The American Society of Cinematographers

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Inside Llewyn Davis
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Presidents Desk
ASC Close-Up

When Jean meets Davis in a café, the filmmakers staged the scene at a table next to the window. The main source came from two low Arri 18K HMIs bouncing up into a horizontal Grid Cloth frame outside, right above the window. Delbonnel’s crew had to be ready to quickly change levels to match the background buildings outside the window. “To keep the contrast constant, we added singles and doubles to the source as the outside light fell,” recalls the cinematographer. “Because the outside was a little overexposed, the street contrast was already diminished, so there are no blacks, only grays.

“It’s the same lighting on both of them, with a little more fill on her — I do take care of my actresses! There was a white diffusion frame above her to diffuse the light a little. We kept him a little darker, and he’s a little closer to the window. We may also have had a little poly on her as well, to unclog the blacks.”

On day exteriors, Delbonnel sought to reduce contrast by adding soft frontlight. When Davis and Jean meet in Washington Square Park, the cinematographer used the cloudy daylight as his bounce source. His crew positioned four 12'x12' frames of Ultra Bounce covered with unbleached muslin around Mulligan, two on each side of camera. “The frames were very close to Carey, maybe 3 meters [10'] away,” recalls Delbonnel. “It was a gray day.” To adjust the level of fill, he either changed the inclination of the frames or added solids to reduce the bounce. The lighting on Davis is similar, but with a little less fill. “That’s my principle: I work with contrasts of very soft light,” says Delbonnel.

He turned to hard light for two sequences, the Gaslight Café, where Davis takes the stage and also sits in the audience, and the Gate of Horn in Chicago, where Davis does an impromptu audition for Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham), a powerful music manager. The Gaslight was re-created in a New York hangar, and Delbonnel started by setting a level of fill from above with a grid of about 2,000 15-watt bulbs on the ceiling. “That gave me a fill-light base, so I didn’t have to spend my time adding fill. I needed to modulate this fill, so we turned these strings of bulbs on and off by sections. The fill light was my exposure reference, at 2 stops under.”

When Davis is onstage, Delbonnel added two hard sources, a 1K Par 64 pointing straight down, and an 800-watt follow spot from the side, with beams that fell near the actor without lighting him directly. The cinematographer filled the space with smoke to make the dark areas more readable.

In another Gaslight scene, Davis and Jean are seated in the audience and joined by Jim (Justin Timberlake). Delbonnel lit the table with a 1K Dedoflex Octodome on the right of frame. “It’s very soft and diffused,” he notes. The backlight in the background was provided by a 2K open-faced Blonde, “and there were also a few other hidden lights.”

When Davis goes to Chicago, he has a fateful meeting with Grossman, who asks him to perform one of his songs in the empty club. The Coens were unsure about how to render this pivotal point in the story. “When I spoke about it with Joel and Ethan, they would say, ‘We don’t know how to do it, but we want it to be different from the rest of the film,’” Delbonnel recalls. “I didn’t like the set because it was too dark, but Joel wanted to shoot there precisely because it was dark.”

Delbonnel set up two 20Ks to shine harsh beams of daylight through twin entry doors onto the manager; these did not reach Davis’ face. A 20'x20' Mattflector out of frame bounced light back into the room to provide general fill. Delbonnel added some fill to the darkened singer by bouncing a 10K on some unbleached muslin laid out on the floor. The resultant scene is in stark contrast to the rest of the film, with violent highlights and deep shadows.

Looking back at his collaboration with the Coen brothers, Delbonnel says, “It was a pleasure and an honor to work with them. They gave me total freedom from the beginning to the end. Peter and I did the DI without them — that’s how much they trusted us.

“When we finished the DI, we watched the film together, and they made just two or three comments. There were one or two scenes that they felt were a little too dark. For example, they wanted it a little brighter on Oscar when he sings in the Gate of Horn, and they were right. I think it was the only power window we did!”


TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

1.85:1

35mm

Arricam Studio, Lite

Cooke S4

Kodak Vision3 500T 5219

Digital Intermediate


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