The American Society of Cinematographers

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Swiss Army Man - Directing
ASC Close-Up

      A riot sequence set in Athens presented its own special requirements. “Panalux built some LED cubes,” says Wiggins. “They over-cranked the LEDs so they were super-bright. We ran them on V-lock batteries, put them down in the crowd and fired them from a remote trigger via the desk.” This and other applications used wireless DMX control. Also, the production “had to generate fire effects for burning cars, explosions, Molotovs,” Wiggins adds. For those effects, he notes, “we had a set of Howie battens with MR16 bulbs in a frame.” Light from a helicopter was either performed for real, using a Nightsun searchlight, or simulated with Mole-Richardson 4K daylight beam projectors on rooftops.

      The CIA “hub” seen in the film was built onstage at Leavesden, where Warner Bros.’ lighting services supplied the equipment. Wiggins describes the set as “a shell-shaped room with a tiered roof, a bit like an old cinema. On each of the three tiers of the ceiling, there was a Perspex ‘up-stand’ about 9 inches high; behind those we had a crescent of about 50 fluorescents. The set was installed in October and would stand until January; we wouldn’t be able to get up onto that roof [once shooting began], so it made more sense to pay for the bits and build our own ‘Hipster Flos,’ rather than rent fixtures to build into the set for four months.”

      Commercial dimmable ballasts were used with both tungsten-balanced and blue tubes in the space. “The references we had of similar CIA installations tended to have a blue feeling,” Wiggins notes. “When we were on Captain Phillips, the combat-information center of the battleship was lit with blue tubes — something to do with maintaining night vision or keeping you awake.”

      The majority of Las Vegas interiors were shot at Aria resort; the hotel’s conference center was used for scenes at a trade show, with rigging work facilitated by the availability of CAD drawings that indicated the location of flying points. “You can plot out where you want stuff, then a crew will come in and put trussing in,” Wiggins relates. The final configuration involved a rig of “about 16 20-foot truss bars with Par cans to liven up this [large] space,” he adds.

      For another scene involving a hotel room on the 58th floor at Aria, the crew used two Digital Sputnik DS 6s — 840-watt color-mixing LEDs — on a nearby rooftop to suggest lighting from the strip below. The DS 6s could be run conveniently from a nearby 60-amp supply, avoiding the inconvenience of running high-power cables from a generator located 52 floors below.

      Wiggins adds that for a scene set in a Las Vegas storm drain — but actually shot in an underground parking lot in the U.K. — “we used 32 Arri S60-C Skypanels and a couple of Kinos to light the storm drains in a warm, sodium-ish light. The Skypanels are fantastic; they’ll give you what a color-gelled 5K with a Chimera will, or more.”

      AC spoke with Ackroyd during his last few days of direct involvement with Jason Bourne, before he would move on to reteam with director Kathryn Bigelow — with whom he collaborated on The Hurt Locker (AC July ’09) — for her as-yet-untitled project about the 1967 Detroit riot. The cinematographer and his Bourne collaborators remember a well-run production that demanded hard work but resulted in minimal stress, with a team long-experienced in working together. “There’s a group that makes this core, and we understand each other,” Ackroyd opines. “Communications are kept to a minimum. We all understand what we’re trying to do — what we’re trying to capture in each moment of the film.”

      Recalling the discouragement he faced early in his career when trying to bring documentary elements into narrative projects, the cinematographer adds, “I worked early on with directors who were actually kind of afraid to make the film better. I remember an editor saying, ‘Your camerawork and my editing will look s--- unless, when you do a track, you come to the end and hold it. [Otherwise] I won’t be able to cut it.’ I said, ‘Have you not seen the films of Jean-Luc Godard?’ What the cinematographer needs are directors who dare you to break the rules. Luckily, I have rarely had much trouble with that.”




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