The American Society of Cinematographers

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There Will Be Blood
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There Will Be Blood
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Elswit explains that for interior scenes, he sought to “build the light level up enough so I could shoot with our 200-ASA stock and not underexpose, working at a T-stop of around 3.2. Things got tricky whenever Daniel was wearing his hat, because I had to somehow light his face under the brim without making it feel completely artificial. I tried to place the light far enough away from him and soften it with diffusion so it would feel like ambient room light. Usually, there was enough ambient light from the small sources in the scenes, like sconces and table lamps, that I could create a soft, directional light that didn’t feel flat. Sometimes I’d use a 2K aimed through muslin and whatever gel we picked. In some of the bigger sets, I just tried to hide a bunch of smaller units.” 

One of the more interesting interior setups was the small church where Rev. Sunday preaches to his flock with fire-and-brimstone fervor. Two major sequences take place in the church, one when it’s a humble structure, and another after the reverend has used oil money to expand it. 

In the first scene, Plainview watches Sunday perform a writhing, arm-flailing exorcism on an elderly woman. Baumgartner offers, “Bob and Paul really wanted to push the envelope in that setting. The church is supposed to be a very rudimentary structure built with walls constructed entirely of wooden slats, and you could see blown-out sky or landscape in the spaces between the boards. It wasn’t feasible to try to control that, so we had to build up the lighting inside.” To do this, the crew initially rigged four 6K Pars in the rafters, bouncing them into muslins to create a base level of light. Baumgartner notes, however, that “after Bob took a look at the setup during rehearsal, he felt it would be best to remove those units so he would have the freedom to shoot from more angles.” Ultimately, the crew built up the light level by using Arri 18K Fresnels and the punchy Arrimax Pars to push light through the windows and bounce light through the slats. Elswit reflects, “If I’d had a different director, I probably would have added a bit of fill in the corner behind us, which you wouldn’t have seen. It probably would have lifted the shadows, but I probably would have regretted it. As it was, there was never enough light to actually balance the exterior, so the windows just blew out. But we had enough light to shoot at a T3.2 or T3.5, which kept the light from flickering or flaring, and we got extraordinary blacks and a huge amount of contrast.” 

The later scene in the church, in which Plainview is forced to kneel before the congregation and confess his sins, takes place in a larger room with a muslin ceiling; the wooden back wall features a large cutout of a cross that allows daylight to pour through the opening. “The muslin ceiling allowed us to justify some daylight,” Elswit explains, “so we mounted a couple of Arrimax Pars on a scissor lift and just pounded light down through the muslin. That’s what created the color of that interior. I tried to make it look as though real sunlight was hitting the muslin. Even though the muslin affected the color temperature, I kept the temperature around 5600°K.” 

The film’s climactic scenes, set in Plainview’s mansion, were shot at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, Doheny’s former home. The unpleasant denouement begins in Plainview’s office, where the embittered mogul confronts his now-adult son, H.W. (Russell Harvard). “That’s the one scene that made me wish we did a DI, because I would have fixed all the windows,” notes Elswit. “We wanted those scenes to be magic hour, and I don’t think I controlled the windows as well as I could have. I wasn’t doing anything unusual; I was just combining ambient light in the room with bounced light from outside the windows. The electric lights in the scene were just accents; they weren’t really lighting anything. Outside the room, I had 18Ks bouncing into muslins with lots of blue gel.” 

The cinematographer is happier with the look of the sequence that concludes the film. Set in the mansion’s bowling alley, the scene begins with the drunken Plainview asleep in the gutter — literally — and proceeds as he is awakened by a surprise visitor, Rev. Sunday. To facilitate the shooting of this grotesque tableau, the production refurbished the real bowling alley in Greystone Mansion, a site that had special resonance for Elswit. “That mansion was the headquarters of the American Film Institute when I went to school there,” he recalls. “The bowling alley was a complete wreck back then, but we used it as our soundstage when we were shooting our first-year video projects. The city of Beverly Hills was all too happy to let Jack Fisk restore the bowling alley to its original glory. There I was, standing in a place where I’d shot video films as a student. It was very strange.” 

Anderson, a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s films, wanted the bowling alley to have a Kubrickian symmetry and menace. “Paul wanted to paint the walls white and turn the room into a white cube, like something out of A Clockwork Orange,” says Elswit. “There’s no character to the lighting at all; it’s just a white box. Paul kept marveling at how Kubrick did things, and I would say, ‘But Paul, Kubrick built sets. He didn’t come walking into a place like this!’” 

Detailing the crew’s approach to the scene, Baumgartner explains, “We were seeing floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall in there, so we articulated some 212 bulbs to supplement the light coming from the practical globes hanging from the ceiling. We put a pair of 212s on armature wire at each socket so we could just spin the 212s and hide them behind the globes, depending on the camera position. That helped to build up the ambient light to the point where Bob could shoot freely. A portion of that scene happens at the end of the lanes, where the light levels were a bit low, so my best boy, Chris Milani, suggested hiding a row of PH 140 bulbs behind each pin rack. That created a beautiful glow that we used for the whole scene; it also added a vital push of light for the actors.” 

Summing up his latest experience with Anderson, Elswit con-cludes, “Paul knows this isn’t the way most people work, but he creates a committed community of filmmakers who understand and respect his process. He just can’t function any other way. It can be a marvelous way to function, though, and it creates the kinds of scenes and moments you won’t find in any other films.”


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