The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents February 2009 Return to Table of Contents
International Awardee
Just Not That Into You
Page 2
Short Takes
Post Focus
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
John Bailey, ASC takes advantage of the widescreen format on the romantic comedy He’s Just Not That Into You.

Unit photography by Darren Michaels
Since shooting the 1988 character piece The Accidental Tourist in anamorphic 35mm for director Lawrence Kasdan (AC Nov. ’88), John Bailey, ASC has favored the widescreen format for dramas both large and small. Several years ago, he took the lead in lobbying Panavision to develop new anamorphic lenses, and in 2006, the company responded with the Anamorphic Wide-Angle Zoom lens, the AWZ2 40-80mm (T2.8), dubbed “The Bailey Zoom.” This was followed by the Anamorphic Telephoto Zoom, ATZ 70-200mm (T3.5), and by a new set of prime lenses, the G-Series.  

AC recently caught up with Bailey to discuss his latest anamorphic picture, the new ensemble comedy He’s Just Not That Into You. Directed by Ken Kwapis, the film is based on the best-selling book by Sex & The City writer Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo.

American Cinematographer: After you wrapped He’s Just Not That Into You, you used anamorphic again on two comparatively low-budget features, The Greatest and Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. Do you believe anamorphic is now feasible for any genre and any budget?  

John Bailey, ASC: Panavision is supporting anamorphic again in a way it wasn’t a decade ago. The development of these new anamorphic zoom lenses and the G-Series primes has totally revitalized the format, especially for young cinematographers who’d been wary of the system because of the lenses’ limitations or because they’d only shot video in film school. A lot of younger cinematographers are embracing it now.   

Because of the wider aspect ratio and horizontal stability, I would say anamorphic does not lend itself so freely to a verité style, but that has to be qualified because Lars von Trier and Robby Müller [BVK] shot video with an anamorphic attachment on Breaking the Waves, and that was very documentary in style. But by and large, when you decide to shoot a film in anamorphic, you’re accepting a more controlled frame as part of the aesthetic.  

One of the great things about anamorphic is that you don’t have to cut as much. When you’re staging actors, you can give them a larger field across the frame to work in. For shots with three or four actors, you don’t have to be as wide to hold them all in the frame; you can do a medium shot. In 1.85:1 or 16x9 video, you might have that wide frame for just a second, but it would be too wide to hold for any length of time, so you’d need to cut in for coverage.   

For He’s Just Not That Into You, you had to argue the case for anamorphic through several layers of executives at New Line. What argument did you make?  

Bailey: This movie is an ensemble piece with intercut, parallel stories of five women and the men in their lives. We have certain scenes where many of them are in an office or a personal environment together. I felt the wider aspect ratio would allow us to be intimate with them yet keep them together in the same shot in a way that was more accommodating than 1.85:1. One of the things I love about anamorphic in a character-driven film is that you use much longer lenses than you’d use in a spherical format, and that gives you more control of the background. Being able to throw the background out of focus really helps you be present with the actor. With both 1.85:1 and Super 35mm, you sometimes have background in focus way beyond what you want; that’s also one of the great problems with high-definition video, of course. Now, if that’s what you want, that’s terrific, but for the films I do, once I establish the environment, I really want to concentrate on the intimacy of the performances. Anamorphic is perfect for that.  

Tell us how you convinced Panavision to prioritize anamorphic-lens development in recent years.  

Bailey: It took me 10 years to persuade them to build the first lens. I approached Phil Radin at Panavision in 1993, after I’d finished In the Line of Fire [AC Sept. ’93]. That was the first large-scale, multi-camera film I’d done in anamorphic, and I felt very compromised by the number of lenses available and how mismatched they were. I told Phil that Panavision should design a higher-speed, short-range zoom; at the time, the existing [zoom] was an 11:1 48-520mm, which was a T4.5, and it was very soft. You didn’t dare shoot it at anything less than a T6.3, which is absolutely impractical for an interior. I told Phil, ‘I don’t care about having a long-range zoom. I just need something for masters and medium shots to get me from one to the other.’ I don’t like to use a big zoom for anything; I’ve never needed a 10:1 because I just don’t do moves like that. I needed something that would allow me to move from a wide master shot into something tight enough that would be cuttable for the coverage. I also wanted to be able to make a slight size adjustment on the zoom without having to move the dolly and change marks.  

Phil did what he could, but at that time, Panavision was going through a turnover in ownership. Shortly after that, they made the decision to get in bed with George Lucas and Sony, and all the development money was devoted to Panavising the Sony HDW-F900.  

One night, I was talking about anamorphic at a SMPTE meeting, and I called Panavision out. I said, ‘Panavision was founded by Bob Gottschalk and Richard Moore [ASC] as an anamorphic-lens system, and if Bob were alive today, he’d kick the ass of every one of you who has abandoned your founding mandate!’ I think I finally shamed them, and they started to think about it seriously. It still took another couple of years, and Phil Radin was my ally all the way.  

The first new lens was the 40-80mm, and even though the range is only 2:1, I found it very useful. Then, about a year and a half ago, I went back to Phil and said coverage was still an issue; from the medium shots to the close-ups, I still had to use fixed lenses, and the Primos only go up to 100mm, so I had to use the old E-Series lenses. There was only a 135mm and a 180mm — nothing in between. I said, ‘Is it possible to make a second lens that would cover from where the first lens ends and take me up into a real close-up range?’ They then came up with the 70-200mm, which actually goes a little bit wider as it ties into the 40-80mm. It’s about 2/3 of a stop slower, but it’s still very doable for most situations. Both lenses have the anamorphic lens element in front, so there’s much less loss of light.  

Shooting anamorphic is now more like working with spherical lenses. The optical quality of both of these lenses is really extraordinary. The 70-200mm has as good a resolution and color rendition as any prime I’ve used, and, of course, because it’s one lens, you don’t have the color shifts you get when you change from one fixed lens to another. It makes for much more even-looking dailies.  

Phil says Panavision is having a very difficult time supplying enough of these lenses to meet demand. They’re rented almost all the time. There is no anamorphic-lens system in the world that is as good as Panavision’s, and this has been a real boost for them.  

On He’s Just Not That Into You, what kinds of situations were appropriate for the wide-angle zooms? 

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