The American Society of Cinematographers

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Django Unchained
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Presidents Desk
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The Candieland mansion interiors exhibit “a really elegant, 1940s-studio-film look, with big, sweeping crane shots,” says Tarantino. “Bob and Michael Riva and I screened 35mm prints of films like The Exile and Letter from an Unknown Woman for those scenes.”

In one such shot, the camera tracks Candie’s right-hand man, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), as he walks through the kitchen and then moves through a swinging door into the dining room, where Candie, Shultz and Django are dining with Candie’s sister, Lara Lee (Laura Cayouette), and his lawyer, Leo Moguy (Dennis Christopher). Richardson is riding a GF-8 crane with the Primo AWZ2 set at 80mm. He zooms back with Jackson, and the crane tracks with Jackson as he moves from one room to the other until the camera passes through a wall to frame the dinner table in a wide shot. The crane tracks past Jackson as he stops at the head of the table, and continues tracking down the length of the room. Slowly, the arm of the crane swings around the far end of the table while zooming into a medium close-up of Foxx in profile. Meanwhile, Centrella and his crew fly in the outside wall to provide Richardson with a wider frame. “As the camera came around to the profile shot of Jamie, we dimmed down Samuel’s backlight and brought up Jamie’s backlight,” notes Kincaid.

When a crane shot is required, Richardson prefers to ride with the camera instead of operating remotely from the ground. Typically, Tarantino will ride the crane first to show Richardson what he has in mind, and then, after a couple of rehearsals, Richardson will take the reins. Usually, Centrella and crane tech Mike Duarte operate the chassis, and dolly grip Dan Pershing handles the arm. Richardson favors OConnor’s 120 EX fluid head over gears.

For another shot in the mansion, the camera was on a 45' GF-16, shooting through the banister of the main staircase. The focus starts on the hem of Lara Lee’s dress as she escorts Broom-hilda upstairs to Schultz’s room. The camera booms up the stairs, tilts to reveal the women, and follows them at eye level around the second-floor balcony. “We were on 50 or 60 feet of track starting at the door,” recalls Centrella. “We tracked with the bottom of the dresses and boomed up to the top of the steps, and then we swung around and tracked backwards towards Schultz’s room.”

An unconventional source was carried in front of the actresses to key them in the candlelit scene: a 3' China ball holding four dimmable 300-watt Teflon-wrapped household bulbs. “These bulbs are used at construction sites, and I noticed them while my house was under construction and wondered if their [translucent] rubber coating made them any quieter than other household bulbs,” Kincaid explains. “So when we got down to Louisiana, I tested them, and we found they hum about 75 percent less than any other bulb. That made [sound mixer] Mark Ulano jump for joy!”

When Tarantino devised a move that couldn’t be accomplished with a dolly or crane, Richardson tapped Steadicam operator Larry McConkey, SOC, a frequent collaborator. “Bob demands perfection, and for him to hand the shot to me involves a great deal of trust — and, I think, a bit of reluctance,” says McConkey. Tarantino orchestrated two long Steadicam shots for McConkey, but ultimately decided to shoot just one: the introduction of Candie’s slave master, Billy Crash (Walton Goggins). The sequence called for two shots: a close-up of Crash’s feet coming down the mansion’s main staircase, and a medium Steadicam shot tracking Crash down the stairs and swinging around to follow him outside, where a line of potential slave fighters awaits his inspection. “Billy is this big thing with spurs, a cowboy hat and guns,” says McConkey. “Quentin wanted a close-up of those feet coming down the stairs, bang! bang! bang! bang!”

For the close-up, a set of oversized steps was built on the mansion-interior set at Second Line. The banister was removed from the camera side, and the grips rigged 32' of track parallel to the angle of the staircase and used a wire rig to motivate the camera. Because the sequence involved interior and exterior spaces, the master had to be staged on location at Evergreen. Though Riva had designed the entryway of the façade to match the full-sized set at Second Line, it was never intended to accommodate interiors, so doorways and ceilings were missing and the main staircase was foreshortened.

“There wasn’t much traction on those stairs [at Evergreen],” McConkey recalls, “and Walt was wearing spurs that made his feet several inches longer, so he couldn’t get the balls of his feet all the way on the step. He had to balance himself like a dancer, with his hands in the air, as he came down. That image was so incongruous with Crash’s evil nature it was pretty funny.”

As Goggins descended the stairs, McConkey rode a modified GF-16 crane parallel with the actor, framing him in a medium profile at the same profile angle as the close-up, and then stepped off the crane at the bottom of the stairs to follow him onto the veranda. The shot ends on the lawn, with Crash sizing up one of the more physically intimidating potential fighters. “With a shot like that,” notes McConkey, “you’re not just following an actor. You have to be aware of the subtleties of each moment, and every move has to be just right. We finally found [what we wanted] at the end of one of the takes. I was framed on Walton, and then I tilted up slowly when he looked into the man’s face, and then tilted back down with him. A second later, he shoots the man in the chest. It’s comedy and brutality in one take.”

Richardson recalls that Tarantino was more improvisational in devising shots on Django than he was on their previous collaborations, which involved handwritten shot lists provided each morning. “Quentin still knew exactly what he wanted to shoot, but this time, he was willing to come in and develop a scene based on the moment, which was a little unusual in my experience with him,” he says.

In terms of lighting, says the director, “my input is so minuscule that it really doesn’t exist. I love Bob’s look. I love his atmosphere. I love his hot pools of light. I love all that shit. It’s taken my work to a different level.”

On day exteriors, “there wasn’t a lot we could do for the wide shots, of course, but we’d often try to situate the sun behind the actors when they were out in the open,” says Kincaid. “Otherwise, we’d try to stage day exteriors in forested areas. In both cases, the grips rigged 30-by-40-foot vintage charcoals overhead that shaded everything, but still allowed nice soft light through. When we got into close-ups, we’d bring in some negative fill and passive fill — big muslin bounces to add light and big solids to take it away.”

The film’s numerous wide night exteriors, many of which were shot at Big Sky Ranch, were a larger concern for Richardson, particularly when a zoom lens was involved. “How do you light a vast Western landscape for a T4.5 or T5.6?” he muses. He often pushed Kodak Vision3 500T 5219 to ISO 1,000. “I’m sure we were seeing up to a mile of background in every direction,” says Kincaid. “There was no light out there, and there wasn’t supposed to be any. The only motivation was moonlight ambience.”


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