The American Society of Cinematographers

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The Dark Knight
Get Smart
Page 2
Page 3
Short Takes
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Dean Semler, ASC, ACS captures covert mayhem for the popular action comedy Get Smart, an adaptation of the popular 1960s television series.

Unit photography by Tracy Bennett
Nostalgia buffs and re-run junkies fondly recall the TV series Get Smart, a spy spoof that amused home viewers from 1965-1970. Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, the show satirized the Cold War and James Bond movies, featuring Don Adams as hapless Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, and Barbara Feldon as his considerably more competent partner, Agent 99. Together, they fought the crime syndicate Kaos, often armed with nothing more than sight gags and one-liners.     

After being revived as a feature in 1980 (The Nude Bomb) and a short-lived TV series in the early ’90s, Get Smart is back as a big-budget feature. The project reunited director Peter Segal and cinematographer Dean Semler, ASC, ACS, who had previously collaborated on The Longest Yard and The Nutty Professor 2. In this new version, Smart (Steve Carell) and Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), under orders from The Chief (Alan Arkin), set out to prevent the villainous Siegfried (Terence Stamp) from unleashing nuclear war.     

Get Smart is the fourth feature Semler has shot with Panavision’s high-definition Genesis camera, following Apocalypto, for which he earned an ASC nomination (AC Jan. ’07); Click; and I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. “Because we can see dailies and judge focus instantly, we can reshoot right away if we need to, rather than two or three days later,” he notes. “And directors like it because they can keep rolling and working with the actors.”     

“Dean completely sold me on the idea of doing Get Smart digitally,” says Segal. “One of the best parts was that the executives from Warner Bros. could witness his entire process in the color-timing tent on the set. And Steve Carell said he felt subliminally more relaxed and improvisational because he didn’t hear the clock ticking as film ran through the mag.”    

One key to Semler’s success with the Genesis is EFilm’s Colorstream Remote color-management viewing system, which uses 3-D look-up tables (LUTs) to process incoming digital footage and emulate a specific film look. “Colorstream produces an image on my HD monitor with the same color and contrast that will appear on a theater screen,” explains Semler. “It perfectly matches both a negative and print stock, in this case Kodak [Vision2 500T] 5218 rated at 500 ASA and printed on Vision [2383] stock. Each morning, the Genesis was plugged into the Colorstream, and my 6-by-6-foot tent was set up by camera utility Tim Megasawa — we had no need for a digital-imaging technician [DIT] on this shoot. I was in the tent riding the cameras’ iris controls remotely while the operators worked; it was a very unique and special system.”    

Semler had many of his frequent collaborators on board throughout the production, which started in Los Angeles and moved on to Montreal; Washington, D.C.; and Moscow. These included gaffer Jim Gilson, key grip William “Bear” Paul, A-camera 1st AC Tony Rivetti, A-camera operator Andrew Row-lands, and B-camera operator Richard Merryman.    

For Get Smart, Semler chose to work mainly with Panavision Primo zoom lenses. He recalls, “The A camera usually had the 4:1 [17.5-75mm T2.3] zoom on, and the B camera used the 11:1 [24-275mm T2.8]. I tend to keep the lighting levels very low with the Genesis. If I’m shooting wide open on A camera, I can go to a 270-degree shutter or add +1/2 of gain on B camera in order to get the lenses to match.    

“When I’m shooting outside, I normally use the Genesis as I would a tungsten negative and add 85 and ND.6 filters, which brings it down to about 64 ASA,” he continues. “I might use an 81EF if the light is getting too warm outside. Sometimes I’ll use a Tiffen Black Pro-Mist for beauty lighting, and I also experimented with Formatt’s new HD filter, which is subtle and takes the edge off very slightly. I always keep in mind that when we print to film, the image is going to soften up a little anyway.”    

Semler screened dailies digitally in a specially outfitted trailer operated by projectionist Bobby Hatfield, who was also responsible for cloning the HDCam SR tapes to which the cameras recorded. “Bobby made the clones through the Colorstream and down-converted to Avid for the editors,” says Semler. “He could make slight corrections like a lab timer does overnight, per my instructions. For example, if I shot without an 85 filter, he could put it back in, or if we shot under fluorescent light, he could take a little green out. Bobby was a very integral part of the team.”    

The original Get Smart TV series opened with a famous credit sequence in which Smart walked down a corridor with a seemingly endless number of doors closing just behind him. Paying homage to this memorable staging, an early scene in the film shows Smart crossing the Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C., on his way to the secret underwater corridor that leads to Control headquarters. To capture the corridor sequence, Semler shot Carell walking down a set comprising only a floor, with stacked greenscreens to provide lighting separations. Visual-effects supervisor Joe Bauer worked with Zoic Studios to add the walls, ceiling and mechanically intricate doors as Smart heads toward the Control briefing room.    

To light the Cone of Silence set, Semler mainly employed practicals integrated into the walls by production designer Wynn Thomas. The room also featured wet concrete floors meant to suggest its underwater location. “The actual location was an old warehouse in San Pedro,” recalls Semler. “We put red practical lights off in the distance just to get reflections on the water. The actors were lit with soft light from Kino Flos.”    

After receiving his orders, Smart, now partnered with Agent 99, flies to Russia on a commercial airliner to investigate. Never one to keep things simple, he ends up falling out of the plane through the lavatory, and 99 follows with a parachute. “The parachute sequence, led by aerial-stunt coordinator Guy Manos, features some extraordinary photography captured by cinematographer Norman Kent in the skies over Florida,” says Semler. In addition to wide shots featuring stunt players, the aerial unit captured background plates; aerial-unit and second-unit plate work was supervised by Don McCuaig, ASC, who shot much of that material on 35mm (Kodak Vision2 50D 5201, 200T 5217 and 500T 5218) using Panavision Panastars and Primo lenses. “The majority of the aerial work was captured with a SpaceCam operated by Dwayne McClintock,” says Semler. “We used a Flying-Cam [mini-helicopter] for the low and dangerous stuff.”    

In photographing the principals for the skydiving sequence, Semler and Segal eschewed greenscreen photography whenever feasible, opting for digital rear-projection instead. The production enlisted Curly Whittaker of Staging Techniques to provide the projectors and screens, which were used onstage at Warner Bros. and in Montreal. In order to provide enough illumination to offset the movie lighting on the actors, Whittaker set up two Christie Roadie 25K digital projectors simultaneously converged onto a 22'x40' Screenworks rear-projection screen; the Roadies were capable of projecting full 2K resolution at 25,000 lumens. Bauer fed the projectors with 1080p material transferred to D5 and processed through a Thomson/Technicolor LUTher color-space converter in order to provide accurate gamma and color matching between the screen and the live action.    

“We used lots of 18Ks and 20Ks [daylight and incandescent sources, respectively] as needed to match the look and temperature of the original plates,” recalls Gilson. “We also used Softsuns, and the grips put up 25 30-foot-long cutters to keep light off the screen. It got interesting at times because the lights occasionally needed to be right where the screen was, which was impossible. But Dean’s a real genius at cheating things around so they look totally natural.”   

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