The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Table of Contents December 2010 Return to Table of Contents
Black Swan
Page 2
Page 3
Resident Evil-Afterlife
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
What was your lens range on the show?

Libatique: Darren wanted to shoot everything on a 12mm lens, like he did on The Wrestler [AC Jan. ’09], but I didn’t think we could do everything on that lens. When we started testing, we looked at a 12mm, a 16mm and a 25mm. We wound up using all three, but mostly the 16mm. We used the 12mm for some of our traveling shots to take the bumpiness out and show more of the surroundings.

How did your lighting philosophy take shape?

Libatique: The beautiful thing about Black Swan was that I could apply what I’d learned on independent films and what I’d learned on studio films. From a craft perspective, this is probably the most satisfying movie I’ve ever done, because it had some big-movie situations, like the ballet, but in real settings. Before we started the movie, Darren and I went to some stage plays in New York to see how theatrical-lighting designers dealt with live performance. In one off-Broadway play starring Scott Glenn, there was a scene where he walked up to a doorway and this fluorescent glow came on; I was struck by how simple and effective the lighting was, and I tried to apply that kind of approach to this movie. The main lesson I took away was that it doesn’t really matter whether you see the source — the audience will get an idea of where the light’s coming from. Because this movie had a theatrical edge, I decided I could take more liberty with the lighting. I took a naturalistic approach, but didn’t try to justify every source. Most of our fixtures were practical globes, China balls and covered wagons [batten strips with diffusion wrapped around them]. The units we used contained 75-watt EDTs and sometimes clear globes. Practical globes have become really prevalent in cinematography. You can work in a small space and let the light play practically without using Fresnels. I hardly ever use Fresnels any more.

How much interaction did you have with the production designer, Thérèse DePrez?

Libatique: In prep, our offices were right next to each other, so we had a lot of conversations, and she’d always show me samples of what she had in mind. Darren likes a designer to pitch an idea for a limited palette, and then we all agree on different colors. We assigned some symbolism to the various colors: black represents the darker side of Nina’s character, white is her innocent side, pink represents her childhood, and green conveys envy and ambition. For example, the pink bedroom with all the stuffed animals shows that her mother never let her grow up, and the apartment’s green walls underscore the competitive nature of their relationship. Darren makes bold choices, and I ask myself if it’s too much sometimes, but I trust his instincts.

The film’s first scene is very striking, with Nina dancing in a limbo-like space that’s illuminated by a single spotlight.

Libatique: The goal was to make it look like one spotlight, but we actually had four operators choreographing four spotlights. We would switch from a backlight to a frontlight, and so on. It was a square room, all black — it’s the space they used for Joe Gideon’s death scenes in All That Jazz. Luckily, it had balconies, so we just put four spots on four corners. We rehearsed the dance with the spot operators, and I would cue them on the walkie. The direct reference for that scene was a 1957 Soviet film version of Swan Lake. For a long time, I thought it was too simple an approach to the scene, but we actually shot that toward the end of production, and I’d already exhausted all kinds of options in the other dance scenes. I had nowhere else to go!

Mirrors are a big visual motif. Did you avoid camera reflections practically or digitally?

Libatique: We did as much as we could practically, but we knew there would be moments when we wanted to create seemingly unachievable shots, and for those we just removed the reflections digitally with the help of Dan Schrecker, our visual-effects supervisor at Look Effects. A good example of Look’s work is the scene where Nina is rehearsing in front of a mirror, the lights go out, and her reflection starts moving independently; the camera was right where you see the reflection, but Darren wanted to get tight eyelines, so we had to paint ourselves out in post. For other scenes, it was easier to just hide the camera or shoot from angles where you couldn’t see it. We also used one-way mirrors to get a shot where we created an ‘infinity reflection’ of Nina sitting in front of a dressing-room mirror. We positioned Natalie between two one-way mirrors and just shot from behind them. We wanted the film’s horror beats to be a bit more stylistic.

Did you depart from the documentary approach and relight for close-ups?

Libatique: Not that much. If we were doing a wide shot in Nina’s bedroom, we might have a practical light hitting the bed, and when it was time to do Natalie’s close-up, the light would be motivated by the practical in the wide shot, but I’d just add a bit of diffusion. It was usually that simple. I wanted the film to have a balletic quality but still be as naturalistic as possible. That’s why I kept looking at Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy. In those movies, everything’s lit, but things still look naturalistic. It’s sort of a stylized reality.

The restaurant and nightclub scenes involving Nina and Lily were a bit more glamorous-looking.

Libatique: In working within a color palette, I naturally play a lot of color contrast. I might combine white light with a background color from our overall palette. In the restaurant, I lit the actresses with a table lamp and carefully positioned China balls, but there’s a lot of green/cyan in the background provided by compact fluorescent tubes that Mo Flam hid here and there. In any space, if I know I’m going to neutralize the actors’ faces, I’m going to put a color in the background. I didn’t do a lot of filtration, so it was all based on color temperature. That’s harder to do these days, because a lot of the film stocks are designed to balance everything out for the digital intermediate.

The nightclub scene was shot in Santos Party House in Chinatown. It was a big space, and inside we basically set up three walls made of Mylar mirror and then crammed in all of our dancing extras. I surrounded the set with green Kinos and four Paparazzis with magenta gels on them, and we just mixed up the rhythm. I would keep the green really down and we’d add flashes of magenta, or turn the green off altogether. It was fun.


<< previous || next >>