby, and [production designer] Wynn Thomas turned it into a bank.” Scenes set in the bank basement were shot at Brooklyn’s new Steiner Studios. “The stage was enormous,” notes Libatique. “It was fantastic to be able to work in New York in a space that was custom-fit for film.” 

The color mix he devised played most strongly on night exteriors outside the bank. “With my gaffer, John Velez, I would pick zones for different-colored lights. I’d say, ‘This zone is a cool environment, this is a metal-halide environment, this is a tungsten environment.’ Then, within the blocking, I would create a balance between two or three colors. I always had a representation of at least two colors, something warm and something cool, or something green and something blue, in the same frame so the language would stay fluid. On the exterior, I had the benefit of the police-car lights, a mobile command center with tungsten lighting, sodium-vapor streetlights, and metal-halide construction lights that the police wheel out in situations like this — they flood the area with light so they can see what’s going on.” For the latter units, the production actually used 16 Arri 4K X-Lights on towers, powered by an Arri Event system, “to give us instant ‘on,’” says Velez. “Matty wanted to have a dramatic effect when night hit the scene. We put green glass on the X-Lights and blocked out any Arri labeling so they looked like police lights.” 

This look was matched on the Steiner stage with “greened-up” 4K HMI Pars aimed through the windows of the basement set. “I used the windows as the motivating light source in the bank at night because the power has been cut,” explains Libatique. Velez adds, “We had to go with what was on the exterior of the bank, and luckily there were windows [on the basement level]. They were boarded up when we first went to the location, but we uncovered them and the art department cleaned them.” 

Other major light sources used on the exterior were predominantly employed for day sequences and proved especially useful toward the end of the day in the “canyons” of lower Manhattan. One was a 10' SourceMaker 8K Cube, an HMI lighting balloon suspended over the street. Another was the LRX II, a truck unit designed by Dwight Crane of Toronto that has a 120' arm and robotic heads that can accommodate six 12K tungsten or HMI lamps. Both Libatique and Velez had prior experience with the LRX, which “resembles a Musco or Bebee but allows much more control,” says the cinematographer. Velez details, “Each head is independent and can be controlled remotely, and one of the most impressive characteristics is that it can work in tungsten mode with the ability to dim. All you have to do is change out the globe. We would often mix HMI and tungsten light; at night, we would have the system set up with Plus Green on the HMIs, and Brass or 1?2 Straw on the tungsten. Each head could take up to four gels; you could put a diffusion frame in there, or color. We kind of went crazy — there wasn’t one normal-colored light on set.” 

Most crucially, the LRX provided the filmmakers with precious extra minutes of “daylight” when the sun began creeping behind the high buildings. “We would just send it down the street with the tungsten and the HMI to give us a little warmth in our daylight when it landed,” recalls Velez. “Because it was such a powerful unit,” says Libatique, “I’d create hot spots with it or bang it into the glass of a building to create reflections on the other side of the street. Or I would use it as a front fill.” As an example, the cinematographer cites a scene in which Frazier is introduced to Foster’s character. “The sun was going down and we were pretty much running out of ambient light. John suggested moving our LRX behind the camera and focusing all of the light very high out of frame. All we got was the ambience from the edges of a focused source, and that bought us an extra 20 or 30 minutes of shooting. Sometimes it’s what you plan, and sometimes it’s what you think of in five minutes.” 

Inside the bank location, Velez’s crew, including rigging gaffer Bill Almeida and best boy Darrin Smith, floated a tungsten SourceMaker 4K Cube for ambient light. On the lobby’s pillars, they rigged six Vari-Lite VL1000 ERS luminaires, which Velez operated remotely with a Lanbox DMX controller. “When we were scouting, Matty said we should put moving lights up there,” says the gaffer. “We went to Scharff Weisberg, which is a specialty shop for a lot of Broadway shows. They gave us half a day and we went through a lot of gear.” During this shopping spree, they found a Color Kinetics LED that they used as a police-car effect, and, more importantly, the VL1000, which includes CYM color mixing and rotating gobos among its features. “I’ll tell you, I’ve always been afraid of moving lights because they’re theater lights and very complicated to use [on film],” says Velez. “On film sets, we’re pretty much run and gun, and we try to keep things a little bit low-tech, because if something breaks down it can be a problem. But these units are tungsten, so they’re film-friendly; you can make them any color you can think of, you can shape the light, throw a little breakup in it, or bounce them into cards and throw a little fill. The Lanbox system gave me the ability to have the instrument on my laptop, so I could pan it left or right or change the color. Whereas film lights just do one job, and we might modify them with gel or diffusion, these units have a lot of personality. I’m not afraid of them anymore. Bring ’em on.” 

Though the contrasting visual strategies Libatique devised for the main characters play through most of at one point, Frazier and Dalton actually come together inside the bank. “Frazier says he wants to see the hostages to make sure they’re alive before he gives Dalton what he’s asking for,” says the cinematographer. “Dalton gives him entrance to the bank and shows him the hostages. We go through the entire bank, from the upstairs on location to a blend into the stage basement set, with the same Steadicam moves. We had the worlds meet by using a fluid, steady camera, but we incorporated the predominant light and color that we see in Frazier’s world.” 

At times, Libatique provided a more omniscient view. For one daytime Technocrane shot, “we spend a certain amount of time on the interior with Dalton, and then we hit the exterior,” he explains. “We start on one side of the street, see the mobile command center and the police getting into position, show the front of the bank, and then pan to the other side. In the distance, we notice Jodie Foster sitting in a diner, and the camera goes past the police officers and into a medium shot of her sitting amongst the chaos. The idea behind that shot was to show the uniformity and control of the [bank] interior, and then go out and show the mixture of color temperatures and the way the light falls in New York, how you have moments of sunlight pouring down, reflecting off buildings or hitting the street and also very cold, shadowy areas. We show characters moving in those [varied] environments before heading into the very controlled light, where Jodie’s sitting. It was nice to construct something like that, which worked on many levels in terms of the overall language of the film. That’s where I think cinematography meets the editing process; long shots like that can reintroduce the audience to where you are in the story.”

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